Saturday, October 18, 2008

Golf Season Ends on a High

The last leg of the 2008 Niagara Cup Finals took place last Saturday at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, home of the annual Porter Cup competition.

St. Catharines had a commanding 14.5 to 3.5 lead going into the final leg, so we only needed four paltry points to bring the Cup back to St. Catharines for only the second time in the competition's history.

We knew it would be tough knocking them off on their home turf, especially since they would have all of their big guns going in this one.

I had the distinct privilege of playing with two of them. I would be locking horns in a singles contest against Raman, the 2008 NFCC Club Champion and a participant in this year's Porter Cup.

Raman finished tied for 36th in the '08 Porter Cup, finishing at +6 for the four day event and ahead of great amateurs like Buddy Marucci and Peter Uihlein.

Gulp! I think I'm a bit overmatched!

However, that was topped by the other man I'd be sharing a foursome with: Fred S, the twenty-seven time former club champion at NFCC and a man who has teed it up in the Porter Cup an incredible 26 times. He is also a member of the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and is a much decorated amateur golfer at the regional, state and National level in the U.S. He would be going up against Bernie in a singles match.

Needless to say, I was probably more nervous on the first tee than I had been all year and it showed as I hit a weak slice off to the right of the fairway to start things off.

I'd pitch out then hit a nine iron approach to about 10 feet. I'd miss and concede Raman's short par putt and I was immediately one down.

I'd get it back on the short par four second, watching Raman make bogey from just off the green while I made a nice two-putt par.

Things would get ugly on the 552 yard par five 3rd, as I'd skull my wedge approach over the green and I was pretty much dead. I'd hit a good shot to 35 feet but three-whack before conceding Raman's four foot par putt.

Ugh...not good.

We'd both hit great tee balls on the par three fourth, with mine ending up 12 feet away and Raman about 8 feet. We'd both miss...in fact, Raman left his about two feet short so I could tell he was a bit nervous.

The 463 yard par four fifth is a monster but I hit driver/3-iron hybrid to about 20 feet and made the routine par while Raman made bogey, squaring the match once again!

The see-saw match continued on the straight away 417 yard par four 6th, as I'd miss about a six footer for par to drop one back again.

I'd watch Raman hit his tee shot on the 183 yard par three 7th into the front bunker but then do exactly the same thing. Damnit!

He'd splash out to about six feet then I almost holed my shot, ending up a foot and a half away. Shockingly enough, Raman would miss his straight in, uphill putt and I nailed mine center cut.

Tied again!

We'd both make solid pars on the 8th then both ran into some trouble on the ridiculously long par four ninth, a 477 yarder. Again, it was driver/hybrid into the green and I ended up in the rough just left of the green. Raman got his 3-wood onto the front edge so he had the advantage.

The rough was so long, it took about a minute for us to even FIND my ball! When I did, I just hacked it out and still had about 15 feet left for par. Raman's birdie putt was way too frisky and ended up five feet past the hole, leaving a treacherous, downhiller for the par save.

I did what I could with my putt but still went three feet past the hole. Thinking I was done, I'd watch Raman knock his par putt FIVE FEET PAST!

Whoa!

So with both of us facing bogey putts, his longer than mine, I walked up to him and said,

"Look, if you want to, we can putt them but how about we just move on to the back right now."

Ramon contemplated it then said,

"I'll have to ask my captain"

He meant Fred of course, who was just systematically DESTROYING Bernie at this point.

Fred just looked at him and said,

"You guys have a good match going. Just pick 'em up and move on to the back."

So I sawed off the front nine with the NFCC Club Champ, shooting a decent 39 in the process, all things considered. So I had a half point.

Bernie was holding on for dear life, four down after the front nine and Fred wasn't showing any cracks in his game, making one birdie and one bogey on a front nine of 35.

This man just doesn't miss a golf shot. What a pleasure he was to watch!

But I still had a match to play. Raman and I would both make routine pars on the 10th and get into great position on the par five 11th.

I hit my gap wedge approach right at the stick but my ball came up about 12 feet short. Then Raman followed with a laser at the pin, ending up four feet away. I knew I needed this one but I just couldn't get the line right, ending up just left of the cup. Raman would step up and knock his birdie putt into the hole and I was one down again.

The tricky 576 yard par five 12th was next and my 6-iron third shot came up about five yards short of the green. I got too fancy with my chip to the front pin and barely made it on the green. I'd then miss my ten footer for par while Raman easily two-putted for his.

Two down now.

Raman was gaining confidence and the momentum was his, never more evident when he hit his tee shot on the 185 yard par three 13th right over the flagstick to five feet.

I needed to step up and I came through BIG TIME here, hitting a glorious six-iron pin high, only 8 feet away.

Come on! You're still in this!

It was a tricky little right to lefter but after giving it a good look, I rammed it into the left side and watched it fall. Yes!

I wasn't surprised whatsoever when Raman calmly stepped up and knocked his home as well. We both birdie to saw off the hole.

I knew I'd need to make a bunch more birdies if I had any chance of recovering now.

I tried to cut too much off the dogleg on the 406 yard par four 14th and was punished, ending up in jail in the trees. The match was slipping away from me.

With Raman in the middle of the fairway, position 'A', I had to make the bold attempt for the green and tried to punch a four-iron through the small gap.

No dice. The ball hit a tree and propelled itself out of bounds left, hitting a maintenence shack loudly, announcing my fate quite clearly. Never one to give up, I'd drop another ball and try again, this time making it through and ending up in the greenside bunker. Now hitting five, with Raman in good birdie position, I tried to hole the shot to put even a bit of pressure on him, to no avail. I'd concede the hole and I was now in trouble: three down with four to play.

There would be no comeback on this day. I hit my approach shot on the short par four 15th into the bunker again and couldn't get up and down. Raman would knock his birdie putt to tap in distance and I conceded.

I'd lose the back nine and the overall match 4 & 3, giving him a 2.5 point to 0.5 point win. He was two under on the back versus my two over...nothing to be ashamed about, especially considering his talent and golf resume.

Bernie was ousted even earlier on the long game, losing 7 & 5 overall and 4 & 3 on the back side, getting zero points. Fred is just an incredible player, making one bogey during the round and just never mishitting a shot. A complete gentleman too, as was Raman and all of the NFCC participants.

We'd finish off the last few holes and have to hope for the best. I got a half point and Bernie was shut out. We'd need three and a half more and the reports weren't great. There was a four ball in front of us and the NFCC guys had a one up lead through 16 after making birdie there.

But we noticed our St. Catharines teammates Charlie and Andy teeing off first on the par three 18th. They must have tied the match on the 17th!

We watched from the tee as Andy made the par while the two NFCC guys were in greenside bunkers. They both splashed out and looked to have 10 footers for par. If they both missed, St. Catharines would get 2.5 points in that match...if they made it, both teams would split and get 1.5 each. Another Fred from NFCC stepped up to his putt and rammed it home! Tied match...great stuff!

So now we had two points and needed two more...

Joe T and Simon M from St. Catharines were in the group behind us and were playing singles matches. We'd find out that Joe got nothing in his match and Simon only got a half point, exact same results as Bernie and I in our foursome.

Uh oh...is Niagara Falls CC making the huge comeback?? We'd need a split, at worst, in the last fourball match to bring the cup home.

In that group for St. Catharines were our assistant, Cameron and Tom, the 2007 Senior Club champion at our club.

It wasn't close...Cam and Tom won all three points to take their match and lock up the Niagara Cup for St. Catharines!!! Wooo!

That's Bernie and Andy kneeling in the front with me, Simon, Cam, Tom, Joe and Charlie standing happily in the back. Sorry about the picture quality...we weren't smart enough to bring a camera and had to use Joe's cellphone for this shot.

Fantastic competition this year and what a thrill for yours truly to not only play NFCC for the first time, but to play with Fred S and Raman. Certainly a day I'll never forget!

I'd follow this up with my second subpar round of the year on Sunday, shooting an awesome 71 (-1), making three birdies and only two bogies during the round. I'd also play on a glorious Thanksgiving Monday, shooting a less-than-stellar 78 but I can't complain too much after the great rounds on Saturday and Sunday!

That's it for golf this year. The clubs are being put away, even though we still may have some decent weather left in October. It's been a fantastic season: two subpar rounds, including one in the sixties and that round was in competition and also winning my first ever Niagara Men's Tour event. I was also lucky enough to get down to a scratch handicap for about three weeks in the middle of the season. Mind boggling!

Now, it's time to be a dad! My wife is due with our first child tomorrow, although, sitting here on Saturday night at 10:30pm writing this, it doesn't look like tomorrow is the day.

Regardless, the next time you hear from me, I'll be someone's old man! Wish us luck!

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