We're posting this blog on behalf of Steve Lovell who was kind enough to volunteer his insight as a player at the 2016 British Open held in Hastings. It's one of several items we are posting about the British Open and hope you enjoy the coverage.
It's that time of year again, those without international commitments have to wait nearly two months to put right what went wrong last time. I'm Steve Lovell, a touring minigolfer on the British tour and this is my British Open story.
Wednesday: Coming home from work and rushing down a meal, this is my only night of the week to myself, having received a guest from out of town for a few days. I throw a number of clothes in the direction of the bag and print off my notes for the Pirate Course in Hastings. I had only previously visited the track ten days earlier but had no practice due to an accident on the way down. 'The notes. They'll be fine,' I thought. I try to get an early night. No luck.
Thursday: I finish work around 5pm and I am now on holiday. The first part is to travel from Cambridgeshire to my parents in Sussex, about two and a half hours in non rush hour traffic. All the way down, I play the normal car journey games 'what has Steve forgotten to do back home,' and 'I'm sure I packed that'. There is lots of singing too. Men Without Hats 'Safety Dance' gets special treatment. When I see my folks, I'm starting to wilt but a prawn salad and beer raises my spirits. A quick look at the weather for the morning is decidedly glum from mid morning. I now get the early night I didn't get on Wednesday, so I can get some early practice.
Friday: I reach an overcast Hastings around 8am, leaving my car at the shopping centre five minutes from the course. It's good value at £11 until Sunday. I'm hoping to try out a few lines that had come to me during the night before the clouds unleash their fury. Within fifteen minutes, I have already changed three of the first four holes ball choices and positions. So much for the 'they'll be fine' approach. By 10am, the course is underwater making any play impossible. Some choose to get food, some choose to go shopping. Four of us chose to go to the amusement arcade and try our hand at basketball. Matt Dodd destroys the record, maybe he has found another calling.
The rain eases enough by lunchtime to allow the course to be cleared and moderately playable for the Players Championship, a warm up event for the British Open. Half the money raised goes to the winner's chosen charity so we always get good numbers. Within a few holes, it's raining again and the puddles form. For me, it becomes too much by my 14th hole and I shake my opponents hands and retire from the event after not even reaching the wall four feet away on a tee shot. I decide to check into my hotel, the Millifont. It's somewhere I have stayed twice before and although they don't do breakfast, it is cheap, near the course somewhere to rest my bones.
In the evening, I pop out for food with Freddie Blackburn Shaw before taking advantage of the now dry conditions that have been bestowed upon us. I catch up with my club mate, Derek Bentall, and we work on a few shots before playing a few floodlit rounds. I manage to snare a 26 before heading back, wondering what the next few days will bring. I am quite happy with how I have prepared but that now means nothing until it is written on your scorecard.
Saturday: What to wear, what to wear. It looks to be dry early on with a chance of a shower late. I take along every eventuality. I get around an hour of training in before feeling I have done all I can. And now, it's game on. My playing partners are local lad Tiger Pragnell and Norbert Rehfeld from Germany, who last played here barefoot. He's wearing flip flops this time. My first aim of trying to go as far as I can without dropping a shot lasts seven holes but on the flip side, putts are dropping. I open with a 29, just two off the lead. I have a tactic between rounds to eat little and often as we only have half an hour at best. A double hot dog was not so little. Luckily, Hastings Adventure Golf do an array of food and drink as discounted prices for all competitors. We're so grateful to the staff for making us feel important and looked after. They always do.
Part of my problem is after a good round, I don't often follow it up and it happens again with a 33. A number of fellow pro's generally regard this figure as the bare minimum to be getting to remain competitive, I didn't play badly, just didn't make enough regular putts. Oh well, still another eight round to go. From there on in, I make a strong finish to day one with three consecutive rounds of 30 and the consistency moves me up into fifth place overnight. I haven't done anything out of the ordinary, just played solidly, although the usually benign 13th is causing me no end of problems. As promised, the rain arrives briefly just as the final groups finish off the proceedings. I stick around for a while to remedy my bogey hole and help some fellow pro's out with some shots, before sorting out the plans for the evening.
I meet up with Derek for a meal, a chili bean burrito, and a few beers, talking minigolf. Derek played in Finland at the European Seniors so I am keen to hear all about it. As we're about to drive up and head back, about a dozen minigolfers arrive. Back to the bar, it is. This is the first tournament that Will Donnelly is legally allowed to drink at but that's no reason to be displaying his ID above his head to everyone. We're done here.
Sunday: As I am in the penultimate group, I want to do the absolute minimum for practice. Apart from the 13th. I've got this nailed now. Today, I'm with one of my great friends on the tour, Mark Wood, and someone who I think is one of the best I have ever seen, Czech Republic's Daniel Vlcek. I need a start and I get one, a 28 including the last six holes in a row aced. It would have been eight if the tee shot on the 12th had rolled another quarter of an inch.
I'm up to fourth and one shot off the podium.
There are still four rounds left and I want to try and remain composed and concentrated so I go for a slow walk along the seafront. From then on, it doesn't quite click and I cannot capitalise on the momentum. I start to lose a couple of places and try as I might, my form starts to desert me, making a couple of remarkable recoveries in a run of 107 holes without dropping a stroke. I get chatting to a few of the spectators, who ask the questions we normally get posed by the public, but I am always happy to answer. Round nine is where I start to unravel and two straight blemishes means I now know my quest for the medals has come to an end. Still, always next year.
The top 18 play in the super final round, I am with Karsten Hein of Germany, who once ate half of my dinner, and Ted McIver, one of the biggest characters on tour. I do start well, reaching the turn in four under, before all the wheels coming off at the 11th with a four. And for the fourth straight time, I miss the 13th. My thoughts start to turn to work tomorrow and getting home at a reasonable hour. I close out with a 32 and finish in tenth spot, my best British Open, and I manage to sell a ball to a novice who goes on to ace that hole he bought it for four times out of five.
Although I couldn't play another round through the exhaustion, I always hate leaving major events like this. Memories will last, friendships will strengthen, the 13th will give me nightmares. My friends sometimes ask me why we do this. I can't put my finger on exactly why but I know that life is better for an experience like the 2016 British Minigolf Open.