Note: This blog was written by Allan Cox, perhaps best known for his trick shot and 18-ace series videos on YouTube under PuttPuttdownunder (link below).
After a 22 year gap from competing in the USA, it is time to play in the 2019 Master's. In 1997 I competed in the PPA nationals in Orange Lake with mixed results. The Masters has always been on the radar and now is as good as time as any to play with some of the best mini golfers on the planet. I first contacted long time friend and mentor Brad Lebo as to the best way to go about preparing and what to expect come competition time. As usual his advise is on the money and comes from vast experience in this tournament. Who better to ask help from then a former Masters champion?
This year the Master's is going to be run over 3 different courses, Hawaiian Rumble, Aloha Mini Golf and Hawaiian Village the Pineapple course. Originally I was thinking a week may be enough but opt for a fortnights preparation. This will also allow for a couple of days of video/filming for my You Tube channel.
After 30+ hours of travelling and 3 flights I arrive at our accommodation at North Myrtle Beach. Walking distance to Hawaiian Rumble and the Pineapple course. Walking? Yes! Everyone in this country (USA) for some strange reason seems to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. So probably a bit safer for this Aussie to get in a bit of exercise. I can afford to lose a few kilos also. Had been doing a good hour walking a day in the month leading up, as well as some 4 - 6hr mini golf practise sessions knowing that preparation and practise time will be in the 8 - 12 hrs a day region on the 3 competition courses. First day I arrive at the Hawaiian Rumble at 7.30am. Who should I run into but mini golf legend Olivia Prokopova? She is finishing her practise on what would turn out to be a quite warm and humid day. I play the first hole, I remember a video of Greg Newport making the ace on this hole to win the Masters. It is a back door shot. To my surprise my first putt on the Hawaiian Rumble course is an ace. A good omen to my competition rounds that would come later.
I catch up with Manfred Stewart who takes time to show me around and we get to visit the Pineapple and Aloha courses. At this stage the heat and humidity and that jet lag fatigue has well and truly kicked in and I feel like the ball and putter have a mind of their own. The ball is just going everywhere, it is getting ugly. Time to give practise a miss and we head out for dinner.
Next day - Aloha Course. Rick Alessi is kind enough to show me his ace shots on this course. A crash course results in some good rounds (30-30ish) and some very poor rounds that will not be acceptable at this level of competition. I have a lot of work to do. It is at this point I catch up with Gary Hester and spend the rest of the day trying to eliminate the really poor rounds. I end up with a mix of the three different ways to play the course and some Aussie variations thrown in. This is going to be a work in progress.
The next couple of days are taken up with aces filming at the Hawaiian Rumble and Aloha courses for my YouTube channel. I am thinking the Pineapple course will take some time. But hole 18 is proving quite the challenge. I think it is possible but would take a heap of time. I decide to sink my time into practise and course repetition and will think about the video work on the Pineapple course for next time.
I have the privilege of getting shown around and some practise rounds around the Hawaiian Rumble course by none other than Mr 18 and two times Master's champion Greg Newport. Interesting to get his take on how to play the course. I am in good hands.
After a week of 8 - 12hrs a day of practise, I am starting to feel that I am beginning to come to grips with the courses. My best practice round on Aloha, a 27, Hawaiian Rumble, a 30 and a 33 around the Pineapple course. If only those were the averages! Time to pick up my doubles partner, fellow Aussie mini golfer and five times Aussie pro Putt Putt champion Nathan Lamplough from the airport and we settle in to our accommodation. The next couple of days are spent sharing the course knowledge gained over the last week with Nathan. The rest of the time is spent catching up with the pros who I met in Orange Lake in 1997 and meeting a lot of new players. Everyone is helpful and really supportive and a lot of fun to be around.
Tournament time, day one.
I am in group B. Which means my first 3 rounds will commence on the tougher of the 3 courses the pineapple course. Round 1 results in a not so great 37. A few aces but too many 3's. Round 2 results in a PB for the fortnight, a clean 32 which was well and truly needed after a terrible start. Round 3. I find some trouble and a lack of aces and results in a 38. Not the best of starts, -1 for the three rounds. Not a total disaster either but have left myself plenty of work to do if I plan to run in the money.
After lunch we have 3 rounds on the Hawaiian Rumble. Round 4 results in a bogey free 31 which I am very happy with, about where my practise rounds where averaging. Round 5 results in a 31 also with just the one bogey. Round 6 is a struggle with a few bogeys and manage to limit the damage with a round of 35. Sometimes you just have to get in the grind and get the ball around and limit the damage. -11 for the three rounds. Pretty happy with that. Still plenty of work to do to move up the leader board after such a bad start from the mornings rounds.
Day 2. Four rounds at the Aloha course. Round 7. A clean round of 28 results, playing partner Danny Baddeley fires a 27. Man these guys are good. Round 8. Not enough aces and a few drop shots result in a very disappointing round of 33, another one of those rounds about keeping a bad score from becoming a really bad score. Still on this course and with this level of competition a 33 is a bad score. Round 9. This round is all about forgetting the disaster of round 8 and salvaging something from the wreck. A round of 30 results, not great but an improvement on the round before.
Round 10. We are regrouped according to scores and somehow I have managed to move up the leader board and find myself in a group with Putt Putt legend and GOAT, Greg Ward and Tony Varnadore PPA, Masters champion and Aloha course record holder with a score of 22. I am not sure whether to tee it up with these guys or ask them for their autographs. To say I was a little nervous to be playing in this company was an understatement. Time to prove to myself that I can compete at this level. I get off to a great start -5 after the first six holes. How much fun is this! After a miss on the easy 9th and a bogey on the dreaded 13th I manage to shoot around of 31, a tad disappointing considering the start. My playing partners have recorded average rounds also with scores of 31 and 32 so I don't feel so bad. After 10 rounds I am tied for 15th and considering the bad rounds I have managed to throw in, I am pretty happy to be placed so high in this company.
Day 3. The last 2 rounds of the tournament are to be played on the Hawaiian Rumble course. We are regrouped again. Round 11 - A round of missed opportunities and a few bogeys results in a not sensational round of 35. Not the worst however and did drag it back with a few aces later in the round. Another one of those rounds when it is about limiting the damage.
Round 12. We are regrouped again and start the round on hole five so the tourney can end on hole 4 in public sight as hole 18 is positioned in the back corner with very limited public access. A score of 34 results. Not bad, not good. But with the pressure of the last round well and truly on, a result that is OK and in line with the scores of the round by other players. So after all the scores are totalled, I am positioned 18th in a field of 70 competitors and well inside the cash line of the top 30. Placed 7th in the seniors division. Not bad for a first attempt at the Masters I am thinking. A few too many poor rounds have cost a possible top ten finish. But overall pretty happy to have thrown in quite a few good rounds also.
Finishing early I get to watch the leaders finish up on the last four holes. Joey Graybeal would prevail with a 1 stroke margin over Gary Hester.
The presentation dinner is combined with the induction into the Hall of Fame of Brad Lebo. PPA, Masters and US Open champion and super mentor. Congrats Brad. Glad I was there. Was awesome to meet up with so many friends and finally get to meet long time buddies Pat Sheridan, Matt Bellner and Tom Loftus after all these years.
For a self confessed mini golf nut, my first Master's experience was everything I had hoped for and more. If all goes well it won't be my last. I must do that again. We have three flights home and an 11 hour stop over in LA. We spend the day playing mini golf at Golf and Stuff the venue where they filmed the original The Karate Kid movie. They have four courses and Nathan wins 3 courses to my one. We get home Tuesday around 1pm having left our accommodation at 4am on the Sunday morning. Jet lag for the following week is brutal. A small price to pay for the adventure of a lifetime.
All the best and cheers from down under,
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