(NOTE: I found this post in my drafts. It is from about two months ago. I must have written it late at night and forgotten to hit publish. So it’s a little late to the party. Better late than never.)
I’m super excited to share this golf blog post. Yesterday I played in the gross semi-final match for my men’s club at Bonneville Golf Course. I entered both net and gross match play competitions this season and I was knocked out of the 3rd round of the net two days ago. See my previous post, Even Though I Lost This Match, Match Play is Still My Favorite Form of Golf.
Yesterday’s match was against a local pro named JZ, who used to work at Bonneville. JZ is a well known and liked guy who can get very hot. I’m sure nobody in the club gave me much of a chance of winning, including myself. I was nervous going into the match and knew the odds were against me, but we are all human. I had nothing to lose, really. I’d already made it farther than I ever have in the gross match play and gotten my entry fee back times two.
The front nine was a pig fight. Neither of us played very well. JZ had some hooking issues which helped me to tie the first and win the 2nd and 3rd holes. To make things even more screwy for me, I had just bought inserts for my shoes because of some new arch pain I’ve been experiencing. The arches made my stance feel different, and as a result shots were a bit wild.
We tied the tough par-4 4th with pars.
On the par-5 5th my tee shot was blocked by a tree so I couldn’t go for the green. All I had was a wedge over it. My opponent went for the green from a hard pan lie and ended up in a lateral hazard right. Par was enough to go to 3UP.
At that point I had to really fight the mental aspects of match play and not extrapolate the rest of the round. That lack of concentration on the shot at hand caused me to block a bad tee shot right on the par-3 6th, into some very ugly fescue. I found it and hacked it out but made bogey. Back to 2UP.
Both of us hit solid tee shots and approaches on the short par-4 7th and tied the hole. But I was getting nervous. Fighting nerves I pulled my tee shot on the short par-4 8th into deep rough. From there I missed the green short into grass with clover in it that was so thick it took me two swings to advance the ball, then I had a terrible stance half in the bunker etc… I end up making a bad six on a very short and easy hole. Bugger. 1UP.
Both of us missed the green on the par-3 9th and tied the hole. I had a putt to win it though, which just missed.
On the par-4 10th it looked like my opponent lost his tee shot. After searching we bailed and I went to hit my shot. JZ and his caddie found his shot and what looked like a win for a hole was now in doubt. I hit the green and JZ missed left to a nearly impossible situation. He made an up-and-down par which I don’t think I could have done more than 2-3 times out of 10.
Still fighting nerves I hit a very solid 4-iron on the par-4 11th. We both made par. 1UP.
The par-5 12th is a place where JZ with his length had an advantage. I cranked a great drive though and I was only about 10 yards behind him. I pulled my 4-iron 2nd shot which hit a tree and landed in deep rough. JZ reached the green in two and nearly made his eagle putt. He won the hole and the match was back to even. Gulp.
The next few holes are very tough, advantage opponent with some extra length. I hit a good tee shot on the par-4 13th but it just dribbled into deep rough left of the fairway. JZ was about 15 yards ahead of me in the fairway. My ball was 175 from the pin and in very thick rough, into the wind. I put an extremely good swing on a 6-iron and it came out so pure the ball never left the flag. When it finished the shot was about 2.5-3 feet from the hole. I’d not putted well earlier in the match but decided to widen my stance a bit. That squared up all my visual lines and helped me stroke it straight in for the win. Back to 1UP. This was a crucial moment in the match, and a confidence builder for me.
The next hole is a very tough par-4, dog left. After a good drive I was still 185 yards out. The pin was back and I wanted nothing to do with being long. Fearing adrenaline and going long, I picked a 7-iron, not normally a 185 club. It was pure but hit very soft and ended up on the front of the green. JZ hit a great approach to about 15 feet left of the pin. Trouble lurking. My 80 foot putt went about 10 feet by. JZ’s birdie missed and he made an easy par. Going with the re-squared putting stance, I drained the putt! The putt was just for a tie but it felt like a win. Tying any of the last 4-5 holes with a 1UP lead is huge.
Ah, the very long par-3 15th… There’s some course knowledge here. At 230 yards I might normally think about a hybrid but I knew a 4-iron would bounce down to the green. I hit it so pure. What a feeling. The ball ended up about 25 feet past the front pin in the middle of the green. JZ missed left (day’s theme) into a bad situation. An easy two-putt put me to 2UP with three to go. If I could just hold on and not let my nerves and gag reflex F this up…
I hit a good drive on the par-5 16th and so did JZ. I went first, of course. Nailed a 3-wood from 250 which went about 270 to the back of the green. Thankfully it was not over the green because that rough back there is deep and making par would have been tough. JZ hit a hybrid to the front half of the green. I had about a 50 foot putt for eagle and his eagle putt was more like 20 feet. I was happy to get my put fairly close, but not gimme range. JZ’s eagle putt missed but it was a gimme. I felt some pressure to make that tying putt because it was huge, to get the match to dormie. Made it. The putting adjustment on the back really helped.
17th, par-3. Here we are. 2UP and two to play. All I have to do is tie one of the last two holes and the match is over. Obviously doing that on 17 would be much less nerve-racking. I hit first, an 8-iron from 164. In hindsight I may have been smarter to hit a 9-iron, but there was some wind in our face. My shot was pure, right at the flag. It hit about two feet right of the back-pin at pin high, but unfortunately did not stick. It went off the back of the green. It was a nail-biter getting to that ball. If it was puttable the match was probably going to be over. If I was chipping, well, I’ve mentioned my short game woes before. Fortunately my ball was just on the back fringe. JZ had to birdie or it was likely over. Naturally he gave it a run. It missed left. Then I put my fringe putt to about 12 inches and the match was over. I won 2&1 (up two holes with one to play).
I’m thrilled to have been able to keep my nerves in check enough to hit some very good shots on the back. In fact, I played the back in -2. It was a thrill playing a match against JZ, a very good golfer and good guy. I’m sure he doesn’t feel he brought his A-game, especially on the front nine. Neither did I, on the front that is.
I’m in the finals! My opponent? Unknown at this point. The other semi-final match hasn’t been played yet. My bet on the winner would be a guy I played last year or the year before, a +4.5 who closed me out on the 13th green. I’ll enjoy the challenge, regardless of the outcome.
This is a proud moment for sure. Even if I don’t win the final match, I’m proud to have made it this far. Earlier this spring and pretty much all last season I’ve fantasized about quitting golf because of my struggles. As it sits I won’t be quitting golf just yet. I still have the final match to play. Hehe.