I thought about whether I wanted to produce this blog today. Since I started working for Minigolfnews fifteen months, Iíve had a large number of highs. Winning a title, a very successful World Crazy Golf Championships, two foreign trips. There have been lows and I have briefly touched upon those. In the spirit of cathartic healing, I will talk about what happened on Sunday. For sure, it wasnít all bad, for the most part, it was another great weekend away. Doing what I love. Minigolf.
Saturday: The season is Britain is winding down. We are plucky souls and in all honesty, it never stops, it just means we put more clothes on. Iím up around three hours before my alarm and struggle to get back to sleep. This weekend will be spent in the Midlands at the most northernmost port of call on the tour, Nottingham. When I do play here, it is normally expensive, with my car dying on the way to the course last year and my laptop and hard drive crashing just before I came up in March. Iím praying that nothing else can go wrong. Iím off to collect my teammate, Ed, who lives around forty minutes from the course in Leicester. I pick him up and our traditional game of Kisstory Bingo starts. I donít fancy my chances as Iíve already heard five of the artists on my bingo card on the way over. By the time we get parked up, Iím one nil down.
We stop for tea outside the course and meet Rocky, Ruth and Steve. The Lost City set up in Nottingham can get exceptionally busy so weíre grateful the owners have given us a two hour private session before the public are unleashed like zombies. Ed and myself have both highlighted certain holes we want to try new shots and angles on and work together. This is probably the first time I can get Edís opinion on shot selection. Heís still fairly new on the scene but has played Nottingham superbly before, finishing third in the English Open. Practice goes very well, skipping through the holes breezily. We agree not to move on until weíre both happy that we have the right shot in the locker.
We manage to squeeze three rounds in, two amongst the public, who ask the familiar selection of lines with the usual mix of bewilderment and intrigue. The best way to demonstrate how minigolf and the equipment we own works is to play minigolf. Fortunately, we both have one good round each, I get a 29, Ed a 27. On the way out, we pass around thirty people in the queue, waiting to play on one of the two tracks. It is time to go. We grab a Subway and hit ĎThe Donkey Shopí (get Dave Gomm to explain that), reflecting on what had been a productive morning. The plan for the rest of the day was to head back to Leicester with Kisstory on, I go two nil down, and take it from there.
After a freshen up, we wander down to Edís local pub, which is not a patch on any of the ones that the Planet Hastings club have been frequenting. Only the one pint here, waiting for the football results to come in. Our trip to ĎThe Donkey Shopí would not line our pockets with silver, bronze, paper or magic beans. From there, we have a large selection of eateries nearby and plump for Pizza Hut. I demonstrate to Ed how to stack a bowl from the salad bar, although they have taken away my main tool of celery. The rest of the night would be spent back at Edís, introducing him to the world of Sporcle, a quiz website. The highlight of the night was being able recite the lyrics to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Who says youth is wasted on the young, weíve got this. Before too long, itís time for bed. I pass out on the sofa, wondering if my mobile phone will remember that the clocks go back overnight
Sunday: It does remember, and Iím awake at 4.20 am to make sure. I spend the next few hours, stirring, waiting for another chance at glory on the minigolf circuit. Firstly, itís the second half of Kisstory Bingo. Unbelievably, I turn a deficit into a lead. Iím four two up. This really buoyed me up. As we enter the course, I look over the balcony to see Michael, back for his first tournament this year. Looking at the field, although itís not large at just seventeen competitors, the standard is very high. It is going to have to take something very special to compete here today. I donít practice too hard, Iím also on scoring duties so I take five minutes just checking the electrics and setting up.
My partner for the first two rounds is Matty Exall, who was in my group for day one of the World Crazies. A good omen. We get underway on hole six, one of the tougher lanes here. I make a shaky start, clipping the rock on the left before making a long putt for par. I donít make my first ace until the tenth, with Matty playing well beyond his years. Wondering when my round was going to take off, it does with five in a row from the thirteenth. It isnít as consistent as I would like it but Iím happily taking a 30. Matty bags his lowest ever round with a 33. Iím delighted for him, just one blemish and he was unlucky on that. Back at the scoring centre, there are some impressive numbers being posted. Andy Wilde hits a 27, Rocky Bullin a 28. These are both lifetime bests. Iím one clear of both of the favourites, Michael and Adam. The tournament is shaping up to be a slugfest.
As most groups were in twoballs, there is swiftness in the morning, which suits me. We start on hole fourteen and if I can match the last round, Iíll get a head start. It doesnít quite happen, seemingly getting a number of holes I hadnít previously and vice versa. Both of our progress is steady, just falling short of where I thought I might be. Just before the close of the round, I light up hitting a tricky hat trick. Although I didnít putt that well, I get some good breaks and take a 28. Iím surprised it was that low. Matty putts a 37 but he is improving with every tournament. His control and pace of putt is becoming significantly better every time I see him play. Meanwhile, word has got around that the course record has gone. Itís Rocky. Itís 26. Thatís astonishing. Yes. The course at Nottingham does lend itself to a bag full of aces but you still have to hit them sweet. Iím fourteen under for the day and four off the lead in second. Itís going to take some effort for anyone to catch him on that kind of run.
The waiting game begins as the group are called out in reverse order. Iíll be out last with Rocky, while the field masses behind me. At the back of my mind is doubt. Realistically, I need to play the round of my life to win this so I just want to put the pressure on and maybe win the twoball. The reality is that recently, I have had all kinds of jitters, catastrophes and mishaps in the final round. I will be satisfied if I can, for once, just keep myself together, putting straight without tightness and drama.
Rocky makes the better start but by the fifth, we have both got to three under. From then on, I slip into the anxiety garment. It just appears. My body, my muscles, my hands, my heads, all at once forget how to putt. My tee shot on the sixth is, beyond all doubt, the worst shot I have ever hit in my life. Iím afraid to look up to see the end result on the sixth. When I do, it isnít good, stuck behind the rock. I decide to take the three but play my next way too fast, falling off the plateau. I smack my leg hard in disgust. By now, my head is telling me the hole is the size of a contact lens. I miss again before settling for a four. Thoroughly rotten. Although the next few holes are taken in par, my aim has gone. The seventh is about as straight forward as it gets. I canít even hit the saucer, which is over two feet wide. The eighth is passable. The ninth is woefully. All the time, Iím talking to myself, cursing internally to what the hell Iím playing at. I try slowing my breathing down, I try loosening my shoulders. Nothing is working. I feel so troubled, so much so that by the time we play the twelfth, Rocky has to tell me that the side flipper on the wall isnít moving like it should be. He is right. I am so flustered by now, I didnít even notice this.
The rest of my round is a mess. I donít entirely know how I scored a 36, by now, this just looked like numbers on a card. Rocky has been superb, only dropping his first shot of the tournament at the eighth. Without knowing what is going on ahead, he has to remain focused, knocking in the odd hole in one. He closes the round out by making the final four cups in a row for a 29. I am the only witness to his victory. He is the only witness to my utter dismemberment. I congratulate him with a hug, a big smile and a firm handshake on his first win in over eleven years. I head up the escalator and for the first time ever, the thought crosses my mind.
Is minigolf worth the personal anguish of the exposed anxiety of the last year?
I slump over my laptop, inputting and cross referencing the scores to find I have dropped down to fifth. Normally, I would be happy with that kind of position but with the last half an hour still fresh in the memory, I canít muster any kind of emotion other than disappointment. All I want to do is get home and hide under the duvet. Clearly, I am not going to be much company for the rest of the week, let alone the end of the day. The post event meeting point in Nottingham is the Three Crowns, which do a great carvery. Henri, who is waiting for his bus back to Yorkshire, joins myself and Ed. Iím delighted that he leaves his parsnips, which I polish off. On the way back to Leicester, I barely say a word, hardly acknowledging my triumph at Kisstory Bingo by four to three. I drive back to my house, only saying the word Ďyesí when Brighton score. On the whole, it has been a thoroughly great weekend. I wouldnít miss this for anything but I really need help to overcome the anxiety. This is hurting me, affecting other aspects of my life. I am fighting one of the toughest battles and that will reconvene in a fortnight down in Kent.