It was 80 players for 3 spots, and I finished tied for 4th. I shot 68, but there were two 66’s and a 67. The 67 was in my group (by Mark Brown, the head professional at the club on Long Island where I started my teaching career) as was another 68, by Bob Lennon, director of instruction at Wilmington CC in Delaware. When I finished my group’s scores were the lowest, and since we were an early time and I live close to the course, I got out of the rain and headed home to watch the scores online and hope for a possible playoff, or better yet, no playoff. One of the 66’s happened in the morning wave, so I took a nap and when I woke up and checked the scores there was another 66, which meant I was out. I decided not to go back for any alternate playoff (it would have been 3 for 2 spots) but gearing my back up after walking 18 hilly holes was, I decided, not a good idea.
So, I missed, but given my recent history (last 10 years) it’s another small victory and an indication that I’m getting my game back. When you don’t play well for an extended period and battle injuries and surgeries it’s easy to forget how you were ever good enough to compile the resume you have. My struggle has been with ball striking, and my less than adequate ball striking has been a result of swing issues caused by age old tendencies and physical limitations (and pain). After surgery on my big toe in September I have recovered to the point where the rest of my daily efforts seem to have accumulated to the point where as I pinpoint my weaknesses and try to create a swing that functions better I can get closer to doing what I want to do. Most recently that has meant trying to keep my right hip deep in the backswing and stay deep into my left hip in the forward swing, which has led me to return to an open stance (about 30 degrees) with both feet turned to the left an equal amount. That starts my right hip in internal rotation, and from there I’m trying to drive the left side of my pelvis inward in order to drive (load) my right hip back into internal rotation, putting it into position to initiate the downswing from a deep position and most importantly to get my left hip deep enough to clear faster so I can exit the club to the left on plane instead of out to the right.
In the last 2 weeks I’ve been able to play (while teaching) at Boca Rio in Florida, Skokie CC just north of Chicago, and Olympia Fields, a U.S. Open track just south of Chicago, and it is always great to gear up for a tournament by playing difficult courses under varying conditions. My home course, Woodholme, usually home to some of the best greens on the east coast, has unfortunately been on temporary greens for months, so being able to play these other fine courses has been critical. I got back Sunday night from my 4 days in Chicago and got up at 530 for my 858-starting time.
On game days I do almost the exact same thing I do every other day, minus the cardio. I start with a hot shower and standing stretches, then with 30 minutes of floor stretches and isometrics followed by 300 crunches and 90 pushups. I then do some light work on the Bowflex and a few swings with a weighted club, and I’m ready for breakfast. I’ll have an omelet with some fruit on the side, make a peanut butter sandwich to eat after 9 holes, and I’m off to the course, where I like to arrive about an hour and 10 minutes before teeing off. I putt first for 10-15 minutes, then hit balls for about 20 more, leaving time for some pitching around the practice green, more putting, and a trip to the restroom. It’s a routine I’ve had forever, and it gets me to the first tee prepared and unhurried.
The course we are playing, Argyle CC, is short and tricky, with small greens and lots of elevation changes. The yardage (+/- 6500 yds.) is misleading due to the number of layup par 4’s, which require a 200 yard or so shot off the tee. The longer holes are almost all to elevated greens, and one par 5 is designated a par 4 with the tee moved up to 470 yards. The greens are almost 100% poa annua and are rolling pure this day at about 10.5 on the stimp. It’s a rainy day, but as I tee off the rain lets up and can take off the rain gloves, I wore to warm up.
As I mentioned I’m paired with Mark Brown from Long Island, one of the best senior club pros in the country (he was just low club professional in the PGA Senior Championship), and Bob Lennon and when they both birdie the first hole (Our group starts on the back 9) I know it’s going to be a good grouping.
Hole 10 is a straight away medium length par 4, and I hit my opening drive with a slight cut into the right rough, then hit a nice 6 iron to 18 feet but miss.
Hole 11 is a short (335 yard) par 4, and I hit a 3 hybrid and a 9 iron to 25 feet and 2- putt.
Hole 12 is a downhill par 5 with a blind 2nd shot flanked on the right by water right up to the green. My drive is solid and in the fairway, and I lay up with a 2 hybrid down the left side, leaving me with a downhill 20-yard pitch off a bare lie. I hit an awful shot, chunking it and barely getting it on the front of the green where I 2- putt from 35 feet. Bob has birdied the first 3 holes.
Hole 13 is an uphill par 3 playing 181 into a breeze to a narrow green front to back. I hit a solid 4 iron to 25 feet right of the pin and 2 -putt for par.
Hole 14 is another short 4, and I hit a 2 hybrid and a gap wedge to 20 feet and roll in the putt to go 1 under.
Hole 15 is a quirky short 4, the tee shot needing to stay on top of a ridge at about 220 yards. I hit the fairway with a 4 iron, then knock an 8 iron on the green but about 30 feet short of the pin. It’s my first uphill putt of the day, and I mishit it to about 8 feet short, which I then roll in for par.
Hole 16 is our first long par 4 playing 427 yards uphill, and the conditions (cool and now raining) have the ball traveling much shorter than normal. I hit a good drive down the left side, then a 4 iron to the front fringe from where I 2 -putt for par.
Hole 17 is a 180 -yard par 3 with a severely elevated tee over water, and my choke 5 iron finds the front edge from where I two put for par.
Hole 18 is 426 uphill all the way, and when I snipe my drive into the left rough, I find myself unable to reach the green in regulation. I hit a 2 -hybrid short of the green to the right, pitch to about 8 feet past (not a great shot), then make the putt to shoot 1 under on the first 9.
Hole 1 is straightaway downhill, and when I pull my drive left of the fairway trap, I find myself under a tree but with a swing. The ball will have to go under a first tree then over a few others, but I can see the trajectory working out with an 8 iron. The shot comes off as planned and finishes 25 feet short of the hole, and I 2-putt from there for par.
Hole 2 is usually an uphill par 5 from about 490 yards, but for this event it’s a 466 -yard par 4, not the hole on which to hit a bad drive. Unfortunately, I pop up my drive into the right rough, and the only thing I can do is hit a hybrid down the right side and try to get up and down from 50 yards. I mishit the pitch to 15 feet short and leave the putt short for a bogey. Back to even par.
Hole 3 is a 520 -yard par 5 that plays downhill off the tee then steeply back up to the green, and a good drive and 3 wood get me to within 30 yards of the pin. I hit another awful pitch that barely gets on the front edge of the green, and I’m faced with a 45- footer up the hill breaking right to left. I hit the putt way too hard, but it’s right on -line and hits the back of the hole, jumps up in the air, and falls in for birdie. “All set up by the pitch” my playing partner says sarcastically. I can only shrug my shoulders and head to the next tee. Meanwhile Brown has just birdied 4 in a row to get to 4 under, which is where our other partner, Bob, stands as well.
Hole 4 is another layup par 4, and again I hit a hybrid in the fairway and a pitching wedge on the green and 2 -putt for par.
Hole 5 is a downhill par 3 with water short and left, and my tee shot ends up short and right. My pitch is a bit too hard and ends up 6 feet by, but I make it for par.
Hole 6 is a tough 466 -yard uphill par 4, and a good drive leaves me 230 out from where I hit a nice 3-wood to the front edge and 2 -putt for par.
Hole 7 is another uphill 180- yard par 3, and the back pin takes the shot to 190 into a breeze. I was short here the last time I played the course (the same qualifier was here 2 years ago), so I go for the hybrid and hit it on the green pin high about 35 feet and 2- putt for another par.
Hole 8 is a 374- yard par 4 with a narrow fairway, so I hit 3 wood off the tee for position but hook the ball into the left trees. My ball is sitting on hard pan, but I have a swing and can get it over the trees in front of me with a 9 iron. I hit a good shot to 18 feet and just run the putt by on the high side for another par. I’m still 1 under and I’m sure that’s not going to be good enough. Mark and Bob are both 3 under heading to the last hole, and I know I’ll need to somehow birdie the last to have a chance.
Hole 9 is again all uphill, and while I’m running out of gas, I manage to get my drive into the left side of the fairway, leaving me 180 yards to a pin I can barely see. I strike a solid 4-iron right at the hole, but there is no way to tell where it ended up. When we get to the green, I find it pin high 12 feet to the right, and the putt reads about an 8 -inch break from right to left. I put a smooth stroke on it and watch as it falls into the center of the hole for a birdie. I finish at 2 under 68, and for a while it looks as though I may have qualified for my 10th major championship. Alas, it was not to be as 2 amateurs shoot 66 to take me out of the picture.
Overall I would have to call this a moral victory as I proved to myself that I can walk 18 holes and hold up physically, that I can still get the ball in the hole as well as anyone, and that I can close a round with good shots on the last few holes. It’s nice to shoot in the 60’s again and if I can get my driving and pitching more in order, I’ll be in contention again soon. I’ll be sticking with the open stance with both feet turned toward the target, focusing on getting deeper into my right hip in the backswing while extending into the backswing to get a better wind-up. From there I’m trying to feel a hard kick of the shaft against my hands in transition as I shallow the shaft from P4 to P5 while driving my lower body back and to the left. If I can get to it, I’ll try to incorporate more left wrist flexion from P5 to P7 for better contact. My pitching is usually very good, so I’ll be practicing it more in order to avoid displays like Monday where I was lucky to make the putts to recover from awful shots. As for the putting, since I went to the Koepka “right index finger down the shaft” grip I have been rolling the ball beautifully and certainly making my share.