Tuesday, April 28, 2009

From Despair to Delight; Ontario Better Ball Qualifier

Coming off a horrible first weekend of golf that saw me shoot rounds of 82 and 85, I was hoping to end my mini-slump on a glorious Saturday morning this past weekend in preparation for the big Ontario Better Ball qualifier at Burlington G&CC on Monday.

Any thoughts of having a good round ended quickly, as I continue to struggle out of the gate, going +3 through the first two holes. I'd continue to make a bunch of bogeys and doubles on an outgoing nine of 44 and I had to go +1 on my last six holes just to salvage a round of 85.

Thankfully, my wallet didn't get emptied on this day, as Cal and I didn't really commit to playing our regular $5.00 nassau and he was only marginally better with an 82.

Undaunted, I showed up on Sunday morning convinced that I had a good round of golf in me. In fact, I told my wife that I'd bet my meager life savings that I'd better my score from the day previous.

Boy am I a fool.

I did come out of the gates with a par on the first hole, the first time I've done that all year. I even hit the green in regulation, which was great considering that over my previous three rounds, the earliest I hit a green in reg was hole seven!

I'd bogey the second and third holes but I still felt decent. My confidence was about to take a big hit, however.

On the fifth hole, I hit a horribly weak hook into the fairway bunker and stupidly tried to hit a hybrid over a pretty big lip.

It took me three shots to escape. After wedging out, I tossed my club toward my bag and EVEN MISSED THAT, almost killing Cal in the process.

I'd bogey the sixth then hit a really awesome shot on the 7th, which was playing into a strong wind. I'd make an eight footer for birdie there to get back to four over. Not too bad.

However, I'd make bogey on eight and yet another double on the ninth to go out in 43 shots. I just can't score!

The back nine was just an exercise to try to keep from complaining too much about my sorry-ass game. I wasn't even successful at that, as Cal said "I've never heard you bitch this much in my life."

Ha. He's likely right. I've never had this much trouble figuring out my swing problems.

The back nine was the same as the front. I'd hit it into the water on the par three 12th for the fourth time in four tries this year, which has to be some sort of record. I'd double there and follow it up with another on the 13th to completely take me out of it mentally. I'd stumble in with another 43 on the back for an 86.

Just mind blowingly bad golf.

I'd lose all three ways in my nassau match with Cal and lose every way in the Hollywood and skins game we had going with Harry and Ryan, a newcomer to St. Catharines. All totalled, I lost $27.00 on the day, which must qualify as the largest losing session I've had on a golf course.

I was pretty down about the game and after a post-round pop with Cal and Ryan, I did what most other people do when they want to fix problems.

Yeah, I needed a map and a compass but I actually went to the driving range!

I spent about an hour and a half hitting balls under the watchful eyes of our head pro Drew and one of our assistants Jon. Jon was quite helpful and spent at least twenty minutes watching me - he told me three things I was doing wrong:

- Hands not ahead of the ball at address
- Ball position too far forward at address
- Takeaway is too far to the outside

I still could barely hit a straight ball even with his tips and moving the ball back in my stance meant the ball barely got off the ground.

Everything felt weird. Nothing felt comfortable. Interestingly enough, the only way I could hit even remotely decent shots was to set up for a fade. Which is hilarious if you know me at all because a fade for me is hitting a ball dead straight.

I slowly walked away from the range feeling completely defeated. I was already thinking ahead to the next day at Burlington and trying to figure out how I was going to apologize in advance to my playing partners for what they were about to see from me and my game.

At least I was getting to play Burlington G&CC for the first time, a course I had heard nothing but great things about. Stevie G, our resident agronomy expert at St. Catharines, used to work out at Burlington and gave me an ultra detailed, hole by hole breakdown of the course and how to play it.

Harry and I have tried two other times to qualify for the Ontario Better Ball championship, shooting 74 at Bridgewater two years ago and an unsightly 77 last year at Brantford, where neither of us made a birdie. I knew there was no chance for us this year due to my awful game but I came ready to just have a good time on a good golf course.

What a beautiful facility! I went to the range and was a bit surprised to see that it was only 140 yards long and you had to hit off mats. Didn't faze me at all though...maybe if I thought I had a chance to shoot a good round I'd be a bit upset at not getting to warm up with a couple drivers but again, I was just planning on enjoying a gorgeous April morning on a great track.

The one thought I had as I started hitting balls was to not take the club back to the outside. And what do you know? I started hitting lasers on the middle of the clubface; every shot was perfectly straight and with great trajectory. I figure the mats were very helpful in correcting my flaws but I actually left the range with confidence, something I haven't had all year.

Harry and I ventured to the first tee and we got paired with a couple gents from London, both of whom couldn't have been nicer. We had the honour and Harry said he'd go first and let me anchor.

Oh, I'll be an anchor all right! I'll drag us both deep into Lake Ontario, baby!

Harry steps up and kills a perfect drive that fades right in the middle of the fairway. I step up and try not to duff it in front of about 20 onlookers and shock myself when I look up and see a bullet that draws beautifully around the bunkers, past Harry's ball and just through the dogleg left fairway. Nice start!

I'd hit a decent second shot to about 25 feet and leave myself a three footer for par but Harry would make a five footer to get us off nicely with a par. Our playing partners stumbled right away, making a double on their best ball.

I knew that things were a bit different on this day when I stepped up onto the 232 yard par three second hole and hit a perfect hybrid to the front edge of the green. Harry would bogey but I two putted for par to keep us going.

I'd just keep making pars on the front and Harry also continued to play well. He'd hit two of the three par fives on the front in two but unfortunately three-whacked both to keep us birdie-less through eight. However, we were also BOGEY-LESS through eight, sitting at even par, a number I figured would be good enough to qualify.

However, we both stumbled on the par five ninth. I hit a poor drive that ended up right in a tree, necessitating a chip out. The best I could do was get it to within ten yards of Harry's drive, leaving me a 267 yard third shot. I'd do well to get that into the front greenside bunker while Harry's second soared right of the green, behind a large tree. He would get a bit frisky and try the impossible shot and ended up going in a greenside bunker. He'd hit on and proceed to three putt for DOUBLE, putting the pressure on me. Unfortunately, I couldn't get up and down and settled for my first bogey of the day but it would have to count as our best score on the hole. So we were +1 through nine holes, which was also my personal score.

The last par five on the course was on the tenth and despite both having good birdie chances (Harry hit a miraculous pitch shot here from behind the green to a back pin that stopped 12 feet away), neither of us could make our putt.

Still birdie-less.

That would change on the next hole, a 190 yard par three. I hit a missile that never left the flag, stopping eight feet short. I'd ram that home to get me and our team back to even on the day.

Shake and bake!

We'd continue to make solid pars and Harry would bail me out on the 16th hole, making a par to my bogey to keep us on pace at even par.

The wind at this point was HOWLING and the long par four 17th was playing fiercely downwind. Both Harry and I KILLED our drives here. Funny moment as Harry was walking to the furthest ball and I had to EMBARRASS him by telling him that he passed his ball and indeed, it was I that hit the long drive.

Harry had 132 yards left on the 425 yard hole while I had 111 yards left. Harry would unfortunately hit his gap wedge a bit fat and he ended up in the pond short of the green, taking him out of the hole. I didn't feel any pressure and hit a decent shot about 25 feet left of the hole, which was on the back shelf. I misread my birdie putt and left it four agonizing feet short. With the wind just ripping and the ball oscillating, I couldn't ground my putterhead for fear that the ball would move and I'd get hit with a two stroke penalty. So I tried to steady myself and ended up hitting the worst putt all day, completely missing the hole. I'd tap in for a three putt bogey and I knew I just killed our chance to make the cut.

What a downer. That was because the par three 18th, measuring only 176 yards, was playing into one of the strongest winds I've ever seen. Harry and I both pulled hybrids and I was completely shaken when I saw Harris hit his ball left and about 30 yards long of the green.

What the hell was I going to do now?!

I didn't think I could get a 4-iron there in that wind so I gripped down on the hybrid and put the weakest swing you've likely ever seen on the ball, then watched in horror as the wind grabbed it and took it straight right toward North Shore Boulevard. It would hit a tree and stay in bounds and I actually had a nice little opening for my shot. I'd hit it just through the green, leaving myself a treacherous 12 footer for par. Harry pocketed his ball so it was up to me and again, I couldn't come through, making another bogey, my third in a row, to finish us off at 73 (+2) as a better ball.

Indeed, as expected, even par made it so the two bogeys at the end cost us a potential spot in the championship.

Still, I wasn't upset at all. I ended up shooting a 74, by far my best round of the year. I hit ten greens in regulation and generally hit the ball very well all day. Harry also played great and would have been in the mid-to-high 70's if not for the last two holes.

I *know* we can make it in this thing one day. We just needed a couple birdies and we were in.

Still, a great day on a gorgeous golf course. How Burlington isn't ranked in the Top 100 in Canada is a mystery to me. It's a classy course and I really enjoyed the round.

Now, the true test will be to see if I can follow up this round with something decent next week! Then, I can officially say that I'm back. Oh yeah, it wouldn't hurt if I actually won a couple bucks off Cal, who is rumoured to be buying a brand new car with all of his winnings in April.

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