Saturday, October 27, 2007

Anticipation

It was a very relaxing week off.

Not much to talk about. I watched the stock market, did a bunch of trading and did a lot of reading during my time off.

I did play one round of golf during the week and there's not much to say about it. I drove up to Guelph to play Stanley Thompson's Cutten Club, a course that is just about finished with their Ian Andrew-led renovation/restoration program.

I literally played the worst round of golf of the year for me, shooting an 83 with two triples and three doubles - my putting has been awful lately but on this day it was EVERYTHING! I hit four fairways and four greens all day...just horrible!

Things didn't improve much today - I shot a season-worst 82 from the blue tees at St. Catharines with 37 putts on my card. Oh boy...

This is NOT good preparation for Monday...

I am not playing golf tomorrow, as the wife and I are celebrating our first anniversary tomorrow!

We'll be heading out tonight for dinner but tomorrow will be more of a relaxing day. We plan on going for a hike to the Short Hills Provincial Park with our new black lab, Kaya.

Yes. I am a dog owner now too! That's the little girl on the left.

Then, it's off to Pennsylvania with the boys for our date with Oakmont Country Club, home of the 2007 US Open!

Harris and Preston are heading up themselves early tomorrow morning and will be holding hands and doing some shopping together. Probably hitting the Gap outlet or something to get matching sweaters.

If they really wanted to perform to their capabilities, they'd get duelling sweater vests!

Inside joke...sorry about that!

I'll be heading up late Sunday night with our fourth, Jon P in his rig. The two of us will be staying a couple minutes from the course while Harry and Presto spend the night in the Pittsburgh area.

We tee off at 12:00pm sharp and it's a best ball, stableford scoring system with full handicap. And guess where we start out?


That's right...the third hole, the 430 yard par four famously known for the Church Pew bunker feature down the left side of the fairway!

Beautiful!

I can't tell you how pumped I am to tee it up on this wonderful course. I've been INCREDIBLY fortunate this year to play two world-class courses: first Riviera and now Oakmont.

Luck doesn't even begin to describe it!

We're playing the blue tees, which measure about 6550 yards or so. I've placed the over/under on my score at 88...I don't know if Cal is taking the over or the under on that, although if he had a gun to his head, he'd likely take the 'over' after watching me play today!

Regardless, it should certainly be one of the great golfing experiences of my lifetime and all four of us are excited beyond belief.

You can expect pictures and a full recap of the experience sometime in the middle of the week.

Monday, October 22, 2007

On Vacation!

I'm finally taking a vacation week so I'll just be chilling out for the next eight days and sprinkling in a bit of golf while the weather continues to amaze here in Southern Ontario.

It's 22 degrees celsius today - shorts weather at the end of October! Just incredible!

I played two pretty non-descript rounds on the weekend, firing rounds of 77 and 76 at St. Catharines, as my putter has once again become balky. Bernie tells me that my arms and shoulders aren't square to the line and that's why I'm pulling everything - when I get hot, I can cope with it but when things get bad, they really get bad.

I made a concerted attempt to correct the problem in yesterday's round and while I got off to a hot start (-1 through four holes), I couldn't maintain it. I may need a bit of practice time on the greens before heading to Oakmont one week from today. I still can't wait!

Nothing much planned for this week. I've been invited to play the Cutten Club on Wednesday so I'll have a chance to see first hand the changes made to the course by architect Ian Andrew. I may also play one round at St. Catharines during the week if I can find a game. Other than that, I'll just be at home, intently watching the stock market and crying about losing two more integral pieces of my injury-riddled fantasy football team.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A 'Subpar' Weekend

It was another busy weekend for yours truly as we hit the tail-end of the golf season here in the Niagara Peninsula.

I don't talk about it here much but I play in a ball hockey league here in St. Catharines throughout the year and we had our second game of the Autumn season on Friday night.

Unfortunately, 6 of our 11 runners weren't able to make it so we had no substitutes and got ran into the ground by some young kids in a 6-3 loss. A nice workout though!

It was only Cal and I on Saturday at the golf club as Bernie was playing in a scramble tournament later that afternoon, Harris was busy and Gary was away in Florida.

It was a sunny morning but it was truly the first really chilly day of the autumn and windy as hell, with temps around 50 degrees (10 degrees celsius). We teed off the back and things started off well for me, with a nice 15 foot birdie.

However, it wouldn't last.

I three-putted for bogey on #11, had to make a six-footer to save bogey on #12, doubled #13 when we couldn't find my tee ball in the rough and doubled #14 after my tee shot on the par three completely buried in the bunker and took me two shots to get out.

I started having dreams about an early breakfast at this point!

Cal righted the ship after a horrible start and was only +2 or something on the 15th tee but he made an ugly number there and was quickly back on the breakfast bandwagon.

I played decently coming in and ended up shooting a 42 on the nine holes but we stuck to our word and called it a morning, heading into the clubhouse for some grub.

I actually played some online poker for about an hour or so, the first time I've done so in over four months. I came out even during the session and prepared for my second Sabres game of the year, as they were facing the Washington Capitals that night.

Cal hadn't seen a game at the HSBC Arena so he accepted the offer for my other ticket, as my wife hasn't been feeling well lately and couldn't go. We had some fantastic wings at Irish Times in Buffalo before the game with a few other buddies of mine and it was pretty cool to find out that Thomas Vanek's family and friends (star winger on the Sabres) were also there for dinner. Cool!

Buffalo won in dominating fashion 7-3 and pelted the Washington net with 53 shots. Offense wasn't a problem! Great night of hockey and Cal enjoyed the experience I think.

That brings us to this morning and hopefully a full 18 hole round!

We had 8 players out on this day and I was paired with Cal, Jon P and Andy A. I really wasn't concerned about my lackluster play from the day before - Cal and I had nothing on the line as far as wagers go so we were both pretty disinterested. That wasn't going to be the case on this day. I told Cal the night before that I was going to pull off another 73 on the day...

I drilled a 4-iron down the left side into the rough, hit on to about 18 feet and knocked the putt home for a birdie to start the day in style.

I made a two-putt par on #2, two-putted from the fringe on #3 and two-putted on #4 to stay at one under for the day.

I hit a nice drive on the long par four 5th just in the right rough but drew a nice flyer lie. My 7-iron from about 165 was right on line and rolled just past the hole, leaving me a slick 8 footer for birdie. It took a little body english but the putt stayed on line long enough to fall as I moved to -2 on the day.

I'd make a routine par on #6 and then hit my first really poor shot of the day on the par 3 7th, drawing a 7-iron into the greenside trap. However, I splashed out to about 2 1/2 feet and made the putt for a nice par save.

Trouble really found me on the par five 8th hole. I drove perfectly down the middle but still had 234 yards into the green. I took out my 3-iron rescue club, which I haven't been hitting with confidence lately and promptly hit the shot fat, ending up in the creek.

I dropped back to about 65 yards, hit a punch wedge to about 15 feet and MADE IT for an unbelievable par save!

It's amazing looking back at my great rounds in the past and seeing how often I scramble for par on this particular hole. Very strange...

I didn't hit a great drive on the ninth, leaving myself over 190 yards into the par 4. However, I hit a great 5-iron second to the middle of the green and made a nice two-putt par to go out in 34 (-2).

I just wanted to stay aggressive as I headed to the back. My drive on #10 was a slight hook into the left rough and I picked the 3-iron rescue again for the 230 yard shot. This time I caught it pretty solid but still ended up in the front greenside bunker. Again, I splashed out beautifully, leaving a straight-in three footer. I'd knock it down to move to -3.

I started getting a bit TOO frisky from here. I had about a 18 foot birdie putt on #11 that I knocked five feet past. I was able to coax home the comebacker to keep the bogey-free round going. Cal was really needling me at this point with his trademark "He's gooooooood" comments...the bugger!

I'd do the same thing on the par three 12th, hitting my tee shot to 15 feet, putting it 5 feet past and making the par putt. I'm just BEGGING for a routine two-putt at this point!

I'd get it on the par four 13th. I hit a really big drive here and only had a PW second into the green. I hit an indifferent approach to 20 feet and almost curled the putt in, leaving the desired tap-in. Whew! Back on track!

The pin on the par three 14th was really a sucker pin for me, as it was tucked well right, something that doesn't play well with my draw. However, I was determined to continue firing at pins since my iron play was solid and my 7-iron ended up right of the hole about 9 feet away. I hit a great putt here that caught the hole and horseshoed out and back toward me. CRUEL GAME! Oh well...I had been fortunate on a couple longer putts earlier in the day so I can't complain.

Still bogeyless on the 15th tee, I get really lucky when my pulled tee shot evades every tree on the left hand side and bounces through into the open.

"There's Matty the luckbox", Cal shouts as I give a sheepish grin.

I wasn't going to mess with the water on the left side so I hit a six-iron layup on the par five and left myself with about 115 yards. However, the ball just slipped into some healthy rough down the right side and I ended up chunking the approach, leaving a tough pitch shot up the slope to a pin cut in the front.

I knew I was in trouble here and my pitch shot flew all the way to the flag and rolled 15 feet past. I didn't hit a good putt here and was walking almost immediately after hitting it.

My first bogey of the day dropped me to -2. I've still never had a bogey-free round.

I finished pretty strongly. Two excellent shots left me with about 80 yards into the par five 16th. I'd hit a mediocre lob wedge long and two-putted from 20 feet for par.

The tough 205 yard par three 17th was next and I hit a nice 5-iron to about 18 feet. I still don't know if I've birdied this bloody hole this year and almost did it here, but my solid putt just stayed out, leaving me with another par.

So I'm two under on the 18th tee and after taking a couple deep breaths, I hit a solid drive just right of the fairway, about 165 yards away from the pin.

I comment to Cal and Jon that even though I've 'been here' before, I still get a bit nervous on this tee. Under par rounds don't happen very often for me I guess.

The wind is howling pretty well at this point so I grip down on a 6-iron and punch my approach just right of the green. I hit a crappy little chip shot and had 4 feet left for par and a round of 70 and I knocked it in center cut for my second subpar round of the year and my third-best score in my life!

I hit only six fairways on the day but hit 13 greens in regulation so the iron play was spot on. The 13 greens hit is the highwater mark for me in 2007. I only made one bogey, which ties a career-best.

My handicap also drops to 1.9 after the round, as I creep close to a career-best there as well. The lowest I've ever been able to get my factor to was a 1.7 back in 2005.

Now, I sit back and wait for Harry's inevitable comment about me always playing my best golf at the end of the year when it means nothing. It's actually kind of true!

I guess it just takes me six months to warm up...that's what happens when you don't ever go to the driving range! ;)

Two more weekends of golf left I believe, weather-permitting of course. Our round at Oakmont on October 29th will likely be the last of 2007. Here's hoping the game and the weather hold up until then!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I'm Stuffed!

It was Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, the last holiday weekend before Christmas.

Things started out on a sad note, as I attended the Buffalo Sabres home opener on Friday night, a game that they would lose 6-4 to the New York Islanders. Great atmosphere at the HSBC Arena, as the club raised two new banners to the rafters: the 2006/07 President's Trophy banner along with the Northeast Division banner. The Sabres also installed a SWANKY new high-definition scoreboard - it was almost too awesome, as I kept looking away from the action on the ice to check out the television screens!

Buffalo would lose on Saturday night as well, again to the Isles, to start the season 0-2. Not the start fans expected, that's for sure. No time to panic just yet!

I had some family commitments on Saturday morning with the wife that kept me from playing golf with Harry and Cal at Ussher's Creek in Niagara Falls - and it was fully comped too, making it even worse. They were able to beat the rain while we got POURED ON in Hamilton. Ha!

I got to the golf course late on Sunday due to a huge storm knocking out our power during the middle of the night. The course was pretty wet from the rain and even though I hit the ball decently, hitting 11 greens in regulation, I could only muster a 78 out of the round. I pretty much missed every putt I looked at and went birdie-less.

I should have just stayed in bed!

Sunday afternoon was great. Jacky and I hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner at our house in a modest affair, with her mother, one uncle and another friend joining the two of us.

The guys watched football all day while Jacky and her mom worked their magic in the kitchen. Great meal, great company. I really enjoyed the day.

I had the day off on Monday and that meant another round of golf! The weather here in Southern Ontario continues to amaze, as the thermometer reached the mid-80's on this early October day. Just crazy!

I played with Bernie, Brad B and Joey B and scored much better on this day than the day previous, shooting a solid 73 (+1) and taking all of Bernie's money ($10.00) in the process. That's RARE, let me tell you!

I figure I still have three weekends of golf left, weather dependent of course, with my last planned round being the Oakmont outing on Monday October 29th. I just hope the temperatures cooperate over the next 21 days!

The great weekend ended with a superlative Monday Night Football contest between the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys. The Bills hadn't hosted a MNF game in over 13 years and the stadium was ROCKING!

The Bills certainly seemed to feed off that energy, building a nice lead even though they were resounding underdogs but even though they forced an incredible six turnovers, they would still lose the game on a last second field goal by the rookie Dallas kicker.

Bad teams find ways to lose football games and that is precisely what the Bills are. They played their guts out but a bad turnover cost them points that may have put the game away.

Either way, it was the most entertaining football game I've seen in quite some time and a satisfying way to end a nice weekend.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Niagara Men's Tour 2007 Finale; Niagara Cup Finals

It's been awhile since I've actually talked about my game and my tournament schedule. Writing a Riviera novel obviously has something to do with that but I've neglected to talk about a couple of season-ending events in the process.

I prepared for the finale of this year's Niagara Men's Tour by playing a round at Mystic GC in Ancaster. The Tom Pearson-designed Mystic is much-maligned in these parts due to poor conditioning, worse management and generally speaking, a very bad business model.

The course itself, however, is pretty interesting and extremely penal, two things I can appreciate. Cal and I made the trip, my second appearance and third round there while it was his first and the conditioning was a bit better than expected, thankfully.

It certainly was still tough as nails and I ended up shooting 81 (+9) from the tips, which has a course rating of 76.9 and a slope of 150, making it one of the toughest tests in the province.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a bit TOO tough, especially for higher handicappers. I just don't think it is a FUN golf course for anyone who has trouble breaking 90 due to the many forced carries and tight fairways. This course is not for the faint of heart.

However, Cal and I are golf masochists so we enjoyed the day, enough to go back sometime in the future I'm sure. Harry would like this place a lot but he's got fantasy football and invitations to St. George's to worry about these days and can't be bothered with commoners like us.

The next day I headed out to Twenty Valley G&CC for the last event on the Niagara Men's Tour. I was in 12th place overall heading into the finale and was assured of retaining my status for next year, as the top 25 overall are exempt for 2008. So I could just concentrate on putting a good round together and hopefully getting into the top 10 overall for the first time in my four years on tour.

Things started out perfectly.

I chose driver off the tee on the par five 1st hole and luck was on my side right away. My ball took one hop toward the creek that crosses the fairway and proceeded to BOUNCE OVER ON THE BRIDGE!

Great reaction from everyone watching. I'd hit my second into the greenside trap but lip out my eagle attempt, tapping in for birdie.

The mid-length par four 2nd saw me drive perfectly down the middle and hit a 9-iron to about 12 feet. I'd curl that one in to go -2 through two holes and bring back memories of Pelham Hills and my last round on tour, which saw me start three under through five.

I flamed out a bit quicker on this day. I would hit my next tee shot out of bounds and make a crippling triple bogey 7 on the par four 3rd hole. I'd settle down a bit from there and shoot a 37 (+2) on the front after bogeying the 9th.

I played unspectacular golf the rest of the way but was only +4 as I stood on the par five 18th and figured I had a chance to post a decent number. Not to be on this day, as I'd once again block my tee shot onto the road and O.B.

I wasn't a happy camper.

I'd make another triple bogey and finished with a very disappointing 79 (+7), showing you just how damaging the two blowup holes were.

The 79 placed me in a tie for 13th in the event and I finished 12th overall for the 2007 tour, the same place I was in at the start of the day. I won a nice Taylor Made golf bag for the overall finish and won my second skin in as many events for the birdie on the 2nd hole.

All in all, a good year on the tour but I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't make a run at an event title. Perhaps next year.

A week later, I had the opportunity to play Glencairn GC in Halton Hills, a lovely Clublink course where my wife's uncle happens to be a member. It's a links-style course with great sodwall bunkers throughout the property.

I must admit I was a bit frustrated in the early going, as there were some blind shots that fooled me and hurt my score. I was +5 through five holes but played in at even par to shoot a pretty darned respectable 77 on the day.

I had a great day with excellent company and look forward to going back again soon. Something I should also note before signing off on Glencairn is their TREMENDOUS clubhouse. Just a beautiful place with a great lockerroom and a lovely dining room as well. Nine of us got together for a fantastic dinner after the round and it truly was excellent.

Last weekend saw the conclusion of the Niagara Cup competition, the annual 'Ryder Cup' style tournament between all of the clubs in the Niagara Region and in Niagara Falls, New York.

St. Catharines once again moved onto the finals at Rolling Meadows G&CC, albeit by default when the other two courses in our regional, Peninsula Lakes and Lancaster G&CC dropped out due to an inability to field a team.

I was in tough in my match but welcomed the challenge, as I was set to face off against the host professional Bob P.

I've never played with Bob before but his brother was a member at St. Catharines last year so I knew of the guy.

I knew what I was in for right off the bat. This guy hits a very, very LONG BALL. He almost drove the 390 yard par four opener and made a long putt for birdie to quickly take a 1up lead. I'd square the match on the 3rd with a birdie of my own and we'd continue the up and down nature of the match the entire way.

I shot a 37 on the front side but was 1 down heading to the back, giving up one of the three points available in the match.

Unfortunately, I couldn't crack the guy, even though I was getting up and down from almost everywhere. I was two down on the 17th and had an opening when Bob drove left into trees and could only punch out on the long par four. I had a 9-iron second from position-A and ended up pushing my approach right of the green and shortsiding myself on the one hole you can't do it on. I tried a flop shot but it rolled 20 feet by and I could do no better than a bogey, tying Bob on the hole to lose the match 2&1.

I'd snag a half point in the match when I won the 18th hole with a par versus his bogey, tying the back nine. My 1/2 point out of 3 available didn't help our cause much but I wasn't alone.

One guy on our team DIDN'T EVEN SHOW UP while two others were completely shutout. We ended up finishing 6th out of the six teams in the final round, another disappointing result for St. Catharines in this event.

Kudos to Niagara Falls Country Club out of Lewiston, home of the annual Porter Cup. They won the Niagara Cup for the third consecutive year in dominating fashion. They have some players out there!

There will likely be changes for next year's event which may see only THREE amateurs from each club along with a pro partake in the competition. The problem seems to be that most of the clubs suffer from a lack of depth and have trouble finding low-handicap players, something that isn't the case at St. Catharines.

That's too bad...this is one of my favourite yearly competitions and it looks to be falling apart.

I played two casual rounds at the club this weekend, shooting solid rounds of 74 and 76 as the game continues to be strong. I thought my tournament schedule was finished for the year but I just signed up for a charity event at the end of October.

It's a very notable development due to the course I'll be playing...

Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania - home of the 2007 US Open! The fifth-rated golf course in America by Golf Digest and one of the top 10 courses in the WORLD by every major golf publication!

What a year for golf for yours truly! First Riviera, now Oakmont? Talk about lucky!

I'll be teaming up with my good buddy Harry, his friend Preston and an as-of-yet unknown fourth in the better ball tournament at the end of the month. I'll have more on this in the coming weeks.