Friday, May 09, 2008

2008 Ontario Mid-Amateur Qualifier

I decided to try and qualify for the Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship for the first time this year.

The Mid-Am is a competition open to anyone 25 years of age or older, something that is enticing to guys like myself who only get to play a couple times a week.

There were a couple of intriguing qualifying sites this year but my main choice filled up in a hurry - Westmount Country Club is one of the top rated courses in the country but registration closed there within a week of opening. There were places like Oshawa G&CC available but I noticed that there were a LOT of members from that club trying to qualify, something that would put me at a distinct disadvantage.

I wasn't keen on paying $160+ to play Bridgewater so I decided to pick The Club at Bond Head as my qualifying site. I had never played out there but I heard the course was pretty tough, something that usually doesn't faze my grinding ass.

I was invited to play the course a week ahead of the qualifying event as a practice round but was disappointed to find out the South Course was closed for maintenance that day. I'd end up playing Eagles Nest that day instead but would be flying blind for the qualifier, not a great omen.

I arrived about 50 minutes before my 8:24am tee-time, only to find out that there was a 45 minute frost delay. Didn't faze me in the least. Instead, I grabbed a yardage guide and did some pre-round scouting before hitting the range and practice green.

I hit the ball quite well on the range but keeping with recent form, couldn't make a putt in warmups. Harry showed up about 20 minutes before I went off and we wished each other luck. He would be about an hour behind me.

Little did I know the rollercoaster ride I was in for on this day.

We were playing the blue tee deck at Bond Head which only measures a little over 6400 yards. Why so short? Well, the Golf Association of Ontario likes to keep the course difficulties between the qualifying sites as uniform as possible. With a course rating of 71.9 and a slope of 132, the middle deck at Bond Head is similar to most course's back tees.

On paper, it looked like I'd be hitting a lot of irons off the tees. But when you see this place in person, you realize quickly that the driver will be an important part of the day, even from 6400 yards. In fact, I'd hit only one long iron tee shot all day on a par four or five...and that was on the first hole.

I was playing with a 32 year old from Dalewood and a 52 year old from Cedar Brae. The first hole is a risk/reward short four measuring 291 yards. There is a creek that runs right across the front of the green so either you carry a driver all the way there or you layup short. I hit a perfect 5-iron down the middle and was off. My lob wedge was perfect and ended up about 6 feet away.

I'd miss the putt...SHORT of all things and I was shaking my head right away.

It would get worse.

On the 381 yard uphill second hole, my drive was hit weakly to the left and into a hazard. Or so I thought anyway...

This is where I saw how ridiculously competitive some guys can be in these type of events. This creek cut through the entire hole and my ball obviously was in there somewhere. The three of us looked around for about four minutes and couldn't find it.

When I told them I'd just drop and get it over with, the younger guy in my group blurts out the following nonsense:

"Umm, how do you know it's a hazard?"

I just look at him for a second and then say "well, it's a creek, it has water in it and there is also a yellow stake back over there", as I point to the middle of the creek about 40 yards back toward the tee.

"Well, there isn't a stake over here", he says. "You may have to go back to the tee and reload."

I just stare a hole right through his beady little eyes.

I keep my composure. "Well, it's a continuous creek but if you are unsure of how to handle it, how about I play two balls - one from here hitting three and one from the tee, hitting three. Then we can address it with the rules officials when we're done."

He looked satisfied with that but a GAO official came to the rescue, driving down in his cart. It took him about five seconds to agree with my assessment. It was a water hazard and I could drop right there as opposed to going all the way back to the tee.

You don't say?

Well, of course I end up duffing my third shot into a bunker, duffing THAT one too before hitting left of the green and two putting for a devestating triple bogey seven.

I hope my playing partner didn't hear me mutter "go in the bunker" when he hit his tee shot on the par three third. Haha.

Still a bit hot, I'd rattle my long birdie effort on the third 12 feet past the hole but would ram that putt in for a par.

The shaky play would continue on the uphill 377 yard fourth. My 8-iron approach shot was just right of the green and left a very difficult, downhill chip to a cup that was cut right on a slope. My chip was good but kept rolling and rolling, coming to a stop 30 feet at the bottom of the green.

My par putt was pathetic. 10 bloody feet short. I'd miss the next one too and tap in for a double. No leg slapping, by the way. Just steam coming from my ears.

The very short par three fifth was next. I hit a pitching wedge on this very wide green about 25 feet left of the pin and THREE-PUTTED that too.

I'm now +6 through five holes.

The cool downhill par four sixth (shown above) measures only 304 yards from the blues and just screams "GO FOR IT" from the tee. You have the option of playing safe to the left, where there is a lot of room but it leaves a very tough pitch shot over a bunker to a small green with water behind. Or you can go straight at the flag but must worry about that water to the right.

I end up bailing out to the left and my little 30 yard pitch shot is DUFFED. The awesome continues!

I'd then overcompensate and pitch long through the green, hit a terrible chip on and make a 10 footer for bogey. I could only laugh. +7 through 6 now.

Maybe I'd get it going on the long par five 7th, a 563 yard monster even from the blues. I'd hit an excellent drive down the right side, layup nicely to about 120 yards but slightly come out of my pitching wedge and end up in a chipping swale to the right of the green. I'd chip it to three feet but miss the heavily breaking putt, shouting "NO!" when it cruelly hit the lip and spun out. +8 through 7.

At this point, I thought about two things:

1. Was I going to be able to break 90 out here?
2. HARRIS WAS GOING TO BEAT ME!

I just couldn't let either of those things happen. At least not without a fight!

I hit a pretty mediocre drive on the 419 yard par four 8th but hit a terrific 5-iron from the left rough to the front of the green. My 40+ foot putt came up five agonizing feet short but I somehow rolled it in for a par, my first since the third hole.

I knew I had to do something on the 9th, a 491 yard uphill par five. I hit my best drive to that point, a perfect shot down the middle and I had 202 yards to the middle of the green for my second. I opened the face of my 4-iron a bit so I could fade it around the tall trees framing the right side of the approach area and nailed it perfectly, ending up about 30 feet behind the pin. Yes! I'd two putt that for a birdie and an outgoing nine hole score of 43 (+7).

Interestingly enough, for all my struggles, I was the top man in my group at this point. The young prick who debated me on the second hole basically bogeyed his way around the front and shot 44 while the older gentleman actually fared better but got caught in the trees on the 9th hole and made a triple bogey 8, shooting 45 on the side.

Actually, by this point, the young guy was getting cordial, figuring he didn't have a chance of qualifying at this point. Meanwhile, I was wondering if I could find a way to shoot 37 on the back, figuring an 80 might be good enough to qualify.

The tenth is a downhill par four measuring 361 yards and doglegs to the right. My drive was perfect again and I only had 86 yards to a pin that seemed very accessible, with swales taking the ball from almost every angle toward the pin. I'd hit a decent lob wedge approach and watch the ball take the slope and end up 7 feet away. Yes! Great birdie chance!

I'd miss it. Damn it! +7 though 10.

The 11th is yet another short, downhill par four, only 337 yards. My drive ended up about 45 yards short of the green and I had another pitch over a bunker. I wasn't taking chances and hit it a bit long, just though the green. It was a simple pitch and I was confident enough to take the flagstick out before hitting it...

IN THE CUP SHE WENT! BIRDIE CHIP-IN!

I'm reinvigorated now! +6 through 11 and two under on my last four holes. I still may have a shot at this thing!

The very tough par five 12th was next, a beast at 595 yards from the blues. I hit a decent drive and a mediocre layup, leaving a 9-iron approach with the ball well above my feet. I'd hit it straight over the pin to the back of a heavily sloping green, leaving a 70 foot putt. I'd gauge the pace perfectly but I missed the line by five feet to the left. I'd confidently ram the par putt home to stay on pace.

The 347 yard par four was next and I continued to hit driver even on these short holes. Again, I hit it perfectly down the right side of the fairway but my lob wedge from 90 yards came up woefully short of the pin, leaving yet another long putt. I'd again make a tough 4 footer for par to stay at +6.

The putts would stop falling though. On the 419 yard uphill 14th, I'd hit a 7-iron approach just right of the green and hit a horrible first putt from the fringe, leaving a 9 foot par putt. I wouldn't be able to make it, dropping a shot.

The tough 193 yard par three 15th was next and my 5-iron into the breeze went just right and fell down into a huge chipping area about 20 feet below the putting surface. Great. I'd hit a fantastic lob shot, stopping the ball on a dime about five feet away but would MISS the sharply breaking right to lefter to drop another shot. +8 through 15.

Undaunted, I hit the very short par five 16th, only measuring 460 from the blues. It's a tricky shot off the tee but I nail another beauty center-cut, leaving only a measly 8-iron second. I leave it a bit short but it's an easy chip to a front pin and I stop the ball a foot away! I tap in for my third birdie of the day and I'm right back at +7!

The par three 17th is next and is playing 180 yards downwind to a front pin. I'd hit a great 8-iron about 15 feet from the flag. It was a pretty easy putt but at this point, I'm thinking two pars might be good enough to get in. Nevertheless, I give it a good look from both sides before walking up to the putt AND MAKING IT FOR ANOTHER BIRDIE!!! That one got a fist pump as I picked the ball out of the hole.

The young guy at this point asked me how many birdies I had on the back, thinking it was four but all I was thinking about at this point was the tough tee shot on 18.

You can see the last hole in the background at the top of the picture above, with the par three 17th just below it and the par five 12th green in the foreground at the bottom of the photo.

The 18th is a tough 368 yard shot up a huge hill with water on the left and bunkers on the right. For the first time all day, my legs were feeling a bit rubbery. I took a deep breath and unloaded my driver right down the freaking middle again! I had 126 left to the middle but the pin was well back so it was more like 140 yards or so to the pin, which was tucked well to the left. I recognized the sucker pin right way and aimed at the clubhouse clock well to the right. Unfortunately I left myself yet another ridiculously long, 80+ foot birdie putt that broke two times. I gave it a good look and rammed the putt at the hole.

"GO IN!", I shouted.

The ball actually hit the lip and dipped out, stopping 6 inches away. Awesome! I'd tap that in for par and a 35 (-1) on the back nine.

I made FOUR birdies on my last ten holes and played the last eleven holes in two under par to shoot a 78 (+6) on the day.

I can't remember a more satisfying finish in a competitive round of golf than this one!

My playing partners offered their congratulations on my solid back nine and we handed the scorecards in and grabbed some beers. I decided to wait for Harris to come in to see how he did, something you can check out for yourself at his blog
right here. He certainly has a funny story to tell about his round!

Harry was really pumped about my score and was willing to wait it out with me to see if I made it in. At this point, I was right on the bubble, so to speak.

There were 60 players who teed it up for this qualifier. Of those 60, the top 14 automatically gained entry into the actual championship and the next 5 would be named alternates. The GAO officials indicated that most of the alternates get into the tournament, due to the fact that many of the other qualifying sites don't have full fields like we did.

We watched as the group after Harris came in with TWO GUYS at 76. Damn! I felt like I was jinxing myself by waiting so I told Harry to forget it.

"Let's get outta here", I said.

At that time, there were 9 players left on the course and I was literally hanging on for dear life. I was tied for 14th with one other guy but I knew that I would win any tie-breakers due to my back nine score being the best in the field. Thankfully for me, that was the deciding factor for the GAO when using the retrogression method of tiebreakers.

It was a painful, one-day wait but I finally found out my fate yesterday afternoon. I finished tied for 15th, as one of the remaining nine players beat my score to leave me as the first alternate for the Championship.

I quickly did some math based on the remaining qualifiers and figured that there would be almost 20 spots for alternates assuming every exempt player for the event actually signs up. If my math is correct, I'm pretty much assured OF PLAYING IN THE 2008 ONTARIO MID-AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP!

Now I'm not going to get ahead of myself until I find out for sure next week. The remaining qualifiers are being held on Monday May 12th and I should find out shortly thereafter if I'm in the main event, taking place this year at Thornhill Country Club.

I haven't qualified for a provincial event in 17 years, with my last tournament being the Ontario Junior Championship in Blenheim, Ontario back when I was 18 years old. This would be my first provincial event as an adult and the biggest tournament I've ever played in.

I'm absolutely thrilled that I even have a chance at this and no matter what happens, I'll always look back fondly on a round that saw me grind to the bitter end.

When I hear any news, I'll be sure to post about it. Keep those fingers crossed for me!

1 comment:

  1. Mazel Tov!!

    Whats the big deal that the tourny is open to 25 year olds? Even if it was still 35 you'd be good for the last 6 years?

    ReplyDelete