Thursday, May 06, 2010

Niagara Men's Tour 2010 - Event #1 (Peninsula Lakes)

The first event of the season on the Niagara Men's Amateur Tour took place on Sunday at Peninsula Lakes GC in Fenwick.

I played the day before, shooting a pretty mediocre 79 from the tips that looked a lot worse than that because of a +5 through 4 hole stretch where I was duffing chips and missing every putt I looked at. Still, battled through and a 79 isn't THAT bad. The highlight was coming from four down to halve with Harris in our daily match play game, the first time I avoided a notch in the loss column against him in 2010.

I didn't come into the event on Sunday with any great expectations - I've never played well at Peninsula Lakes for some reason. The course is relatively short by modern standards, with it only stretching out to 6500 yards from the back tees and playing to a par of 71. I've always played it a little tentatively in the past, hitting long irons off the tees and playing for the 150 yard markers, for the most part.

I decided to play a lot more aggressively this year and talked to their head pro a few days before the event, asking about carry yardages over hazards and other pertinent yardage info so I could utilize my driver more. He was kind enough to set me up with a yardage guide gratis before the round so I could do a bit of strategizing.

For the most part, the new aggressive philosophy worked but not on the first tee.

I took driver out on the tough, dogleg left 430 yard par four 1st on the Quarry Course, with water running down the left side and hit an awful hook right into the drink. Then I had the indignity of hearing Harris heckle me from behind as I took off down the fairway.

"I thought you were going to carry that water, not go in it", he said, or something to that effect, making fun of the fact that I had told him pre-round about being more aggressive off the tee.

He'd keep barking away until I was out of range and couldn't hear him anymore.

I'd drop well back, about 220 yards from the green but hit a great 5-iron downwind to the front of the green and two putt from there for a bogey, not too bad a result after the rotten tee shot.

I parred the next two holes then three putted the par four 4th hole to move to +2. Another bogey followed on the par four 5th after coming up short on my approach and now I was +3 through 5.

However, I seemed to right the ship on the next hole, a long 200 yard par 3. I hit my 5-iron over the back and then hit an indifferent chip to about 10 feet. The turning point in my round was making that ten footer for the par and I now had a bit of a bounce in my step as I hit two par fives in a row.

The long par five 7th at Peninsula Lakes plays into the prevailing wind and I likely played my best hole of the year to this point. Perfect drive down the middle, past the bunkers, a piercing 3-iron hybrid second shot to 70 yards then a perfect punch lob wedge that landed twenty feet past the hole and spun back to about eight feet. I rolled that putt into the center of the cup for the birdie to get back to +2. Literally, a perfectly played hole...a rare occurence for sure!

I hit another beautiful drive on the par five 8th and had about 250 yards into the green. My lie was on a bit of a downslope though and I ended up just short of the green on my approach. I then hit a ridiculously awful pitch through the green and did well to just make par. I'd hit a great tee shot on the tough par three ninth to about 12 feet and barely miss birdie there as well, finishing the front nine in 37 shots (+2).

I had a couple poor holes to start the back - I'd three putt for the second time on the day on the short par four 1st on the Hillside nine then hit a terrible hybrid tee shot on the 230 yard par three 2nd way right and all the way down the hill. I'd do well there just to make bogey. +4 through 11 now.

The par five 3rd on Hillside was next and this hole has been a bit of a nemesis of mine over the years. There is OB all the way down the left side and I've spent some time over there in many of my rounds on this course. Today was different though, as I'd make about a 20 foot right to lefter from the middle of the green for the satisfying birdie to get back on track.

The par four 4th on Hillside is one of the toughest in the region. It was screaming downwind and there is water in the landing area left and right and OB through the fairway straight ahead about 290 yards from the tee. The hole then doglegs right from there and the green sits in a narrow opening slightly above the fairway, with the OB still looming left and water right. It's a super, super tough and intimidating hole and I'd bogey it after hitting a crappy chip from behind the green and missing about a six footer.

I had another 'turning point' moment on the par three 5th. Boy, the par threes out here are pretty tough! This one was about 190 yards but playing into a very stiff wind - I hit a perfect 5-iron but it wasn't enough club and I ended up about 20 feet short of the green. My chipping, which admittedly has been awful to start the year, finally came through, as I hit a decent one about four feet past the hole and made the trickly little putt to save my par. +4 through 14 and basically we're done with the really tough holes.

Time to get aggressive!

I'd hit a beauty on the par four 6th then hit a decent approach to about 25 feet, giving me a run at the putt since I was putting uphill. I'd make no mistake, hitting a pure putt that just barely got to the front of the cup and dropped for my third birdie of the day! +3 with two par fives left!

I knew it was a good day when I stood over my second shot on the par five 7th on Hillside, sitting about 280 yards away and didn't even think of hitting a mid-iron. I took out my 2-iron hybrid, the biggest club in my bag other than my driver and just striped the crap out of it, ending up about 30 yards short and right of the green, right at my target. From there, I'd almost hole my pitch and tap in for my second birdie in a row and fourth on the day.

So I hit my Peninsula Lakes nemesis hole, a routine little par three that is only about 150 yards but has water in front and down the left side of the green. A nothing hole but I double it EVERY TIME I play it. So when I hit a little cut 8-iron to the back of the green, I figured I finally conquered the beast.

Not so fast pal.

I couldn't figure the read and had to back off the putt before readdressing it, knowing I was really in this thing and if I could two-putt here and birdie the last hole, another par five, I might just have a shot at winning this tournament.

With my mind all focused on the line, I'd end up putting a wishy-washy stroke on it and left the putt five agonizing feet short. Then, I'd watch in horror as my par putt horseshoed out and cruelly came back to me. Another three putt.

I was pretty numb after that one and hit a horrible hook off the 18th hole that got a generous kick back toward the fairway. I had a playable shot and hit a good one, laying it up to about 100 yards. From there, I'd lay the sod over the wedge and only make the front of the green.

The pin was cut in back and I'd leave my birdie putt almost 8 feet short then miss the par putt as well for my fourth three-putt on the day and second in a row to finish the back side in 38 shots and finish the round with a 75 (+4).

Of course, I'd finish two shots out of the playoff so if I just two-putted those last two holes I would have had a chance at my second victory on the Tour but it wasn't meant to be.

Still, a 75 for me out there is gratifying and I ended up in a tie for 4th place, easily my best ever start on the Tour in my seven years of participation. Four birdies was also promising and I hit 11 greens in regulation, both better than average numbers.

Needless to say, after his 82 and loss to me after matching cards, Harry wasn't heckling me anymore! ;) I hoped that our games would be even better the next day, as Harry and I travelled north of Toronto to play in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier at the esteemed A.W. Tillinghast-designed Scarboro G&CC.

That trip report will be coming in the next day or so.

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