Golf is a crazy game sometimes (most of the time). One day you have it and the next you might not. We’ve all had moments during a round, match or tournament where things were slipping and the outlook felt bleak. This past weekend at our club’s Low Handicap Match Play tournament, I encountered this feeling multiple times.
The tournament featured 16 low-handicap players at the club, where the result of the 1st round determined whether you went to the championship side or consolation side of the draw. From that point the matches were single elimination and 3 wins required to win each bracket.
Rounds 1 and 2
One of the biggest challenges we faced was the weather. Isolated thundershowers were littered throughout the forecast and wreaked havoc on our Round 1 matches Friday afternoon. After the lightning siren went off within the first few holes more times than my snooze alarm on a Monday morning, we called play for the day. In order to get our matches in over the weekend, rounds 1 and 2 were shortened to 9-holes so rounds 3 and 4 could be played as scheduled.
We were back at it Saturday morning and the good news — no lightning. The bad news — still raining. I was keen to get the rain gear on and get after it, but I couldn’t quite find my ‘A’ game out of the gates. I kept the match close but after 9 holes I was 1-down, which sent me to the consolation side.
As I walked off the green a bit dejected with the result, my instructor, Fred Teno was standing there. I mentioned that I might find it difficult to get myself up for the consolation bracket. He looked at me with a stern look on his face and simply said, “You have to find a way. Go out there and win it”. I appreciated the kick in the pants during a moment of frustration.
Equipped with new opponents for the back 9, we were off to play the 2nd round match. I played steady and after some shaky play from my opponent, I chalked up a stress-free 5 and 3 win, which earned me a spot in the afternoon semi-finals.
I was fired up for this match. I had a win under my belt, I was playing a good player who I knew was just as motivated to beat me, and the winner earned a tee time in the Sunday morning finals. As motivated and focused as I was, I didn’t quite have my ‘A’ swing early in the match. Neither of us did, but we battled hard. It was back and forth the whole round, and we found ourselves all square through 15.
My drive on 16 leaked into the left rough and I had just under 180 yards to a tough front pin. I hit a towering 6-iron with a baby fade to about 3 feet, which was eventually conceded for the birdie. Heading to the par-3 17th with a 1-up lead, I knew I was one good swing away from putting a stranglehold on the match. I hit 6-iron again — a high, towering, baby fade, which landed pin high, 12 feet from the hole.
After my opponent missed his birdie try from slightly further away, I rolled in the birdie to close the match. I managed to find my two best swings of the entire day when it mattered most.
Sunday morning brought more rain, so for the second day in a row straight we had to head out in full rain gear. I got off to a rough start. My back felt stiff and my swing disconnected, particularly the long game. I quickly fell 4-down through 4 holes — not an ideal start.
I had to claw my way around just to keep the deficit from increasing. I made a breaking 5-footer to halve the 6th hole. Then, after a failed attempt to get out of the trees on the par-4th 7th hole, I eventually got it up and down for bogey from 80 yards to halve that hole. When I made a downhill, breaking, 25 footer on the par-3 8th hole to get my first win of the round, I felt my first glimmer of momentum even though I was still 3-down.
The momentum was trumped after I failed to get up and down on the par-3 11th hole and went back to 4-down. With 7 holes remaining, I knew I had to start doing something, and back-to-back par 5’s was a perfect place to start. I won the 12th after my birdie putt was conceded, and a par on the 13th was good enough to cut the deficit to 2-down. For the first time in the match I had real momentum.
I decided to stay aggressive, pulling driver on 14 (where I normally hit 3-wood), but blasted it left and lost the hole. The momentum turned against me again, and I was 3-down with only 4 to play.
My opponent hit it straight at the front flag of the par-3 15th hole but we couldn’t tell how close it was. I knew that if he won this hole the match was over. I mustered up my best swing of the day up to that point — an 8-iron to a couple of feet.
My wife showed up on the 15th hole to watch us finish. My opponent made par from the front fringe and I rolled in the birdie with Beth looking on from the back of the green. I was fired up. Even though my opponent was still 2-up with 3 to play, the closing holes are extremely difficult holes to close a match on, so I knew it was no stroll in the park for him to seal the deal.
My up-and-down for par on the par-4 16th hole was good enough to cut the lead to one. Then on the par-3 17th hole, I yet again made one of my best swings of the day and fired straight at a back right pin with a 6-iron to keep the pressure on my opponent, who put it in the greenside bunker and failed to get it up and down. We were all square going to 18.
The 18th is a 485-yard, downhill par-4 with out-of-bounds down the right and it’s no picnic down the left. It’s a tough tee shot when you’re hitting driver well. It’s a horrifying tee shot when you’re hitting driver the way I was that day. Somehow, I mustered up my best driver of the day and hit a hard, towering fade down the right side of the fairway. My opponent flared his off to the right, narrowly stayed in bounds, and had a very long second shot in.
As we drove down, our gallery grew by one as my father-in-law, Gary, had also grabbed a cart to come out and watch us finish. I knew I had the advantage, but I had to assume my opponent would hit a good shot — and he did just that. He hit a clutch wood that faded around the trees, and rolled up on the green to about 20 feet.
I had 175 yards to the pin and took out a 7-iron. I took my time and consciously slowed down my movements and breathing. My heart was racing, but it seemed to elevate my level of focus and awareness, and given the circumstances, I hit one of the best iron shots I’ve ever hit. It never left the flag, and settled a little over a foot from the hole, which was conceded for birdie — and the consolation bracket win!
I also want to give a shout out to reigning club champion and winner of the championship bracket, Al Ross, who we played alongside on Sunday. He was solid as usual, and closed out his match on the 15th hole and got to kick back and watch us sweat out the consolation match to the bitter end.
Never give up no matter how bleak things may feel. No exceptions. You never know what might happen, or when you’ll find a spark in your game. I happened to find some of my best swings of the weekend when it mattered the most.
To play the closing 4 holes at the club in 2-under is a nice feat on any day, but I was especially proud to do it in the final match when my back was against the wall.
I didn’t have my ‘A’ swing this past weekend. However, I am still going to give myself an ‘A’ for grinding it out, overcoming early disappointment, and getting my name on some hardware. When there’s a will, there’s a way. Sometimes that’s all you need.