Monday, June 30, 2008

One!!! (Part One)

The second round (quarterfinals) of the Niagara Cup took place this past weekend, with St. Catharines facing LochNess Links, formerly known as Hunters Pointe in the head-to-head match play competition.

Harry, grab a smoke and get comfortable because this could be another long post. Actually, I'll break it up into two posts. It was a very notable weekend for yours truly.

We beat Lockport Town G&CC in the first round of the competition, which I recapped in a
blog post here. I played in a better ball match, teaming with our senior club champion to win all three points in the St. Catharines leg of the competition after being unable to play at the Lockport leg due to a conflict with the Niagara Men's Tour.

On Saturday, we headed to LochNess Links to play the first leg of the quarterfinal round. I was going to be playing in a singles match against Brian E, a fine young player from LochNess. I had played with Brian one other time, that being a Niagara Men's Tour event a couple years back and he is a very smooth swinger who can belt the ball a long way. I looked forward to the match, as I knew Brian to be a great guy in addition to being a good player so it looked like it would be a fun day.

Our men's club champion and good friend Bernie was also playing in my foursome and he was facing the owner of LochNess AND his former employer in a singles match. Oooh, the drama!

Let me start by saying that LochNess is a linksy golf course, perhaps similar to what English Dave would see on the other side of the ocean. The wind was HOWLING at close to 40 miles per hour, almost as windy as the day Harry and I played the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach in April.

Here's how the match played out:

- HOLE 1 (Par 4): I drove it right down the pipe on what used to be number ten here (they switched the nines this year, keeping only #9 and #18 intact) but the wind grabbed my 4-iron second shot and blew it into the fescue left of the green. I chopped out short, chipped on terribly to 15 feet and missed the putt, making double. I conceded Brian's short bogey putt. Matt 1Down
- HOLE 2 (Par 3): This hole was playing 241 yards into the stiff breeze. Brian pulls his shot left of the bunker while I walk up and absolutely rifle a 2-iron hybrid right at the stick, ending up 2 feet away. Brian pitches long and misses his par putt while I stroke my birdie into the back of the cup.

"That's GOT to be money", Brian says, as there was a skins game going on too and you'd have to think that would be the only birdie on this hole today. Match All Square

- HOLE 3 (Par 5): I drive down the middle while Brian again goes left of the fairway. I drill another 2-iron hybrid just short of the green and Brian does the same. Chipping contest! I hit my ball just past the pin and it rolls back down the slope, leaving me with a testy little 8 footer downhill. Brian snuggles his in there about six feet short of the stick, right up the hill. I figure I need to make mine to halve and I do, knocking in my second consecutive birdie. Brian, however, misses. Matt 1up
- HOLE 4 (Par 4): I hit a weak push right of the fairway and Brian bombs his down the middle. I hit an excellent shot with a hybrid that just comes up short. I hit a poor pitch to 8 feet and miss, making bogey. Meanwhile, Brian again pulls his second, this time into the fescue. He punches out but has a 50 footer for par. He rams it well by but makes a clutch 7 footer for bogey to halve the hole. Matt 1up
- HOLE 5 (Par 3): Tiny little par three where I hit the green and have only 18 feet or so for birdie. Brian hits long but leaves his chip a foot away. I concede his par then barely miss my birdie putt. Matt 1up
- HOLE 6 (Par 5): I rock another drive here and Brian once again goes left. We both layup to around 100 yards and both hit the green, with me being a bit closer. He misses his birdie and I concede his par but my birdie effort is a bit frisky. He makes me putt my 4 footer and I make it. Matt 1up
- HOLE 7 (Par 4): This hole is called 'Half Pipe' due to the fact it slopes well downhill and has a bowl-shaped fairway. It was playing about 460 yards and was screaming downwind. I DESTROYED my drive and had a crowd-pleasing 93 yards to the middle. That's right Harris and Toast...a 367 yard drive! I'd hit my lob wedge to about 12 feet and barely miss the birdie putt. Brian hit into the greenside bunker and almost holed it, as I conceded his par. Matt 1up

At this point, I say something like "Great grinding Brian", a bit of gamesmanship perhaps on my part. I don't know if it affected him at all but I worried immediately after saying it that I might have inspired him to play better.

- HOLE 8 (Par 3): Another ridiculously long par three, this one measuring 245 yards. However, we had the wind at our backs and it's an elevated tee so I hit a 5-iron that just drifted right of the green, pin-high. Brian hit a beauty on the green, about 20 feet away. I'd hit another poor chip and miss my seven footer, making bogey while Brian made a three footer for par to even the match. Match All Square
- HOLE 9 (Par 5): Brian cracks here, finally, hitting a huge push slice into the water. I play safe and hit left of the fairway to avoid the big number. I give Brian a very good drop on the other side of the lake (I really could have forced him to reload he hit it so far right) and he lays up to about 150 yards. I hit a solid strike to about 100 yards then Brian AGAIN hits it into the water. Wow. I just make sure to clear the pond in front of the green and hit a solid wedge to about 12 feet. Brian drops and hits his sixth shot nicely to about 8 feet but concedes my birdie putt and the hole. Matt 1up

So I barely get my point for the front nine, shooting a 37 to his 41.

- HOLE 10 (Par 4): Brian hits his ball well right into the hazard and makes double. I hit a 4-iron down the middle, hit to the right side of the green and make par. Matt 2up Overall; Matt 1up Back Nine
- HOLE 11 (Par 4): I picked 4-iron again for this hole but thought it might be too much club to avoid the water. I made a wishy-washy swing and my ball goes right toward the hazard. It's dry but not really playable so I take my drop, hit into the greenside bunker and make double. Brian ALSO hits into the water but is able to salvage a bogey. Matt 1up Overall; Back Nine All Square
- HOLE 12 (Par 3): Brian hits his tee shot left and can't get up and down. I hit a beauty right over top of the flagstick but nail my birdie putt 6 feet past. I make the comebacker. Matt 2up Overall; Matt 1up Back Nine
- HOLE 13 (Par 4): Short par four here and I drive just into the second cut while Brian again snaps his drive into the fescue. He hits a fantastic punch shot to 5 feet and I don't get all of my wedge, coming up 20 feet short. I miss my birdie and am shocked when Brian also misses his. Matt 2up Overall; Matt 1up Back Nine
- HOLE 14 (Par 5): We both drive perfectly down the middle and I hit a hybrid layup to about 50 yards. Brian's layup sails well left again but he hits another terrific pitch shot to about 18 feet. He pars and I barely miss my 12 foot birdie putt. Matt 2up Overall; Matt 1up Back Nine
- HOLE 15 (Par 3): Very difficult 215 yard par 3 into the wind. I hit 3-iron hybrid to the front left of the green and Brian BARELY misses going in the water, just clearing the pond. He leaves his chip a foot away and I concede his par. Meanwhile, I leave my 40 foot birdie putt about 8 feet short but make a very difficult left to righter to salvage the halve. Matt 2up Overall; Matt 1up Back Nine
- HOLE 16 (Par 4): I make a mental error here. Pars were my friend at this point and I should have just hit a 4-iron down the middle on this short par four. Instead, I hit driver into a gaping fairway bunker, hack it out into the greenside bunker and make bogey. Brian makes a routine par. Matt 1up Overall; Back Nine All Square
- HOLE 17 (Par 4): Brian has new life and rips a drive down the middle while I go right of the fairway into the fescue. Luckily, I draw a great lie and I'm able to muscle an 8-iron to the front of the green. Brian hits onto about 20 feet and ends up making par. I hit a nice birdie putt from 40 feet to about 2 and a half feet but Brian, being one down, makes me putt. I easily make it and I have motivation going to the last hole. Matt 1up Overall; Back Nine All Square
- HOLE 18 (Par 5): The last hole is a downhill, downwind risk/reward par five with water running all the way down the left side. Brian hits a bunt driver that just goes into the right rough, about 220 yards away. I KILL a drive and am right down the middle, only 193 yards away. Brian's lie looks awkward and with 3 wood in his hand, smacks it right into the water.

Hmmm.

I contemplate laying up but 193 yards, uphill and downwind is just a good 5-iron for me so I decide what the hell.

Bang! 25 feet away for eagle!

Brian drops then hits his fourth shot to about 15 feet. I leave my eagle putt about 2 feet away and Brian graciously concedes the birdie and the match. Matt Wins 2up Overall; Matt Wins 1up Back Nine

So I'm able to nab all three points in the match and ended up shooting 75 from the backs, a pretty great score for me out there. Unbelievably, someone cut up my birdie on the 2nd hole but my birdie on the par five 3rd actually held up, giving me a $32.00 skin. Not bad!

We fared quite well the first day, taking 10.5 of the 18 points available to give us a 3 point lead going back home to St. Catharines the next day. How did we fare, you ask? And what in the hell does the title "One!!!" mean?

Well, lets just say that Mother Nature had a huge say in what happened and when we finally got started for real, we weren't at St. Catharines OR LochNess Links.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pine Acres Better Ball

Saturday was an extremely busy day for my wife and I but I was still able to get in a round of golf early in the morning with the regular gang.

Got to have my priorities in order, right?

We have a lottery system at St. Catharines for weekend times due to demand and it usually works out pretty well, with most of the times booked for our 8-12 guys ending up close together. That didn't happen on Saturday, as the times I scheduled for 7:45am saw us get one at 7:15am and the other at 8am.

Thankfully, everyone showed up for their times and I ended up playing with Bernie and Harris that morning, with our standard $5.00 wager all around, match play format with no strokes.

I've been fortunate enough to get into Bernie's pocket quite a bit early on this year, probably at a 50% clip. Not bad considering he's won the club championship about 8 times and is a scratch player. We throw a little trash talk all around to start and then Harry tells us a story that has us practically in tears of laughter.

Unfortunately, it's not safe to talk about at a clean, family site like Now on the Tee. ;)

Right off the bat, it looks like I'm going to go low. I hit a great opening drive off the 10th hole (our first of the day), hit a hybrid club just short then pitch to about two feet. Both Harry and Bernie are also in tight but both miss their birdie efforts on the aerated greens but I tap mine in to start off at one under.

I barely miss birdie on the second hole then pretty much lip out my tee shot on the par three 12th, ending up about two feet behind the stick. I'd tap that one in and I'm two under through three.

Hoo baby!

I'd make a routine par on the tough 13th and to this point, I've hit every shot right on the button. Literally a perfect start through four.

I would start to get sloppy with the swing though. I'd hit a crappy iron into the front bunker on 14 and not get up and down, make decent pars on 15 & 16 but then bogey both 17 & 18 for a slightly disappointing 37 on our first nine, considering my start.

The sloppiness would continue with bogeys on #1 and #2, four bogeys in a row.

"Man, I can't stop the bleeding", I stutter to Harris, who couldn't give two shits about my predicament I'm sure, as he was masterfully playing army golf through his first eleven holes.

Left, Right, Left....Left....Left, Right, Left.

Actually, it was more rights then lefts but you get the drift.

I'd finally make a par on the 3rd, follow with a par on 4 then hit a gorgeous hybrid second shot into the long 5th after a poor drive to about six feet. I'd sink that for my third birdie of the day to get back to +2.

I'd par six, bogey seven, make a two putt birdie on #8 and barely miss another birdie on the ninth to come back in 37 shots, shooting a 74 (+2).

I'd win my match against Bernie, win two bets against Harry (he had the balls to press me after being four down through nine holes) and also clean up with two skins as I continue to vacuum in the cash lately. Well, I didn't win a lot, especially since Harry didn't have enough money to pay me off. Well, he bought me a pop so he only owes me $8.00 now. ;)

I then had to go out and get a birthday present for my godson, follow that with a long session in my yard, cutting the grass and weeding then got washed up and headed to the godson's birthday party with my wife.

We only stayed an hour because we then had to drive to Buffalo to pick up my wife's sister and her two kids, as they are visiting from Redmond, Washington for three weeks. They are staying at their mother's place and we all had a great dinner and a bunch of beers and wine to top the night off. Busy day!

I followed that up by heading down to Bradford, Pennsylvania the next morning with my buddies Jay, Toast and Doctor Greg for the Pine Acres Better Ball tournament. We grabbed breakfast at the club beforehand then made the lovely two plus hour drive through the States.

Bernie and Joey B also headed down in their own car so there were six of us who ultimately made the trip. Harry had to bow out this year due to a party he had to attend - he also had to play his first round Langley match and you can read his eventful recap
here.

Pine Acres is a true hidden gem - it's located up on top of a mountain and is just a beautiful and fun golf course to play. There's nothing special about it but all I can say is that it's a peaceful place to tee it up, with majestic pines lining the fairways and a great set of green complexes that drive you completely batty if you aren't confident with the flatstick.

While the course continues to be well worth the drive, the tournament itself continues to get weaker. The first year I went, it was fully sponsored by Rolling Rock, the Pennsylvania beer company, and there were kegs on about six holes along with barbeque stations all over the course.

All the booze and grub was included in the $70.00 entry fee.

Rolling Rock pulled their sponsorship about three years ago and the course went down to one area with beer and food, at the halfway house between #9 & #10.

This year? No beer for free. None. Not a big deal to me, as I don't drink much anyway but still a chincy move considering the entry fee didn't go down.

The green fee to walk the golf course on weekends is a palty $30.00. Like I said, it's a true hidden gem and is a complete STEAL to play for that amount. You can play and ride for $40.00 and if you decide to play 36, you get the second 18 for the regular price of a cart, which is $17.00. So you can play two rounds of golf, with a cart there for $57.00 during high season.

That's nuts for a course of this quality.

It also proves that the tournament is drastically overpriced but I'll likely still go back next year without even questioning it. I want to get into the money one year!

It wasn't to be in 2008 though. Jay and I teamed up and neither of us played our best. Things started off well enough for me, as I parred my first hole, starting on their dogleg right par four 14th.

The hole above is the great, downhill par five 15th, which I was forced to make a six footer for par after leaving my birdie putt woefully short. I'd par both 16 and 17 as well, then hit a big drive on the par five 18th. I'd slightly pull my hybrid approach from about 245 yards and ended up in the pond fronting the green. I'd make bogey there but come back in style with a great birdie on the par four 1st hole to get back to even.

I'd par both the 2nd and 3rd holes so I'm even par through 8 holes.

Then, came my nemesis hole at Pine Acres: the dreaded par five 4th hole. This sucker measures a sporty 587 yards from the MIDDLE TEES at Pine Acres and is a big, dogleg right where any drives pulled left are out of bounds. Left is my miss, so I decided to hit a two iron hybrid off the tee. I'd yank that too but I was still in play and in reasonably good shape. I'd hit four-iron, seven-iron and find myself in the front right bunker, with a very short little blast shot to the front pin.

No problem right? Not on this green!

I'd take four shots to get down from there, making an ugly double bogey seven to start a streak of sloppy play. I'd bogey the next two holes, pick up a six footer on the 7th with Jay already in the hole with par then right the ship somewhat with a birdie chip-in on the eighth hole to get back to +3 on my own ball.

I'd par the ninth, shown above, as Jay hits his approach into the green after his best drive of the day but would get an awful bounce on the short par four tenth, shown below, as my ball would end up just out of bounds and I was out of that hole with a computer double.

I'd also bogey our last hole, the par three 13th to shoot a 78 (+6), a pretty crappy score for me but definitely it was all I deserved on this day. Jay shot an 86 and our better ball score of 75 won us nothing. In fact, our net 71 tied for the worst score in the tournament I believe. Not that we were going to win a net prize anyway! Still, it was a fun day and it was nice getting out to play with Jay again, who hopefully had a good time regardless of our bad luck with the score.

Bernie and Joey actually finished second in the tournament, shooting a better ball score of 68 on the strength of Bernie's personal round of 69 - that's good shooting! Toast and the good doctor combined for a fine 72 and finished one spot out of the money.

This was my fourth time down there and I've yet to do better than 74 as a best ball score. Not pretty but still, I had a fun day, the course and company were great, the ice cream at the foot of the hill still rules the world (we stopped both on the way to the course AND on the way home) and we finished it off with some pizza at Bugsy's back home.

Great day!

I'm heading to Glen Abbey tomorrow for the annual Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Halton charity golf tournament. My father and I are the defending champions of the event so we were invited back again this year. You can relive the glory by reading last year's writeup
here. We are playing with two different partners this year and neither of them are ringers like we had last year so there won't be a repeat, I assure you.

Hopefully, the rain holds off - it's a great tournament for a fantastic cause and it's always a treat to play Glen Abbey, which is once again hosting the Canadian Open this year so it should be in great shape.

This is a broken up holiday weekend in Canada as well, with Canada Day falling on Tuesday. I have Niagara Cup matches on both Saturday and Sunday then will just play with the regular gang on Tuesday, as Toast and I decided to pass on St. Thomas G&CC despite winning the lottery for the reciprical tee time that day. That's because our two other partners in crime, Doctor Greg and Harry have to work that day. Someday, we'll get to play that gem of a course!

Oh yeah, just wanted to bust on Harry just one last time (I swear) by proudly saying that I hit his own goal on the weekend, dropping to a 2 handicap after the 74 on Saturday. My current index is down to 1.9 and is only 0.2 away from my lifetime best mark of 1.7.

I don't know if I have a scratch handicap in me but it's satisfying to get back to a 2 again. Now, I just need to break par for the first time this year! Hopefully that great round is just around the corner.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Gentlemen's Invitational; Langley Cup First Round

It was another long, golf-filled week for yours truly.

For the first time, I decided to play in our club's Member/Guest tournament. It's one of the more prestigious tourney's of its kind in Ontario and one of the few that runs for three days.

My wife's uncle, a member at Glencairn, was really anxious to play this year and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse so I booked Thursday and Friday off from work to partner up with him.

The week began on Wednesday night with a big party at the tournament chairman's house. There were well over a hundred people in attendence, with all the beer and liquor you could imagine being served in the backyard, along with a buffet dinner. It was a great way to kick off the tournament and I met a lot of new people that night.

The tournament began on Thursday morning. All three rounds were two-man best ball, with Thursday utilizing 80% of your handicap, Friday 90% and Saturday the Full Monty. We picked up our bag of goodies (Personalized Pro V1s, printed divot tools, printed flasks, printed wallets), ate the barbeque lunch and then headed to the tee.

It was a shotgun that morning and we started on the par five 8th hole, a great starting hole. We would make a net birdie there to get off to a good start and in fact, I'd play lights out for most of the round. I was -2 on my own ball through 10 holes but started to run out of gas a bit by the time I hit the 18th (our 11th hole).

I'd bogey that for my first blemish of the day and make three more bogies coming in, shooting a fine 74 on my own ball (net 70). Unfortunately, my partner was a bit nervous and didn't play very well, only contributing four shots to our score but our 66 was good enough to tie for the win in our flight for the first day.

A note about this tournament: there is more gambling during these three days than my buddy Toast would see in his lifetime. First of all, there are pari-mutuel bets every day, where the top teams in each flight pay out based on the bets placed in the overall pool, similar to track betting.

Then there is the calcutta, which was much different this year than in previous years, where there was a live auction for each team and the bidding would get well into the thousands for certain teams. It began to get uncomfortable for many members to have to pay four figures just to get half ownership of their team so the club decided to go with a different structure this year.

Part of our entry fee went to the calcutta and there were to be four-team calcutta baskets this year, based on the reflighting of the teams after the first day. You with me so far?

Didn't think so. You need a doctorate to understand all the wagering.

Then, lastly but most importantly, there are 'Challenge Matches', where the members go out and whore themselves to other members to try to get games. You basically commit to playing three, one-day matches with as many teams as you choose for five bucks a man, or ten per team. The club gives each team a nice scorecard so you can keep track of all your wagers and list all the scores after the round concludes.

So, if I decide to wager Team A, if we win all three days, we profit $30.00 ($5/man times two men per team, times three days). If we win two and lose one, we profit $10.00 there.

Anyhoo, there were actually a lot of people that didn't want to play us, saying the odds of beating low handicappers is too long and they would prefer to not wager against us. Wonderful. So we only had ten challenge matches going out of the 63 possible opponents. Wimps.

The first day was a good one. We had wagered three pari-mutuel tickets on ourselves and since we tied for the flight win, our ticket was a winner. However, there must have been a lot of people wagering on us because our $10 ticket paid a crappy $12.00. Ha.

We also won two other pari-mutuels to come out slightly ahead on day one there. We only lost one challenge match too, to the Morrison brothers, who I was told the night before to avoid betting. Well, I decided to go for it because I'm a stubborn son of a bitch.

The tournament was reflighted and thankfully, we stayed in the Championship flight. Once the reflighting took place, things were set for the entire weekend. Staying in the Championship flight still gave us a chance at winning the entire tournament, although we were five shots back after the first day to the aforementioned Morrison's, who shot a 61.

Don't even get me started on the guest's ridiculously high handicap that allowed them to shoot that score.

The night ended with a spectacular live lobster and New York Strip dinner and an open bar.

I got seriously trashed on the first night and was pretty much hungover the entire next day at the course, which didn't bode well for our prospects in the tournament.

I'd shoot a terrible 81 on day two on my own ball, not making a single birdie along the way. I doubled our first hole (the par four 2nd) when I hit my second shot about 30 yards over the green down to the rope tow that comes up from our 8th green.

I've played golf at St. Catharines for over 20 years and I've NEVER hit a shot there before.

The day never improved for me but thankfully, my partner was on fire, shooting an 84 or so off his 14 handicap and we were able to squeeze out another 66 on the day. 12 under was certainly respectable but it wasn't going to win us anything on this day, nor did it help us in our goal to get into contention. We were now 8 shots back of the Morrison's, who followed up their 61 with an equally impressive (suspicious?) 63.

Our calcutta basket looked okay but we were still well behind getting 'in the money'. The calcutta is where the huge money is and where you can easily pay for the whole weekend and more if you finish first.

Friday night was much more subdued than the previous evening, with a pig roast barbeque on the menu. Oh yeah, and no alcohol at all for this guy. Not a drop.

We were still in the top ten at this point and had the third last tee time on Saturday morning, when they went to a cross-over system as opposed to a shotgun start. My game returned a bit this day but unfortunately, my partner REALLY struggled. He was so wound up that even our playing partners were asking me if he ever says anything. Ha.

I tried to loosen him up a bit (and that's something coming from me, one of the more uptight guys on a golf course) but he was so upset at himself for playing poorly. Henry ended up shooting a 92 on Saturday but I shot a solid 76 with a couple key birdies, including a great one on the 18th hole in front of the gallery to nail down yet another 66 to get us to 18 under par for the tournament.

Very respectable, for sure, but we'd finish 12th overall out of the 64 teams and 6th in our flight of 8. So no money there.

We'd get shut out of the calcutta as well, finishing 5th or 6th there when the top three teams pay out big.

Thankfully, we scored huge in our challenge matches. We'd lose all three days to the Morrison's, who ended up winning the event, finishing at 28 under par. We'd lose $10.00 to one other team but other than that, we profited in every other match we played and ended up splitting about $200.00. Not bad!

The night was capped with an excellent cocktail party, followed by a four-course meal with the spouses along with dancing. It ended up being a really long night, with the main course not getting served until after 10pm but it was a FANTASTIC three days and one that I expect to repeat next year with the same partner.

Tremendous fun.

I had to follow that by getting up at dawn on Sunday to play in my first round Langley Cup match. The Langley, which was won by my buddy Toast last year, is the Club's Match Play Championship for 0-7 handicappers, with full handicap used.

My opponent, Brad B, a very solid player, was playing to a four so I'd have to give him one shot in the match.

I was exhausted after the three day member/guest but we had to get the match in before a) June 30th and more importantly b) before they punched the greens the next day.

So off we went. Here is the match in my special, encapsulated form:

- Hole 1 (Par 4): I hit 4-iron right of the fairway, punch out in front of the green and can't get up and down. Brad has just as much trouble and we both bogey. All Square
- Hole 2 (Par 4): I drive just left of the fairway, hit my approach short then pitch up to three feet. Brad hits his drive down the right side but inexplicably pulls his approach about 30 yards left of the green down the valley into 16. He concedes the hole. Matt 1up
- Hole 3 (Par 4): I hit it up top, right down the middle then Brad hits it way left off the tee. Even more strange is the sound that comes from his ankle after his swing. CRACK!!!

"I just got my ankle drained this week", he says, wincing in pain.

I wonder if this match is going to play out. He looks hurt.

He goes on to make bogey once again while I get up and down from just off the green. Matt 2up

- Hole 4 (Par 3): I hit my tee shot short right while Brad hits one to the left side of the green, about 30 feet away. My chip shot almost goes in, and my par is conceded. I'm ready to do the same but Brad leaves his birdie putt about 8 feet short. I have visions of being three up after four but Brad steps up and makes the putt. Matt 2up
- Hole 5 (Par 4): I hit a weak drive up the right side, leaving myself a rescue shot into the long par four. I duff it, leaving a full wedge third, which I hit to about 12 feet. I'd miss that putt and concede Brad's par putt. Matt 1up
- Hole 6 (Par 5): I hit a big drive down the middle but layup with my second shot, leaving myself about 60 yards for my third. I'd hit another crappy wedge just short but two putt from the fringe for par. Brad would miss a four footer and make bogey. Matt 2up
- Hole 7 (Par 3): I'd hit a good shot here but the ball would trickle through the green just over. My chip shot ended up five feet short but I'd make it. Brad hit his ball into the greenside bunker and blasted out to a foot, a putt I'd concede. Matt 2up

Interestingly enough, I still haven't hit a green in regulation at this point of the match.

- Hole 8 (Par 5): I'd get distracted, like I easily do, and slice a ball well right of the fairway. I got lucky and had a small opening through the trees and punched safely into the fairway. I'd finally hit a wedge correctly and had a ten footer for birdie that just missed. Brad would make par as well but he got his shot here and took the hole. Matt 1up
- Hole 9 (Par 4): I would absolutely murder my drive here, leaving an 8-iron approach on the 449 yard hole. I'd hit it a bit thin but it was right on line and I ended up with a kick-in birdie. Brad wouldn't be a factor, making bogey. Matt 2up

So I hit it all over the park, hit only two greens, yet shoot 38 and lead by two. I was just getting warmed up.

- Hole 10 (Par 5): Brad pulled his drive into the bunker left and hit the lip coming out. He'd stumble to a bogey. Meanwhile, I'd rip a drive then hit a 214 yard 3-iron hybrid just onto the left fringe. From 30 feet or so, I'd nail the putt center cut for the eagle! Matt 3up
- Hole 11 (Par 4): Brad would hit two solid shots to about 25 feet but his putting continued to let him down. He'd knock his first putt six feet by and miss the comebacker. I'd hit 3-iron hybrid, PW to 12 feet and just leave it short, tapping in for par. Matt 4up
- Hole 12 (Par 3): I hit an awesome 6-iron to about 10 feet and then watch Brad hit it just inside me. We'd both barely miss our birdie putts and tap in for par. Matt 4up
- Hole 13 (Par 4): Brad played a great hole here, making a routine par. I'd hit my drive a bit left then hit my approach shot left of the green, which is just dead. However, I'd hit a fantastic chip shot to four feet and roll that in for the great par. Matt 4up

So I'm cruising along here at even par after being three over at one point and know that one more hole win takes the match.

- Hole 14 (Par 3): I hit a brutal shot into the front greenside bunker then skull the shot out from a good lie. I'd run my chip shot six feet past and concede Brad's par putt. Matt 3up

Uh oh. Is the match getting interesting?

- Hole 15 (Par 5): Brad plays the hole solidly, leaving himself a 20 foot birdie putt that he'd just miss. I'd drive in the left rough, hit a 7-iron to about 120 yards then hit a glorious gap wedge to four feet. I'd knock that in for birdie to win the match. Matt WINS 4&3

Really solid game from my standpoint, with the only drawback being the fact that Brad didn't have his best game. However, I really think I WON this match as opposed to Brad LOSING the match. Two birdies and an eagle is pretty good.

I'd go onto double bogey the par three 17th and shoot a fine 74 (+2) overall to end a great weekend of golf.

My handicap index has dropped back down to 2.2, right where I started the year and I continue to run hot after last weekend's great play at Riverview on the Men's Tour.

Hopefully, my hot putter can hold up. I recently bought a Taylor Made Rossa Daytona 1 putter and it has singlehandedly transformed my once ugly putting stats into the realm of respectability.

I'll need the flatstick this weekend, as Toast, Doctor Kosty and my good buddy Jay are heading down to Pennsylvania with Bernie and Joey B for the annual Pine Acres Two Ball tournament in Bradford. We missed the event last year so we're greatly anticipating the weekend ahead.

I'll be sure to bring the camera down for that affair!

Monday, June 09, 2008

2008 Niagara Men's Tour - Event Three (Riverview)

I had a couple of days to get the bad scores from Thornhill out of my mind before some weekend golf, which included a round at St. Catharines with the boys on Saturday and a Sunday round at Riverview GC, a course I had never played before, which was hosting the third leg of the Niagara Men's Tour.

The game returned in full force!

I played Saturday with Toast and Harry, along with our guest Dr. Greg K, who is a good buddy of the Toastman. It was a fun round and we could only laugh at Greg, who just couldn't believe how much we needle each other on the course.

The round started innocently enough, as I bogeyed our third hole (the 12th) and doubled the par 3 14th to go +3 through five holes. I started to get molten hot on the next hole, making a nice up and down for par.

Then I went on a run:

#16 - Wedge to 3 feet; BIRDIE
#17 - 5-iron to 15 feet; leave it on the lip; PAR
#18 - 6-iron to 18 feet on the fringe; BIRDIE
#1 - Pitching Wedge to 12 feet; BIRDIE

I'd proceed to barely miss birdie putts on the next three holes as well in an attempt to get into red figures but it was to no avail. I'd bogey the par three 7th and par the last two to shoot a fine 73 (+1) from the back tees, only one shot off my personal best from that deck.

I was the only round in the 70's on Saturday among the 8 guys who teed it up, including our good buddy Gary, who decided to walk off the golf course for the upteenth time this year after only 8 holes. I won big in the skins, hollywoods and in my personal games, taking home $31.00 on the day, a big haul for me this year and one that finally put me on the plus side of the betting ledger for 2008.

On Sunday, I headed to Riverview Golf Club for the third leg of the Niagara Men's Tour. I had a rough start to the year and was in 24th position overall heading into the day. More importantly, my buddy Harry was breathing down my neck in the standings after a respectable top-20 finish in the second event at Grand Niagara two weeks earlier.

I had never played Riverview before and was lucky to draw Frank M from Lookout Point and John R from Beechwood as my playing partners, two vets on tour who played practice rounds earlier in the week at the course.

I also benefitted from teeing off first yesterday, making up for teeing off last at Grand Niagara and being forced to play in a fivesome. No such nonsense yesterday.

It was an exciting round for yours truly.

I started off on the par five first hole by hitting my birdie putt 12 feet past the hole then making the comebacker for par to get any nerves out of the way quickly. I made another solid two-putt par on the second before stiffing a wedge to 3 feet on the par four third. I'd make that and was quickly one under par.

I hit a loose tee shot into the par three fourth shot, hitting 8-iron into the greenside bunker and I'd make bogey, promptly giving back the shot.

The tough par four 5th was next and I hit two tremendous shots to get a birdie putt from only 7 feet, but I'd miss that to stay at even.

I'd make a routine par on the 6th then made excellent up and downs on both #7 and #8 to reach the 195 yard par three 9th, which was playing into a big wind. I'd hit 4-iron about 20 yards long and just miss getting up and down again, instead settling for bogey and a front nine of 38 (+1).

My lack of course knowledge first reared its ugly head on the par four 10th, as I foolishly stepped to the tee without asking about the hole beforehand. I hit a perfect drive but I misjudged the dogleg and I ended up in the trees. I'd punch out to 80 yards, hit a wedge that spun back to 25 feet then MADE THE FRICKIN' PUTT for the awesome par.

I got nailed for my good fortune on the next hole, a treacherous 225 yard, uphill par three that played into a stiff breeze. I hit what I thought was a perfect 3-iron hybrid but it took a crazy hop over the bunker and ended up in the hazard by a foot. I'd make double there and was now +3 on the day.

I had to scramble a bit for par on the short par four 12th and that motivated me to go on a hot streak the likes of which I haven't seen this year.

#13 Par 4 410 yards: Driver, LW to 5 feet - BIRDIE
#14 Par 4 410 Yards: Driver, LW to 15 feet - BIRDIE
#15 Par 5 475 Yards: Driver into trees, punch out, LW to 12 feet - BIRDIE

Oooh baby! Back to even par and I'm FEELING IT, BROTHER!

Up comes the short 133 yard par three 16th. Sounds easy right? Except for the fact that the pin was on the most ridiculous slope you can possibly imagine. It's screaming downwind and I hit a loose gap wedge that hits the left side of the green and bounces way left.

I'm DEAD.

But I hit the most awesome lob shot of the year, the ball trickles next to the hole...and keeps rolling....and rolling...until it finally stops about 12 feet away.

The slope on this green was eerily similar to those found at Thornhill earlier in the week.

I'd leave that par putt short, tapping in for bogey. Ugh.

I'd smartly hit a 4-iron off the 362 yard par four 17th and I was dead center, only 146 yards away. I tried to smooth a 9-iron in there but hit a dead-pull. The ball nailed a tree that protrudes from a greenside bunker and ricocheted straight left onto the 15th tee. I'd take four more to get in the hole from there, making a crushing double bogey.

I somehow resisted the temptation to hit driver on the 310 yard par four finisher, instead nailing another 4-iron dead center. This time, I had only 60 yards left and I hit my best shot of the day, an open faced lob wedge that hit on the front of the green and snuggled up to about a foot and a half.

Sweetness!

I'd tap that in for my fourth birdie in six holes and my fifth of the day to shoot a very satisfying 74 (+2) on the day.

I'd hold the lead with that score until about three quarters of the way through the field, when last year's overall champion Jim B came in one shot better than me after playing with my boy Harris, who shot a stunning (that's one word for it) 94.

Yes, I said 94.

Hey Harry...I beat you BY TWENTY FRICKIN' SHOTS! WTF?!

Oh well...at least he can beat a girl in squash so all is well in his world.

When all was said and done, no one else came in lower than me and I finished in a tie for second place, tying my best ever finish on tour in my five years out there.

I won a one hundred dollar voucher for the finish and jumped from 24th overall to 11th in the process.

It was a great weekend on the links!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Thornhill CC Wins the Battle

Well, I am defeated. The golf course won the battle again today.

For awhile, I thought I was going to come out on top and even had aspirations of making the cut. I figured I'd need about a 71 and it turns out a 74 would have been good enough.

I actually had it going alright today. I hit a perfect drive on the first and a good second but three putted for a bogey. No problem...

I'd par the second and third and hit my first bad shot of the day on the fourth, making another bogey. +2 through 4, same score as yesterday.

However, I'd make a good par on the fifth to better yesterdays score by two shots so I figured I was ahead of the game.

Not so fast. For the second straight day, I'd push/slice my tee shot on the par four sixth into the hazard and make yet another double bogey. +4 through 6.

That's when things got interesting for me. I'd par the seventh hole then chip in for birdie on the par five eighth. I followed that with a good two-putt par on nine to shoot a 38 (+3) on the front.

Not bad! Still in it!

I'd par the 10th, bogey 11 then make great pars on both 12 and 13 to sit at a solid +4 through 13.

I'm grinding away like usual, making good two putt pars most of the way and hitting a lot of greens. However, my driver was really letting me down - I had yet to hit a fairway with it on the day.

So I took out a 4-iron, which had served me well through the first two days, on the midlength par four 14th. I hit my first bad shot with it, into the trees right of the fairway. I'd smartly pitch out, hit on and three putt again for double.

I was slightly perturbed but not upset yet. Still two par fives to play...

Well, the golf course completely got me on the next hole, the downhill par five 15th. The last two days, my approach shots spun wildly back off the green, which tilts severely from back to front.

I had only 125 yards for my third shot, usually a pitching wedge and an easy one at that. I decided I'd need a punch 8-iron today into a slight breeze to keep the spin off the ball and stay on the green.

Huge mistake...I'd pull the half shot into the bunker. Still, no big deal right? Well, on this green, it was a killer. It would take me 5 SHOTS to get down from that bunker, as I sprayed it past the hole onto the collar, then watched my chip roll half way to the hole then come back down the slope right to the same position it was just in. Nice. I'd take three more to get down from there, making a triple bogey eight.

Note to Harry: at least two legs slaps, multiple curse words, taking the Lord's name in vein, and one smack of the turf with my driver on this hole or on my way to the next tee.

Still tilting hard, I pull my drive on the dogleg left par four 16th towards some trees and it smacks something hard. No big deal, it's pretty open over there...

Only, we don't find my ball. I was RUNNING trying to find it inside the five minute window but no luck - I had to make the long trek back to the tee and reload. I'd smack my best tee ball of the day from there but still would make triple once again.

Unbelievable. From +4 and looking good through 13...I go +8 on the next three holes.

I'd finish off by missing a five footer for birdie on the 17th, making par and making an all-world two putt par on the 18th for an 83 and a two-day total of 168, missing the cut by nine shots.

Bernie was 86 today but it offers little consolation. I had a chance today but the big scores just were too much for me to overcome this week. You can't make three triples and 7 or 8 doubles during a tournament and expect to make a cut.

I'm more disappointed today than I was yesterday but I'm sure I'll get over it in the next couple of days. I still got to play in a provincial event for the first time in almost two decades so I'm sure I'll eventually look back fondly on the event.

It just makes me want to get back to the dance next year.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Well, I'm Not in Last!

I played like garbage today. Yeah, it poured for almost the entire round but a lot of others had to endure the same conditions, so no excuses.

I just didn't hit the ball well enough today but I did play better than my score indicates.

I shot an 85. Still don't know how I really did it but it is what it is. I'm not upset, just a bit disappointed is all.

What a wild start - with rain teaming down, I slice my opening drive into the woods right of the fairway. I hit a provisional even further into the trees. Ha!

Thankfully, we found my original, I punched out to about 130 yards then hit it on the green about 15 feet away. Boom, in she goes for the wild par!

Number two is a shortish par four and I hit 4-iron dead center. I'm left with a little 8-iron and I duff it into the hazard. Nice!

I'd drop, hit short of the green, chip on and miss my putt...that's a triple bogey seven for those counting at home.

I'd par the third hole then make a great birdie on the par four 4th hole so I'm okay at +2 through four.

Then, the wheels fell off. My club slipped a bit in the rain on the par three fifth and I ended up about 15 yards short of the green. My pitch shot ran through the green to the back and I'd three putt that for double.

Then on the tough par four sixth, I hit my ball down the right side and watched it take a hideous kick to the right...into a hazard. I'd drop, hit just short, chip on and two putt for another double.

The greatness would continue. I'd make yet another double on the par three 7th from right beside the green, taking four shots to get in the hole from about 20 feet.

No nerves again...just terrible chipping and unlucky on the greens.

Gosh, I'm sick of recapping.

Let's just say the rest of the round was more of the same, just with no more doubles.

Most of my approach shots were decent but would spin back off the green and I rarely was able to get up and down. I shot a 44 on the front and came in with a 41 on the back.

Funny enough, the 85 was the best in my group. Yup, we're world beaters.

Again, disappointing but not the end of the world. I still get one more round tomorrow before they cut my ass from the tournament. Maybe I'll take a cart and roll it into the water to get my money's worth or something.

Hey, it's great just being in the tournament so no tears from me!

Ah, who am I kidding...I hate shooting bad scores like that...hopefully tomorrow is a better day, both weatherwise and on the scoreboard.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Mid-Am Preview

The 2008 Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship kicks off officially tomorrow, with 18 holes Tuesday and 18 on Wednesday, followed by a cut down to the top 60 plus ties. The final round will be played on Thursday.

I headed up to Thornhill Country Club with Bernie early this morning to play a practice round and to register for the tournament. We picked up our 'Competitor's Package', which consisted of food vouchers, rule sheets, a nice 2008 Mid-Am embroidered hat and a 2008 Mid-Am key chain, along with a yardage guide. Swanky! ;)

We met up with my supplier rep Scott and teed off right around 10am this morning.

What a beautiful golf course! The first hole (shown above) is a 407 yard dogleg right par four that plays well downhill into the valley. I drove my tee shot left of the fairway, hit a pitching wedge to about 18 feet and drained the putt for birdie.

I then threw my ball into the greenside bunker to check out the sand, blasted out and hit the flagstick, stopping an inch away.

"Well, that's all for me guys, I'm done!", I said to howls of laughter.

I'm not going to go into full detail about my round or the course just yet, as I'm pretty exhausted after the great day of golf and meeting new people, including Canadian rocker Tom Cochrane, an avid player and a participant in the event as well.

I didn't make my first bogey until the par three 7th and also bogeyed the par four ninth to shoot a one over 36 on the front.

This is a very hilly golf course and I started to lose steam on the tough par four 13th, making double bogey. I started spraying my driver after that but thankfully, this isn't a course that requires too many tee shots with the big dog (I hit only nine drivers today but will only hit seven or eight tomorrow, wind and weather permitting).

One of the many highlights on the day was the 368 yard par four 11th hole (shown above), named "Nelson's Folly" due to the fact that Byron Nelson didn't make one par during his Canadian Open triumph hear in the 1950's.

What a cool golf hole! You sling a rescue or long iron down the fairway and need to be on the left side of the fairway to give yourself a chance to hit the hidden green, sunk well below fairway level. You can barely make out the top of the flagstick in the shot above.

The green is very well protected by bunkers and the green slopes sharply from FRONT TO BACK, similar to a number of greens at Oakmont. I went 4-iron/PW to about 20 feet in front of the flag, barely touched my putt and watched it roll 15 feet past the pin. I'd hit the comebacker and as it was tracking said:

"Byron Nelson didn't do this!"

The putt went right into the cup for my par and the skin on the hole! Sweet.

I'd also make my first EAGLE of the year on the short par five 17th, hitting driver/9-iron to a foot and a half. Haha. Well, I guess that's one reason the Golf Association of Ontario is turning this 454 yard dogleg left hole into a par four for the tournament, making the course a par 70 for the event.

I ended up shooting a solid 76 on the day but I know that the pin positions will be much tougher tomorrow than they were today so I'll have to be very sharp to shoot a similar score.

I'm starting to get a bit nervous and hope that I can keep my nerves in check for the most part.

It's going to be an exciting couple of days for me! I'll report back tomorrow with my first day summary. If you are a bit on the anxious side, you can check out the
official leaderboard on the GAO site...not sure when they will update the scores but I'm certain that they will have it updated before I get a chance to post tomorrow night.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Niagara Cup - First Round

This weekend was a much needed rest from the constant travelling I've been doing lately. Of course, it all starts up again tomorrow but I really needed to hang out at 'home base' for a weekend and try to get my game back.

We braved poor weather conditions very early on Saturday morning and it turned out to be quite a nice day. I had my member/guest partner come down for the morning to see the course so I was playing regardless of how poor the weather was but again, the rain held off for the most part.

I shot a 78 from the backs on Saturday and was pretty fortunate to do so - I only hit five greens in regulation but I actually had 12 birdie putts...that's a lot of fringe putts! I took the Taylor Made Rossa Daytona blade putter out for a test spin and REALLY liked it, so much so that I decided that I'd be buying it the next day.

The wife and I joined a couple of friends of mine for a nice couples night on the town, hitting Fresco's for an average pasta meal and then Dairy Queen for some ice cream. No bar hopping for us old agers!

I got to sleep in this morning due to the fact I'd be participating in the first round of the Niagara Cup. Today was the second and last leg of the opening round matchup versus Lockport Town G&CC out of New York state. We had a slight 10-8 points advantage going into today's round - I didn't get to play at Lockport for that leg due to playing at Grand Niagara last week on the Men's Tour.

Today wasn't even close - St. Catharines literally SWEPT every match! It's a match play format similar to the Ryder Cup but there are three points available for every match - one for winning the front, one for the back and the last for the overall match.

I was playing in one of the two better ball matchups on the day, paired with our Senior Club Champion Tom Y. Tom is a very solid player and was a pleasure to play with, as were our competitors from Lockport. However, their games weren't on today and we pretty much crushed them, taking the front nine 4up and winning the back nine 2up.

I even won a skin with my first hole birdie three, making my first profit on the year in golf course betting (not including all of the dinners I won from my boy Harry down in Florida!). I shot a cool 75 on the day, hit 12 greens in regulation and easily could have been under par with some better fortune on the greens.

We will go on to face the winner of the LochNess Links/Lookout Point matchup sometime in the next few weeks.

Tomorrow is the start of my huge week: my first ever Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship! I'm playing a practice round tomorrow with my buddy and fellow St. Catharines member Bernie B and one of my supplier reps, Scottie T, a member at Cutten Club. The championship itself begins on Tuesday and there will be a 36 hole cut made on Wednesday night. The final round is on Thursday.

I will be bringing my camera out for all three days to take in everything and in addition to having a tournament preview up tomorrow night, I will have daily reports here on my progress in the tournament, starting on Tuesday.