This is the first year that I will play in the USPMGA Masters after many years playing in tournaments. The October time has never seemed to be good for me to get to Myrtle Beach and this year was almost no different as I ended up having to go to Missouri for a wedding the weekend before. So instead of heading down early for a few days of practice I was up at 3am on Tuesday morning to make the 14 hour drive to South Carolina from my home in Connecticut. Lucky for me I was armed with plenty of podcasts, audio books and music which I could sing along to in order to keep myself company on the drive (Tom Petty and the Hamilton soundtrack kept me pretty occupied once I got to Virginia).
I was actually pretty happy with the trip as I only hit a bit of traffic around Washington D.C. and the rest was smooth sailing, even if it was lonely at times. By 6pm I was checked into the hotel and meeting with Mark ďThe HighlighterĒ Novicki for a quick bite of dinner and a pint (if you can call a glass of Coors Light a pint of beer and not just more water). Then it was over to the Aloha course for some practice. The Masters will be played on 2 courses, Hawaiian Rumble and Aloha which are about 4 miles apart, with 5 rounds played on one course on Thursday, 5 rounds on the other course on Friday and then 2 final rounds for everyone on Rumble on Saturday. Iím actually looking forward to Saturday as the Top 20 start their rounds later than everyone else and since itís unlikely I will be in that group, Iíll have a chance to watch some great players putt and hopefully get some live video onto the Minigolfnews Facebook page for everyone.
My plan was to start with Aloha since it was the easier of the two courses and I could pick up the ace lines quicker. On Wednesday I would start at Rumble and then return to Aloha to finish my crash course in practice. With The Highlighter as my guide we went through the course and then I started to charge through rounds. Despite my growing tiredness I putted ok but was way off the scores of 30 or below that I would need to be to even sniff being in the money. There are over 80 participants in the tournament this year with the top 30 paying so itís going to be tough to get into the top third.
After crashing I was up and at Rumble by 8:30am today and put in a few rounds with help from The Highlighter, John OíLeary and Danny Baddeley. The weather both yesterday and today has been unseasonably warm (not unlike the last tournament I played in) so there was need for a lot of hydration and even later in the day a shirt change. Iíll be honest and say this weather doesnít play well with my Northern blood and I would love it was about 10-15 degrees cooler, but I will trudge on like the athlete that I am.
Following a quick lunch, it was over to Aloha again for more practice prior to the First Tee charity event that the USPMGA was sponsoring this year. Itís great to see how the USPMGA is working with other golf organizations to really promote both golf and minigolf to a new generation of competitors. I can only hope that some of these kids find themselves playing in the Masters in the near future, showing us ďold guysĒ that they are coming to get us.
Overall, with just about a dayís worth of practice, I feel ok about how I will play in the tournament but not great. I just have to remember to take one putt at a time and put up the best score I can. My plan all along was not to set high expectations for the tournament and use this year as a learning year for future Masters. Thatís also the advice I would give to anyone looking to break into the sport. Play a tournament just to see what it is like. Get your feet well and get some experience. Donít expect to win (or even place) the first time you play in a tournament Ė these courses are hard, it takes a lot of practice and thereís a ton of great putters out there Ė but if you stay with it eventually youíll work your way up the leaderboard and feel good about how youíve played. Plus at tournaments like the Masters you get some pretty sweet gear for your entry fee. This year it included a hat, shirt, towel and koozie, all which you can proudly wear or use and generate conversations amongst friends and co-workers. Itís a great way to help grow our sport.
With the pairings up, I will be starting at Aloha for the first day, so there is some pressure to get the low scores straight out of the gate. Itís a shotgun start and Iíll be starting on hole 16, which is fairly ace-able, so Iím hoping I can get off to a strong start. John OíLeary is in the group in front of me so it will be nice to have a friendly face close by to keep spirits up during the round.
Iím not making any predictions for this tournament because I havenít been around practice enough to really handicap the field or the scores and there are so many big names that it can be a bit of a crap shoot. Thereís plenty of Masters and U.S. Open winners playing along with Gunnar Bengtsson, this yearís WAGM winner. It may be the deepest field a USPMGA tournament has seen. Guess Iím not ready for Vegas as a minigolf handicapper yet if I canít handle deciding between such talent! However, I do have my personal goals:
1) Make the top 40. Might be a stretch goal with how much practice I got but I think I can sneak into the top half if the putts drop right.
2) Get under 30 one round on Aloha.
3) No 40s on Rumble.
If I accomplish even one of those I will call it a successful tournament. In fact itís already been a success in many ways as Iíve gotten to keep connected with my friends on ďtourĒ, made sure I got more experience under my belt and with any luck will be getting on PGA Tour radio on Friday night to talk about the WMF and worldwide minigolf. Iíd call those all personal wins!