Friday: So soon after a great weekend in Hastings for the British Open but a lacklustre performance, a chance to start rectifying things on the course comes in the shape of the Worthing Open, back down in the homelands. Already this year, this is the fifth tournament in Sussex. I can understand why some people see the tour as a south east based affair. The truth is that many that play the tour are from the south east. I was once but will always do my best to support it, wherever the putting may occur. I late missed an event back in November 2014, the day I moved house to East Anglia.
I escape work an hour early and setting off at 4.35 pm, Iíve got half a chance of getting a few beers in. The M25 has other ideas as it is closed for several hours on the approach to the Dartford Crossing. The other way round is twenty miles longer and concertinaing. It takes me four hours, giving me a chance to eye up the other drivers while sat in my aluminium box, listening to dance music. After arriving to a homemade courgette quiche and vegetables, I take my parents out to the local micropub, where last week, we won the pub quiz. My dad is delighted that they have just got one of his favourite ales of all time on. Two rounds of drinks cost £5.75. I bump into a barmaid from a pub I used to drink in when I lived here. I close the night off with a drink in the summer house, lovingly poured by dad. I collapse into bed.
Saturday: The alarm goes off but Iím struggling today. Woken up with a heck of a head cold. No point looking for sympathy, Iíve got a fried breakfast to eat. Mum drops me to Splash Point, the course where I first set out on my minigolf odyssey. Adrian and Mark have already arrived and the owner, Ant, is setting out the obstacles. Iíve always loved Splash Point. Itís a genuine challenge and requires no end of skill along with some good fortune. It sharpens up your second putts. I owe it so much. I spend a couple of hours renewing my notes and trying some different lines out, just in case I find something. Mark shows me how to play the side wall shot on eleven. Iíve always wondered how it worked but crack it after a few goes. Around 1 pm, I saunter into town along the seafront for some lunch. Iíve been away nearly three years and now, I no longer recognise anyone. Probably, if my family werenít here and there were no tournaments, Iíd have very little reason to return. Too many bad life memories.
Early afternoon signifies the arrival of everyone. It is clear that last weekendís exploits are going to deplete numbers, which is a real shame. Fifteen people is still reasonable but about ten down on last year. The field is still of a high quality and it will be hard to pick a winner. Tiger gets a ticking off from Ant during practice for launching a flagstick several yards after it keeps his ball out at the first. Practice for some is more than that. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with whoever wants to know. Luckily for me, my best mate Steve has decided to take part as well. I spend an hour teaching him how to play the course with just a golf ball. It takes a brave man to take on Splash Point with just a golf ball. Itís good to have Steve back playing again after fifteen months off the tour.
Shortly before 5 pm, Ant calls us off the course for the briefest of rules briefings. The good news is the cheap bar at the rowing club is ours for the night. The keep the process moving fast, the groups are split into duos with one threeball. My partner is Marion Hartley, my minigolf Ďmumí. Itís always fun in our group. Marion is a very positive person. I make a bad start and quickly find myself three over. Slowly, surely, I draw it back and then hit a run, ending the round with a 33. Included in the barrage of aces is one at the tenth. For reasons unknown, I have the Indian sign over this hole. It is one of the hardest lanes to get not only on the course but in the country. Coming into this event, the previous two competitions here have given up six aces at the tenth. I had five of them. If you add in a practice shot I made back at the Masters, my record is six out of eight. Now, seven out of nine. After round one, James leads by two from myself and Dave Donnelly.
We head to the bar for a break, I grab an orange juice. The second round begins and I spot my parents sat on a bench. Despite them being there for about six minutes, I make three aces in that time. Including the tenth again. I start laughing. The formula is as it always has been. Tee far right, Kent Decade ball, hit the twelfth brick on the left, play it firm enough to get up the slope passing the rock on the right by about six inches to go down the slope and rebound off the wall by the hole. Simple, huh? There you go, Iíve given you the secret recipe. Iíve played well this round but find myself trying to keep under control for the last few shots. Although I survive with a 31 and take the lead by two from Paul Preston, Iíve stopped enjoying it. For the first time in my putting career, I have anxiety. This is something I have battled with for a couple of years but I have never dealt with this in a tournament. I tell no one.
With the groups reordered, Iím with Paul, my former vice captain, and James. A two shot lead around here is nothing. It starts well with back to back aces. Hole five leaves me a straight forward two foot putt which I miss to the left. I make such a mess of it that with the undulations, Iím ten feet away. I becomes a four, wiping out my start. I become aware of Nuno on a charge and I tense up. My putts are being left short, the length of time over the ball even shorter and Iím dreading the volcano. Even now, Iíve no idea how I made it, just jabbed it forward and it fell. Iím still hanging in there but my head feels terrible. I get to the tenth. It rattles in. I drop my putter and run towards the hordes of fans watching. I open my eyes and remember there is no one watching. My record here is 9 out of 11.
Maybe Iíve steadied the ship. For a fleeting moment, everything is normal again. Iím still leading. Iím playing minigolf, the sport I love. The next three holes smack that out of me, culminating in the pipe hole. This cost me the title when it was still the Splash Point Open with a double bounce out. History repeats. My putter feels like putting with an asp. I wish I knew why this is happening. James and Nuno draw level with me. I leave fifteen chronically short but not as short as James. He hits possibly the best putt Iíve seen all year. I also make from five feet. I breathe heavily. Sixteen is a good one for me, a solid and safe two. Ahead, Nuno takes the lead aceing the last (although he still has to play the first three) and realistically, itís gone. Seventeen hits the wrong brick but gets close. Eighteen hits a brick where it shouldnít have at all. I end up with a three. One behind James and a further one behind Nuno. Iíve blown it. Stupid anxiety.
Within five minutes and a beer in hand, Iím back to my normal self. I congratulate Nuno, who is here with his heavily pregnant wife, Sofia. Nuno wonít be playing much for the foreseeable future as fatherhood dawns and weíre going to miss him. His first tournament was the same as mine, the 2013 British Masters and weíve become great friends since. We won the Doubles last year and I will always hold a place in my heart dear for Nuno and Sofia. Everyone wishes them well. After the prizes, I head out with Steve to the Royal Oak pub for a wind down. He drops me to Pizza Hut on the way home. And with that, itís done for the day. I reflect on having missed out on nine titles having led at some point at the end of a round, the only one I won, I came from behind to do so. Itís been a great day, well organised. I just wish I could have enjoyed myself while involved in it.