Friday: “I’m off the Cardiff tonight so I’ll be finished for 5pm,” I said to my boss as I loaded the quad bike on for work. “No worries,” Chris replied. “You can go at 4pm if you want.” I didn’t need a second invitation to leave early. A few hours around the fields of Northamptonshire and a quick shower, I was heading to Wales in Friday evening traffic. My soundtrack was the new phenomena, The Minigolf Podcast, hosted by Marc Chapman, his partner Philippa and myself. The reviews have been great, even if I do say so. The journey was fairly steady until I hit Newport and the M4, which had been the star attraction of the travel report for a few hours. Unfortunately, there is just no way around it so I inched my way to the capital.
Tired from nearly five hours behind the wheel and a day in the fresh air, I wasn’t planning on going out but at nearly 9.30pm and checked in, I decided to have one beer. I called Martyn up to find out he was in a pub five minutes away and it was £2.50 a pint. Well, who’s counting, and it would guarantee I would sleep until the alarm. I met up with Martyn, Simon and Ted as well as a couple of entrants in the Saturday event, the Cardiff Open, Chris and Ashleigh. I’m glad I made the effort. At the end of the night, I went back to the room, which set the record for the smallest room I have ever stayed in. Tomorrow, it would have Ed staying in the top bunk. I’ve never been one for extravagance on the tour as I’m only there to sleep but this was a new low. To be fair, the bed was comfortable and I slept well.
Saturday: Woke up, won some free spins on the betting website and collected around £8 for nothing. A good sign for the next two days, I thought. The complex for the Sunday event, the Welsh Open, is right above the main shopping centre in the heart of Cardiff and we had the course at Treetops to ourselves until midday. I wanted to continue on my form from the British Open, where I had surprised myself to reach third. I just use practice for just that. No point posting a score if it doesn’t count. I’m all about nailing down the lines and ball choices, all the really mundane stuff that I seem to enjoy. There are a few entrants who have made their way up to the third floor of St. David’s, with a few choosing to head to the other venue for the afternoon competition. With two titles up for grabs and some of the main names missing, I saw this as a chance to take a title or two.
I get to 11am, satisfied that three hours work will be sufficient. I got into the car and headed to Tee-Rex Adventure Golf on the outskirts of the city and under the motorway. Both courses are about as different as could be. Treetops has smooth borders, Tee-Rex does not. I had some experience here last year, winning the Welsh Invitational last year, nine days after my mum died. Tee-Rex will always be special. Rumours had been circulating for weeks that Martyn had gathered an enormous field for the 2pm start. “I want to get the largest one day event field ever,” he had boldly stated months before. He sure did that. A new mark of 47 was set, at one point it was over fifty.
Ed finally joined us around midday and we worked together, along with a few locals, about cracking the course. I had one eye on the football from Brighton, where we were taking apart Spurs. Looking about the place, I had rarely seen a course this busy for an event before. The Welsh club had really given the tour a lift and for me, this was justification as to why we should visit. I was drawn with two novices, Giles and James. Others about the place had tried to ramp up the pressure on me by stating how I was the favourite for both competitions, but I’d throw it back on selected targets. I’d never really done mind games before but I thought now was a good time to try some out. Of the two in my group, James seemed fairly competent and made a couple of quickfire aces. The joy etched on his face reminded me of why we take part. The chance of success is there every couple of minutes. Giles needed a bit more coaxing and appeared to have very little putting experience at all. I made sure that both would enjoy the day and hope they would come back for future events. I did break the ice by suggesting we crossed the lake by the pulley raft, which they agreed to.
My opening round was a one over 37. It’s a decent score as the length of some of the holes, as well as the unpredictable nature of the course, I knew I would be there or about with another two like that. Simon had taken my course record with a 33. Records are made to be broken, unless it’s the women’s 800 metres record, which may never get beaten. Round two and the clouds gathered to deliver a misty drizzle. I took a double bogey at the third but fought back to one under for the round. Our last hole was the 17th and I missed a simple putt, which cost me a further two shots. Looking as the scores were coming in, that putt would cost me a share of the lead, held by four people. Ed, Andy, Andrew and Simon. We knew it would be close here but with ten entrants within four shots, betting on the result of this is the one thing I wouldn’t be doing.
I knew I had to get going early in the last round but that honour went to Simon, who stormed off with two quick aces. Seve, our other playing partner, was very consistent. My round was going great, if the aim of the game was to put the ball within six inches of the cup. All but three of the putts for the round did this. It was the best 38 I’ve ever hit. Simon let his fine start slip away as the pressure built up. With the final group approaching the closing holes and Seve in a clubhouse lead, there was a real feeling of a new tour winner being crowned. My teammate Ed had sneaked in front. I joined them at the tough 15th, just in time to give Ed a read on a seven foot putt, which he confidently struck in the heart of the cup. If he was nervous, it wasn’t showing. Ed played the closing three holes so well and picked up his first title. As his captain, I felt relief he finally had got over the line. Ed admitted that the weight had lifted. We drove back into the city for a celebratory burger and a couple of brews at the Rummer Tavern. In truth, we were both feeling our age so called it a night to watch Match Of The Day. For once, I would get home for the game.
Sunday: As we left the room, I had to remind Ed to bring his trophy with him. It was a beautiful piece and there was a fair chance that it wouldn’t be the only one. We grabbed breakfast from the local supermarket in amongst the hordes for the Cardiff Half Marathon. A few of yesterday’s crowd were running but we managed to win over some others to go putting once again. I was back in an organisational role today, which I have learned to balance well with taking part. With everything set up, I knock a few balls around to get the pace right and make sure my eye is in. Helen is my partner for the first couple of rounds, someone who started playing in same year I did. I enquire about how her daughter’s arm was doing as Emily had broken it on holiday.
I didn’t have great memories from the last couple of years of the Welsh Open. Last year, I didn’t feel like playing. The year before, I blew a three shot lead on one hole. All I was hoping was to exorcise the demons this time around. In round one, the hole I blew the lead on cost me a shot but I played well with a touch of good fortune on the tunnel hole, just making the tunnel in the first place before the ball trickled in the hole. I had a share of the lead with Andy, although the real story was a shot back as Mr and Mrs Skinner were seriously contending. As I inputted the scores, Scott nudged me, pointing towards the office and the silverware. “Do you reckon that’s the trophy? It’s huge.” I glanced up. Wow. It’s like a foot spa.
Round two summed a lot of what I’ve done this year. In 2019, I’ve made a bucketful of aces but melded in with the occasional drop. My head says that if I’ve found a way to get the hole in one, then you should go for it. My last few tournaments had now told me that I am better when showing controlled aggression, which leads to an entertaining watch. After exchanging aces and drops, my plan worked. I made six out of eight. I was aware that Andy was making a move too and it was the most animated I’d seen him. I was asked how I think he was doing. “I’ll let you know at the end of the round.” I took one look at him as he took his last putt and said “31”. Indeed, Andy had matched my score of 31. We were now two clear of Seve, who is harder to read, but had to be respected on his home course. He clubbed a best of the day at 30.
Going into the last round, I felt really good. I’m not sure if anyone can audibly hear me during a round but I quietly sing to myself. A lot of depends on what mood I’m in and today was some of Keane’s latest work. It was Blur at Hastings last time out. I don’t take requests, by the way. My opening tee shot was off but a fortuitous roll over the right crest took it back to the hole and in. I’d need that as it was Seve, not Andy, where the greatest threat lay. Andy struggled for form but Seve was clearly relishing the challenge. Twelve months ago, Seve suffered an agonising sudden death loss to Ruth and simply was looking to avenge that. Whatever I did, he had the answer and I couldn’t shake him. I thought I finally put the dagger in by completing a hat-trick of aces at the 13th and took a safe two at the next on the platform, claiming “redemption” as it fell in.
Seve wasn’t done yet, bagging the 15th, followed by Andy. For some reason, I just knew mine was going in as well and it did. Two up, three to play. From the 16th tee, you can see the finish line and it looked even closer with another par. Seve then aced the next and I finally started to feel the tension. Another platform hole, I missed left which is almost an automatic dropped shot. Remarkably, it stayed on the level of the cup by around a quarter of an inch. I even tested it after, the width of my little toe was the difference. I kissed the felt. My lead was down to one. Seve brushed the right edge of the cup for his par. Andy closed with an ace. I needed a two on a beast of a closing hole. A platform hole with around three feet to play with to have a chance. My shoulders were no longer loose. As the field gathered to take in my glorious moment, I kept it interesting by being short. No worries, just roll it up the slope and you’re Welsh Open Champion. An inch short.
At that moment, all the pressure left me. Although I was in a playoff with Seve, I wanted it. Seve was still looking for his first victory, and it will come. Just not today. I placed my ball down, told myself don’t be short and looked at the cup. It was large in my eyes. I looked back down and played the perfect line, celebrating with a bellow. I was willing Seve to take it to further holes as he deserved it but alas, it was not to be. I am now a four time tour winner. I consoled Seve, telling him he was too good to not win an event. As far as I’m concerned, Seve will be the next new winner on tour. When it came to the speech, I struggled with it. I broke down. The thought of mum, who would be the first person I would speak post event, is still strong with me. I said I would ask dad if he would build a cabinet for the trophy. I need to hit the weights to lift it. Afterwards, myself and Ed compared awards. “My one’s bigger than your one,” I childishly sang at him, which prompted some laughter. The journey home was far better, arriving home in daylight. Cardiff will always remain a place of special memories and I made some more over that weekend.
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