Friday, May 21, 2004

The Day Me and McGee Shot 69

Gents – I have a golf story to tell, and I feel compelled to share this with you, because we all battle on the golf course, fight the game’s demons, search for its rewards, and maybe even wonder sometimes why we bother. Well, this past weekend, myself and Patrick McGee reaped a few rewards that make it all worthwhile. McGee and I teamed up for the second consecutive year for the Baltimore 2-man team competition, a tournament played at scratch in a better ball format, meaning you play your own ball and the lower score of the two counts as the team score, no strokes. This event brings out some of the best players in Baltimore, including many guys who are country club hot-shots or former or current college players. There’s a wide range in age, but most of the guys are very good, low single digit handicappers or better. The winning team for the weekend, for example, shot 67-64 – 131, or 11-under.

It should go without saying that the tournament is played from the blue tees at the Mount, with everything pushed back and pins in some pretty tough spots. The greens roll faster and more true than typical days on the Mount because they do take some time and care to prepare the course, which is nice. I decided to enter this tournament for the first time last year, and recruited McGee as my partner, because I wanted to see what it would feel like to play in a “real” tournament, and McGee is just the kind of ultra-competitive grinder I needed beside me to A) not embarrass myself and B) have a prayer to post a decent score.

Last year, however, was an unmitigated disaster. I was playing horribly going into the event and barely helped the team as we limped to an 84-78 -- 156, a score that placed us 98th out of the 102-team field. It was sad. Our day one score in ’03, which included a 7 on the par-4 9th, elicited one of the most depressing feelings I’ve ever had leaving a golf course. We were shell-shocked, angry and embarrassed. McGee played well on day two to help us save face, but I was basically along for the ride.

I mention all of these things because this past Sunday at the Mount, all of those feelings reversed themselves in such a glorious, uplifting fashion, that it made the suffering of our first experience and the year-long wait for another chance well worth it. We posted a respectable 75 on day one and on day two, the stars aligned, Pat’s putter got hot, I carried my weight and then some, and we posted a 69. That’s right, 69. SIXTY-FREAKIN-NINE. Walking off #9 on Sunday, which was our 18th hole, after Pat made another clutch putt for par to save the Love Numbers, it felt as though we had just won our own private Masters. Never has a beer in the clubhouse tasted so good, to say nothing of the outstanding pit beef, mac n’ cheese, meatball and rigatoni spread that awaited us in Butler’s Cab… errr… the Mount clubhouse.

Our two-day total this year of 75-69—144 placed us 45th out of 102 teams, not just 53 places better than last year, not just 18 strokes better than last year, but ahead of many teams made up of guys who have been playing competitive golf all their lives (www.bmgctourseries.com ). On Sunday we had 13 pars, four birdies and one double bogey. We beat every team but one that went out in the morning session. We were on greens in regulation all day, and McGee’s putter was so hot that the cups must have looked like buckets – he was rolling them in from everywhere. He had all of our birdies but gave me at least partial credit for backing him up all day by making pars and setting him up to GO LOW. It was a beautiful thing. It was real golf gents, and it was sweet. For the day, Patrick shot 72 on his own ball and I had an 82. We used his score 9 times, my score three times and six times we made the same score. Clearly he deserves most of the credit for having an AMAZING DAY; I only had a very good day. But I’m here to tell you that we both had a great team feeling the whole way around, from my par save on our first hole after he got in trouble, to his birdie on 15 after we had our only bad hole of the day, to a great stretch of golf in the middle of the round where we followed each other on fairways and greens like it was a ground ball to Cal Ripken circa 1983 – rou-tine.

Just because I’m a freak and this may never happen again, here’s a blow by blow account of our round on Sunday. Feel free to stop reading now, but if you love the details, the rest is for you:

We started on the par 5 10th with an 8:20 tee time. This was basically the second half of the morning tee times assigned to the groups that scored in the bottom half following Saturday’s round. Our 75 placed us somewhere around 70th. On Saturday we started at 11:40 a.m. and somehow I got it in my head that our tee time was 8:40 on Sunday. Well, the cell phone rang at 8:10 and McGee is wondering where I am b/c we’re next on the box. I tell him we have a half hour, he says… uh… no. So, oops, I show up like a moron, putting on my shoes in the parking lot and taking a few quick stretches before it’s time to hit. Unbelievable. Despite all this nonsense, I stripe one down the right side, sitting up in the rough after Pat pulls one left. [If I have experience doing anything in golf, it’s running from the car to the tee box and hitting a decent shot. Shouldn’t this be an official statistic for weekend hackers, like sand saves?]

My next shot is a big 5-wood to the middle of the hill approaching the green (yes, I’m going to re-live the entire round if you’re wondering); and McGee had to punch out. I’m a nervous wreck on my approach, knowing that my ball might be the one we need on this hole. I take an extra club, a 9-iron, and hit a nice, smooth ? shot to 10 feet below the hole. My birdie putt burns the edge, then a heart-racing tap-in for par and off we go.

Our playing partners for day 2, by the way, were a Big and Small twosome of Noah (big) and Tripp (small). Noah was just a massive human being, probably 6-3 and meaty from head to toe, we guessed he had to weight about 280 and could smash the ball a long, long way, though he rarely hit it where he aimed. You could tell he was the kind of guy who LOVED being the Big Kahuna in the room (“I’m in sales”), reveling in amazing the crowd with fabulous feats of strength and long drives. During the round, for example, he drove one to about 30 yards shy of the green on #12, the par 4 that runs back toward the snack hut; and tried to drive the green on #18 by bombing one down the left side and over the trees (he told us he hit one over the green on #18 on the first day, to which Pat replied, “Please promise me you’ll try that again.” He obliged while we stood behind him). Unfortunately for the Big Guy, and his increasingly frustrated partner, his attempt to reach the green off the tee on Day 2 ended up in the cart barn, just a massive, wayward hook. I have played the Mount perhaps 100 times and I’ve never seen anyone land a drive from 18 near the cart barn. For his part, Tripp was a blue blood country club type, wearing a Maryland CC golf shirt, a lefty, and owner of a funky swing with a weird dip at the top. We later found out from Big Noah that Tripp had a cool grand on the line in the form of a bet with another team in the field vs. him and Noah. I don’t think that one worked out… Trip and Noah stumbled all over the back nine with a 41 and shot 78.

But I digress… let’s go back to our second hole, number 11, the long par 3. McGee hits a clean 5-iron to 20 feet, I hit a straight but short 7-wood to the bottom of the hill below the green. I hit sand wedge to a foot for a tap-in par, setting the pace for the day, giving McGee a chance to make a run for birdie. His bid goes just high of the hole and we take par.

On 12 we both hit the fairway and the green and I was away. Charged up, I blew the lag putt about 12 feet past the hole, missed the comeback and take 5. McGee makes an easy two-putt and it’s on to 13. On day one, I parred this hole after McGee found himself in trouble, so I had a good feeling. This is also the only hole we birdied in two days of play last year. We’re both in good shape off the tee and I’m about 25 feet below the hole for bird, McGee is 12 feet or so below and left of the hole. I throw up with the putter again and 3-putt and McGee calmly makes birdie anyway, we’re one under. (quick view of my inner dialogue at this moment – “hey douche bag, don’t be so fucking terrified of success, you big pussy.”).

OK, here comes 14, the long par 4 where we both made nice pars on day one. Not this time. McGee had his only truly bad swing of the weekend, picked up and topped the ball into the junk, not to be found. I follow this with a nervous slice into the trees on the right. After we look for his ball for a while, he marches back up to the tee and cranks one down the middle, then hits a nice approach to the far right of the green with the pin on the left, it would be a tough two-putt for six. Clearly I needed to step up… can you feel your breakfast coming up with me… I punched out to about 140 and then tried to draw an 8-iron into the green but hung it out to dry into a plugged lie in the trap on the right. I managed to hit it to the front of the trap and now I’m truly feeling sick, needing McGee to two-putt so we can avoid making 7. His lag is about 8 or 9 feet beyond the hole… His putt for six is what else? Draino and we take our lumps. I am distraught but reassured that we are still +1 through this tough stretch and we resolve to battle on.

On #15, McGee starts getting truly hot. He scales back from driver on Day One to a 3-wood and hits it perfect to about 150. I pushed one down the right side and had to punch out. McGee then hits an 8-iron that was true from the instant it left his club, we knew it was good… we drive up and around (I had pitched up to 20-feet for par) and his ball is in tap-in range for birdie, we’re back to even.

On to 16 we go and this is the period where we really started clicking. Pat’s bird on 15 gave us a great amount of confidence, including a bit of remorse (“man, we could be 2-under right now”) but we felt very good. We both hit big drives and both hit the green… he lagged to a couple feet and made par; my birdie bid wasn’t to be, but it was an easy, stress-free par.

At the long par 3 17th, McGee again hits the green with a steady 5-iron and leaves it about 10 feet above the hole, a great shot. I pushed a 7-wood to the bottom of the hill right, but hit a great flop to about 5 feet but miss the par putt. He had to go a bit easy on this one and lagged the downhiller for another routine par, we’re still even.

OK, now it’s the easy 18th hole, the dogleg right where Big Noah would put on his little show for us. But before that, McGee announces that I should hit first on this one, he just “has a feeling.” So I do and bomb one that shaves the left side and ends up about 90 yards from the green. He hits a good drive also and once again we’re both putting for bird. We both two putt and finish the difficult back side with a score of even steven, 35.

We make the turn and keep reassuring each other that we can continue getting this done, just take it one shot at a time, all that bullshit that really does help when you’re nervous in a tournament. So on #1, the par 5, I popped up my drive short on the right, but hit a good 5-wood recovery and then a 7-wood to about 10 yards short of the green. McGee meanwhile is on the back of the green in regulation, with a downhill 30-footer left for bird. I got up and down for par, opening the door for Patrick to go for it, which he did, and wouldn’t you know, the ball rammed into the back of the cup, we’re -1 on the day.

On number two, I finally got it thru my thick skull that driver isn’t the best idea and hit a nice 5-wood to about 160. McGee is also in the fairway but neither of us hit very good approaches, we’re both just off the green. We both make par, but no real birdie chance here. At this point, by the way, I’m feeling great. McGee keeps making putts, I keep showing up on every hole and I’m thinking to myself, this is fun. OH, you know what, I forgot to mention the fifth member of our group on Day 2, who was Big Noah’s Buddy Albert. Bert rode in the cart most of the day while Tripp hung on the back, but Bert would do some nice fore-caddy things like clean the balls for his boys and drive the cart up around corners to make sure the coast was clear. He also did a good amount of cicada spotting and pointed out on our next hole, #3, that there was a massive infestation of those red-eyed freaks on the tree behind #2.

OK, so on 3 we both hit great drives down the middle, we both have less than 100 to the green. (is anyone still reading? Fuck it, I’m going to go through the whole round, just for Gabe, I know he’s still with me, and I’m hoping McGee forwards this to his boy Hot Toddy). My approach is on the front of the green, the pin is in the back and I lag to about 4 feet and miss the putt. Great. Pat is about 15 feet and just rolls another one in there, the guy’s putter was STOP, DROP AND ROLL hot at this point – on fire, en fuego, unreal, so much fun to see.

Here we go to number four, the tricky dogleg left. Note to regular players at the Mount… scale it back and hit 3 or 5 wood on this one, the driver just puts you in the trees on the right. I hit a 3 wood to about 165 out and pured a 6-iron to 10 feet below the hole. Man I’m feeling good about my game at this point. McGee follows me on the green, why wouldn’t he? and made his par so I could go for birdie. My putt goes bumpity bump along the way and stops short. So pissed, all I wanted to do was join the birdie brigade and didn’t get it done, but it’s yet another easy par and here we go to 5.

Pat’s drive gets away from him to the right on this one and I hit a big one down the right side that ended up about 130 out in the right rough with a clean lie. He is next to a tree but somehow makes clean contact and ends up about 10 yards shy of the green. I’m a bit nervous over my approach and hit the anti-hook push shot to the right side of the green and about 10 feet short. The pin was on the far left… one of us MUST get up and down. His pitch isn’t his best… stops about 12 feet short. I hit a pretty good texas wedge to about 8 feet below the hole, tough to get it to stop b/c the pin was on a ledge of sorts. Pat is away but says to me, “you go first b/c I feel so confident with my putter that I know I’m going to make it.” This type of Jedi mind shit works just right for me; I’m thinking I’ve got to make one for my boy who is just playing lights out, so I FINALLY make a putt and roll in a clutch par. It felt so good. A couple of fist knocks later we march to the tee at the downhill par 3 sixth.

On the box, Pat hits first (by the way, after the debacle at number 14, Tripp and Big Noah didn’t get to even think about teeing off first). He gets aggressive and goes after the back pin with an 8-iron, hit it clean but it goes just a tad right and off the green, very tough chip awaits. I hit a 9-iron to the middle that backs up a little and I’m left with 35 feet uphill. Patrick’s chip runs about 8 or 9 feet past, just about impossible to stop. He just misses the par putt. I lag a little too hard and my ball runs past the hole about four feet. I have a knee-knocker side-winder for par and it’s draino baby, I’m officially on this damn team!!

We march up the stairs to 7, both feeling great. McGee rips one down the middle and I fuck up and hit a twisty slice into the right trees not to be found. It’s red stakes so I drop and hit short of the green, then pitch on and leave myself with 10 feet downhill for bogey. McGee is flying solo basically, he kinda blades his approach and it’s bearing down on the sandtrap on the left, “get up” we yell and the ball listens, it gets beyond the trap, takes a couple of hops and somehow starts winding back toward the hole. What can I say? It was our day. McGee barely misses a bird, which would have been just stealing at this point, and we maintain minus-2 status.

Two holes to go… two big drives on #8 and two shots on the green, I’m 12 feet above the hole and he’s about 12 below it… neither of us can convert, we take par and move on to the final, diabolical 9th.

Nine isn’t really all that hard, it’s just long. McGee hits a boomer and he’s about 185 out. I go straight but a bit of a shorty to the right and my 5-wood approach is short and in the rough. Sand wedge third shot goes to the back of the green and I’m left with 15 feet downhill for par. Meanwhile, McGee takes 6-iron and hits a maybe it’s on, maybe it’s off shot to the right side of the green and OF COURSE it’s on, he’s got about 30 feet left. His lag is just so-so, leaves himself a tough 6 or 7-footer for the par. I go for it on my putt and kill it, great line but it lips out and I tap in for the 5. McGee steps over his ball, needing one more clutch putt to give us the magical 69 and it’s NOTHING BUT THE BOTTOM OF THE CUP. What more can I really say? The guy was a machine. So that’s our round, I’m not sure how long that just took me to write? An hour and a half maybe? Fuck it, it needed to be told, make fun of me all you want.

Other notes from the tournament:
One day one we played with two guys who were members at Hayfields, Mike and Dominick. Both big hitters (esp. the Dominator) and good players, they clearly hadn’t played the Mount very much and made some serious tactical errors, like driving thru the fairway on #8, the short par 4, or going right on #3. Mike was nice enough, an Irishman; Domminick was a brooder, he probably didn’t say two words all day, aside from Fuck, low and slow under his breath after yet another wayward tee ball. Dominick could score on occasion however; I think he had 3 birdies, including one on the final hole of the day, #9, which allowed their team to beat us by a stroke, that sucked. We did however, beat those guys on the overall score, which was SWEET.
On #4, the dogleg left on the front side (our back), Dominick sliced a 5 wood into the trees and threw his club in the tree next to the tee box and it hung there about 20 feet in the air. It was very comical watching him shake the branches to get it down. Good stuff.

Best part about the two-man is seeing all these ringers come out of the wood-work, after telling Sherman about our round, he looked at the results website and recognized names from Caves Valley and Woodholme, I’m sure all these guys love coming out to test themselves against the best guys from all over the area.

As great as we played, we still would have only been tied for 16th based on day two scores only. That was sobering. There’s just a lot of good golfers out there.

Larry Sheets and his partner (I’m pretty sure it was THAT Larry Sheets) beat us by a stroke.

It was a really fun, memorable weekend. McGee was really the one who played out of his mind. I was just OK on Saturday and very good (for me) on Sunday. I hope you enjoyed this recap. Comments, as always, are welcome.

GA