I was so exhausted from the weekend I had to take a bit of break before getting back to my last post from the U.S. Open. It's amazing what up to 12 hours of putting, in the 90 degree heat, over 5 days will do to a person. It was probably as much mental exhaustion as physical given that over 350 putts all called for concentration and mental acuity to get them made.
To kick off day 2 of the Open I was up at 6am and at the course just after 7am. I was surprised at how calm I was. Normally when I do well in a tournament, especially of this caliber, I've got the jitters and am constantly thinking about how do I keep my place. This time out, however, I was only thinking about the fact that I knew I could deuce every hole and get a few aces as well, which would be good enough for some good scores.
Practice was simple - just a short walk around the course, hitting a couple of balls and testing out the speeds. I wasn't changing any shots at this point. Everything feels good and I'm ready to go at 8:30 when the first groups start to go off. We'll play 3 rounds before re-pairing for the final round. My playing partners for the morning would be Justin Seymour, one of my Connecticut crew, and Nate Nichols, a past U.S. Open winner. One of the things I didn't mention earlier was that four of us from Connecticut have been laying the "Connecticut Cup" at the tournaments we compete in. There's some money on the line and a trophy that gets passed around, but the big win is the bragging rights. Depending on the tournament we'll either take the scores from the tournament (like we do here) or add a couple of rounds to the tournament scores (like we do at Farmington where it's only a 3 round tournament). Today would be big as Justin was just ahead of me for the Cup and John O'Leary was breathing down our necks.
I thought I had gotten the day off to a good start by playing the first two holes clean and then acing 3. However, things took a turn when I bogeyed both 5 and 7, two holes I shouldn't be giving strokes back on. However, I made up for them with aces on 9 and 11, both good ace holes and held par the rest of the way to post my first 35 of the tournament. I couldn't have been happier. Things were going swimmingly until the first hole of the next round where I dropped a bogey, but having made a deuce on two I shook it off a bit until hole 6. In my opinion hole 6 and 13 are the hardest two holes on the course. Each has a tricky tee shot if you want to leave it close to the hole, have very little chance at an ace and the deuce putts almost all have movement. I'd rank 6 a little higher in difficulty because the breaks are even more pronounced and rely so much on speed - hit too light and it dives away from the hole, hit a hair too hard and it will skid past the hole. In the 8th round the hole finally caught up to me and I hit my only 4 of the entire tournament, putting me at 3 over after 6. Yet I didn't despair. I trudged along, only making one more bogey until we got to the 18th hole. For only the first time in the tournament, I hit the ace there and was able to keep the round under 40. With my scores in those two rounds I had jumped Justin for the Connecticut Cup but John was gaining ground with a 36 and 35 of his own.
Despite the slow 8th round, I felt confident going into the last round of the morning - that was until I bogeyed 1 again and then took another on 2. Two over after two holes - yikes! But this was my round to battle back. I picked up an ace on 8, then played super clean until I aced 16 and then got the lucky roll on 17 (the volcano hole) for back-to-back aces. This put me at a 1 under 35, my second par breaking round of the tournament. Now it was time to wait and see how the other players did - would I maintain or move up? Looking at the scores behind me I felt pretty confident that I wasn't dropping at all.
When the results were in, I was in 11th place! As of that point, it was the highest I'd been in a US Open - the question was could I stay there? Breaking into the top ten was going to be difficult but if I put together a good round it was possible. We had a little bit of a break before the final round so I did what any good minigolfer does and had a beer. It was cold and refreshing! I then found out that I was going to be paired with Matt Male (2015 Masters champion) and Dr. Brad Lebo (3 time US Open champion). I had always chatted with these guys at tournaments but this was the first official round I would play with either of them. I was excited for the opportunity. I held my own during the round, dropping a shot on 7 but recovering it on 9. I then dropped another after a great run at a hard deuce putt on 14, but gained it right back on 15 with an ace. I would finish the round even at 36 a would Brad. Matt would finish at 1 under. That might have been up there for the best single round threesome score of the weekend.
After finishing our round, I watched the last few groups come in. Fred Stewart played great this weekend and was an amazing competitor giving Olivia honors on the last hole as she brought it home. To no one's surprise, and to the delight of the gallery watching, Olivia finished her dominating win with an ace on the 18th hole. She's the nicest, fiercest, competitor you will meet and I was happy that she picked up her third U.S. Open win. It gets missed because we're used to Olivia doing well, but it's great that the sport of minigolf showcases a competition where not only do men and women play in the same division, for the same prizes, but that a woman whopped all of the men's butts. It's just another reason why I wish the mainstream sporting channels would get off their butts and start covering our sport - I think they would find a good following from the everyday crowd.
The one stroke difference with Matt would leave us both tied and we'd soon find out that Matt McCaslin slipped a bit in the final round, leaving us in a three-way tie for 10th. It was my best finish ever in a U.S. Open. When I look at the leaderboard and realized I trailed only 4 past U.S. Open winners and some of the best putters in the U.S., I was thrilled with my standing. All that practice paid off - not too bad for a guy who's best known for playing minigolf with a penguin in his pocket. I also sealed the Connecticut Cup, marking my first victory in that little tournament.
After the tournament there was a nice little banquet where the alcohol and horse bettering flowed freely. It was great to talk with a lot of the folks I only see a couple times a year and of course share a beverage (or several). The highlight also might have been having a shot with our new champion and a few of the best in the minigolf business. As the night went on, many folks parted ways to get back home. I was staying the night so I ended up talking with a few newcomers to our sport, including one gentlemen who just played in his first ever tournament. It sounds like we have a few converts which is what we need to keep up these great and talented fields. My work as a sport ambassador is done – and of course it was done over a couple of pints!
I forgot in my post about the first day to mention the goody bag we got. There was an excellent US Open shirt/hat combo, along with a couple of shot-glasses from the course, a U.S. Open keychain and towel, and some other goodies from the track including a camping chair. There was also a horseshoe which I at least once asked a playing partner if they had wedged that somewhere when getting a lucky bounce or drop.
I would be remiss if I didn't thank John Forbes, Carol Newman and the entire staff at Bluegrass Minigolf for being incredible hosts. The course was in great condition, they treated the players extremely well and the tournament was a blast. I would definitely look forward to playing another tournament there.
Finally, some updates to the predictions.
- I was right on my Olivia odds. She was a favorite for a reason.
- I averaged both below 40 and below 38 for the tournament. I came right in at an average of 37 for the 10 rounds
- I actually played 6 holes under par for the tournament
- I never did ace hole 12 in a tournament round
- Olivia shattered my over/under prediction, coming in at 34.8 for the tournament (amazing to be 10th and lose by 22 strokes!)
So what’s up next? Well it’s time to turn my attention to my upcoming local tournament, the Farmington Miniature Golf Tournament. I slipped a bit last year but think I’m ready to make another run at the top spot there. After that it’s Maine, Connecticut and hopefully Myrtle Beach for the Masters. Happy putting everyone!
» Final Results» Flickr Album