Work On The Wedge
When I think back through all the tournaments that I have played, there are 2 wins that tend to stick in my mind, mainly because they were just so unexpected!
The first one was in the summer of 1987, the year I turned Pro. I was invited to play in my first pro-am at my home club. I was a bit excited when I knew there was going to be a number of top players from the region coming along to play. A lot of the amateurs from my club were playing in the teams with the pro so I wanted to have a respectable performance. Back then, my game was still developing and I had trouble with my driver, as I was not getting the distance I wanted plus occasionally it was a bit wayward. So I decided to hit 3-wood that day off the tee for accuracy even though I knew it would leave me longer approaches to the green. To be honest, my shots to the green that day were dreadful. I must have only hit about 6 greens in regulation. There was a bit of wind and the greens were very hard and bouncy but that was no excuse.
Fortunately, I was focusing very well on each individual shot and was feeling very confident with my wedge. After 9 holes, I had up and downed at least 7 times. I wondered how long could I keep this up. Missing greens and still making par.
For the back nine, the round continued in very much the same way. I managed to keep my 3 wood straight off the tee which was quite an achievement on the back nine at Dale Hill since it only takes one bad bounce on the uneven fairway and it’s easy to be in the woods unplayable. Even though the tee shots were straight, my approach shots were badly struck and nearly always short. However, the wedge just kept knocking the ball next to the flag and that continued right up until the last hole when I left myself the longest par putt of the day, which was about 15 feet downhill! I struck the putt very lightly; gently it rolled taking the break and just crept in the hole via the side door!
I had ended with a round of 71,not spectacular but a respectable score for my first pro-am at my home club. Since I teed off quite early, I knew it would be a long day waiting for the other pro’s to come in. Although I was the leader, I did not expect it would last. As I watched the scoreboard through the afternoon, I expected to see my name drop down the leader board. To my surprise, I remained the leader until the end of the day and to win my first Pro-am.
Pain No Gain!
The next event that tends to stick in my mind came five years later in 1993. At this time in my career, I was playing a lot more golf. The tournament schedule through the summer was very demanding with qualifiers, main events and pro-am invitations. It was the time in my career when I would play in almost every tournament I could. Back then being much younger, I used to think that the more events I played the better chances I had of winning prize money.
Anyway, this event was A PGA South region event at Hindhead Golf Course in Surrey. The week previous, I remembered that I was very busy with one day events. The event at Hindhead was being played on Monday. On that previous Friday, I had just had a good result coming second in the Mill Ride Pro-am and was looking forward to a day off on Saturday, spending my day off doing something completely different from golf. I decided to go horse-riding that Saturday. I was clearing out the hoof of a rather temperamental horse called Athena when she decided to slam her foot to the ground and this sudden jolt knocked my back out of the place. I was literally on the ground unable to move. I have always had back trouble since my early twenties and with all the golf, it often felt sore. Getting back to the story, I was in deep pain barely able to walk but I had A pro-celebrity to play on Sunday and the PGA tournament on Monday. Straight away I got on the phone to the PGA and told them what happened and at the same, telling them that I couldn’t play in the pro-celebrity on the Sunday and would let them know about Monday as soon as I could. Well, come Sunday, I was managing to walk. In the afternoon, picking up a club to see if I could swing. I could swing but it did feel a bit restricted. I decided to call the PGA and let them know that I was able to play, but deep down I was still not 100% sure if I could.
The event was 36 holes in one day and my tee-off time was early around 8:00am. It was a 2 hours drive to the course from my home so I set off soon after 5:30am on my own, no caddy, packed with deep heat cream and a back support corset around my waist which made it difficult to button my trousers.
On the journey, I thought to myself, ” what are you doing? You can hardly drive your car and how on earth do you think you’re going to play golf!”
I arrived at the course in good time, had a few chips and putts on the practice green, a dozen shots in the practice net, to make sure I could still swing. I was then ready for the first tee.
Well after 9 holes, I was 5 over par, thinking why did I bother to turn up not being fit with the possibility of injuring my back even more. “Maybe I should retire and have some rest!K” but I decided to continue and if my score were still bad after 18, I would then retire.
The tenth hole at Hindhead is a par-three. I hit my seven-iron pretty close to the pin and made birdie. That gave me a little bit more confidence to keep going. Somehow, I followed it up with birdies on 12, 13 and 16 with pars on the rest. Suddenly my completely negative start had turned into an average round of 71, placing me in the top half of the field.
I showered at lunch time in an effort to make my back feel better, applied more deep heat, took two pain killers, fastened up my corset and made my way to the start of my second round.
For this round the tee off was reversed, so I was starting my round on the tenth, the same 9 that I had just completed in 4-under par. Not quite the same luck this time but a steady level pars through 9 holes. Things started to change on my tenth-hole, a solid second shot and a nice putt, another birdie was on the card. I then birdied my 11th, 12th, and 15th, scrambled to pars on the rest until the last hole. On the 18th, I hit a straight drive and knocked my second shot close to the hole, leaving me a 3-foot downhill left-to-right putt for a second round of 65. Somehow I hit the putt too hard and the ball went through the break four feet passed. Yes, sure enough I missed the four feet coming back and carded a 67. When I got back to the clubhouse, to my surprise it was good enough to win the event by one shot. I really could not believe how after nine holes I was seriously thinking about giving up for the day but still managed to win.
I guess the reason why I remember these two tournaments the most is that in both cases, I never really felt I had any chance of winning. My expectations were lowered, probably reducing needless pressure.
So don’t expect too much from your rounds and at the same time never give up even when the chips are down because you never know what’s round the corner when it comes to golf.