Before going into this post too deep, I want to start with a few words of thanks so they don’t get forgotten by the end of the post. This is also going to be an extremely long post and I couldn’t figure out how best to break it into two, so buckle up.
My first World Adventure Golf Masters (WAGM), and first chance to represent America on a world stage in anything, was one of the most special events in not only my miniature golf career but indeed my life. I hope to have other opportunities to do it again but since you never know, I did my best to savor every moment and I’m sure that will come through in this post. Before going into details I want to thank:
- My wife for allowing me to go and for carrying the burden of two young children for almost 9 days without me. She deserves far more praise than what I can provide for supporting this habit.
- The USPMGA for giving me the chance to play on Team USA
- My Team USA teammates for being supportive and welcoming me and the other “first-timers”
- Everyone who organized WAGM 2019 for putting on such a well-run tournament
- Everyone who I met during the tournament who share such a passion for the sport and who also made me felt welcome on the world stage
- Sweden and Kungalv for being so beautiful and welcoming and my Swedish friends for taking such pride in having us there
When Friday showed up I was ready to get playing but since I had offered up to be the last player in USA team 3, I ended up with a first round tee time just shy of 11am (tournament kicked off at 9am). In this tournament opening tee-times were arranged by teams via a draw then your stated position within the four-person team. This meant I had plenty of time to prepare for my first international round. Not wanting to mess much with routine, and wanting to see as much of the tournament as possible, I was up around 6:30am to grab food and walk to the course. My days all week had been from about 6:30am to crashing back in bed just before midnight. 17 hours a day of focus on minigolf in some form, including furthering friendships, doesn’t seem bad to me! The weather was just starting to turn nice and there were just a few overcast remnants around. It was going to be a great day for putting. On my walk I dialed up the most American playlist I would on my iPod to get me into the team mindset. I’ve decided that Team USA next year needs Apollo Creed sparkly robes to show up at the course in with “Living in America” blaring from some Bluetooth speakers.
One thing that really impressed me about this tournament was the organization, as noted above in my thanks. It started with things like the rules meeting earlier in the week, complete with a walking of the course for discussion at each hole, and extended to the tee times once play began. At 9am sharp the first groups went to start and every four minutes after that another group was called. The spacing remained consistent and on pace throughout the tournament. Contrast that with almost all of the tournaments here in the States where it’s just one start time (though many of them are shotgun start) and there can be a fair amount of guesswork as to when the next round will start. There’s some lessons to be learned by our major tournaments here and even for some of our locals there’s a few bits that can be implemented.
After getting to watch nearly all my teammates get started (and some finish their first round) I got my international tournament experience teed off by playing with Milan Provaznik of the Czech Republic and Tom Ahlberg of Finland, two guys I hadn’t played with before. Milan would do well overall, tying for 16th with a player from my afternoon group and Tom would also finish top 30. Both were generally quiet guys but as the morning wore on there was definitely more expression between all of us. One of the things I had experienced before playing with a handful of international folks at U.S. events is that there is a language to miniature golf that transcends native tongue. That was especially true this weekend. While almost all of the competitors spoke a bit of English, what they really spoke was miniature golf. A nod and a fist bump is always going to be a sign off “good job” or “great putt” and a shrug or tone of voice around a curse in any language is always an indicator when the ball doesn’t quite roll your way. That shared language makes one comfortable when you’re out on the mini-links and shows that support from fellow competitors crosses international lines. It will always be one of the great things about miniature golf competition.
Personally, I started by international play off great with an ace on the first hole. Another international tournament item is getting a chance to play one practice shot prior to starting each round. It really did help to calm the nerves even though I didn’t quite take advantage of reading what the shot did since I only aced hole one 5 of the 7 rounds, bookending my tournament. I struggled a bit on the next three holes, thinking I would ace at least one of them but didn’t and picked it up again on hole 5. Judging by the discussion over the weekend and looking at the lane statistics, hole 5 was in the top third of least aceable holes. However, I played it well all tournament, only missing it once on a somewhat fluke bounce off the rocks. I would go onto make ten of the next thirteen and shoot an opening 24. Strangely, I never really felt nervous that round which is very different for me in terms of opening rounds. I kept my head down, focused on my putting stroke and walked through each hole in my head as I stood over the ball. It seemed to work as I shot one of the lowest opening rounds on my team, which shocked me as it was the best round I had shot at all during the week and marked a personal best all-time tournament round for me (keep in mind, I’ve never played a Putt Putt tournament). The absolute support of my team when they heard my score was great and filled me with a lot of confidence.
It carried over to the next round as, despite a slow start, I would rattle off 10 straight aces in the middle of the round (which was on the “most aces” leaderboard for a while and would ultimately tie for 12 in that category) and record another 24. I even made both holes 4 and 11, the tough “castle holes” which were a highlight for me. This would put me in the top 10 in my class and I was flying. I knew that despite what would happen the rest of the tournament, I had shown that I belonged on the international stage.
It was the third round that gave me my first slip of the weekend. I struggled through the first 6 holes, getting only one ace. While I thought I picked it up with three from 7 through 9, and coming to hole 10 which I generally liked, a bit of disaster struck. Quick background for what is about to happen – not long before I had been talking with Ed Pope of the Great Britain team and he pointed out a small rock that had been placed on the sloped edge of the ADA section for that hole (going out on the ADA was still out of bounds – no stroke penalty per WMF rules but you had to place it on the curved slope and didn’t get any relieve). He noted it was the “stone of shame” because he had went out of bounds there and needed the stone to help place the ball so it wouldn’t roll sideways down the slope. We had a good laugh about it. I still don’t know what I did on this hole, whether I was just too pumped to be back into the ace form or I just broke my concentration for a bit, but I crushed the ball up the left hill and watched as it turned right and darted for the ADA opening, bouncing right out of bounds by the stone of shame. Thanks minigolf gods. It would be the first time I put our coach Jon Drexler to work during the tournament, which is another fun difference in the international scene. It’s cool to have someone who can be out on the grounds with the deuce putt charts and just generally providing support as you go through the rounds. Unfortunately, the ball was in a space that we didn’t have charted, which seemed to be a common theme of some of the weird places our team managed to put minigolf balls that weekend. He helped read not only the putt but what the ball would do off the slope and ultimately I think we read everything right, just were a little off on the extent to which is moved off the slope and I just missed the shot, recording my only bogey of the tournament (more on the, uh, double bogey, I’d get later). I worked my way a little back from that over the back nine and finished with an ok 28 and what I considered to be a very good opening day. This called for a beer at the Boston-themed O’leary’s up the street where Wade and I met up with some of the Ghana team and got to know them a little. This was followed by dinner with Robin, Wade, Nate, Hans and Ted Detwiler from the USPMGA and of course that was followed by drinks with minigolfers at the hotel where yet another graduation party was happening.
Day 2 I made the walk up to the course with Wade, who was shooting very well and would ultimately have an amazing debut on the international scene being our second best scorer. I was again scheduled for a later tee-time by virtual of our team scores and my position on the team. This day I would be paired with Aki Sillman of Finland, he of the 16th place finish and a name I had recognized from other international tournaments, and James Rutherford from Great Britain who I had been chatting with since the first night he got there.
It was interesting that it would be this day where the nerves would finally kick in. I think it was because I had done well the first day and now there was pressure to keep it going. I no longer could just be “happy to be there.” Unfortunately, I didn’t manage that pressure well in round 4 and would shoot my worst score of the weekend, netting a 29. I just could not get the ball to drop on several holes that I was quite good at. I thought I was a bit back into the swing of things in round 5 as I rebounded with a 25, despite messing up my perfect record on hole 16, which was my favorite hole on the course.
Then the double-disaster stuck in round 3. After making hole 2 for the only time in the tournament, I thought my luck was going to keep up. Perhaps this led to another case of over-exuberance as I crushed the ball on hole 3, having it rebound way past the hole and halfway back down the hill. Coach was over helping someone else and while I probably should have taken even more time with the putt, I felt confident I could figure out the line having putted from there a couple times in practice. Aki, who was a very quiet player the entire time to the point where some might have even thought him stand-offish (he’s not), even stepped in to help out as well as James. Again I think the read was ultimately right, I just crushed my second putt as well, in part because I wasn’t used to putting the European balls for those long deuces and didn’t quite have the feel for it. This put me in an almost a worse position, in the “sand”, against the grass edge which there was no relief from and facing a putt that should I overpower again, would end up in the tee box. My head was not prepared for that. With Coach now helping me, I tried to settle but punched the ball too lightly, having not really been able to make a good stroke from the edging. I was still in the trap and staring at what could be the disaster of all holes. Thankfully I somehow made that putt and recorded only a 4, with my apologies to Aki and James for having to watch that disaster. I know how painful it can be to watch some struggle like that on a hole, with no real way to help out.
Like I mentioned in past blogs, now was the hardest thing to do in miniature golf for me. Set aside that crap hole, refocus your attention on the challenge ahead and just work on playing each hole as its own entity. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it as I bounced around the next few holes, also managing to break my perfect tournament on hole 7 as well. The extra-hard part was the temperatures and sun had changed the course a lot and I was struggling with making the right ball/line adjustments, due in part to lack of experience in that arena. The back nine saved me and I clawed my way back to finish the day with a 28 and the requirement of a couple of beers.
The sixth round would mark the end of the team competitions and while Team USA was doing ok overall, it was a bit of a runaway with the Swedes and Germans. It was exciting to watch those final few holes and I was excited to see both old and new friends take the first medals of the tournament. Wade, Brian Johnson and I even got to celebrate with some of the Swedes at O’leary’s where I was drowning the sorrows of my last round. Dinner and drinks would again follow that evening.
Another note on the organization. While there was naturally a lot of time between the rounds with the spacing and the speed at which nearly 100 people could complete the course, I didn’t find it as annoying as I thought I would. It gave me just the right amount of time to have some food and drink, take a personal break, watch more of the tournament and prepare myself for the next round. It was also relaxing that you had a very good idea of how much time you had based on the tee-times so you weren’t constantly wondering if you were up next.
Up and walk to the course was the routine for the third day as well, which was starting off drizzly, with a slight chill in the air. The rain would hold off for the seventh round, which marked the final of the individual play. I was playing with Tommi Lantta of Finland (lots of Fins in my groups this year) and Lasse Rasmussen of Denmark. It wasn’t a stellar round as I missed 3 of my more favorite holes, but I finished with a 27 which was pretty average for that round across the board with the weather. In the end I would average 26.4 which was a bit above my goal of 25 but like with the U.S. Open I could pretty much pinpoint the 8ish strokes that I gave away and felt good about the other 175 or so that I putted.
Before I had started my final round I had the chance to play spectator/supporter and that would be my fulltime job now as the superfinal and mixed pairs rounds happened. Vanette Block finished her round before I started, shooting a great round and securing USA’s first medal with a silver in the Female Senior category. I was on hole 11 in my final round, which was thankfully right next to hole 18, when I got to watch Robin Ventura take gold in the Women’s General Class. I had already finished by the time Gary Hester got into his playoff with Ricard Locker, and just got edged out to finish third in the Male Senior category. While it wasn’t Team USA in the hunt, watching the end of the superfinal was exciting and I was very happy for Gunnar as he stormed to the front and took his second overall WAGM championship.
Then it was time for the mixed pairs with Team USA having two groups that made the top eight – Robin Ventura/Nate Nichols and Vanette Block/Rick Baird. With the rest of us on the sidelines it was time to be a cheering section. It was the first time I’ve gotten to go from just being a fan of Team USA to experiencing what someone on the bench of our soccer team, hockey teams, basketball team, etc get to when you see your teammates excelling and getting close to those medals. Despite the chill in the air I needed no jacket as I was pumped and wanted everyone to see my Team USA colors. Side note – the great thing about this course was its location and the fact that it was easily accessible all the way round. The back holes 4 and 5 were right against a main walkway to the mall, with no fencing or trees so it was really easy for anyone walking by to watch the action. It definitely had some random spectators throughout the week.
While Vanette and Rick were doing well, Robin and Nate took the lead after the first round with a 23. Team USA could taste the medal at this point and it felt like it could be especially sweet since this was the first time this division was held at WAGM. The format of play was alternate hole/alternate shot – which meant men went first on odds or evens and women on the others, switching for the second round. If you missed the ace, then the other person had the next shot on the hole. At the start of the second round there was a moment where it looked like Robin/Nate were going to tear away from the pack as they aced the first three holes. Then came hole 4 where Nate left his tee shot just a bit short and it settled on top of the last hump. There was no way around this being a difficult second putt and we watched breathlessly as Robin, Nate and Rick Culverhouse, who was standing in for Jon as coach briefly, all worked out the play. It was an amazing sight of teamwork as the rest of the field watched and waited. Robin nailed the putt and we all thought Nate broke her hand with the force of the high-five that followed. It looked to be game on Team USA.
Of course, there’s always a reason you play the games/make the putts because the pendulum would swing back on hole 7 where Robin flew the hole a bit and Nate, facing a tricky putt as well, just pushed it resulting in a bogey. With the other teams acing that hole it was a 2 stroke swing and that tightened the results significantly. The race really heated up as the Swedish team of Annelie Lundell and Ricard Lockner had a great round of 23, meaning that with six holes to play Robin & Nate needed to ace out just to tie for first place. They also were very well aware of this as the announcement went out to the course about that.
So the pressure was on after they got through the relatively easy 13th and faced a 14th that could be tricky as well as, and everyone knowing the 17th could be the breaker. As they made the turn to the crowd on the 16th hole Team USA was fired up with each ace and probably none more than when Robin made 17. I was way more nervous watching this match than at any time during my own putting. It was on par with watching any of your favorite sports teams trying to come through in the clutch. Going into sudden death we knew it could be a long one but Team USA caught a break on hole 2 as Sweden missed the ace and there was jubilation at taking the first gold in this division.
With that my first WAGM experience from a putting perspective wrapped up and I took a few minutes to enjoy the view of the course under the beautiful sky and wandered back to the hotel. After packing as much as I could since I had to be up around 5:30 the next morning to catch my flight back home, it was time for the closing ceremonies. There was an immense amount of love in the room as all the teams celebrated so many great accomplishments and after the medals were handed out it was finally time to relax with your competitors and it was fun to see so many pictures taken as we all prepared to leave the next day. It was also cool to have the chance to swap some “jerseys”, with folks from Great Britain and I also picked up a sweatshirt from Ghana. For me though the biggest impact was having a chance to hear our national anthem played twice and knowing that I was not just a spectator at a medal ceremony but actually on the team that support those wins. I was doubly glad as well given I had gotten to know Robin as a friend since our Holey Moley experience (more to come on that this summer) and was excited to see her excel at the world stage. I was also quite happy for Nate who I’ve played many a tournament with and I know struggled during the week but turned it on when the team needed it most. I absolutely hope I will get a chance in the future not just to hear the national anthem more at WAGM events but to be on the podium as the cause of it.
How did my other predictions do?
- I was close with my winning score. Jens was at 22.7 going into the superfinal but in the end Gunnar would average just over 23 for the eight round overall win.
- Sweden and Germany took the spots on the podium, with Sweden taking first so my favorites played out there. Team USA fell just short in 4th again.
- Team USA took 4 individual medals which was awesome, including 2 golds.
- We never did get an 18 but I would have been paying out heftily on the 19 with Gunnar’s achievement. The slight favorite of 20 was hit right off the bat by Jens.
One thing I took away from the WAGM is that the United States HAS to get this tournament soon. Pasi Aho even not-so-subtly alluded to this in his opening comments. Team USA is knocking on the door in team medals, we’re finishing with individual medals and could have a lot more in our future and adventure golf is our style of miniature golf. Many on the international scene, especially our friends the Brits, are anxious to have it played in the States as well. I’m not sure what all needs to be done to make this happen but I’m game to be a part of it.
I know most of you reading this are deeply part of the minigolf community already and if you were ever on the fence about wanting to be a part of Team USA, get off the fence. Try out any year you think you can make the trip. Just being part of the experience shows how high our sport can get to when done right and when you have the support of the international community. For those of you not in the minigolf community, I always encourage you to give a tournament or two a try. Who knows, you might be hooked and down the road find yourself representing your country.
Thanks for sticking in there for this massive tome but I probably could have written about 5,000 words about my experience. I’m already missing the fun of it and can’t wait for the next local tournament the Master’s in October. Happy putting!
» Final Results