9-1-1-1-2. It’s an interesting series of numbers and unless you were at the Master’s this year or have already heard my story, then you might not be able to guess what they represent. They are, in fact, my scoreline for hole 17 at the Hawaiian Rumble course during the Master’s.
Before I get to that part of my week’s journey, let’s start with some overall tournament thoughts. This is going to be a very long post given I didn’t do a blog mid-week of the tournament, and I’ve got a lot to say, so please bear with me.
I arrived down in Myrtle Beach late afternoon on Sunday with the family and by Monday mid-day I had settled in and was on the courses. My original plan had been to split up the 3 courses over the 3 days I would be there – attack Hawaiian Rumble first with my shortened day, since I felt most comfortable there, go to the Pineapple course at Hawaiian Village for Tuesday and then end up on the Island course at Aloha on Wednesday. Of course the best laid plans and all that lead me to playing all 3 courses on all 3 days. I started by meeting my friends Danny Baddeley and John Powell on the Pineapple course to learn the shots. I had been apprehensive about my ability to work that course because I heard it was quite difficult but I was less worried after the walkthrough and by the end of the week it would be the course I felt like I most had a handle on this year. I think that it’s perhaps because it’s the most “minigolf” of the three courses and because I had the most focus on making the deuce putts when needed. I would actually shoot my best practice round of the week (29) there – but you know what they say about practice too.
Other than that, practice was just generally the way practice always seems to be for me. Working out the kinks, not firing anything too crazy, but noting that I was still too inconsistent on many of the holes. The highlight of practice was finally meeting Allan Cox from Australia, which I did as I was closing out the first day at Aloha. It has been 8 years since we first “met” online via The Putter King scavenger hunt challenge and it was great to have another good friend at these major events to share stories with and to commiserate during the week. It’s just another addition to the family tree of minigolf and part of the fun of those first three days was also catching up with a lot of people I hadn’t seen since May or June.
While it was only my 3rd year at the Master’s, this one was going to be the toughest. For the 12 rounds we were playing 3 different courses. For Thursday morning, afternoon and Friday morning, we’d be split into 3 groups and play 3 rounds each on each course in a rotation. Then we would all play 1 round at Aloha on Friday afternoon and the customary 2 rounds at Hawaiian Rumble on Friday morning. Prior to the tournament I had heard from several international players that they were skipping the Master’s because of the schedule and playing the 3 courses. I suspect that’s the reason we also saw some US players miss it and the total amount of players, 69, seemed a bit lower than past years, which isn’t a good trend. After playing it, my personal opinion is that I didn’t hate the 3 course structure but I think the scheduling could have been improved. That one round at Aloha didn’t really seem to add anything to the proceedings and just made everyone hang around for a couple of hours in an afternoon for 1 round of play. My personal options would have been:
- Play 4 rounds at Aloha during the “rotation”. Aloha plays the fasts of the 3 and we could have easily fit 4 rounds in the time period of morning/afternoon
- Scrap that 1 round, give everyone Friday afternoon off, and just play 11 rounds
- Scrap that 1 round, give everyone Friday afternoon off (maybe do the juniors tournament then?) and play 3 at Rumble on Saturday.
While on the subject of constructive criticism I’m going to address a few things before trying to end on a more positive, or at least amusing, note. The most significant was one that I heard echoed by many players this year, especially the ones who were either new to the event or don’t play consistently, and it’s sadly a carryover from past years. The rules “briefing”, bluntly, was a joke. There was an expectation that at the Wednesday night ceremony that there would be some discussion of the rules, given everyone was scheduled to be at different places Thursday morning. This was especially important to have because the Pineapple course carries with it some unique situations due to the fact that it has grass “berms”, so there were questions as to where to place the ball both on out-of-bounds and when it landed against these berms. This stems from the fact that international play has specific rules on how to handle this and as it turns out we would not be using those rules, much like we don’t use the international stroke limit. As I’ve addressed before, we should be using all the WMF rules to the extent possible since the USPMGA is a WMF member and this tournament also serves as our Continental Championship, which is a lead into to choosing Team USA for international play. Instead of covering these rules, or discussing items like if you can re-tee when the ball goes back to the tee or if you can hit from the out-of-bounds without taking a stroke penalty, all we got was “you’ve all played here, you know the rules.”
This is honestly unacceptable for our biggest tournament. All major sporting events have detailed rules meetings, particularly to cover “local” rules that might be specific to a venue. We continue to say we’re trying to be a big sport organization but we also continue to do things that aren’t in line with moving toward that status. Not surprisingly, this reared it’s head no more than 4 holes into the first round on Wednesday when myself and Matt Male (one of my playing partners) got brought in to discuss a ruling about out-of-bounds play. A couple of rounds later we were then consulted on another berm ruling. While I appreciate being brought in as some of the “experts”, this wouldn’t have been needed if the rules were clear. We can’t even defer to reading an updated rule book because as far as I could find based on using the site on my phone (a resource you’d have while on the course), I could not easily find a digital copy of a rule book for the USPMGA. I have since found it buried on the tournament page (it should be it’s own header) and it looks to be fairly out-of-date given some of the names listed and the posting date. Also, and this is huge point if people are looking to point to the rulebook (and for some of us who took some crooked scores on hole 17 at Rumble), sub-section 5 on scoring does say there is a stroke limit of 7 (link to rules book below).
Not to complain without solutions, I would offer the following. I’ve tried to make mention of some of this to the organizers as well, and have encouraged others to do so. I don’t want to take away from all of the hard work that goes into organizing the tournament, I just don’t want to see us fall down on some of the most important things once the players get here. I wanted to elevate our sport and tournament as much as possible. Having finally had the chance to play in a major international competition this year, I got to see some great organization and what to bring that back to both our major tournaments and ones I run during the year. So some suggestions:
1) Make an updated digital copy of the general USPMGA rule book available on the site and promote it so players can read it. We’d have the personal responsibility to do that.
2) Take 15 minutes to have a players’ meeting on Wednesday evening. I know there are other people there with First Tee and everything but it would actually be good for them to see what goes into these tournaments. If anyone on the Executive Committee doesn’t want to do it, I’m sure any of the top players would step in if asked. I would even volunteer to do it since I’m no stranger to running them. This way we can be clear on all the little weird things and give players a chance to ask specific questions.
3) Make a few short videos that can be shared on the website and Social media the week of the tournament. It’s not as good as live for the ability to ask questions but it would be something that could be watched on our own time and referred to the rest of the week. Again, I’d volunteer to help with that and I know a couple other folks who would too.
I’m sure there are other options and I want to state 2 things again: 1) I wasn’t the only one expressing frustration with this aspect and 2) I am more than willing to help with any of the above to help elevate the sport, especially with the next tournament coming up North in the U.S. Open. Even more so, if there is any chance of us getting the tournament on a casino board, as has been mentioned to us given we’ll be playing at a racetrack next year, then there has to be no questions at all on rules or rulings. Vegas doesn’t look kindly on having to give back money because of a screw up on rules.
Back to the more fun stuff. One thing we did this year, which we had heard about being done in PPA tournaments but we never executed on our own at the USPMGA, was to do a “fantasy draft”. There were six of us who played and you picked 5 people plus yourself. Congrats goes to Allan Cox who walked away with our meager pot after earning the 2nd draft pick in our round to decide order. He certainly helped his cause the most with his excellent first time finish.
For the tournament, I was put into the B Group, which would be starting on the Pineapple course on Thursday morning. The way I looked at it, I had a great rotation with Pineapple first, followed by Rumble and then ending at Aloha on Friday which is where everyone needed to be for the afternoon anyway. It also meant I would get the hardest of the courses out of the way first. I was paired with Mark Hubbard, a player I hadn’t had any tournament rounds with yet, and Matt Male, of my friends and someone I’ve always had good rounds with in majors. We would be the first group off the tee. I started average, coming out of the first round with a 36 after happily acing the very first hole of the tournament. Things started to slide in the second round when I took a 4 on hole 11 after going back and forth past the hole and ending with a 37. I thought that was going to be my major screw up for the week (spoiler: it was far from that). The difficult part was coming back to that hole in round 3 and ending up with the same putt I had blown for 3 less than hour earlier. Luckily I steeled myself and made it for the deuce this time around and would have an excellent bogey-free round of 34 to finish my Pineapple experience. I was in the top 6 of our group coming out of Pineapple which made me feel pretty confident.
That confidence would last about 2 hours. After moving over to Hawaiian Rumble, I was grouped with Ken Hastings and John Bambling, two gents from the Pittsburg area who have been at this awhile and ended up getting grouped together like they often do, similar to Highlighter and I (more on that later). We were working our way through a round, one where Ken was struggling a bit but I was feeling pretty good about shooting a decent score, especially after acing holes 15 and 16. Hole 16 had been one I was struggling with during practice so it was good to pick that one up.
Then it was onto hole 17. For the Master’s the hole is set up on the side of the back hill (see link below to a photo). Now, I have never really been intimidated by this hole. In 2018 for the 7 rounds we played on Rumble I went 3-1-1-1-1-1-1, so clearly I know how to ace it. I was only a little bit concerned because in practice I kept seeming to be a bit off with my speed. In looking back, I think part of it was because I was still playing with my “European” style putter with the rubber on the head. I chose to play all of 2019 with this style to get used to it in light of playing at the WAGM and once I started, I felt it was good to see it all the way through the season and for the most part I had fared well with it. In retrospect, I think I would have liked to used my normal minigolf putter for the Masters and likely will in the future. It’s not the only thing I would learn on this hole. Anyway, I lined up the putt and ended up hitting it the worst combination of speed and line. Not only did I miss the cup but I: A) didn’t hit it hard enough so it would just come back to the tee box, B) didn’t hit it soft enough so that it fell short but landed in front of the rock and C) hit it so it settled behind the rock with no shot at the hole.
At first, I wasn’t concerned. I had practiced the play here. I hit to the side of the rock to give myself a line at the hole, which isn’t totally easy because the speed and slope can often mean the ball settles back behind the rock or not far enough to the side so you can get relief because you have a line at the hole. The problem was, I wasn’t aggressive enough with my 3rd shot to get to the cup and I found myself once again behind the rock. That’s when the wheels fell off. I honestly can’t even remember much other than I got stuck with no line (although I thought I did, but thanks to Ken and John for keeping me honest – I truly wasn’t trying to cheat), had another shot way back but not at the tee box and then even had a shot where I tried to go around the other side of the rock. It was, in short, a disaster. I was sweating so bad by the time I finally knocked it in and was glad my playing partners kept track because I had no idea what I took. It turned out to be a 9. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t lose my cool, didn’t let off a string of profanities and didn’t throw anything. I just walked toward the 18th hole silently saying the F-bomb about 4,000 times.
Big thanks to Ken and John who were absolutely great playing partners after something like that, giving encouragement the rest of the afternoon and knowing the right time to step in after giving me a couple of moments to compose myself. Thanks also to Mandy, who was live streaming the whole thing, and who mentioned the group in back of me, when getting stuck behind the rock, hit it back to the tee for the chance to re-tee since there is no penalty back there and that line is actually the easiest to hit (as I would prove in round 12 when I missed my first shot, had it roll back this time, then nailed the second one). I am 100% going to do that if ever stuck in that situation again. Now, I don’t want to seem bitter but this is a place where the aforementioned stroke limit should have come into play and honestly it may have helped me keep under 7 if I knew there was a limit and played more aggressively on some of my other shots. That plus being able to just pick up the ball after 6 would have been better for the psyche.
Speaking of which – this is where I think minigolf differs from every other major sport and certainly distinguishes itself from “big” golf. Because after that nine I now have to do two things. The first is play the next hole immediately and while you have to do that in golf, you don’t have the immediate pressure of having to sink that very next shot because it’s both an aceable hole and you need the strokes back. In “big” golf you’re going to have at least one shot to the green and you have some options to play a little conservative to “get your mind back.” I was happy that I almost aced the next hole, the difficult hole 18, and just walked away with a deuce and a respectable 40 all things considered. Now the second thing I have to do is face that same hole in about 45 minutes. At least in “big” golf tournaments you’d have a day break before coming face-to-face with a hole you screwed up. Not here. Here I was back at it, having not aced both 15 and 16 before it, and staring at the hole in the rising heat of a South Carolina Fall afternoon. The fact that I then aced the hole might have been a minor miracle and a very positive push towards knowing I have the mental mindset to overcome those challenges. I would finish that next round with a decent 35.
After that there actually wasn’t much excitement to my tournament. I had one good round at Aloha, finally breaking 30 at that course, and hole 13 there tripped me up a couple of times but nothing too crazy. Otherwise the story was just inconsistency. I had moments where I made beautiful putts for aces and others where I looked like a hack on the course, getting too many bogies. In the end, I would somehow finish 46th (and of course end up playing a few rounds with Highlighter because that’s how it goes) the same as the past two years and not as exciting as 3 straight 2nd place finishes in Maine.
As much as I would have liked to be in the top 30 group playing later on Saturday morning, it was once again fun following around the top players and working with Mandy to get a ton of live-streaming content out there for people to follow along with. Thank you to Danielle and Bob for acknowledging what we did this year at the closing ceremonies – it means a lot to use knowing our work was recognized. In a way, I almost wish I would retire from the putting part to just bring people the content of the tournament. I have a lot of fun doing it – and it’s a lot less stressful! One last note from the tournament, I just want to say congrats to both Joey on pulling out a 1 stroke victory and Dr. Lebo on making the Hall of Fame. I’ve gotten to know both of them over the years and they have always been friendly and welcoming to me as a I’ve made my way further into the pro-putting arena.
With the tournament season now over for us in the Northeast, I’m turning my attention a bit to the 2020 U.S. Open. I’m probably looking forward to this one too much because it’s back at the course I’ve done the best in – Bluegrass Minigolf in Oceanport, NJ. In addition to good finishes, it’s also a “Northern” course which makes me feel like we have to defend our turf because there’s not many of us on the pro-putting circuit and we love when everyone has to come to us.
Enjoy the Fall season for those still putting and Happy Halloween! In case anyone didn't get a chance to see some of the amazing competition from China, I've included the link to the WMF YouTube page where you can watch the replay of many hours of live coverage.
The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the writer and do not represent the World Minigolf Sport Federation (WMF), Minigolfnews.com or any other organization that the writer may be associated with unless expressly stated in the blog.
» Rumble Hole 17» USPMGA Rulebook» WMF YouTube