Saturday 7th July – Three weeks had passed since I was told my mum had days to live but against the grain, she was still with us, albeit in a weakened condition. I had been down in Worthing for several days to be with my family and strolls in the sea but also for the Worthing Open, which was set for 5pm. The weather for the country had been outstanding, almost to the point that it was expected to be bright sunshine every day.
In the build up to the event, England was ravaged with World Cup fever. For the first time since the nineties, the football team could be on for a good finish. Unfortunately, it was on the same afternoon as the Worthing Open, with the game finishing without extra time around ten minutes before we teed off. I turned up early to Splash Point to put the hard yards in. I’ve performed well here in the past, although the pipe hole had certainly cost me the title in 2016. By kick off in the football, Will, Andy and Matt had disappeared to a pub, Scott had dug out his tablet which left only Paul, Michael and Stephen finetuning. I received a call from a friend to say they were nearby and as I was chatting to her, I missed the Harry Maguire goal. It’s coming home!
As the nation celebrated making the semi-finals, a number of the field had decided to find shade. It was the hottest I had experienced since Wroxham Barns in 2016. I spent a while with my headphones in so I didn’t get disturbed by people asking me questions. Mum had told me to take part in the tournament and not to worry about her, so much easier said than done. My partners for the first couple of rounds as the sun bore down on us were my best mate Steve and Marion. I was happy to be just playing and wasn’t too concerned about how I performed. Success would be judged by finishing, just like the WAGM. I was sloppy but Steve wasn’t, making four in a row. Steve is an occasional minigolfer who fell into the sport after my drunken night out in February 2013 and his 41 was a surprise to all.
To be honest, the rest of the event was a blur. The ace shot on hole ten, which I had become renowned, worked again in the final round, although I may regret teaching it to Michael now. I had an outside shot of a top three finish going into the last round but that quickly dissipated. I lost interest and just wanted to get home. At the medal ceremony, we were all given a piece of Splash Point history as everyone was allowed to keep one of the old blue flags. The course had shown its teeth and continued the reputation of being one of the hardest on tour. I learned to play minigolf here and I credit it for the attention to detail that I have today. On the way home, I treat Steve to a Subway and he says it is the first time he’s ever had one. Seminal moment.
Saturday 14th July – So soon after the harsh environment of the Sussex coast, we’re off to the badlands of Essex for the beast known as Dunton Hills for the double header of the Cambridgeshire and Essex Open and the British Doubles. No word of a lie, it is fearsome. You have to learn to adapt your game to suit, I have more notes on here than any other. I reach the course at 7.30am to get acclimatised to the breaks and heat. If Worthing was simmering, Dunton Hills was roasting. I apply the first layer of suncream and regret choosing black as clothing.
Dunton Hills is a course I enjoy, having come runner up in every previous singles event and winning my first title, the British Doubles in 2016 with Nuno. Rumoured have circulated for a few years that they were selling up for development, which would be a shame. For the time being, despite their being no bar or food service since last year, we’re going putting again. My playing partners for the opening couple of laps are the Skinner family, Stephen and Laura, an enthusiastic couple from South Wales who are new to the tour. Round one proved to be a battle, missing a short putt for a two on the 14th, which turned into a four. Mistakes aren’t just a dropped shot here. It could be a four, five, six, greater. 47 is about as good as I deserve.
The second round is all about Stephen and Laura. After recording five straight threes to start the round, I eventually turn the pressure on and start logging two upon two. The Skinners are putting phenoms and are easy to teach. All three of us are starting to inspire the others, Laura hit nine two’s in a row, Stephen knocks in an outrageous ace, which gives me an idea for future. This round has been one of my favourite to play in this year. Not just because I got right back in the mix with a 43 but I saw in Laura and Stephen the joy of what it is to be playing minigolf and why we do this. In 2018, we’ve been lucky to have some great newcomers participating, not just skill level, but for them being genuinely good people. After the past couple of years, tour life is good.
Having made myself a pasta salad, which I had surrounded with a couple of bottles of frozen water, I’m relishing attacking the last round. Michael is probably out of sight at seven clear but I remember Mark nearly losing a six shot lead to me here last year so I’m confident of at least winning the round in our three ball. I’m playing without anxiety for the first time in a year and making some difficult second putts (most second putts at Dunton Hills are difficult at best). I have the belief that I’m back to near my best, something which has been missing. With mum fighting for life, I’m fighting back at minigolf.
Despite aceing the second, Michael makes an uncharacteristically nervous start and I begin to chip away. All was going well until the eighth, when a three foot downhill putts sailed past the left edge to leave something double the distance. At that moment, I’m back to playing for second. I get another four at the toughest hole on the course, the tenth, and with a click of the fingers, six players are vying for my traditional silver medal. I jokingly said at the start that I would rather come third than second this year. From then on, I got on a heater with seven two’s. Even Michael says it is the best he’s seen me putt. My putt on seventeen, which had a near two foot of borrow in a ten foot putt, is definitely into my top five of all time. It left me needing a four at the last to win, you’ve guessed it, the silver medal. I take a three.
From receiving my medal, I dash to my car to drive to see mum, who is on the other side of the London orbital. I’m grateful to Will for letting me crash at his for the night, which means I get to spend some precious time. I show mum my medal and she musters a smile. Every time could be the last time I see mum and she’s poorly today. I drive back to my base for the night a little despondent.
Sunday 15th July – I wake up just before the alarm goes and open the curtains. It’s another minigolf day. I join Michael for breakfast and try and wake Will by pretending to be his mother. It’s only half an hour back to Dunton Hills and today, it’s all about pairs. My teammate is my vice-captain, Derek, who I am very pleased that he can make it, having been let down for a lift earlier in the week, so thank you to David and Marion for their assistance. I hatch a plan on which holes I think we’ll be better suited to teeing off first on, seeing as the rules state alternate holes and alternate shots. Having been working on what I believed were some clever shots. More fool me. I get told five minutes before the start that I’m doing the announcements, which frustrates me as I have nothing prepared. I garble something about welcome to the course, don’t do this, do that, we’ll all have fun and hopefully watch some of the World Cup final.
We started with a good win over the father and son combination, the Williams’ before we hit trouble. It didn’t matter how well we played, we just caught everyone that much better than us on the day. Adrian and James avenged their defeat to us last year with a clinical display. David and Marion were our final group opponents. Something happens when they team up, like a minigolfing epiphany. We fight to scrape a draw although the drama is far from done with our records being identical, we have to playoff to get into the quarter finals. We make a solid three on the tenth before David pulls a rabbit out of the hat with a shot that stops on the hardest green in minigolf around two feet away. Marion rolls in the two and we’re into pool B. I’m off to the shops.
Our next chance to salvage anything from the day is against Dave and Ted, who in all fairness, destroy us. Another case of bad timing. The final positions would be decided by a three way points system, which at no point should you ask me to explain but it worked. We were up against Ruth and Tiger and the Williams. We had secured 11th by the penultimate hole and the format, though completely improvised, was probably one of the few successful moments I had all day.
By the time I get home, I managed to grab most of the World Cup Final, having joined it at 1-1. With the heat and my life in general draining me, I fall asleep on the sofa, dreaming of why we couldn’t put Croatia to bed in the first half of the semi-final.
Saturday 28th July – For almost ten weeks, the heatwave (which was fun for the first couple of weeks) was now a chore. In my sphere of work, farming had really started to suffer and the ground has been hit by drought. We needed rain and by jingo, we got rain during the weekend. Right over the Midland Open and Matchplay championships from the Four Ashes Golf Centre in Dorridge. We have previously played the classic twelve hole course by the clubhouse but since our last visit in early 2016, they have built an eighteen hole effort, which is where the Midland Open would take place.
In the spirit of fairness, Michael and the Midland club had made some rough course notes, which I decided I wouldn’t look at until I saw the site. I arrived at 9 am, in the dry, and paid the day rate, which was a generous £7. I knocked a few tee shots down before getting into my routine of three foot putts on the face of a compass. I didn’t want to waste time as the public would slowly dribble onto the greens and there would be a children’s party around 11 am. It felt great to finally be learning a new course on the tour. Five of the first six holes felt a little samey and the felt was reasonably new so a little of the furry side. However, from holes eight to sixteen, this course invoked a feeling that this could be a classic tournament course. Aces would be few and far between, pars needed to be strung together and there was danger from some of the most innocuous looking lines.
I felt comfortable enough that I had studied well by 1 pm so grabbed some lunch. By the time I returned, the weather had become decidedly British. It had been forecast but still a surprise to see it in the volume it did arrive in. I was amazed by the pluck of the locals who were still turning up to play despite the conditions. When the rains eased slightly, some of the players decided to try shots in the wet, while some searched for waterproof clothing, or in Ted’s case, something masquerading as a bin liner. The most entertaining and expensive moment of the afternoon came when the current British number four, whose name I have changed to protect his identity (lets call him Randy Milde), managed to lock his keys in the car.
We got started on time at 4.30pm and would play the course in pairs in order to reduce waiting time. From the original start list of 31, we only lost two people, one down to a hip injury and one down to being an absolute snowflake. My partner for Marion once again so at least I knew the company would be good. The rain got stronger so a sub-par round would be a solid start. Although I failed to make any aces, I didn’t drop anything either. It was fairly drama free and my opening 36 would take the lead by one, from Michael and Will.
As myself and Marion played our opening hole (the 18th) in round two, a thunderstorm started up and play was halted as I was about to take my second shot. I asked to finish the hole out and dropped my first shot of the day. I really should learn to take my time. By the time play resumed in conditions that would have been enhanced with a film noir look, I discovered a new way to play the third, which would help me later but I had dropped a further two shots by the sixth. I needed to knuckle down as I knew others would be gunning for me. I achieved my first hole in one at the tricky three tiered ninth, having been a trendsetter by going for the pipe in the middle level. It was an easier shot than people were giving it credit for, so I was amazed some of the top players weren’t trying it. After all, I was the only person to get the hole in one here. Pars all the way gave me a 38, and a share of second. Fifteen players would be within seven shots and I was right. It would be close.
By the time of the final round and with Michael and ‘Randy Milde’ as my partners in the lead group, the skies had cleared to some glorious sunlight and the course had cleared magnificently, leading me to dub the drainage as the real MVP. My confidence had returned and I feared no one. I aced the first and for a while, it wasn’t clear just who was going to triumph. I dropped a shot at the fifth, which had proved unlucky for me. Michael rolled in an ace at the seventh but opened the door one hole later with a rare mistake. Leaving himself short by around twelve feet and with one foot halfway up the rock face, Michael threw up a prayer which got answered. I’ve witnessed a number of miracles from him in my time, but this was one of the best. Even when he did drop a shot, as he on the ninth, he made it straight back on the tenth. Even though I was only two behind, the new course at Dorridge was always going to be hard to make it up.
As the round drew to a close, I lost my concentration on the 15th, picking out the wrong ball and dropping my second shot of the round. ‘Randy’ was hanging on and would match my 37. Michael would win again. With Seve and Rocky both shooting par, there would be a four way playoff for second. At no point of the playoff did I ever think I wasn’t going to win it. After all four of us bagged pars at the first two holes, ‘Randy’ aced the third and I followed him straight in, exhaling a screech. With the others failing to get the ace, we moved on. The fourth was uneventful but fifth will live long. I didn’t mess up for once, while ‘Randy’ left himself in a spot that required a decision. He was contemplating the pipe for his second shot but I managed to talk him out of it and play directly off of the drop. He made the putt. Almost by the way of a thank you, he took a three at the sixth and let me in for the win. Another second place. That’s ten now.
Sunday 29th July – My overnight base was in Leicester around forty miles away with a friend I had known from time living in Greece. I had managed to chat to my dad the night before and ask about mum, who had been improving. It left me in a better frame of mind. I dashed back to Dorridge in the hope of getting settled in for the British Matchplay only to find the gate was locked. As another six cars turned up, we walked around the gate to go putting. It was only when we reached the course that they opened up, leading everyone who had parked by the entrance to walk back. The weather had taken a bad turn and although the course was wet in spots, it was playable.
We had been divided into groups the day before and I had drawn Chris Smith, Dave Gomm and John Sharp. The old course is an eleven hole round which would lead to a number of close contests. It has a more traditional, rustic feel and with the lack of holes, you needed to jump out to gain the upper hand. I didn’t and trailed handsomely in all of my group matches. I almost caught Chris but lost by one, I did catch and pass Dave having been three down but lost to John, who was inspired. With the rounds being played very rapidly, we quickly got to the knockout stages. I needed another playoff, my third in a fortnight, to reach the last 16 against Matty and Terry but lost to Matty at the second hole. I felt my exploits over the past few months were catching up with me and I was going through the motions.
There were still medals to play for in the Pool B, some found it a surprise that I hadn’t qualified but that’s minigolf. You can’t be great all the time and maybe, matchplay isn’t for me. The groups were redrawn for Pool B and I got to play, Terry, Owen and Dave Hartley. Owen had impressed a number of people, taking all of his matches to at least the penultimate hole. I was lucky to sneak a 2 and 1 win. By the end of the second group phase, we took lunch. I had won my section, which meant I got to play Martyn for the gold medal in Pool B. It sounds more impressive than the battle for 16th.
Once again, for the final round of the day, the weather had improved and we going to play in the dry. Martyn had performed well, nearly overturning a four hole deficit against his clubmate, Simon. My experience of the course counted for me and I just did enough to beat Martyn but in a few years, he is going to be a tough opponent. As we packed up, I had just about had enough minigolf for the month. I spoke to mum on the way home, who was starting to sound like her old self again. There are still problems but from where we were at the beginning of July, maybe there is hope.
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