Putt for a 59

It isn’t the kind of thing which happens in amateur golf. Certainly not to me. A putt for 59. But I had that chance. Got it to and past the hole, but sadly not in. The whole thing had an other-worldly feel to it, from start to finish.

To kick off my principle reason for going down to the club was for a meeting. Golf was kind of secondary; always planned to play but the original plan was a meeting with my pal Colin who is going to Captain the County Seniors next year. We were going to talk fixtures, and Order of Merits following an exchange of emails involving us and the County Ops Manager.

That had to wait though. The roll-up was there, the tee time was upon us so folders back in the car, dig the clubs out, enter the midweek stableford and off we go. No warm up, no time on the putting green, half a dozen swishes with 2 clubs in hand, then the balls are being thrown up and I’m in the first group with Colin and Club Captain Brian.

If you want to follow the whole of the round, that follows later if you have the stamina. I shot 30 on both nines, 3 and 6 under respectively. I gave myself a holeable 20 footer for the 59 at the last hole, which missed high side – slightly misread to be honest. Those are the basic facts, but it seems to me there are issues which arise from this which have general application regardless of what you score.

The expectation you might have would be that all the shots went as intended, that every putt was holed and that every decision made was the right one. Frankly, No, No and No.

It wasn’t perfect; some way from in fact as there were a couple of poor shots and a couple of poor decisions. I missed long shots and not always safely. Had a horrid lie at 4 which I turned into a birdie, and having hit into gorse at 10 and taken a penalty drop had to hit the best iron of the day to save par.

The decisions on the tee at 10 and in the fairway at 12 were both wrong, but in both cases were rescued. Whilst I didn’t miss from 10/12 feet and closer there were good looks at birdie at 6, 8, 13 and, obviously, 18 which didn’t fall.

The only conclusion you can draw is that scoring well at golf doesn’t actually require your very best ball striking. Obvious, really, but not often enunciated in a world where everyone is seeking to be better, and better, and better. Which actually isn’t achievable. We all have finite resources of ability although we might not always test the limits of what we can achieve.

There was no question conditions were to my advantage. The heavy rain had made the greens receptive, and for the first half a dozen holes there was minimal wind. Even so, you have to go and play the shots and hole the putts.

The most important thing for me was the mental side. I am an emotional golfer; I get very much into what’s going on. I don’t always deal well with bad karma. Yet for this round I was calm and controlled throughout. I holed excellent putts from 3 to 10 feet on the first four holes, 2 for par, 2 for birdie, which served to get me focussed very strongly on what I was doing. I never got ahead of myself, but played a single shot at a time. That’s a surprise, not something I’m usually very good at.

There was never a moment of thinking “if I could just make birdie here, I could…….” Simply continued to play what was in front of me and only that shot. I may have had a strategy for each hole, but each shot was played and considered in order.

The really interesting thing is there was no anxiety. I never stopped to think about how far under par I was going. When I reached 6-under that was as low as I’d ever gone, but there was no pulling back. I wanted more, but somehow didn’t play shots that could be described as chasing it. I simply tried to hit the best shot I could under the circumstances and, again, just the shot in front of me after deciding the strategy for the forthcoming hole.

Swing rhythm was spot on from the start, but I’m also prepared to bet that the pre-shot routine was almost identical in content and time for every full shot. I wasn’t perpetually in a “zone” because I was chatting and bantering with my playing partners throughout, but the focus was absolutely there for every shot. Surprisingly, for me, external factors did not impinge on what I was doing.

There is no question that I played pretty well. But the reason for the score was that I won the mental game very convincingly on the day, backed up by some key shots at key moments. That mental win is the big takeaway.

And then there’s the round………..

The 1st is always a birdie chance, but equally there’s no shortage of noise and banter as you hit the opening tee shot in this school. Yet rhythm was there from the start. Nice 3-wood left a 60-yard pitch to the back of the green, which is where it had to go. 1st green is a bad night at sea; short of the flag would leave a horror downslope putt for the first of the day with no warm-up. Got it 12-foot past the hole, ideal, little touch of left to right and in it went. Col missed from a couple of foot closer; sign of things to come, bless him.

As an aside; one of the things about playing links golf is the genuine dynamism of the environment. 40 years ago that 1st green was a lot flatter than it is now, but the action of the sea on one side and the river estuary on the other is moving around the spit on which the course sits. Now the 1st has a pronounced dip front left and a big rise from there up to the front right, whilst the back edges have stayed pretty much where they were. Weird to watch happening over a lifetime. We have tees that were levelled in the last 20 years that are now rolling all over the place (for those who know Warren, 3 and 17 in particular).

Hit two irons to the dogleg 2nd followed by an utterly impoverished putt from 30 feet to leave a really nice nerve-settling 3½ footer for par, which dutifully disappeared. Col had hit 5-iron to about 10 foot and nailed it. Brian had an adventure involving a gorse bush and a tree, but still used his shot to get a point. Another under-cooked long putt at the par 3 3rd left a very unappetising 4 foot par putt, but again the putter behaved. 3, 4, 3. Nice start.

Tee shot at 4 was lost a bit right. 4 years ago I’d have been in gorse, but a wildfire destroyed two thirds of what used to be down there. Instead it’s now a mix of sand and ground hugging briar, in a bit of which my ball lay right by the 150-yard marker. Smashed it out to around 8-foot, which was a bonus, and the putt went dead centre.

I missed the 5th, 6th and 7th greens by a total of 11 inches. Nice 2-putt from 30 foot that started 4 inches onto the fringe at 5, had a 20-footer for birdie at 6 from 6 inches on the fringe which had a brief look at the top side on the way past, then spun a wedge back down the false front at 7 to be just off the surface with a pretty straight 20-footer up the slope. That went in, 3-under. Col, meanwhile, has hit it inside 15 foot on all three and made three pars. Not frustrated at all.

The 8th is just a magnificent par 3 that wouldn’t be out of place on any championship course in the country. Just under 200 yards, played with the river at your back towards the dune line. 2-tier pulpit green with a huge pot front left and two smaller ones front right. Oh, and gorse on either side wide. Green is 4 clubs long.

The breeze had started to pick up as we played 7. With the flag in the front third at 8 a solid 6-iron pitched into the green and spun back a few feet to leave a very holeable uphill 15-footer, which stayed high. Col is 35 foot away; never anywhere but in. Inevitably after the last 3 greens. Brian after a blob at 6 is starting a good run of 2-point/3-point holes.

Hit a massive tee shot up 9 to leave only a wedge to the 420-yard hole but misjudged it down the strengthening breeze and went 40 foot past the hole, promptly belted the uphill putt 5 foot past. Brian’s putt for par from a bit further away gave me a great read though. He missed, I didn’t. Out in 3-under 30.

Then the fun started. 10 is just a great but downright hard par 4. Gorse all the way up the left, two deep fairway bunkers up the right. It was playing down breeze, which took the bunkers out of play for me, but brought in the low-lying maram and heather beyond them. The 11th fairway running parallel offers a bailout option, but down breeze I’m going to be through that fairway and back into the heather/maram fun.

Should have throttled back and hit 3-wood, but stayed with driver, got all steery and succeeded in hitting it in a low-lying gorse patch just off the left side. Penalty drop. 175 to go, told myself to hit it close and give yourself a chance. 6-iron to 4 foot, par saved.

Big tee shot at the par 5 11th left me holding 1-iron driving iron for the into wind approach. There was a delay as we stood there and waited for a guy playing the 15th, utterly oblivious of anything else, who suddenly appeared out of the gorse behind the 11th green, walked around it to his ball by the front of the green and simply went on and played. That was a duff with a big divot, so he replaced that, then ambled across the front of the green, swished again with another huge divot resulting and eventually disappeared towards the 15th green. Frankly we were howling. I missed the green just left but a nice up and down gave me the birdie.

12th is awkward. A very short par 5 from a slightly elevated tee with a drive between a small pond and a bank of heather and gorse, but also across the line of the dogleg to the right unless you can hit a little fade with driver. Overcook that and you’ll have a poor lie and stance; under cook it and you’re wet. The green can be taken on, and sometimes with not much club. It’s a big target, but there are huge trees and gorse all the way down the right, a single line of trees to the left and a pond front right. The target is huge, but has three distinct levels. Long is dead. Be on the wrong part and putting is really interesting.

Hit a good 3-wood tee shot just short of pond-level, and in the fairway with the ball below my feet plus wind off the river on the left I fancied another faded 3-wood, peeling it off the trees to the front flag. Instead of which I pulled it left of the single line of trees into the heavy set-aside rough. Just as well since it was a poorly considered shot choice. Actually hit a provisional as we didn’t see a bounce. Found the original and hit what I would call a flop, but which was actually a gouge, up and over the trees onto the big slope in the middle of the green. That caught the ball, stopped it going too far and left a 12-footer for birdie, which I made.

13 is another par 3, playing alongside but in the opposite direction to the 8th but 30 yards shorter. Because of the wind it was the same club as at 8. The birdie putt from 20 feet was online and fractionally short of pace.

14 and 15 are short par 4s with no shortage of water, gorse and heather to contend with. For a start the river estuary is the right-hand side of both, and there are ponds by both greens. Wind was helpful though, so I ended up hitting driver at both. 14 wasn’t a great tee shot, in the rough 30-yards short of the green. The pitch which followed was nothing to write home about either, leaving me a double breaking 25-footer over a bank in the green with the last 8 foot downhill. Which went in. Serious bonus I thought. Little did I know what was to come.

My little donkey fade was perfect in the right to left wind at 15,playing around 285, and I hit a good one which I thought had caught the front left of the green. Visibility is a bit obscured from the tee as the hole turns slightly right and there’s gorse along the estuary bank. You can see the flag and a sliver of green, but not much more. As we walked up there was no ball visible on the green. Col was just in front, 30 yards short with his tee shot, no sign of mine.

There’s a hazard just off the left of the green. It’s an old bunker which has been allowed to return to nature as it simply flooded every winter. Now a water hazard, the bottom of it is toad rush and very unappealing. Dry in summer and somewhere between damp and flooded in the winter months. My ball had run across the edge of the green and then toppled down a small slope into the edge of this, but still on the grassy bit rather than the ugly stuff at the bottom. Lucky. I was only 18 or 20 feet from the flag, and although the lie was a bit iffy and I couldn’t ground the club felt I’d give myself an easy birdie try. I didn’t – I holed the damn thing for eagle!

Buzzing, I walked onto the par 3 16th tee genuinely thinking “3 birdies for 58; I can almost shoot my age” and promptly pulled a 6-iron left of the green, short side. It was the only time all day I was uncertain about club choice. I’d had 7 in my hand to start with, then changed up, and when I got to the ball it was also past flag high. Been right first up on the tee.

The lie was good, but it was on a downslope, pitching over a 3 foot high, 6 foot wide hump covered in rough onto a downslope with the green running away from me. 3 weeks ago I would have struggled to get it within 15 feet. This time I knew I was pitching into the wind, and that the greens were receptive after the torrential rain over previous days. But there was a bit of a delay whilst we waited for two groups of university students to exchange greetings on the adjacent 11th fairway.

Bless him, Col was trying to get them to quieten down, knowing how I was doing and that I sometimes have issues with butterflies roaring in an adjacent meadow. Didn’t bother me at all, which is a surprise, and with them happily jabbering in the background I opened the face of my 58 degree wedge and slid it under the ball throwing it up and over the bank onto the green.

I thought I’d made it. It pitched, took one bounce and then dug in and started rolling gently down the green. 2-foot out it looked in, then just took the bit of borrow as it slowed, had a glance over the low-side edge and stopped 2 feet past the hole.

Right then. Need a 3-3 finish. Hit 3 wood at 17, evidently a bit pumped (shock) as I left only 110 to the middle. But the flag was only 6 feet in from the back edge and going over there is dead. I was on a very tight piece of turf, with the wind helping. Low trajectory wedge for the middle yardage, hoping it would take a little skip forward. Got the middle green yardage alright, except it flicked forward and then spun back 20 feet. 17 paces short of the flag.

There’s a lot of movement in the right side of the 17th green, less so on the left where the flag was. A little movement out of the left and slightly uphill. I said to myself “this to keep the 59 alive” and hit the putt. It was going at least 4 foot past, but turned bang on line, hit the middle of the hole and disappeared. That did get a celebration.

The surprise walking to 18 tee was a complete lack of anxiety. The plan was only about how to give myself a chance to make 3. 3-wood to take the OB left and the rough covered dips and hollows in front of the clubhouse out of play, struck exactly where I wanted. Good controlled 8-iron from 145 flying straight at the target – with OB literally 4 feet off the putting surface you can’t be long.

Got a little unfortunate in that the shot pitched into an upslope and stopped very quickly, leaving me 25-foot slightly downhill and, it seemed, left to right. Picked the line I wanted and hit the putt right on it, but it didn’t turn; if anything it went slightly the other way as it reached the hole. Missed on the high side, and it rolled 2 feet past.

Then I was anxious! Never having completed a round bogey free this was the one I needed for that. Glad to report it disappeared without a problem.

Absolutely the round of my life. At the age of exactly 57½ I have reach a plus playing handicap for the first time ever. Which I find completely bizarre.