My Day At The U.S. Open Qualifier
As a rule I don’t like to write about my rounds unless I have something entertaining to say. Well I have that for you today!
In 2014 I had set a goal for myself to get my handicap below a 1.4 so I could play in my first US Open Qualifier. Through a ton of work, and plenty of Practical Golf, I was able to get there. So yesterday I went to Bethpage State Park to play the Red course, which is the younger sibling of the treacherous Black Course.
I was trying to be realistic with my expectations over the last few weeks leading up to this day. My goal was to have a really solid round of golf that I could be proud of. I wasn’t sure how I would react to the pressure since it was my first taste of tournament golf in about 10 years. Overall, I viewed it as a litmus test to see if I “belonged” in tournament golf.
To be honest I was extremely nervous. A lot of people knew I was playing in the event because I had been blabbing about it for months. I also had decided that I was going to write an article about it no matter what happened out there, so I had the added pressure of trying to “practice what I preach” on the course. It would have been a little embarrassing if I blew up, and wasn’t allowed back by the USGA.
I’ve been working really hard on my game, and have to say I was striking the ball better than I ever have. I felt really good coming into Thursday, and was looking forward to the challenge even though I was a bit apprehensive.
I got to the course about 2 hours before my tee time, which was probably a huge mistake. I was hoping to have time to get comfortable, and not feel rushed, which is my biggest pet peeve before a round.
My Range Session
I started my range session as I always do, with my wedges. I worked through some chip and pitch shots to get my feel. Then I started going through the awkward distances, and worked my way up to full swings with my sand wedge.
Things were feeling really good. I was hitting each shot exactly how I wanted to.
I worked my way up to my 8 iron, and then all of a sudden…SHANK. That awful sound rang out as I connected with the hosel of the club, and the ball dribbled off about 30 yards directly to my right.
Wait, what was that???
I tried to ignore it, but the seed of doubt had been planted. I hit a few more balls, and then about 6-7 shots later…SHANK. It happened again. Oh please, don’t do this to me. Not today.
My friend Tyler who was kind enough to caddy for me that day was watching this unfold, and tried to give me some words of encouragement. It was not working.
I progressed through the rest of my bag, and probably hit another 4-5 hosel rockets, and the rest of the clubs I just could not strike purely. I started to feel a sinking feeling in my stomach. I was REALLY nervous now.
Am I going to blow up today?? Please don’t make a fool of yourself. I had gone from supremely confident in my ball striking to absolutely terrified in about 30 minutes. The worst part was I still had about 50 minutes until my tee time to stew over what just happened.
Did I just see a ghost?
We went into the clubhouse to grab a quick bite to eat, and I had a perfect view of the first hole, which is an absolute beast. 470 yards straight into the wind that day, with a majorly elevated green. This hole had big number possibilities written all over it.
I watched player after player bomb their drives perfectly down the middle of the fairway, and I’m pretty sure my face was pale, like I had just seen a ghost.
Please don’t make a fool of yourself. “Do you even belong here,” I started to think to myself??
I went to the putting green, and realized the course was as hard as a rock. They had completely dried out everything, and it seemed they had rolled the greens several times to make them extra slippery. All of my chips were releasing much harder than I was used to, compared to the last several weeks, and the putting surface was slick.
Thanks USGA, I’m feeling REALLY good now.
I was also surrounded by a bunch of college-aged kids, and professionals who were no doubt light years better than me. In the field of 121 players there were about 70 pros.
The First Tee
I had that feeling like you were on one of those insanely big roller coasters, and you were slowly climbing up before the big drop. I attempted to calm my nerves, and remind myself of all the work I had put in.
I stepped up to the first tee, and tried to think of my son’s smiling face as a way to calm myself down. Unfortunately that did not work. I hit an absolutely dreadful drive that duck hooked to the left, and quickly disappeared into the deepest rough on the course.
Luckily we found my ball, and it was buried in some deep fescue. It was the type of lie where anything could happen to the ball. I was 240 yards out, so my only choice was to hack out. Luckily the ball came out perfectly, and I left myself a nice gap wedge up to the green. OK, I’m feeling better.
I left myself short of the green, and had about 65 feet to the hole. I didn’t even want to entertain stubbing a chip, so I pulled out the ol’ Texas Wedge, and putted it. I left myself a testy little 5 footer, and made it!
I looked over to Tyler, and gave a big smile. Bogey felt really good, and at that point I knew things were going to be OK.
I do belong
All of my nerves disappeared, and I let my routine and preparation take over. We talked over each shot, and had a plan on every single one of them. I got to the 9th hole at 2 over, and was having a really good ball striking day. My putting was extremely shaky though. I was not prepared for the difficulty of the greens. The hosel rockets were nowhere in site though, and a distant memory at that point.
A great moment came on the 9th hole. I had pulled my shot left of the green, and left myself a really difficult pitch. There was almost no green to work with, and I had a huge slope that fed down to the hole. With the dry conditions, it was the type of shot you could easily hit through the green.
I stepped up to my ball, and thought about all of the practice in my backyard. It was the same exact shot I had prepared for. I was confident in my technique, and hit it to the exact spot I wanted. The ball gently rolled to about 2 feet from the hole. I made my par, and felt a huge boost of confidence.
The treacherous back 9
Making the turn at +2 felt great, considering how the round had started off. I felt completely comfortable out there, and was having a great time. There was just one issue. The back 9 is insanely hard, and features five par 4s that were going to play over 450+ yards.
I hit a great drive on 10, but it caught a bad break and landed in a bunker. I made bogey.
I blocked my drive into the trees on 11. After hitting a decent punch shot, I had landed right next to the green, but left myself a very fluffy lie with almost no green to work with. It was one of those shots you see the pros mangle all of the time when they try to get too cute with it.
Well that’s exactly what I did. I picked my head up way to quickly, and bladed the ball about 35 feet away from the hole. Not good. I could feel things starting to slip away. Two bogeys to start off the back 9 with many hard holes to come would not be a good thing.
I walked over to my ball. I was a little steamed, but didn’t want to lose my composure. Then something happened. I looked at the line, and told myself “F*%& it, you are going to make this putt.” (even though my odds were not very good)
Boom, dead center of the cup for par. It would be the only putt over 5 feet that I would make all day, but boy was it a nice one!
I hitched a ride back on the par train, and rode that baby all the way to the 16th hole. I was +3 as I stepped on to the 16th green with a 30 footer for birdie, and feeling great.
I still could not get the speed of the greens down, and left myself with a 6 foot slider for par that I just missed on the high side. OK, not the end the of world. I had an easy par 3 coming up on 17. I make par there, and am heading into the 18th hole at +4.
I knew I was not going to qualify at that point. I had figured -1 or -2 would have gotten you in since there were 7 spots available.
I did have my pride though, and wanted to finish strong.
The 18th hole at Bethpage Red isn’t very kind. It’s about 485 yards, and you are looking at trouble everywhere. There are bunkers, deep fescue, and all types of goodies that make you step up to your tee shot and say “how am I supposed to make par here?” To top it off we were into the wind.
To be honest I think they should just switch 18s with the Black Course, I would much rather have that tee shot than this one!
I blocked my drive well to the right, and heard it smack a tree, and had to hit a provisional. I actually wasn’t very upset, and was resolute to not let anything ruin my day.
We found my ball, and I had a small sliver of hope to hit the green. But in true Practical Golf fashion, I decided it was not worth the risk. If I didn’t hit the ball perfectly I could have ended up in some really nasty rough, and might have brought a triple bogey or worse into play.
I pitched out to the fairway, and left myself about 125 yards to the hole. I safely landed on the green. Unfortunately, I repeated my putting blunder from the 16th hole and missed another slider on the high side, and tapped in for a double bogey…my first of the day. But I wasn’t too angry, it is probably the hardest hole I’ve ever played, so it happens.
Overall, it was a great day.
I wasn’t pleased with finishing +3 on the last 3 holes, but I felt great about the day. Aside from my putting, I had only 3 bad swings all day. I hit 13 greens, and had no issues with feeling any pressure.
I went over to the leader board, and actually felt pretty good when I started seeing the results. There were a ton of scores much higher than mine, and I was firmly in the middle of the pack (I ended up tying for 63rd out of 121). With the conditions of the golf course, +6 was nothing to be ashamed of. There would be only 9 players under par for the day.
Just to give you an idea of how dry the course was, I hit a 3-wood 288 yards and a 4-iron 235 yards. Those are not normal yardages for me, the course was as hard as a rock! I only left one pitch mark on the green all day, and it was barely noticeable.
So what can you learn from my round since my goal with every article is to impart some kind of wisdom:
- Don’t ever count yourself out: I almost declared my day over before I even reached the first tee because of that terrible range session. You don’t know what will happen on the course until you get out there!
- Routine: You need to have a pre-shot routine. If I hadn’t stuck to my process, and gone through my analysis before every shot, my round could have been much worse. There were many moments during the day where I could have gone for the aggressive shot, but I weighed my options and committed to my decision.
- Preparation: If you want to play well, you have to prepare. I know I’ve done a lot of horn tooting in this post, but I worked my ass off. The only way you gain confidence on the course is to prepare.
Well that’s it, I hope you enjoyed my tale!
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