Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Humblest Pie

I suppose the good news is that I don't have to worry about giving up my amateur status.

We didn't win a dime.

Instead, we got beat by a guy named Booger. He picked us apart.

Chad and I entered the final round of the Firecracker Invitational at scenic Spring Creek Country Club in Crockett, Texas, with the highest of hopes. We left with the sting of humility.

A final round 74 sent us spiraling down the leader board. At least we didn't have to stick around to see if we finished in the money.

After a couple early bogeys, we got it back to 1-over after Chad birdied our 12th hole. But fatigue (and inexperience, honestly) took over. Our last four holes went bogey, bogey, double-bogey, par. The double happened when I tried to hit a cut 3-wood from the trees on a long par 5. My ball flew into a pine tree and apparently never came out. We never found it, and no one saw it fall.

Maybe a squirrel grabbed it and held on.

The squirrel conspiracy makes sense, as word might have traveled to Crockett that I took down one of their brothers in an unfortunate golf cart accident at Walden on Lake Conroe a couple weeks earlier. I didn't mean to run over it. Perhaps payback was in play. (Read about the Squirrel Incident here: http://texasgolfon.com/blog. It was part of a mission to play 100 holes in one day to raise money for cancer research.)

Our final round got off to a rocky start on the first hole. We began on the seventh hole, a 320-yard par 4. Chad drove his ball into a greenside bunker. That wouldn't have been so bad if his ball hadn't come to rest in a footprint of a guy in the morning wave who needs lessons on raking sand traps.

I was in the fairway but my approach bounced over the green. That was a common refrain for the day. The greens at Spring Creek were firm to say the least. It's a short course -- only nine holes, but each has two sets of tee boxes to give a different look on the second time around -- and the greens are hard and severely sloped.

We made bogey on our first hole, but I saved par on the second with a 6-footer. Yes, I left my chip shot six feet short. But it was uphill and I rammed it in the middle of the hole. I thought we were settling in for a successful final round. It just never happened. The greens at Spring Creek were the death of us.

Still, it's a  most excellent track to play. Challenging, yet playable. You can make anything from eagle to triple bogey on all the par 4s and par 5s. The par 3s might be among the most challenging I've played in a while. No. 8 is only 150 yards (for now: I saw a new, back tee being grassed; it'll be ready soon). The hole is uphill all the way, and you're lucky to see the top half of the pin. It plays up to a club and half longer, depending on the wind.

The second hole, another par 3, can stretch to 210 yards with a back pin and back tees. It's a short course that gives you all the golf you want. That's a rare thing, believe me.

You get the picture here: Spring Creek is a fun loop, but it's also damn hard.

I’ve always said the most difficult task for a golf course designer is to create a difficult, short par 4. Spring Creek CC overflows with demanding, short par 4s. You don’t have to hit it long, but you better hit it straight if you want a chance to make par.

As with most courses, putting is everything at Spring Creek.

That’s why Booger and his partner won our flight. Together, they are probably 120 years old. At one point, after one of Chad’s thunderous 300-yard drives, Booger declared, “Cowboy, you’ve got 30 years and 50 yards on me!”

Then he stabbed us in the heart and poured in another 20-foot birdie putt. That’s the main reason why Booger (that was only his nickname, by the way) was the defending champion in our flight. The guy made every putt out there. They deserved to win. By the final few holes, Chad and I were pulling for them.

During the painful, six-hour round, I learned a few things:

1. There's a reason I write about golf for a living instead of playing it.

2. Playing golf with your friends for fun and competing in a tournament aren't even close to the same thing. They’re practically two different sports. I can't remember being more nervous than standing over my ball on the first tee in the first round. People watching, money on the line ... I almost missed the ball.

3. I have renewed respect and appreciation for all the men, women and junior golfers that I cover in high-level competitive tournaments. Besides having a blast playing with Chad while our friends and his family members watched us, the next best part was the experience of being completely exposed on the golf course. There is nowhere to hide in tournament golf. It makes me marvel at all the amateurs and professionals about whom I write on a monthly basis.

And it's time to get back to writing about those who actually excel and thrive under the white-hot spotlight of tournament play. The U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls Junior Amateur will be played in a couple weeks. More than a dozen Texan boys and girls qualified for the USGA national championships. Hopefully one of them brings home the coveted title to Texas.

I had my moment on stage. It's time to focus on those who chase birdies and capture them in the most intense competitive environments.

Please pick up a copy of the July issue of Houston Links or DFW Links to read about people who play the game a whole lot better than me.

Thanks for reading.

Here are some photos taken by the talented (and very cute) Sharon Russell:

Chad and I had front-row seats to watch our flight's winners.

Chad helping me count our strokes. We made 7 on a par 5. Oops.
It was narrower than it appears.

I couldn't make a putt all day.

I've been told Chad can dance the two-step like a pro.

Carroll and Dorian Sullivan, Chad's parents & our gracious hosts.

He doesn't get cheated with the driver.
Spring Creek CC clubhouse from the 9th fairway. Gorgeous club, super-friendly membership. Hopefully I get invited back next year.

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