As the B-flight champion, I competed on Saturday against the A-flight champion in a match play round at Los Robles Greens for overall Club Champion of the Treehouse Golf Club. I felt my heart nearly pounding out of my chest on the tee of the first hole and on the last putt of the last hole. After my first shot, and what I wrote off to a healthy dose of competitive nerves, I managed to relax enough to just play my game. All my opponents leading up to this point have had significantly more experience than I and lower handicaps than mine. This time, my opponent had the most developed skill of anyone I’ve ever competed against, with the added threat of coming into the match with a lot of recent winning experience as the A-flight champ and the confidence that goes with it. I think I had him a little nervous as well, with my reputation for a steadily lowering handicap index that as of late hasn’t been able to keep up with the rate of my improvement. (I don’t tell him that I actually worry about living up to that suddenly lower index.) Plus, since I’m the only woman on the club, they require that I play from the white tees in match play, which adds even more strokes to my course handicap for that match. I'd be just as happy if they had me play from the reds and took those strokes away.
On the course and tees we played, my 22 index translated to 29 strokes, and his 8 translated to 9, which left me with 20 strokes. That may sound like a lot, and in stroke play, it would certainly be a bigger advantage, but look at it this way… In match play, the strokes I get are spread out over the holes – one on every hole plus an extra one on the #1 and 2 handicap holes. Now, a 22 handicap isn’t even bogey golf. My opponent has an 8 index, so theoretically, he should be making par on 10 of the 18 holes. Even with my strokes, in order to beat a par, I have to make par myself. In order to not lose to a par, I can’t do worse than bogey. I knew this was going to be a good match, and it was. Our tee-time wasn’t until , so the wind had already arrived to carry in the storm that’s on us now. It was gusty and swirling and unpredictable. Fun stuff on a golf course, right?
Hole 1: We both par, I go up one.
Hole 2: He bogeys, I triple! All square.
Hole 3: We both bogey, I go up one.
Hole 4: He par’s, I double. All square.
Hole 5: I double, He triples! I go up one.
Hole 6: Both bogey, I’m up two.
Hole 7: (#1 handicap, 2 strokes) I use my 2 strokes and double, but he birdies! I’m up one.
Hole 8: Both par, I’m up two.
Hole 9: He par’s, I birdie! I’m up three at the turn. (This was so cool, too. My drive was long but ill-placed. I had to punch out low under the branches of a tree but get it up high enough to carry a little lake to land the green, whereupon I one-putted, which is rare indeed. Sweet.)
Intermission… deedily dee dee…
Hole 10: (#2 handicap, 2 strokes) My requisite disaster hole shows its ugly face. I take a 9, he bogeys. So much for my two 2-stroke holes. I’m up two.
Hole 11: We both bogey, I’m up three.
Hole 12: We both bogey, I’m up four.
Hole 13: I bogey, he birdies. I’m up three.
Hole 14: I double, he pars. I’m up two.
Hole 15: We both bogey, I’m up three.
Hole 16: He pars. All I have to do is make a 6 foot putt for bogey and the match is mine. I let myself lose focus to a distraction and choke the putt for a double. He’s fired up, hollers and whips himself into a final frenzy. I can’t let it get to me. I'm up two.
Hole 17: He’s all fired up and hits the drive of the day a mile and right down the middle. He follows that up with a great approach and makes a great putt for birdie! If I par, I win the match. It takes me three to get on and I two putt. Solid, but I lose the hole. I’m up one.
Hole 18: He has to win the hole outright to force a playoff and he's got the momentum. He hits another great drive and reaches the fringe of the front of the green on his second. My drive is fair. My second shot is headed for the creek on the left of the green. I've been hitting short and left a lot today, but the wind has been messing with both of us, especially on that approach shot. I think I see it stop before it goes in, but I’m not sure. I cross my fingers as I approach. My ball is inside the red line but not in the water. It’s a couple inches from the edge, so I don’t have a lot of room to work behind the ball and a couple of inches to the side of one of the big creek rocks. If I’m careful, I think I can get a club on it. I take a couple of practice stabs (I think I need to come down on it sharply to pop it up onto the green from its awkward angle) outside of the hazard and then go for it. It gets up there, but goes way past the hole to the back of the green, leaving me perfectly positioned for the three-putt I’d been perfecting all day. My opponent is licking his chops. The only group from our club that went out ahead of us and includes the board members is now up on the veranda watching. I’m facing a downhill putt of about 35-40 feet. I line it up and take my shot, which has good speed but the wrong line. It ends up about 5 or 6 feet from the hole with a pretty straight line. My opponent makes his first putt from just off the green and leaves it out about 4 feet. He goes ahead and finishes for par, putting the pressure on me to make the same putt I missed earlier to halve the hole for the match. Surprisingly, I’m too in the moment to think of John Daly. I don’t rush, but don’t drag it out, either, and I put it right in the hole. We shook hands and I think I exhaled all the way up to the 19th hole where I bought us both a drink or three.
As I said at the beginning, I felt my heart nearly pounding out of my chest on the tee of the first hole and the last putt of the 18th. Fortunately and necessarily, both ended up being on the mark.
Bittersweet... (did I say SWEET?!)
Perhaps strangely, I’m kind of glad I wasted my two 2-stroke holes. Somehow that makes it seem like a more hard-fought or hard-won match. I’m also glad he won his three birdie holes. It probably would have seemed like he got gypped if he halved them to a par. The reaction to my win from the other club members was underwhelming at first. I thought maybe it was because they changed their bylaws for me so they could allow women in and now that I won they’re resentful. I told them how much I appreciated the opportunity and that I was thankful they made the change to let me in and that I would do all I could to recruit new members for next year. One person made the comment that the hope of the group was to get enough women to join that we could have our own flight. I said it was my hope to be in the A-flight next season, and that with varying handicaps, one flight for women might not work but that we’ll have to see about that if and when the time comes. After some time (and some drinks) most of them came around and seemed sincere in their congratulations, but I actually considered (after the fact) that perhaps I should have lost on purpose. Of course I’d never have done it.The Icing on the Cake
As for the simultaneous stroke play tournament that was going on, we both played well enough to earn victories in it, too. He played to one under his handicap, with a 77 gross, 68 net, to finish second in A-flight. I played to three under my handicap, with a 95 gross, 66 net (shame about that +5 on the 10th hole!), for a first place finish in B-flight. Sounds like a good match to me!
Our club is having an awards banquet in December after our fun Turkey-shoot nine-hole tournament. I’m told my name will be inscribed on a wall plaque at the Treehouse and that I’ll be receiving a trophy at the banquet! :)!
Now I get to go on to represent our club at the SCGA Tournament of Club Champions on December 5. It will be at a private country club (etiquette advice, anyone?) and I’m allowed to bring a caddie. I have asked Greg to caddie for me and he seems be hip to the idea. He certainly knows my swing better than anyone and can read a green way better than I can. I seem to play a little better when he's not with me, but it might be different if he's not playing, too. I think it's because I pay too much attention to his game and lose focus on mine. My fault, not his.
I can’t find much information about the tournament online and I’m only now sending in my entry application so I don’t have the package yet. So I don’t know much about it yet, however, there are two flights for the net tournament and I think it’ll be stroke play. I hope the club will allow the riff-raff in the weekend preceding the tournament so we can get at least one practice round on the course. I’m excited and I’m getting butterflies just thinking about it!