I will start this by apologizing ahead of time for any self-pity or downer attitude some of this post might take. As I said after the 2018 Master’s, it’s much easier to write a tournament blog when you felt you met your expectations in the tournament and here I did not. I felt I had a lot of pressure to perform not only because I consider the U.S. Open to be the better of my major tournaments but also because I wanted to continue to prove that I belonged in that Team U.S.A. spot for the World Adventure Golf Masters (WAGM). I know past performance and support of the sport is what got me there but it’s hard to shed that seed of doubt when you’re still a relative “newcomer” to professional putting.
However, I also look at this as an opportunity to show why this sport is so great. It’s easy to be excited about something and want to keep playing it when you are doing well, but it takes a bit more mental effort to return to something when you aren’t. Miniature golf for me will always be fun, the tournaments always about more than the results and I always look forward to the next cool thing. I think if you ever find yourself lucky enough to be a part of this world you’ll find the same thing.
As always, I’ll apologize for the length as well. I tend to get long winded when I only do one post for a major tournament, but what can I say – I have a lot to talk about when it comes to minigolf! So hopefully you’ve got a cup of coffee or are eating your lunch when you are reading this because it won’t be a quick one.
First, let’s take a look at how I did with my predictions and then I’ll have a few words about the tournament and my own play.
- Multiple people did shoot 31 in the tournament and I should have put the 30 into my predictions as Olivia shot that on the final round of day 1.
- Highlighter did ace hole 5 (as did I).
- I was so close on the score – I predicted 345 and Olivia shot 347. My instinct was right in taking the over, but it wasn’t by much!
- I was way off on my own score – rocketing up to a 380, way over my 365 goal. This actually left me tied with Highlighter and sadly neither of us cashed.
- I did crap on holes 1 and 18, acing 1 only twice and 18 only once. I could not get the speed down.
- Highlighter was right in that there was less than 5 strokes between first and second.
- Overall my odds weren’t bad, with my second favorite winning the tournament, though I was off on the first time winner.
Now for the tournament. Overall it was a pretty smooth experience with a few hiccups along the way. I was a bit surprised at how much the rounds flowed. I suspected that pace of play was going to be very slow with both the heat and some of the difficulty of the holes, but overall once a round got kicked off players moved quickly for a tournament. There were very few backups and for the most part the running start allowed enough of a break between rounds to keep hydrated. The regouping after round 9 also allowed plenty of time for the field to watch the leaders complete their round as well, which is always a nice touch.
The few pieces of feedback I have are as follows. I think most of these come from hosting a major tournament for the first-time and can be easily correctable if they host again.
- There was too much confusion about the rules around playing the water, penalty shots, etc too close to the start of the tournament. These types of things need to be settled well in advance of the players showing up.
- There was a lack of scorecards for the opening rounds and the ones that did show up later were tough to write on because of the paper. This event has been coming for months, it seems an oversight to not be prepared with that simple commodity.
- There was a change made on hole 10 from practice that caused the ace percentage to drop significantly. While it might have evened out the luck on that hole (as very few people now got aces), it also meant some of the confidence gained by possible back-to-back aces on holes 9 and 10 was lost. It’s hard to figure out what the impact of that is, but I do think it got into some people’s heads as they were struggling to find aces out there (myself for sure).
Finally, I think the course overall was a good U.S. Open course even if the “luck” percentage might have been a tad high (5 of 18 holes involved some element of luck with pipes or water). This compounds the bit of luck you already have to manage on a Harris/Harris-type course with the spaced bricks (remember kids – crack kills). However, as I said repeatedly during the week, it’s my believe that aspects like this are what makes this a true “minigolf” tournament and not a Putt Putt tournament or a straight putting tournament like MSOP. If I wanted to putt just for skill I’d play one of those tournaments, or play golf. This is truly taking the game of miniature golf that is played by millions of people every day to its competitive sport side.
As for my own tournament play, in some ways it was a tale of two days and in other ways it was a tale of four bad holes. On Day 1, I feel like overall I putted well around the course even if I couldn’t find the aces I needed. For the first three rounds I was grouped with Barb Mingo and Billy Caudle, two long-time players of majors but two folks I also have never spent any significant time with. I started the tournament out with an even 36, acing the difficult hole 2. I would have felt good about that round if I didn’t give back a stroke on hole 14, the easiest on the course, by messing up and leaving the tee shot in a near-undeucable position (what I have called pulling a “Pat Sheridan” because I seemed to do it way too much in practice). I think it got into my head as I then shot a terrible round of 41, with no aces. Even worse is that I shot a five on hole 5, something I didn’t even do in practice. It was a mental breakdown and in part due to the fact that I didn’t properly chart one section of the hole. Remember kids, take the time to figure out all of the sections of the green because you never know when one bad shot will put you someplace you never were in 30+ rounds of practice.
Despite the challenges I felt ok at the break because I came back with another 36, leaving me +5 for the morning and not far out of the top of the pack (though I was 10 strokes off the lead already). Coming off the lunch break I was grouped with Tim Tally, who I’ve had the pleasure of playing with in a few events, and Robert Johnson, another first-time grouping for me. I thought the afternoon would be good for me and I got there in round 5 after a speedbump in round four, shooting a 38. Round five brought the below par score of 34 that I had been looking for as the aces started to drop but I couldn’t keep the momentum and finished the day with a 39. It still left me in the mid-20s in terms of placement and while I wasn’t happy I also felt like I had a chance to move up some on day 2 as I usually finished strong in the Open. The interesting thing about Day 1 was that my shooting was the reverse of a lot of my practice rounds. In practice I could not play the front 9 clean and tended to make up all my shots on the back 9, whereas in the tournament I was playing the front 9 well but couldn’t make any charges on the back 9. I capped off the day of putting by having dinner with some great minigolf friends, including Danny & Matt McCaslin and Fred Stewart – all folks who have warmly welcomed us into the competitive putting circuit.
That all went out the window on day 2 when my game also went out the window. Thanks to the difficulty of the course, some of the top players were all over the place in scores and I ended up starting day 2 playing with U.S. Open champions (and USPMGA Hall of Famers) Dr. Brad Lebo and Danny McCaslin. I enjoyed my rounds with them (and could make a few jokes that I’ll leave to the imagination for the people that know Brad and Danny) and was also happy watching them start to catch stride again and hit the ball like the champions they are. However, I couldn’t find the aces when it mattered. Even worse, the “4” bug hit me as I put up one each of the three morning rounds, complete with my one and only out-of-bounds of the tournament. With 29 holes left in the tournament when I made that mistake, I had kind of resigned myself to understanding that’s how the day was going to end. It wasn’t the right attitude to have but in the sweltering heat, it was hard to remain focused. Those final four rounds really put to the test the “just play one hole at a time” mentality and I feel like I might have failed that test that day.
With the way the miniature golf gods work, it wasn’t surprising that in the final round Highlighter and I had managed to shot nearly the same score and were paired together. We were the bottom two of the ones who got “repaired” for the final round, meaning we had least done ok the first 9 rounds. Unlike Friday where we had a significant break after three rounds, Saturday saw just long enough a break to get the repairing done. Ultimately I think that ended up being my downfall in the final round. While I tried to stay hydrated at that point the 90+ degree heat and sun bearing down on me, combined with what I saw as my fledgling skill for the day, caught up to me. I shot another terrible round of 41, with the one highlight (no pun intended) being some luck on hole 16 for an ace. This terrible round, combined with some good play of those behind me, ultimately dropped me from the last paying spot by a mere three strokes.
This was the second tale of the tournament – while I did drop a shot here or there that I shouldn’t have, for about 170 of the 180 holes I played, I feel like I played about as well as I could. There were around 6 I made a dumb mistake and the 4 above (one 5 and 3 fours) where I really messed up, and that was the difference between being in the money and a respectable score and walking away without any cash. It’s disappointing but also motivating known that it’s not that much of a hill to climb to get back to where I think I need to be.
While my goal had been to use this has a positive stepping off point to my trip with Team U.S.A. to Sweden for the WAGM, I’ve readjusted my thinking a bit. Now I’m looking at the WAGM as a chance for redemption personally and I’m putting all of my effort into ensuring the best success of the team overall. It’s the first time I will have ever really played a “team” minigolf event (doubles and our little North/South competition aside) so I’m fully invested in the success of Team USA. I want to do whatever I can to help us bring home a medal, even if it’s just through support or information for one of our teams to success (of course I’d love if it was a team I was on!)
Some final thoughts on my tournament. The first is that I’ve realized one thing I struggle with is adapting to changing course conditions during the day. When you’ve got a nearly 20 degree swing in temperature from the first round to the sixth on a day, and with the sun beating down on the course, the course does change. The carpet tends to slow down and certain sections of concrete/brick will get “bouncier” as they heat up, potentially changing the way you will approach a hole. That’s all within one day, not to mention how conditions can change from day-to-day. It’s details like that which separate a major tournament from “just a round of miniature golf.” Identifying those changes and making adjustments to my game is an area I still need to improve on and it really only comes with experience. I’m still far from “Bill Belichick at halftime” level of adjustment.
The second is that I do think I adapted pretty well to using the rubber faced putter, at least with the Chromax ball. It took most of the first day to get comfortable with the tee shot speed coming off the rubber, but I felt like by day 3 it was as comfortable as my regular putter in most situations. The only place I really felt a different was those few shots where I really needed the right level of “touch” and the rubber face didn’t feel as much a nature extension of my hands as my regular putter does. With the WAGM predicted to be very ace heavy, I’m hoping that gap in experience won’t hurt too much. The only outstanding thing is how I will adjust to using the European balls with the rubber putter and despite the fact I’ve been trying to practice at home there is no substitute for the real thing.
Speaking of home, I want to end the blog with a shout-out to my wife Liz. She has to bear the brunt of me leaving for some of these tournaments (and dealing with the occasional mental anguish I put myself through before/after a tournament) and I know it’s not easy for her with the two young kids at home. I’m truly thankful for the support she gives me and should I ever manage to win a major tournament she’s going to be the first one I thank!
The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the writer and do not represent the World Minigolf Sport Federation (WMF), Minigolfnews.com or any other organization that the writer may be associated with unless expressly stated in the blog.
» 2019 U.S. Open Final Scores