Saturday: The weather in Britain had been nothing short of terrible in recent weeks but if history was anything to go by, the second Sunday in November would be dry. The bright sunshine I left the house for the Kent Open in was replaced an hour later by a blanket of fog. This gave me a chance to vent any anger I had to all the drivers who failed to put their lights on. I only wish it was a couple of them. It was hundreds. By the time I arrived at Sidcup around 9am, it had cleared completely and so I got on with the practice. Martin was already there, and it was good to catch up.
The beauty of playing the Kent Open is only having to learn the lines due to the specific ball used for the tournament. For those into statistics, I know I am, the ball data is 30 centimetres, 50 shore and 70 grams, so one of my heavier ones that I own. It doesn’t take me long to pick up the pace again, especially on some of the longer holes. Sidcup is, in itself, a true test of putting. Cameron Fincher, the youngest member on the tour described it as a golfer’s course and he’s spot on. With almost all of cups being made of metal, it rewards those who can find the centre of the cup over the edge more here.
After three and a bit hours, I pause for lunch. A few others have arrived for the first event of the weekend, the Kent Invitational, which is two rounds split into four lots of nine holes and a different ball on each nine. Sean had decided to bring the tournament forward an hour due to the standard inclement amount of rain due to hit late afternoon. For the first round, Simon and Adrian were in my group. I’m up to four layers of clothing to battle the chill. I pick up a couple of aces in a row on five and six but Simon was a model of consistency. My big mistake was to try and deadweight the 14th, a long fifty foot uphill putt, with a small platform area to keep the ball safe. I underhit the ball twice before hitting a four. I finish with a 36, one back from Simon. We’re in the same three ball for the final round and with the two of us at least three clear, we will likely be winner and runner up. But what order.
Simon makes an inconsistent beginning but is still one ahead by the seventh. I employ some mind games by leaving my putt here short by a couple of feet, making out that the felt had slowed up. Simon shot past the hole and although nearly made an absolute prayer from the back of the green, I drew level. I make ten and fifteen, although Simon answers back at fifteen too. After making the penultimate hole for a two, Simon has to attempt to make the volcano in one. He doesn’t but it’s a great effort from the Scotsman. I pick up my third Kent title after previously winning the Easter Eggstravaganza and Cup Cake Classic. Although their weren’t many here for the Invitational, it had been a fine way to spend the afternoon and I was putting well to boot.
With the rain arriving, myself and Derek head off to the local Fawlty Towers, the Ruxley Rooms. The television remote control had been stolen by the previous occupant, the hotelier couldn’t find the room key, the shower couldn’t get hot no matter which way you turned the handle. Getting a room on the tour is always part of the adventure. Before long, we’re off to the pub for food and the odd beverage, where we were entertained by a toddler on the neighbouring table. Simon joined us on a tour of downtown Bexley and Sidcup and its hostelries as we reflected on the tour for the season, photos of the Skinners attempting to play a now flooded course and the singer in the Alma pub, who had her own special form of distraction. Wowsers.
Sunday: “It’s been snowing outside,” says a shocked Derek, as I return from the toilet around 5am. “No, it’s just the street lighting,” I reply. I got back to sleep. A big day was ahead. There was a large field and the home club provided four of the strongest putters the tour has seen in Sean, Adam, Marc and Tony. It was a good test to see where my game was at. On the way to the course, I call up Ed to see how far he is away. As he’s bringing a passenger, he is for once on time. The passenger is James, our newest recruit at the Wasps. He’s confident but willing to learn too. I think we’ve acquired a good one. The rain from yesterday had marginally slowed the course down, more so where the sun hadn’t hit the felt yet. A couple of members of staff were on leaf blowing and shovelling duties. It was certainly playable.
Thirty-six were entered and my group for the first two rounds were Laura and Brian. A good threeball for me, both are good to be around and also improving too, which is always inspiring to see. Starting on the 12th, I embarked on ten straight pars. My radar was well and truly in by this point, with my furthest putt being around two feet. I picked up a pair at four and five, as well as a bonus ace on eleven for an opening 33 and a share of the lead with Martin. Between the first and second round, we paused with the rest of the nation to observe two minutes silence for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s always moving, knowing also that some amongst us had served their country with pride and dignity. In round two, we started on the 4th and my playing partners had started well. Laura made her first ace at the ninth and Brian immediately followed in. “That’ll put the pressure on,” he said. I couldn’t match it. The following hole, I made my first error, clubbing my tee shot into an impossible position. A similar mistake on the second gave me a level par round of 36, one back from Martin. Ten people were within five shots and Sidcup was living up to the reputation of being an exceptionally exciting course to watch a tournament at. I’m sure a few players were having less fun playing.
Honestly, I hadn’t been paying too much attention as to how the leaderboard was shaping up and the names that were in close attendance. I think my mindset now, considering how well this year has gone, is to look forward and set a target for others to beat. Two years ago, I was wildly different. I would get nervous the closer I got to the top, my stroke would collapse at the click of your fingers. Joining myself and Martin was Tony, I wished them both luck and if either of them won, I would be happy for them, as neither of them had won a tour event before. Tony got off to the fast start, making a hattrick from the second to the fourth. He approached the fifth, probably one of the easiest holes on the course. I thought if he got that one, he may be out of sight at three clear. Tony missed a short second shot and it was wide open again.
Martin was next to make a move with an ace at the tricky sixth, I responded with one at the next. This meant we were all level on four under and we all knew it. After the ninth, we checked the card of the group in front to find no one was on a charge. I tensed up on the tricky uphill tenth and left it short by around four feet, missing the par putt. I’ll be putting in some work there next year. I got it right back on eleven with an exocet to the back of the cup, bellowing out so loud, I made the family on the next course jump. I immediately apologised. Tony fought back at the next, only for the cruellest of luck on the triple pipe, where his ball stayed on the top level. I hadn’t seen that happen for years. At this point, no one in the lead group was heading the event, or the group behind. Unbeknownst to any of us, Andy was one clear at five under.
On the 15th, I took the lead with an ace with the deadweight putt between the rocks. In my head, a mistake free closing would give me the trophy. At the volcano, Tony decides to go for broke and takes a five. Recalling what happened to me in the Masters back in March, where I took a four, I take a few deep breaths and roll the ball to the bottom of the hill. I walk away, looking up at the blue skies, searching for some sort of composure. I steady myself long enough to make the two, believing I was about to win, I punch the air. “Andy made a 30”, says his brother Terry. My GCSE mathematics kicked in immediately and I knew I was one behind. I simply couldn’t believe how it was possible. “Andy made the last two.” That’s almost impossible, but not today.
As I teed off on the last, I encouraged everyone waiting by the well next to the hole to blow as hard as they could as my shot was unlikely to get the bounce needed to return to the cup. The ball sped up and passed the bridge, I knew my attempt would be more Huddersfield ’19 rather than Leicester ’16. I came up one shot shy. After making the two, I strode over to Andy to congratulate him. Although I would have loved to have won, if you get beaten by a sensational effort, you have to stand there and applaud. It had been nearly ten years since Andy had won on tour. “I’m glad I got to finally witness one rather than read about it in a history book, mate.” We both laughed. I’m not the greatest fan of a one ball competition as I feel that part of the skill of minigolf is the choice of ball. What you get with the Kent Open, especially this year, is top level pressure and an incredible competition to be a part of. Four different outright leaders at some point in the final round, not knowing the outcome until the penultimate putt. Days like this does the minigolfer live for, the 2019 Kent Open will truly be one for the ages.
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