Monday, July 13, 2009

Positive Signs

I had a particularly brutal week of work last week and was really looking forward to playing a couple rounds of golf on the weekend.

The weather forecast was ominous for Saturday, with thunderstorms and 20mm of rain predicted. I teed it up under partly cloudy skies with Cal, Joe T and Gary and we hoped to get the round in before the rains came.

I rolled in a birdie putt right on top of Gary on the third hole to get back to even par on the round. That started a weird and wild chain of events for our foursome...

I'd pretty much completely duff my tee shot on the par three fourth hole and my ball settled about 40 yards short of the pin, right in a huge divot in the rough. I opened up the face of my lob wedge, cut down across the ball and watched as it soared toward the flagstick.

It would strike the stick squarely about three quarters of the way down and ricochetted back toward me about 50 feet, almost going into the front bunker. How that ball didn't stop closer to the hole is beyond me and I'd make bogey from there.

Things really got nuts on the seventh hole. It all started with Gary's tee shot on the par three - his follow through was extremely abbrieviated, something that's not normal for him. It was then I noticed that the clubhead on his five-iron had flown off his shaft and flew 40 yards into the pond fronting the tee!

Nuts!

Gary went to look for the clubhead while we all hit our tee shots over his head and tried to get him out of the way. He was EXTREMELY upset about the club falling off, saying that Mizuno doesn't make that club anymore and that he couldn't play without the 5-iron.

In fact, he made such an emotional case about his plight that Joe offered to wade into the water to find the clubhead. Of course, we still had no idea where the clubhead was in the water and it wouldn't be safe for anyone to wade around in there. I convinced Gary that he should talk to Dennis, our superintendent, and tell him that when he drains the pond in November to look for the club.

That seemed to satisfy Gary somewhat, even though I knew that by November, the club would be rusted so badly that it would be unplayable anyway. Haha. Heck, Gary has about 20 5-irons sitting in his basement - I'm sure he can find one that works!

Topping off the strange round was Cal, who had a pretty routine little 20 foot chip shot on the 7th green. He'd hit a horrible skull that likely would have went in the water behind the green but it hit the flagstick squarely, took a peek at the hole and ended up right on the lip but didn't drop. Haha!

By the 8th hole, both Gary and Cal were saying they were done after nine holes - Gary was despondent after the loss of his 5-iron and Cal wanted breakfast more than playing in the rain and continuing a relatively poor round. Joe was willing to stick it out with me and I wanted to continue as I was playing relatively well, shooting a +2 38 on the front side.

However, the thunder was really starting to come in and we decided to all head in for breakfast instead. Good decision, as the rain came down in sheets about 20 minutes later. Still, I hate nine hole rounds with a passion.

This was all a precursor to what would turn out to be one of my best ball-striking rounds in my life. I teed it up on Sunday again with Joe and also had Charlie and a new member, Dan in our group. Dan was supposed to be quite the player so I was looking forward to seeing him in action.

My iron play was sharp right from the outset, as I hit my approach on the 10th hole (our first of the day) to eight feet, my approach on the 11th to 15 feet, my tee shot on the long 12th to 20 feet and my approach on the tough 13th to six feet.

Unfortunately, I'd make none of them and actually three whack the 12th to sit at +1 through four.

I'd miss my first green on the par three 14th but hit a great chip to gimmie distance to save par. The great ball striking would continue, as I'd make a ten footer for birdie on the 15th then stiff my gap wedge approach on the 16th to three feet, making that as well to move to red figures at one under.

I'd hit a great four-iron on the 222 yard par three 17th to about 18 feet and barely missed then got up and down from just in front of the green for par and a great first nine score of 35 (-1).

I'd get into my first trouble of the day on the par four third, driving left behind a huge pine tree and my second shot didn't get through cleanly, leaving a long pitch for my third. I couldn't get that up and down and fell back to even par.

At this point, both Dan and myself were even on the day and I was trying desperately to keep up with the young guy. The turning point in the round came on the tough par four 5th - I'd absolutely pure a 6-iron from 187 yards and the ball stopped about seven feet away. Dan would ram home about an 18 footer for birdie and I commented to him that we were cutting each up all day, as we both birdied the 15th and 16th holes earlier.

"Well, here's your chance for revenge!", he said.

I had a bit of trouble with the read and that meant a tentative stroke, resulting in the ball stopping on the front lip but not falling. Disappointing par.

Two excellent shots on the par five sixth left me with about 100 yards for my approach and I hit an okay wedge about 18 feet past the hole. I'd leave a two and a half footer for par and MISS IT, my second three putt of the day and one that dropped me to +1 overall.

I'd then hit a very poor tee shot on the par three seventh that barely stayed out of the water and an indifferent chip shot that went about 15 feet past the hole. Grinding like hell, I somehow made that putt, my first lengthy one of the day, to save par.

Sensing I still had a chance to break par with my swing feeling so good, I had a really positive mindset for the last two holes. However, a poor drive on eight meant a layup but my 9-iron approach was excellent, leaving me with a 15 footer for another birdie. I'd barely miss that then hit another laser-beam of a six-iron on the long par four ninth to about 12 feet and missed that as well, finishing with a season-best score of 73 (+1), a great number but one that felt like it could have been much better.

In the end, I tied my lifetime best of 14 greens in regulation and was only one shot worse than my lifetime best from the back tees at St. Catharines. I've never broken par from the tips there, with all of my subpar rounds at the club coming from the blue markers.

Dan blew by me on the last few holes, making three birdies on his last five holes to shoot a scintillating two under 70. He ended the day with six birdies on his card and smoked us all in the skins game. There was a lot of good golf in our group with Dan, Joe and Charlie and it was a fun round.

As far as my game, I mentioned the one little posture change I made on Sunday last week, getting my weight a little more over my feet as opposed to having it on my heels and it's helped tremendously with my ball striking consistency. It's the only change I've made and boy, has it ever been a difference maker!

I just need some putts to start falling!

Either way, it's great to stand over the ball and feel like you KNOW where the ball is going to go. It's taken a long time this year to shake the rust but I feel I'm getting close to my first subpar round of the year. My handicap is starting to fall again too - I started the year at 1.7 and saw my index skyrocket into the mid-fours but now I'm back down to a 2.6.

Next week will see the fourth leg of the Niagara Men's Tour taking place at Twenty Valley G&CC. I've never played well out there and hope that my newly found confidence will translate into a better score.

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