So this weekend I decided to play in my club championship. Now, I’m not that good so I played in the flighted division which I like to refer to as the “chumpionship”. My experience with tournament golf is very limited. I once played on my club’s team in a city wide event and on the first hole pulled the bonehead move of knocking my ball out of the way when it came to rest 1 inch short of the hole. Clearly I forgot that all putts must be holed and I ended up three putting from where my ball lay after I swatted it away. Duh!! Later that round I lead my entire group, composed of three other players from different clubs, in a penalty-fest when I teed off from the wrong tee box and they all followed in suit. Those guys loved me . . . really, they did.
In previous years I had never been in town to play in the club championship so I thought I’d give it a whack this year and see if it was any fun. My index is currently 7.5 so I was flighted against six other players with similar handicaps. I’ve actually been playing pretty decent lately, so I was feeling pretty good about my chances. Although the real club championship is decided over 54 holes the chumpionship is only played over 36, so I thought if I could manage to get in the clubhouse with 160 that I may have a chance to win my flight. By the way, that’s Dr. Beeper dressed in black below. He’s been the club champion at Bushwood Country Club for three years running. He is a heck of a player. I hear the guy to the right of him is no slouch either.
I don’t want to be one of those blowhards who recounts every stroke of his round in the men’s grill for anyone within earshot (See exhibit A above in pink shirt, gray hair and pointing), but I am going to give some detail of the first round. After a par on the 1st hole I proceeded to make triple on the 2nd hole. I should have known better than to attempt a 160 yard approach shot out of the bunker and over water to the green. Not a smart decision. Mental error #1.
The 3rd hole I made par and on the 4th hole I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway leaving a short pitch to the green. I set my bag down next to my ball and walked BACKWARDS to a sprinkler head to check my yardage. The sprinkler head said 80 yards to the middle of the green so I then walked FORWARD to my ball pacing off 10 yards. Being the math genius that I am I ADDED 10 yards to 80 yards and calculated a 90 yard shot. Then, just for good measure, I added 10 yards for wind and pulled my 100 yard club. Needless to say I blasted the ball over the green and into the rough. I chipped on for my third shot, missed the putt and turned what should have been a birdie or easy par opportunity into a bogey. Mental error #2. Great . . . four over through four holes . . . not really the start I was hoping for.
Fortunately I rebounded well with a par on the 5th hole and a par on the 6th hole. I was hitting the ball well and feeling pretty good despite my score. I was still pretty sure I could make the turn in 40 or 41 which would fit into my plan just fine. My drive on the 7th went right which blocked me from hitting a stock shot into the green. In my effort to make a Phil Mickelson-esque recovery shot off a terrible lie I hit my ball into some tall grass on the far left side of the green. Fearful that I may not find that ball I declared a provisional and put a second ball into play. That shot didn’t go well and I had to hit the provisional two more times to get it clear of the trees and onto the green. With my provisional safely on the green in 6 strokes I walked up the fairway and over to the left of the green where I believed my original ball was and started looking. Low and behold I found it AND could get a club on it. I managed to hit the ball onto the green and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Disaster averted.
When I walked onto the green my two playing partners informed me that once I had struck my provisional a second time that my original ball was deemed lost and I had no choice but to play the provisional. Uh oh. My understanding of this situation is that I can play my provisional ball, hitting it as many times as necessary, up to the point where it is reasonable to believe that my original ball rests. After a brief two against one discussion it was decided that I had to play my provisional ball and two putts later I had a snowman (8) on my scorecard.
As would be expected I was a little unnerved after the whole ruling situation and I closed out the nine with a double bogey and a bogey for a silky sweet 47. I’m not going to bore anyone any further with the details of my second nine holes but let’s just say it didn’t get any better. I parred 17 and 18 which kept me from being in dead last place for the ENTIRE field. My 96 just edged out the 98 that was posted by a player with a 6.4 handicap index. Nothing like having those kind of numbers up on the leaderboard for the entire club to see! After the round I went over to the proshop to ask one of the pros to confirm the provisional ball ruling. He looked it up in the USGA Decisions book and confirmed that my playing partners had indeed been correct. It still just didn’t feel right to me, but I humbly accepted his ruling.
The only thing that got me out of bed the next morning for my 8:10am tee time was the chance to post a good score next to my terrible one and hopefully redeem myself a tiny bit. On the range I ran into one my friends who asked the very reasonable question “What the **** happened to you yesterday???” As I was recounting the story one of the other tournament contestants overheard me and piped up that the provisional ball ruling had been made incorrectly. I explained that one of the pros had looked it up in the USGA Decisions book and that it was indeed correct. This gentleman then informed me he was a USGA rules official and he was POSITIVE that I was allowed to play my provisional ball as many times as I needed to get it up to the point where my original ball was believed to be. If I struck the provisional AFTER it had passed the area where my original ball was believed to be only then would it be in play. He said the pro had misinterpreted what he read in the USGA Decisions book.
As I digested that information I really wasn’t sure if I should be happy or sad. Oh well, live and learn! The bottom line is that I should have played both balls out and then gotten a ruling from a USGA official (we have several who are members at my club). I manged to shoot an 84 in the second round which was not what I was looking for but a whole lot better than the 96 from the previous day. I think its safe to say that I need to work on my tournament mindset. Suddenly, I find myself having some sympathy for Dustin Johnson’s blunder at Whistling Straits during the 2010 PGA Championship!