Driving home from Maine after the most recent tournament (the newly renamed Lee Stoddard Dolphin Open), I was contemplating what I was going to write about for the blog. This would be the third year I blogged about the tournament and with the same results (2nd all three years), I didn’t want to get repetitive. Then I realized that despite the fact that this was my 11th time playing this tournament (and 12th time at the course at the 2008 U.S. Open was held there) there was something that made this year different. It was the first year without course owner Lee Stoddard, who passed away in November 2018, and then I knew what I should focus on – miniature golf tournaments as family. Because that was the driving theme of the entire weekend.
Even before Lee passed, I would have said that the Dolphin tournament players were the best example of minigolf “family” I have. Many of the folks I only see once a year at that tournament, and sometimes it may be a few years if people need to skip, yet everyone is always warmly embraced when we see each other and conversations pick up like no time has passed. When everyone departs there is a sense of melancholy as you know some of these folks you won’t see again for 364 days. As many folks will attest, Lee, and his wife Nancy, were two of the biggest reasons people felt that way when they came to Boothbay. So it was no surprise when it came time to deal with the idea of running a tournament this year, that plenty of folks stepped up. With Lee gone the primary responsibility of running the course fell on Nancy’s shoulders and we all knew it was stressful. She had help from family, and minigolf family, who chipped in during the year with several folks also making extra pilgrimages to Boothbay during the season to help. As summer arrived the question of what to do with the tournament came up. Nancy wanted to have one, both to honor Lee and to raise money for a scholarship in his name, but she needed help administrating one.
Thanks to the efforts of Elmer Lawson (past Dolphin champion) and Steve Hill, the ball got rolling on that part and they looped me in. We quickly finalized the format, the entry fee and put some thoughts around what to payout. We worked it through with Nancy and after a moment of “Lee told me to do this” we finalized everything. The tournament was going back to its old format of 10 rounds over two days after 3 years of a shortened tournament (first 8 rounds and then 6 rounds over just the one day). The tournament had been reduced because it was less stress on Lee to organize and execute, but we were all fine with that. Our group was just happy to head to Maine each year in September and as we’ve said each year – we’re going back that same weekend to have a tournament even if there isn’t one officially on the books. By the time the tournament started on Saturday we had 20 people signed up, which was also one of the biggest fields we’d seen in a while. I think that’s great considering the late start we had on it and I think we can expand on the field next year since we’ve already decided to run back what we did ,so we can promote more locally and hopefully get some more folks from out of town if they can plan ahead.
For me this family trip also mean traveling with my own family as it’s one tournament that doubles as a mini-vacation for us. One would think that might be a hindrance to my performance given it eats into “practice time” but I’ve played better in the years I’ve had my kids there than any year before. (Also – big props to Liz for watching the kids when I do need time to practice and all day when I’m at the tournament). Part of that is due to my familiarity with the course, and minimal amount of deuce putts that need work, so there’s not a whole lot for me to work on other than consistency. I think the other part is that it forces me not to “over-practice” which is also good on a weekend when your practice time is on a course that is going to change significantly come tournament time with weather rolling in. So instead of running right to the course to play when I got there on Thursday (like I did in Sweden), we stopped by to say hi to Nancy and talk about the final arrangements, then it was off to the hotel for things like dinner and the pool. I also want to say thanks to Mandy (my fellow Putting Penguin, making her return to Maine after many years away) and Highlighter for helping watch the kids/keep them entertained at times. Those extra eyes and hands make all the difference to my sanity at times and are just another testament to the “family” side of the sport.
From a tournament perspective I got started with my practice on Friday afternoon after visiting the local railroad museum with Mandy and my family in the morning. At this point we knew it was going to rain Saturday morning, the only question was how much and how long. So we were definitely practicing on a course that would be slower during the first rounds of the tournament, which not only impacts a handful of holes right away but also makes you have to remember to adjust as those holes dry out later in the day. It was probably the least amount of practice I’ve done for this tournament in a longtime as Mandy and I just netted four rounds. A lot was due to conversations about running the tournament (or about Holey Moley) that we had, but honestly I felt like I had gotten my swing back after a couple of weeks without putting even if I wasn’t happy with any of my practice scores (never getting below a 37). However, that seems to be a recent trend for me where I’m the opposite of most people – I do better in the tournament than in practice, which is obviously the preferred way to be. I was also considering switch my ball from the one I had used in the past 3 years since that one was getting a little beat up but my rounds didn’t give me any indication that one ball was better than the other. For this tournament, you need to use the same ball each round but can use different ones during the tournament – golf balls only though. In the end, I would pick my “Maine blueberry” Chromax ball for the 4th straight year – call it superstition. We returned at night after we grilled dinner outside at the hotel for a round with the kids and then it was to sleep, anxious to see what the rain would be.
The next morning didn’t disappoint as it was indeed raining at the planned tournament time. Most of us were at the course by 8am after the free hotel breakfast, so we made an executive decision to delay until 11am as it seemed like that’s when the rain would stop. We’d start as soon as the course was cleared. As it was, some of us stuck around and by 10 things were clearing enough to get to work on the course. We were set and ready to start the tournament at noon, with a slightly different format. Normally we play 3 morning, 3 afternoon, 2 night and then 2 on Sunday. With the delay, we moved to 4 afternoon, 3 night and 3 Sunday, making it still a contest of who can adapt to different conditions. Anyone who has been in New England in September knows that morning, afternoon and evening can bring 5 different seasons. When it came time to kick things off, I had offered to “play the role of Lee” and go through the administrative items of the tournament since that was something I was used to having run other tournaments. It brought a smile to my face trying to remember all of the quirky rules this tournament had (like if you’re stuck in a pipe on 13 you get to use the leaf blower to blow it out) and there was good energy in the air with folks wanting to get it started.
With the random draw I would be playing the first 4 rounds with Steve Hill, which was sort of amusing based on the work we had put in to get the tournament going. I don’t know that I had any specific expectations going into the tournament although I knew there was some pressure in terms of replicating the excellent results I’ve had over the past few years. We were mid-pack so there weren’t that many people watching as we teed off on hole 1 and I got through cleanly but didn’t pick up the ace. On hole 3 I took my first bogey and did wonder if it was going to be that type of tournament, thinking back to my average practice rounds. However, I picked it up with an ace on hole 4 (a hole I could not ace in practice but would 50% of the time in the tournament) then went ace/bogey on 16 and 17 to finish an even 36. Not stupendous but not out of the running. Round 2 was more of the same as I dropped a 4 this time on hole 3 and a bogey on 17 but made it up across holes 2,4,10 and 16 to come in 1-under at a 35. I ditched the jacket, though it was still in the high 50s and windy, for round 3 and put in a solid 33, only dropping the 18th hole. It was at that point I felt like I was back in form and rounded out the afternoon with a 35. I figured it was good enough for top 5 at that point based on the scores I heard and was pleasantly surprised that I was sitting tied for first with fellow Connecticut putter Justin Seymour who I had just beaten out at the Farmington tournament.
The nice thing about this course is that it plays fast and for 20 people we finished 4 rounds in under 3 hours. This left us plenty of time to walk around Boothbay Harbor and catch dinner before heading back to the course for the evening rounds. Since we start at 18:30, we transition from early twilight into full dark during these rounds. I knew it was going to be a battle with Justin and tried to keep telling myself to just play the course and not worry about his scores, which worked to a point. In the first evening round I would do something I have never done in 12 tournaments on this course – shoot 18 twos. It’s almost impossible not to luck your way into an ace during a round and generally if you don’t do that the course eventually bites you for a 3 – but not this round. Just 18 deuces on the scorecard. I’d be feeling better about it if Justin didn’t card a 33 and start his pull towards the championship. I would never recover from that, at best closing the gap to one stroke in the next 5 rounds. I’d shoot another 36 in round 6 the hard way (3 aces and 3 bogies) and finish the evening with another 33, which would be my tournament low but still 2 off my lowest round in any tournament there. I was two back at the break with 3 rounds left.
Sunday morning was a beautiful Autumn morning in Maine and I felt good about my chances of keeping it close. What I didn’t feel as good about was friend and past champion Josh Tiberio went on a run in the evening and was now only two back of me in third. I could nearly feel his breath on my neck.
Because of some logistical items, instead of honoring Lee’s memory to start the tournament we did it before we started the rounds on Sunday. Nancy wanted it to be uplifting for folks and I think we did a good job of that, choosing to focus on an excellent letter past tournament players Peter and Nancy Gilchrist wrote for this celebration of life event. It was one of several times during the weekend that we all knew “Lee was there” and it reminded us again why that tournament was so special to all of us.
I was playing with Justin again given our scores and any good feelings I had were quickly dashed in the 7th round after bogies on hole 8, 10 and 18 (hole 10 I would bogey the entire morning). The only bright spot was an ace on hole 13, which I played very well that tournament. It’s a two-tier hole and the top really requires a combination of touch and line to get the center hole. I was happy to hit the ace 6 times that tournament. I’d recover some with a 35 after round 9 which set me up at 4 back going into the final round, 2 clear of 3rd and 3 clear of 4th. It’s hard to accurately describe this but those five rounds against Justin were the perfect mix of very competitive but also very fun. We were challenging each other, making some great shots, but at the same time the stress didn’t interfere with the enjoyment.
In the final round, the top four play a foursome after a weekend of pairings. This year the final four would be 3 past champions (me, Josh, and Elmer) and Justin. No pressure there for the one guy in the lead and who hadn’t won this tournament yet. I also found out after the tournament hat Elmer had been using Lee’s putter since he flew and didn’t bring his own. It was good to know Lee was once again in the final round with us. Being down by four going into the final round didn’t feel insurmountable although Justin was putting nearly lights out. There was even a brief moment of joy when I picked up one stroke on hole 3 then aced hole 4, potentially cutting the lead to just 2 strokes. Then Justin aced the next three and, well, my mindset changed from there. It was likely going to be futile to try to chase aces to make up what would be a six-stroke lead with nine to play, so I turned my attention back to playing clean and forcing the folks behind me to make up the strokes, versus me giving them to them. Despite everyone playing a solid final round (three 34s and one 35) the strategy worked and I held onto second place, four strokes back of Justin.
It’s kind of crazy that 10 rounds of putting can result in less than 10 strokes separating the top 4 places but it’s a testament to not only how well matched the top players are in this tournament but how consistent the course overall plays. It’s just hard to shoot too good or too bad if you are in the top groups consistently over 10 rounds. I didn’t even bother trying to beat myself up over where I could have picked up those four shots because a) overall I only 15 holes over par out of the 180 and b) I made a couple par saves that were…dramatic to say the least, so those easily could have gone the other way. When I looked at my sheet overall I was happy with the following: 1) my high ace % on 13, 2) the fact that I played Bobbin Buoys (the hardest hole) to even par for the tournament, 3) I played holes 4-7 without any bogies (as one should) and 4) that I just kept my head in every hole and worked each shot that came to me. I never had the feeling that “things were slipping” or that I was pushing to make something else. I really did just take one hole at a time.
So it was exciting to see a new winner at the tournament and I know our couple of new players had fun, which is always good news for future events. I was happy overall with how I played and where I finished, and earning another $150 to my career earnings in the process. The tournament was a success, also having raised over $1,600 for the new Lee Stoddard scholarship when combined with other donations. With two tournaments left on my schedule for 2019 I’m happy with how I’m putting right now coming out of the summer.
I won’t have time to do a full pre-tournament blog for our upcoming tournament, the 3rd Annual Matterhorn International Pro-Am, so here’s some quick thoughts. With a couple of days left the pro field looks to be about the same size as last year but I’m hoping that bumps up a person or two by the time of tee off. I’d love to see us get to 20 pros for the tournament. The amateur field is a little smaller than expected right now but there’s where we get the most influx of people the day of. We had 31 total participants last year and would be great if we could at least surpass 30 again this year, if not show a little growth in total. Keeping at least 30 people at this tournament each year would allow us to sustain it at our current structure.
I imagine the favorite heading into the tournament has to be Justin. He finished Top 5 at another tournament in Maine this summer, 3rd at Farmington, won Dolphin and is the defending champ at Matterhorn. Any bookmaker would put him at a heavy favorite right now but I imagine myself and Highlighter wouldn’t be too far behind in the odds. Dylan Koerner might be a dark horse based on some recent league and tournament finishes and his “go for it” style might pay off. I don’t think we’re going to see a record low round this year (low is 37 in the tournament) but I have a feeling the record low score (198 which both the past winners shot) will likely fall by 1 or 2 shots. I could see a 38-38-39-40-41 score line from a winner to drop that by a couple of strokes.
Thanks for hanging in there for this blog and look forward to reporting back to you after our tournament!
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.
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