Another year is in the books for the Matterhorn International Pro-Am, held at the Swiss themed Matterhorn Mini Golf in Canton, Connecticut. I’m excited we’ve stretched this out to three years and am hoping to keep it going as long as we can. I have no idea if this will become one of those long running tournaments but as long as we’re in the area and Autumn, the course owner, is willing we’ll do our best to put on a great event.
From an administrative aspect, everything went about as well as a tournament could. The weather was outstanding, the tournament moved at a good pace, there was some drama in the final pro round that carried into some playoffs and records were broken. Most of all, it seemed like all of the participants left happy with having been a part of it which is the biggest mark of success. The only downside is that we ended up losing a few people from last year and didn’t show growth in the tournament overall, even though we picked up one professional over 2018. I talked with many people over the weekend and we’re struggling to figure out how to increase the attendance. It certainly wasn’t from lack of exposure this year and we were hoping to ride a bit of the Holey Moley success coattail – but perhaps the course and tournament just isn’t mature enough to have a large following. I’m all ears if anyone has a suggestion on how to get new people to participate and/or how to diversify our player base. The three round amateur tournament seems to be a steal at $25 and you’re done by noon, with the chance to win prizes. Not sure how to make it more attractive than that. Even the pro division has a sizable purse for a local tournament at a competitive price point for that much putting.
There were a few other minor hiccups but nothing worth dwelling on. The only thing I have to say is to both present and future tournament players, please do whatever you can to make the tournament director’s life a bit easier. Be on time, listen to all the rules, don’t try to jump ahead of what’s being explained, take the extra care in adding up your scores before you turn in a card – all those little things are appreciated. It’s tough enough to run a tournament and doubly so when you are trying to play in it at the same time. So anything that removes a nit you have to worry about, or a decision you have to make, is a small miracle. I try to take that in account when I go play other tournaments. For current and future tournament directors – don’t be surprised by what will be thrown your way. Even if you’ve done something the same way for years people will still be confused or annoyed by something, or you will find something you’ve never thought of. Don’t let it get to you.
Now to the putting. I should start by saying I was nearly spot on in my short predictions from my last blog. The four people I mentioned as possible winners finished as the top 4 and Justin took 1st place as the favorite. He also set a tournament record for the score (196), though not exactly as how I predicted, and in doing so also set a round record (36) which I didn’t think we’d see.
I was paired with Brian Coscina via the random draw and we were the last group out for the pros. I started off better than expected, acing hole 3, which ironically is named “Holey Moley” due to its Swiss cheese obstacle. I took that as a good sign…for then. Little did I know that was the last ace I would get for the next 49 holes, or that hole would play a part in my ultimate finish. Holes 7, 9 and 18 are the three on the course where it’s commonly accepted to take a 3 unless you get a great bounce or an excellent roll, and in round one I’d take my “pars” on there to finish with a crisp 38. Things looked great for that period of time it took me to walk between hole 18 and hole 1 because I promptly started round two with a 3. I got through the front nine with the normal threes on 7 and 9, and then the wheels fell off.
The past couple of tournaments I’ve been doing well not “pushing” for aces and playing my game, trying to grind out good scores. Hole 10 in round two would be the first of 4 mistakes I’d make where I stepped away from that philosophy. In trying to make up for that bogey on hole 1, I thought I could sneak in a run at an ace on hole 10, which is a difficult downhill drop where the ball rarely either goes in the hole (usually too fast to drop) or you fight to get a good bounce back at the hole from the back wall. I pushed the ball too much trying to get a line and got a terrible bounce, putting me in a very difficult position for shot 2 and boom, there goes another bogey. I compounded that on 16 by again trying to get cute and costing me a shot and with other holes not giving me anything I found myself carding a 43.
I thought I had watched my chance at first flitter away with that score but I cracked on and grinded all the way through round 3, finally picking up an ace on hole 17 to finish with another 38. Surprisingly I was only 2 strokes out of first place and sitting in a place I was all too familiar with – 4th (where I had finished the last two years). During the break I had to wrap up the amateur division scoring and prizes and then it was time to sit for some lunch and a breather. We played the morning fast so we cut a half-hour off the scheduled break and honestly, we probably could have cut another 15-30 minutes but I needed the time to regroup. Sorry about that players but hey, being a pro means you have to deal with delays, breaks and whatever else is thrown your way and being the tournament director means you get to make a decision or two in your favor.
It was another warmer than usual September Saturday (ironically on a day where there was climate change striking going on across the world) so the afternoon rounds were a bit sweaty. I was doing right on par for round 4 until I tried to get aggressive again on 18, working on making up for a less than optimal tee shot. So instead of finding a way to get a tough three, I shot the ball out of bounds and had to drill a quite long putt to save the four and card the 40. Thanks to Justin’s 36 this now meant I was 6 strokes out of first going into the final round, but only 2 off of second place as I had moved up to third.
While that big a lead can certainly be lost quickly, my goal for the round was to maintain my position. If I held off Dylan, who was back of me by 1, I could have my best finish of the tournament and make the podium. Anything else I picked up was gravy. I played the front 9 clean as did Highlighter so I made up no ground there but a couple of bad breaks let us cut into Justin’s lead by two. Two holes later as I continued to play clean, I picked up a stroke on Highlighter and then another on Justin. By the time we came into hole 15, one of the easier ace holes on the course, there was just three strokes separating Justin and Dylan. While we had fun the whole round, and even into those tense final holes, the tension did ratchet up a bit with 4 holes to play and it being such a tight race. All of us would be happy for the other person to win the tournament, but none of us wanted it to be the other person who won the tournament. There’s a lot of local pride at stake here.
I had been going first most of this round thanks to how honors had shaken out but on this hole I had the second shot and a decision to make. I hadn’t aced the hole all day with my Chromax ball and I had been practicing with my New Zealand Minigolf Federation “glass” Kiwi ball. So I decided to make a change and it almost paid off, having just lipped out. Luckily no one else aced it but on 16 Dylan aced it before it was my turn, forcing me to think about whether I should go for the riskier ace shot as well or play it “safe.” Reflecting on my earlier decisions, I played it safe even if it meant missing a chance to break the tie I had with him. Luckily, on 17 I played a great shot through the bank and picked up my second ace of the tournament on that hole, and only my third overall. With Dylan taking a 3 and Highlighter a 2, it meant I was in a tie for second, just one stroke off the lead.
With the ace it meant I had honors going into the long and winding 18th hole. My goal was to set up a second shot where I at least had a go at the long backdoor drop, which is the normal play on this hole. I hit a good tee shot and had that line for the second shot. I struck it well and for a brief moment I thought I had it, but the ball settled a mere couple of inches to the side of the cup. I tapped it in for a 3. At that point, barring a miracle ace from Dylan, I knew I had 3rd in the bag and now it was just a matter of sweating, fairly literally, out Highlighter and Justin. Both of them played smart conservative tee shots, easy second shots and had near tap in threes. So Justin would keep his hot streak up by defending and it would be a playoff for me and Highlighter.
I won the coin flip on the playoff and decided, using my best Bill Belichick strategy, to defer and shoot second hole 1. We both played clean and easy through the first two holes and it was onto hole 3, “Holey Moley” where Highlight has a nice easy 2 again. We’ve had a few playoffs in the short history of the tournament but have yet to get beyond this hole in any of them. As I lined up the shot, I made another critical mistake – I started thinking about the win. I, unfortunately, did think “man if I ace this I have to yell “Holey Moley” since it’s being live streamed on Facebook.” What a dumb thought to have in your head when your whole strategy has been to have the other guy break first. With that there and the adrenaline of trying to sneak into that second spot, I crushed my tee shot, got a very unfavorable bounce and now was left with a long deuce putt. I would miss it by a ¼ of an inch, once again allowing “Holey Moley” to get the best of me.
I was exhausted and needed a couple of beers and a lot of water with my fellow penguin Mandy after we packed everything up. The dual stress of running and playing the tournament is a lot, but I wouldn’t give up either unless I had to or someone else stepped up to take the administrative duties from us. I know we put the effort in because there’s a lot of people who won’t and we want to see as many tournaments on the calendar as possible.
With all of the “local” tournaments done for 2019, all that remains is the granddaddy of them all – the USPMGA Master’s in October. I’m looking to improve on my placement the past two years with the ultimate goal of making the top 30. I feel like I’m playing better overall than the past couple years but the addition of a 3rd course I’m not familiar with, plus it being an extremely difficult field does make this a challenge. I have limited practice time given I’ll be traveling with my family and driving instead of flying, so I will have to make the best use of it. I’m hoping a day at each course will be enough, relying on now 2 years of experience with Aloha and Rumble to get me back quickly on those courses. I’m pretty confident on most of the lines, it’s more execution on most of those holes as well as solidifying some deuce putts, especially on Rumble. I will try to do one pre-tournament blog during Master’s week because I think there will be a lot to talk about, but if I don’t expect quite the lengthy read after. Happy putting!
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