“My blood is too thick for California: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate.” ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
With temperatures in the high 80s/low 90s, the quote above came to mind as this New Englander tried to deal with the South Carolina heat during the opening days of U.S. Open practice this week. What’s worse is that the forecast for Friday is high 90s and potential record breaking temperatures, so I guess I’m happy I will have had some time to acclimate to the weather, coming from a place where it was cold enough to snow just a week beforehand.
As I was working on writing this I realized that it’s hard to accurately describe what a major miniature golf tournament week is like. You get pulled so far out of reality that, if you haven’t experienced it, it’s probably hard to get a feel for it just by reading my blog. I left my house before 6am on Monday morning (after a late night enjoying the ending of Game of Thrones – the last real touch point I’ve had with culture this week) with my traveling buddy, Mark “The Highlighter” Novicki. Six hours later we had been through a flight, checked into the hotel and were already at Mr. Putty’s Fun Park to start our U.S. Open practice. We didn’t even bother to get lunch yet before we start putting in the first of our “test rounds” on the course – essentially playing the course blind a couple of times before we started to work out the holes and take advice from others. From there on out it was day upon day of waking up, eating breakfast, playing minigolf, eating lunch, playing minigolf, eating dinner and sleeping. There wasn’t much time for anything else from the outside world to push its way into the solitary goal of conquering a miniature golf course.
Going into this tournament, I was trying to figure out what my practice strategy was going to be. I knew charting holes would be important but I also am a big fan of just playing one-ball rounds as well. The one-ball rounds are the best at simulating what a tournament round will be like since you don’t get a chance to hit the same shot repeatedly during a tournament. In the end I did a little bit of everything based on what was going on at the course during the day. Because it was still open to the public there were times where playing one-ball rounds weren’t practical so I defaulted to hitting up some random holes between the crowds, or Mark and I would play some “two-ball” rounds to maximize hits but not focus on score. In the end though, over 3 and ½ days of practice I did log 33 of practice rounds where I “officially” kept score.
My initial reaction upon playing the course was that there were a couple of holes that were solid ace holes, a few that had the potential to really bite you and a whole lot where you needed to be consistently on your game so you ground out deuces. A couple of days later and my thoughts are still the same. Holes 1, 9, 10, 18 are very aceable with holes 11 and 13 a solid shot as well. Holes 5, 6, 12, 15, 17 all have a chance to drop an ace or two throughout the tournament and the rest are just grinding holes. In the Minigolfnews pre-tournament interview the course owner mentioned holes 3 and 15 as the ones the pros might struggle with the most given the angles. I would agree that those two holes are the most technically challenging on the course, with hole 3 probably being the toughest in terms of getting the right tee shot. I personally have not made friends with that hole and at one point in a conversation I suggested maybe I should bring it flowers to persuade it to be a bit nicer to me when it comes to the tee shot – a tough bank off the left bricks with a rough angle towards the hole.
Overall, I was happy with how my scores and shots progressed over the many days of practice, finally culminating in a 33 and 34 back-to-back this afternoon. I got comfortable with my new putter, and its rubber face, but there are still a couple of shots where I don’t have the same confidence as I would my old putter. By the time 5pm rolled around on Friday, I made sure to finish with an ace on 18 and walked away, vowing not to putt again until Friday morning, which was possible because I wasn’t playing in the Pro-Am that night. Speaking of the Pro-Am, there were a couple of big names that came to play: NASCAR driver Todd Bodine and Red Sox Left Fielder Mike Greenwell, which was really cool seeing as I grew up watching Mr. Greenwell playing the Green Monster in Boston. It was fun to have a bit of a break to enjoy an adult beverage and watch some putting versus being out there grinding another round out.
My favorite part of the week though may have been the conversation with Dr. Brad Lebo and Nate Nichols about how they were looking penguins up and wanted to know what hunted penguins. Despite Nate and I thinking it was killer whales, it’s actually seals and whales eat seals. This led to the discussion that Brad was the shanking seal and Nate the winning whale. You don’t get quality conversation like this around the water cooler folks – you need to be out there on the minigolf course after 4 days of heat and close to 1000 putts taken. It’s one of the many reasons I love minigolf tournaments outside of the actual putting.
My predications/lines for the tournament:
- Someone will shoot a 31 during the tournament (and I don’t think 30 is out of the question but I’m not confident enough to put it as a prediction).
- Mark predicts he will get an ace on hole 5 (the 111 foot hole) at least once in the ten rounds. I think he has a pretty good chance at that given his practice rounds.
- I’m putting the over/under for the winner at 345 for the ten rounds. I’m tempted to take the over, but I think there is a chance it will be under.
- I’m setting my target goal at 365 for the tournament. I don’t know how that will finish but I’d be happy with that average on this course.
- I plan on cashing (and so does Mark)
- I will ace both hole 1 and hole 18 at least 50% of the time during this tournament. I feel pretty confident on those holes.
- There will be no more than 5 strokes between first and second place (courtesy of Mark).
- Winning odds:
o Greg Newport: 3 to 1 – Master’s champion, always in contention for majors
o Olivia Prokopova: 4 to 1 – Multiple major champions, always a threat to win the U.S.
o Rainey Statum: 5 to 1 – Reigning U.S. Open champion, solid putter all round
o Tony Varnadore: 6 to 1 – Master’s champ (and one of Mark’s picks to win)
o Danny McCaslin, Matt McCaslin, Randy Reeves, Brad Lebo: 7 to 1 – all know how to win
major tournaments and could be in their element on this course
o Rick Culverhouse, Gary Hester, Joey Graybeal: 10 to 1 – good players having some good
rounds in practice.
o The Field: 15 to 1 – the course will bring the scores close and it won’t take much for
someone to jump to the top of the leaderboard. I don’t expect there to be much in the
way of longshots among the best players on the board.
o 8 to 1 we get a first-time winner. It might be a little low because of the pedigree in the
field when it comes to U.S. Opens, but I think it’s the right odds given who hasn’t won as