We welcome back Steve Lovell who is bringing us another post, this one from the Welsh Open in Cardiff.
Thursday: Part of me is delighted, almost elated, to be heading down to the second ever Welsh Open in the morning. Another chance to be shut off in my own little putting bubble, forgetting about all the worries of the world. Part of me almost questions my sanity for wanting to get to Cardiff for opening, which means waking up at 5.15 am. Also at this point, I would like to add that I have involved someone else in these plans, a tour veteran named Terry Exall. My idea of an early night is scuppered by staying up to watch TSN Top 10 plays videos on YouTube. Just one more can't hurt and then, I see the time. Blast.
Friday: I feel amazingly fresh ahead of the four hour drive to Wales, punctuated by meeting Terry around 75 miles from the venue. Bearing in mind we both have around a journey of 120 miles from differing directions, we get to the meet point within thirty seconds of one another. Great start to the day and we're off to Wales. We head for the Severn bridge, both of us remarking on the odd toll charge of Ł6.60, round it up or down at least. Normally, South Wales is very scenic but this morning, it is shrouded in low cloud and rain. We get to St David's shopping centre for 10 am to discover the course doesn't open for another hour. That'll be my fault. Still there's always Costa.
They let us in early and we can finally have a crack at the course. I choose to spend about five or six minutes on each hole, just to see if my notes are as good as last year, when I ended up third. For whatever reason, it's tougher than I remember which results in me altering a number of ball choices. A few other competitors start arriving too, including the Smith family, Paul Preston and the Homers. At this point, I polish off the first of four cupcakes I would manage over the weekend.
Mid afternoon and it's time to check into the bed and breakfast, which is around ten minutes walk from the course and has a great view of the national sports stadium. Two bits of good news happen, we can get free parking around the back of the building and it turns out I've already paid for the room, saving me nearly fifty pounds. We relax in the room for a few hours, in between Terry's adventures on internet dating sites.
Our evening plans are quite simple as the Treetop Adventure Golf management have very kindly laid on free food and drinks for us, an incredible gesture to all who have made the early shift. We're joined by the Hartley's, the Gomm's, Ruth Burke and Steve Sturdy. As the beer kicks in, there is no better time to go out for a round with a course putter and ball, which I perform rather well with. A 33. Am I merely confusing myself with ball choices? We leave around 10 pm and head back to the room in the wrong direction.
Saturday: With a closed off practice session from 8 am to lunchtime, we're up early for breakfast. Over the river, passing Cardiff Castle and into the shops, the city prepares itself for another busy day. As I'm relatively happy with how I've prepared so far, I try some scored rounds, hitting a couple of 29's amongst others. Playing Cardiff is about how you start as the front nine is slightly easier, I work on some shots for the not so easy holes. The 16th is one a number of people are struggling with and when someone is spotted playing an unfamiliar line which actually works, everyone is giving it a go. I kind of wish I hadn't seen it.
The afternoon is spent having lunch in a wine bar and then sleeping off the effects of the garlic doughball starter, incredibly heavy on the stomach. What should have been a brief nap turned into three hours. I check my bets to find I've doubled my money. Me and Terry head to a few local bars, neither of us hungry. Drinking in Cardiff is quite cheap, the first round is under Ł6. Still feeling the effects of lunchageddon, we turn in early and end up watching football.
Sunday: Bags are packed, game faces are on, all that remains is to recover the car from the parking bay. Bumper versus brick wall, Terry will have something visual to remember Cardiff by. At the course, it's noticeable that there are not as many locals here as have been listed. If everyone plays that have stated an interest, this will be a record attendance for an indoor tournament. Alas, nine people are missing but we still have thirty four. Great numbers. I play a couple of scored rounds and break the course record with a 28. This would cost me, I didn't need to be doing this just before an event.
My playing partner for the first two round is Owen 'Jackpot' Johnson, a 17 year old who has overcome a lot of difficulties in his life with a smile on his face. Owen is a genuine pleasure to be around and we're going to have fun today. The opening round is tough for both of us, I forget to putt straight at times and a few silly holes see me home in 37. Myself and Owen fist pump each other when we make an ace. The second round is mildly better, 35, but I am not playing as well as last year. Far too many dropped shots to be a contender. Owen improves too and at one stage, makes eight pars in a row, a fantastic effort.
Going into the final round, my chance of the cash has all but gone, I decide to be aggressive and chase the aces. My playing partners are club mate Andy Wilde and last year's runner up, Chris Smith. Both of them start better than me but I'm feeling there are holes in one out on the course. There are. Six of them mixed in with the four drops for a 34. Expecting to drop a few places, it's surprising to see the most of the people around me either match it or are worse off. And so, my final position is tied for sixth.
Michael Smith is once again a champ, with local success for Seve Kukielka in second and Russell Crocker, an impressive novice winner. Terry and I contemplate what might have been on the way back and eventually, around 5.30 pm, I'm back home to put on a wash and get some sleep.
Thank you, Cardiff. Wonderful hosts, just a delight. Let's do it again in 2017.
» BMGA Report on the Welsh Open