Friday, September 9, 2011

The Club Championship Preview

With the Tour taking a bye week, we’re going local again as I prepare to play in my club’s 36 hole championship qualifier on Saturday and Sunday.  It’s two days of stroke play played on two different courses with the low 15 scores (plus the defending champion) moving on to the match play championship the following weekend.  Of the 27 players entered in the event, I probably have the third or fourth highest handicap (5) so I am attempting to jump the fence and spend five minutes swimming in a private gene pool before I get tossed in the first round by a scratch or better the following week. 

This will be my third attempt to qualify.  To describe my first attempt as “inauspicious” would be to sell it short.  The first hole on Saturday is a relatively short par 5 with out of bounds right and trees on the left.  When I stepped to the first tee four years ago, the one thing I knew was that my first shot was not going right.  I had been a member of the club for about two months, no one knew who I was and I was not going to be hitting two balls off the first tee.  Mission accomplished.  A Tim Wakefield knuckleball into the left trees which would have looked like a terrible tee shot to anyone who didn’t know that’s where I was aiming.  I resisted the urge to pump my fist. 

Unfortunately, it had been raining for a couple of days and a steady downpour started again as we were walking down the first fairway so the rough was thick and wet.  We started looking for my ball.  And then we looked some more.  And then it became apparent that my ball had either gone underground or ricocheted to parts unknown and, when my time ran out, I turned around and started the long walk back to the tee.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of doing this and want to know what it feels like, put on a human billboard that says “I SUCK!” and then go to the mall and walk-up the down escalator.    

When I got there, the next group was under the pro’s small canopy waiting to hit so I stuck the tee in the ground and whacked it as fast as I could and SWEET JESUS THAT’S GOING RIGHT!  I turned to the pro for a look of reassurance hoping he would say “it really opens up over there, you’re fine” but instead I just got a doubtful shake of the head.  At that point, I seriously considered walking-off the course but moves like that become the stuff of legend around golf clubs (and not William Wallace legend….more like Steve Bartman legend) so I hit a third ball right down the middle.  (Can you say “same guy” on the third ball?)  I went on to lip-out my putt for an 8 on the hole, shot 90 the first day, 86 the second day and missed the cut by about 20 strokes.

I skipped the following year as the scars were still fresh but last year I decided to go back for more punishment.  I caught a break before I even teed off as we learned that one of the favorites had had his car stolen the night before and would not be playing thereby opening-up a spot for someone else.  That of course sparked an impromptu amateur comedy hour on the range about who stole the car and I sounded like a laughing hyena because I was so nervous about the opening tee shot that I would have doubled over at a knock-knock joke.      

"Here I go again..."
This time I went to the first tee with a better game plan than “drive it into the trees on purpose” (worst golf instructional video title ever).  I hit a hybrid into the left rough and, more importantly, found it.  Then I hit a 5-iron and then an 8-iron to the middle of the green about 30 feet below the hole for birdie.  Then I promptly three putted for a bogey and started hearing David Coverdale singing in my head but as I walked to the next tee, I remembered that a 6 was better than a 9 (I majored in math for one semester in college).  And then out of nowhere I started reeling off pars like Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1987.  When I stood over the ball, instead of thinking where not to hit it, I wasn’t thinking at all.  I could almost feel myself breathing through my eyelids.      

After eight straight pars, I made the turn at one over and was still cruising when I reached the 12th hole which is a very reachable par five but with Leavenworth on one side and Sing Sing on the other.  I decided to play it “smart” again and pulled a 4-iron straight into the trees on the left.  Luckily, I found it and punched it out to what I thought was the fairway but it landed on a patch of hardpan.  In hindsight, I should have whacked a putter from there but instead I tried to punch an 8-iron and never saw where the ball went.  Turns out it shot straight right into the hazard so I took a drop and still had to lay up with my 5th shot at which point David Coverdale started singing again.  I hit my 6th shot about 30 feet from the hole and then the golf Gods had mercy as I drained the putt for the sweetest double bogey of my life.  I made a couple of bogeys on the next five holes but then finished with a birdie on 18 for a 76 and 5th place after the first day.

Day 2 is contested on the championship course which, from the back tees, is a 7,037 yard par 70 Leviathan and we would be playing it in a steady rain which made it feel about 300 yards longer.  I figured I needed to shoot about 84 to keep the entire peloton from blowing by me.  The problem was that, with the rain, I would be playing about six of the holes as par 5’s (there are only two on the scorecard) and that was before my driver went AWOL on me and I had to start hitting 3-woods off the tee on 450 yard par 4’s.  It quickly became a long day livin’ in Reseda with a freeway runnin' through the yard, especially after a bogey-bogey-triple bogey start. 

To make this already too long golf story shorter, I’ll skip to the end.  After putting out on 18, I trudged to the clubhouse feeling like James Brolin looked at the end of Capricorn One.  When I got there, I had this exchange with one of my “friends” who was also in the field:
"Did I make it?"

Friend: “Did you blow-up?” 
Me:  “A little.”
Friend: “How much?”
Me: “87”
Friend: “Damn. Not enough.” 
 
Turns out the conditions were tough on everyone and I had avoided a playoff for the last spot by one stroke.  This earned me the right to move on as the 15th seed and play one of the best players in the club the following weekend.  I hung with him for the front nine but it turns out that +2 handicaps (a) can hit the ball really far and (b) don’t lose a lot of holes to pars.  The dream died on the 15th green but at least I was able to outrun security for one cannonball off the high dive before they escorted me off the premises.