It’s funny sometimes how an actual tournament can be so disconnected from your practice rounds. To say I was pleasantly surprised with how I ended up at the 2018 U.S. Open is an understatement. I did much better than I thought I would and am very happy for it.
It was no much of a surprise when I woke up on Friday to pouring rain since it had been doing that all week and it was forecasted for the morning. Nonetheless I was at the course by 7:15 and the rain let up enough for me to get in a few holes of practice. Then the heavens opened up again and we all went running for cover and the start of the opening ceremonies. The rain would push the start time back by about an hour and the big question was going to be how would the field react to it.
For this year’s tournament the threesomes (and two twosomes) were set by random draw and I would end up playing with Justin Seymour, one of my CT putting buddies, and Tommy Ellis, a local player. I was the 8th group out of 21 to tee off during the running start on hole 1. It’s always a bit scary to be on the first tee with a crowd of spectators and this first hole can be nice if you get and ace but a bogey can bite you quick, especially since the rain may make the hole run slower and you more likely to leave your first putt on the top of the hill. However, I got through that hole with a deuce and I was off! I dropped a bogey on hole 5 but made up for it with a surprise ace on hole 8, one of the 3 hardest holes on the course. To be even after the front 9 is quite good on that course but I would soon flitter that away with 4 bogies on the back. An opening 40 wasn’t great but I was happy with it since 40 and below was the goal for all of the top players.
The second round would turn into the best round I’ve ever played on that course in a tournament, shooting a 36 with a back-to-back ace and bogey on 11 and 12 and all deuces the rest of the way. I’d then follow that up with a great 37 after taking a 4 on hole 2 when I unceremoniously pushed my tee shot to the right and behind a group of rocks that I had to “layup” to get out of. I’d also hit one of my two aces on hole 1 during that round. Amazingly both times I would hit that ace, my entire group would as well – a rarity for the day! I ended up with a 113 for the morning, which I thought was pretty good. I didn’t know how good it was until all of the scores came in and I was tied for 3rd, 3 strokes off the lead! It was the highest I’d ever been at a U.S. Open. Part of my success was that I was really rolling my putts and not punching at them like I can sometimes do if I get tight while playing. On this course the consistency of your speed is a big factor in terms of how certain putts break so you best be hitting the same as how you charted the holes and in practice it’s easy to hit the ball firm without the pressure.
With the rain, the amount of competitors (58) and the slow pace of play, the morning rounds didn’t end until almost 2pm or later for some of the later groups. Fortunately the course kept the music on to keep you entertained while waiting and during one especially bad backup of 3 groups on hole 8, I turned to betting on the ponies on my phone while I was waiting (note – I didn’t win). After a quick lunch of Chick-Fil-A we were back at the course at 3:30 for the afternoon rounds. These were a shotgun start and I was on hole 2 thanks to my standing, playing with John Powell (a local pro who would end up 2nd) and Nate Nicholas (2012 U.S. Open winner and who I played some rounds with in the 2017 Open). I think the pressure of being near the top got to me in the first round and I would post my worst score of the tournament with a 42. In the second afternoon round, I’d pull it together for a much more respectable 38 and for the second time my group would all ace hole 1, which was a nice way to end the day since it was our last hole with the shotgun start. Our round was also not without theatrics as Nate decided the MSOP sign was responsible for some unfortunately luck to start the round and wedged his putter in it “by accident.” (Note – Nate might be a little fiery). I would finish the day T-11 and was pretty happy about where I stood.
Saturday started out a bit smoother and although it was a bit rainy we got underway on time. In the morning I was paired up with John again and Greg Ward, one of the biggest names on the Putt Putt circuit. While I felt like a I putt well except for maybe 2-3 putt over the three rounds, I couldn’t post a great score going 41, 40, 39. Part of it was because I didn’t get a single ace in the 3 rounds and this course proves time and time again that when you go dry on aces it’s really tough to stay in the 30s. With how close the field was, even a decent score of 120 (313 overall) dropped me to 18th place. However, I did achieve one of my goals and made the cut for the last two rounds as did my fellow CT competitors Justin and Highlighter. I don’t know how it is on the PGA tour but having a cut added to the tournament made for a lot of higher level math discussion as we were waiting for everyone to finish their rounds.
For the final two rounds I would play with Travis Walsh, one of the younger (at 30) players on the tour. We were split into two groups and we were the last group to tee off on 10 while the top of the field teed off on 1. I finally picked up one ace (on hole 8 again) and then tried for the perfect round of twos only to kill it on the final two holes, ending by my tournament with rounds of 39 and 38. It was enough to capture me a tie for 15th place, a mere 12 strokes off the winner Rainey Statum. While I would finish lower in the standings than my high of T-10 last year, I was actually 10 strokes closer to the lead.
A few final observations/recaps:
- If you want to make sure you hit your 10 thousand step goal, play a major minigolf tournament. I had no problem hitting it on practice or tournament days.
- I made all of my predictions, hitting an ace in my first round, playing one round with 2 aces (round 5 and round 3), I made the cut and I improved my average by over 2 strokes a round.
- There ended up being 20 rounds below par but the winning average was just over 37 with it being 37.8.
- My favorites didn’t end up winning but the first two players did come out of my “players to look out for” section so I was pretty close there.
- I was joking (a little) when talking about sports gambling but in talking with Bob Detwiler he sees it as a great opportunity, especially when the U.S. Open returns to the course at Monmouth Park. While he wasn’t talking about people betting on the pros (although that would be cool) he saw the influx of dollars to a facility like that as something that might help drive up the purse of the tournament, which would be a big boon to players. I’m on board with that (also – please let a casino put odds on me if for no other reason than I can take a picture).
I was really happy with how the tournament and the week went. Once again it was great to see a lot of familiar faces and to have a chance to put away the pressures of the “real” world for a little bit on focus on a great sport. I highly encourage folks to give it a try, especially if you live close to one of these major tournaments. I came in next to last in my first U.S. Open and now I’m consistently batting for top 10, so there is always hope. Happy putting this summer!
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