It was a crazy week. From Saturday the 7th, when I wakened from a slumber with the expectation of hickory, to Sunday the 15th (as I sit typing, anticipating a shoot-out at the Scottish Open, then later at the John Deere Classic), I went from a total of a mere 36 holes played and posted (one in January!) to a sizable 144, thanks to an absolute binge of golf in a seven-day period. It’s not as heroic as the 490,000 holes (or thereabout) in five days at Myrtle Beach that my brother-in-law brags of, but still worthy of a break down, so here we go…
Did you ever have that dream where you don’t know if you’re playing moderns or hickories, it’s 15 minutes to your tee time and you’re playing with the County Executive? I’ve checked that off my bucket list (or as I like to call them, my Yaa-Hoo moments.) Last weekend, the Erie County Amateur began with a mad dash to the Grover Cleveland parking lot, a quick change from plus-fours to slacks and a smooth double bogey-triple bogey start, with no lost balls. Thankfully, I recovered to shoot +2 the rest of the way, somehow make the cut and play again on Sunday. Grover was my first course and the 2-3-4 loop my childhood playground. It was great to be home.
The Media Day
What do you mean the tournament director of the Porter Cup “requested” to play with us? Sounded like the kiss of death to me, the old “thanks for coming, you won’t be returning.” Thankfully, it couldn’t have been more contrary to that speculation. The Scrambler and I had the pleasure of golfing 18 holes with Steve Denn at Niagara Falls Country Club. I started slowly, with bogeys on the first five holes. I felt like Hogan~here’s why. You could judge his rounds not on his good shots, but on his misses. I was missing the ball, but making bogey. Holding it together until it comes together is the key to my game most days. I watched Steve putt, took an unannounced lesson from him and started to roll the rock.
The entire round consisted of discussion of this point or that about the upcoming tournament, a historical tour of the golfing grounds (where Tillinghast originally routed his course, where land was purchased, where bunkers used to be, where the NYS Power Authority claimed a tract of land) and a few good golf shots (mostly from Steve.) Two rounds, two figures of renown as partners, LG.
Had a chance on Thursday to represent the USA in the first USA-Canada Better-Ball of No Repute at Cherry Hill Club in Ridgeway, Ontario. Canada sent Matt Bosela and Mark Saltzman, while the best Old Gory (not a typo, sadly) could do was send me and The Scrambler. We hung in for a while, but we were outmatched and outplayed. We didn’t have our “C” Games and while we ground out as much pepper from the mill as we could, our pile was smaller than theirs.
Cherry Hill recently was voted the 77th best course in Canada by ScoreGolf Magazine. In my mind, it has plenty of room to rise. The course hosted its Member-Guest Invitational this weekend and was running fast and firm. A truly enjoyable round. You know what kind of round it was? The kind where you grind it out and grind it out, with no recompense in the end, save the knowledge that what mattered most was the never giving up. Some days, you don’t give up yet you don’t win, but the perseverance comes back to save you some future day.
By this juncture, it occurs to me that better planning would have made this a two-part post; it’s too late for that. It helps to know people who know people. A friend invited me out to Diamond Hawk on Friday, ostensibly to discuss local high school golf structures and to play the course from the tips, as the ECIC and Section VI golfers do. Sadly, what we got was Diamond Hawk in the best shape possible, running fast and firm, accepting runners and high spinners alike, conditions that do not exist when ECIC (Fall) and Section VI (Spring) tournaments are played.
Dude friend had to borrow a set of irons and they were woefully short of his ability level, so he struggled. He did have his driver, one of those new Cobra AMPs and he killed it, just killed it. Case in point. Playing the 18th at 450 yards, he had 149 yards in. I hit an average drive and had 225 in. Seriously, that’s real estate.
I love Diamond Hawk; here’s why. I hit a one-hybrid off the tee for the first 7 driving holes. Didn’t hit driver once, shot 41 from the tips with a double in there somewhere. All the guys that complain about D-Hawk are the guys who A) Have to have driver in their hands all the time on 4s and 5s and B) Don’t hit driver straight enough or practice hitting driver straight enough to hit the fairway. Bang a hybrid off the tee at #2, #4, #7, #8 and you’ll avoid the briar patch, the Amazon and any other hazards out there. So you have 6-iron in versus 9-iron; the 6-iron comes with no penalty strokes, lost ProVs or epithets.
“Dad, we’re going to see the stage production of Legally Blonde at the Palace in Lockport.” Those words might normally be fraught with anxiety, unless you know that the play will take three hours and that Willowbrook is close by. I hadn’t been out to Willowbrok in a while, certainly not since Jim Furlong (a great guy and local pro) had arrived on the scene. After dropping the kidlings off at the Palace, I scooted through some cool streets and found my way to Lake Avenue. I stole out to the first tee ($15 walking nine after 5 pm) of the new nine, the North, and did something for which I unabashedly have no remorse: I played two balls and counted it as an 18-hole score in my handicap.
If you like open spaces, links golf and windswept vistas, you won’t like Willowbrook. If you’re comfortable with a machete in your hand, invested in claustrophobia when it went public last year and answer to the name Balloo, then Willowbrook should be your home course. The new nine is the most open of the three and it ain’t always open. I’m stunned that some of the tees and greens exist where they were sighted; they get no sunlight or wind exchange at all. The course, however, is terrific.
I flew through that nine holes in about 75 minutes, playing the two balls. I made some good swings, got the short game working, made a few birdies near the end and shot 36 (Pro V1x) and 39 (Pro V1). I also have a memory to last a few years.
The ninth hole at the North nine returns to the clubhouse, an always-turning par five that disembarks on a peninsula green extended into a pond. Right is safe, if you consider a bunker shot toward the water safe. Left and long are wet, and beyond long is the bar, sometimes wet and loud (in a good way) as it was on Saturday night. Give me a crowd to watch me any day of the week. I want the chance to prove myself under pressure. I’m not so good at it and I want to improve. My first approach lit 20 feet left of the hole. The second one, a weak half-wedge, limped up 40 feet right, in the fringe. That’s when things got spooky.
Since the Denn lesson, remember, I’ve been putting well. Turns out that I made the 40-footer and the place went wild. Cheers, applause, clinking of glasses. I did the Trevino Four-Kisses-Of-The-Putter and then went to the second ball. I’ve started to write the dialogue:
BarFly #1: All right buddy, let’s see you do it again!
Me: (smile and wave.)
BarFly #2: No pressure, no pressure!
Me: (oh, shoot, there’s pressure…awesome!)
I’d like to tell you that I made the putt, but I didn’t. Imperfect contact left it two feet short, on line for birdie. To one-putt and two-putt those two balls gave me confidence that the putting is headed in the correct direction and that golf continues to be great. Thus spake Mo’ Golf.