The time for fun was over. Now, it was game time.
Okay, that’s taking it a bit too far. I came into this trip wanting primarily to have fun. And being a 19 handicap, it’s tough for me to get too up on my game. But I can tell you this: after spending close to a year getting ready for this event, I wanted to make damn sure that effort was worth it.
I got my first chance for redemption at Windsong Farm Golf Club, site of the Day 1 – Singles Matches of the 2015 Mashie.
For a young club, Windsong has had quite the history. Originally conceived as a retreat club for members of Minneapolis Golf Club, an independent club eventually opened as one restricted to low-handicappers. After a few years, that business model failed; but, the club was saved by a new owner who made membership a bit more open.
The course is a modern design by John Fought and Tom Lehman, and you’ll never mistake it for one of the classics around town. Length, check. Pushed up greens, check. Prairie grass, check. Typically, this type of course would’t be my cup of tea. But, I can appreciate what the club was going for. There are rumors the course could vie for a PGA Tour event after length and bunker renovation is complete. I have no reason to think why that couldn’t happen.
We did a casual morning 18 to start. Of course I completely duffed my first tee-shot. Not a good omen. Reminders of my 2nd drive of the 2014 Mashie on #4 at Canterbury. Not again!? Thankfully, my second drive was much better. By the time I nailed one on #2, I knew that I would do okay that day.
It was good to get a gage on the course to see what I would be facing in the afternoon. For example, the tee shot on 14 can be played much more straight and right than it seems. And, you can block a drive 75 yards off target on #6, and still be safe thanks to the shared fairway with 5.
After lunch and a cocktail (and a couple Advil), it was off to my four-ball match. Thankfully, our group chose the 6,300 tees. In the morning, I played with a group that did the 6,700 tees. Although I was playing okay, I knew that was too much course for me.
First tee shot. In the shit. Shit. Help me partner. And he did. Hole halved.
Second hole: Tee shot in play, but not great. Partner okay drive. Other team in a bit of trouble. Hit my second to a good wedge distance and put my approach on the green with a good par (net biride) opportunity. My net par would end up winning the hole. I only won one hole last year in my matches at Canterbury. Two holes into 2015’s event, I had a win.
I would win another hole on 3 when I stripped my tee-shot down the middle of the fairway and put my approach 20ft from the green to set up an eventual par net birdie. 2up after 3. Pretty good start.
We would eventually get the lead to 4up after 13 holes. 4up with 5 to play. We’ve got this. Right?!
Our opponents were not going to let us off easy. After some pretty poor shots on 14 and 15, the lead was cut to 2up with 3 to play.
As I stood on tee of the par 3 16th, I could sense the momentum going in the wrong direction. What was going so well earlier in the round was quickly going to shit. The 16th at Windsong is a long par 3. There is water all the way to the green, but plenty of area to bail right. Our opponents shots were okay, but not great and not on the green. After my parter put his shot safely on the green, I knew I had the green light to try something special.
I have a love/hate relationship with my 5-iron. I’ve hit some of the best shots this year with my 5-iron. A ball I hit at Sleepy Hollow in May was especially memorable. But I’ve had a lot of misses with it too. With the modern lofts, it’s essentially a 4-iron with a #5 imprinted on it.
As I stepped up to hit the shot, I was about to pull the trigger when I heard a water bottle rustling in my opponents pocket. Step back. Regroup. After apologies from my opponent, I approach the ball again and let that 5-iron rip.
I flushed it. Going straight at the pin. Ended up past the hole, about 20ft. for birdie. I’ve been working all year to get to that moment. To get up to a shot, have the confidence to hit it, and actually see it through. Now, I had 20ft. for the win.
I was hoping a two-putt would be enough for the win, but my opponents both gave themselves respectable par putts. One was especially noteworthy as it was a flop shot from a downhill lie to a green sloping away.
The stage was set. Birdie wins the match for sure. Par might be good enough.
There wasn’t a whole lot in the putt. Slightly right to left. Slightly downhill. Makable for sure.
I took the putter back and hit it. And it looked good. Real good. Hit it exactly where I wanted to. My eyes got big. Really big. Could this be the moment I’ve been working all year for. Not just playing respectably, but actually winning!
Alas, the ball stopped 4 inches from the hole. My par putt was conceded. My opponents would have two shots to continue to the match. They would only need one. The flop shot artist drained his par putt to halve the match. That’s okay. 2up with 2 to play. Dormie. I was guaranteed a half-point.
Unfortunately, my partner hit it out of play on his drive and 17 and my shot wasn’t much better. We lost the hole. 1 up with one to play.
18 is a very tough par 5, uphill, and water all along the right side, doglegging hard right at the top of the hill. My first opponent hit his tee shot just safely on the right rough. My other opponent drove it in the thick grass and was essentially out of the hole.
Our turn. My partner picks a bad time to slice it. In the drink.
Are we really going to halve this match after being 4up?
Another pressure filled shot. This time with the big stick in my hand. My partner is out of the hole. Another moment to test all the physical and mental work I’ve been doing over the past year.
I took that Turbulator back and gave it a smash. Bam! Down the middle of the fairway. Safe, and well ahead of everyone else.
It ended up coming down to one of my opponents and I. Who could keep the ball out of the water long enough to hit the green and win the hole. We both ended up in the greenside bunker in 4. Unfortunately, I had a downhill lie hitting towards water. Not an ideal situation. After my opponent found the green with his, I stepped up for an incredibly tough bunker shot. Unfortunately, I hit a thin bullet and ended in the water. Not out of it yet, I took my drop. But then after I double hit my chip, I knew it was over. I conceded his next shot.
While I wasn’t thrilled about halving a match where I was 4up with 5 to play, I was happy to get a half point. It was a half point more than I got last year at Canterbury, and I had played some really good golf in spurts. That’s all you need in match play. I shot a 114 on the day, but won 3 holes and nearly had a birdie for a 3&2 win. A big improvement over what I had done last year, and a big confidence boost going into my singles match at Town & Country Club.
Our match would have given our side a bit more cushion. But as it stood, the West lead the East 3.5 to 2.5 going into singles. In the morning, I would be up against a T&CC member with plenty of local knowledge. Could I pull off the upset?
For now, I wasn’t going to worry about it. There was camaraderie, food and booze to be had. And more Adirondack chairs, fire pits, and lit up putting greens.