I played a few rounds of golf with a friend and his brothers last week. I was the fourth in their annual tournament they hold against each other in honor of their parents, and to decide sibling supremacy. It’s a good time and I was happy to be included. The champion was decided by the low net score over 63 holes. I participated in the first 18 and last 18 of the match and was not part of the competition.
I was on fire for the last 18 holes. We played at East Aurora CC, which was and is always in phenomenal condition. The course requires a little local knowledge and the ability to navigate hills and uneven lies. I had an idea what to expect, but I didn’t have an idea I’d shoot my best round this year.
I was running a tad behind, so I went directly to the first tee box. I drilled a drive with my signature cut to the left side of the fairway. I left the next shot just short of the green, but got up and down for par. A good start without any warmup. However, I bogeyed the next two holes, par 3 second (bunker off the tee) and the par 5 3rd (tried to reach it in 2 and left myself and awkward bad lie chip). I was not thrilled with those two boxes, but the blame was on my wedges. I quickly rebounded with a par, and another, and another after that. As a matter of fact, I reeled off 6 straight pars to finish the outward 9. That’s when it began.
One of the brothers in the group said to me “you just made a bunch of pars in a row”. I replied “I know and let’s keep it at that”. I knew I was merely 2 over par with a 37 on the front (EACC is par 71–35,36) and knew it should have been better than that. I was driving the ball great, playing my power fade and controlling it the best I had all summer. I was hitting greens and putting with confidence. I just didn’t want to hear the number or relation to par from someone else.
I teed off on the 10th hole with a perfect drive to the left side of the fairway giving me a great angle to the uphill front hole location. I hit a pitching wedge to 15 feet hole high right, and proceeded to drop the putt for birdie! On hole 11, I left my 18 footer one rotation short and did the same on the par 5 12th. The 13th hole is a gorgeous par 3 that I think is the signature hole at EACC. I thought my tee ball was on the back of the green, but the topography played tricks on me. I was hole high left, 20 feet from the cup. It was a downhill putt that bended from left to right. I picked a spot about 5 feet in front of my ball and just tapped it there. It rolled and rolled and started to turn right. The ball tracked right in the cup for birdie! That’s when it happened again.
“You’re 2 under par on the back, even for the round!” I responded “Don’t tell me!” I knew what I was, but didn’t want the confirmation. It adds the pressure of the having live up to it. At least that’s how take it. I hit a good drive on the next hole, but over cooked my approach shot long which led to the my first bogey the day. I three putted for the first time and was not happy. I knew I had to get it back on either 15 or 16 because 17 and 18 are very difficult holes.
I hit a great tee ball on the par 3 15th and ran my 15 foot birdie putt over the right edge of the cup. I thought it was in. On the par 5 16th, I left my 56 degree wedge well short of the pin (I have struggled with that club this year), but again just missed the birdie putt. The 17th hole is a long uphill par 4 with a fairway that bends left to right. You have to either hit it left or long to the middle to have it stay on the fairway. It was not suited for my ball flight that day and I overcooked the fade and ended up in the right rough a long way from home. I was 240 yards from the green on a sidehill lie that played more like 255 since it was uphill. I grabbed my 3 metal and gave a mighty swing watching for the fade. It didn’t happen. A double cross produced a draw that traveled further than any 3 wood I’ve struck in a long time.
The result was a golf ball 60 yards left of the green behind two very tall oak trees with a bunker between the trees and green. This is where it gets interesting. I was advised to pitch it towards the front of the green and try to get up and down for bogey. That was the prudent play and what I would have done on most days. This was not most days. I could have hit a low runner with a mid iron, but I believed that would run off the green or perhaps not even make it due to high rough. I decided I was going to go over the tree and bunker and take on the pin, the hardest and most unlikely shot of the options.
I chose this shot and explained my reasoning to my playing partners afterwards. I had a great round going and wanted to keep the opportunity to shoot even par in play with a birdie on 18. In order to do that, I felt I need to get the ball on the putting surface because I was putting very well. I was not chipping well that day, and making a long chip and more likely pitch from the front or right side of the green seemed very unlikely. So, I took the 56 degree wedge knowing I need that to get high enough over the tree and give me the length to reach the left side of the green.
I took a full swing and struck the ball right in the center of the grooves. It quickly climbed and was on a perfect line. I was going to pull it off! Then the ball clipped the very last branch and dropped straight down. It ended up between the tree and the bunker. I wasn’t mad because I hit the shot I wanted and knew the mistake was off the tee. I put a chip about 15 feet to the left of the cup which resulted in a near miss for a double bogey. Ugh. I was deflated. I played the 18th aggressively, but too aggressively near the green and carded another bogey.
I ended the round with a +4 75 (yes I posted the round!). I was disappointed and happy at the same time. I knew it could have and should have been better than that (realistically +2 73 ). I joked with the brother that told me I was -2 on the back that it was his fault, but that’s not true. It was all on me as I allowed myself to get away from what brought me the early success; a routine that had me focusing on the next shot and not the scorecard.
The next day I played at my home club, Fox Valley, and figured I was going to tear it up. Golf doesn’t work that way though. I couldn’t buy a putt and shot 85. Ouch! Ego back in check.