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Argentina  INESfun

22 Feb 2020 at 13:37

There are about 300 recesses on one golf ball, and thanks to them, the ball flies three times farther than a smooth one. ... Balls of the same size...

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United States of America Patrick Sheridan's blog« See all PatPenguin's blogs

A Personal Return to In Person Competition
29 Aug 2020 at 13:47 | Posted in: Competition | Views: 263 | Comments: 0
A Personal Return to In Person Competition
Putt and his winnings

I realized when starting this post that it was going to be hard to steer clear of world current events when writing any personal views of minigolf, at least for the foreseeable future. I used to be of the mindset that sport was supposed to be this “escape” from the real world, a place that was protected from things like politics or social unrest. However, over the years I’ve come to understand that this is misguided. Sports has always been influenced by the “real” world – and why not? It’s played in the real world by real people, so how could it not possibly be a reflection of what those people are experiencing? Even our sport of minigolf has its challenges with regard to the current issues, whether it be lack of diversity or adapting to health restrictions. If you are taking your time to read my writing, just be aware that this stuff will bleed into my minigolf discussion.

Which sets the table for why it’s August and I’m just not writing about my first in-person minigolf tournament of 2020. It’s no surprise by now that competitive minigolf was hit by COVID-19 with most major national and international events being either postponed or canceled. As a result, the Farmington Miniature Golf tournament was the first chance I had to play in a tournament in 2020. Being from Connecticut, it wasn’t that feasible to even leave the state to play in any tournaments because we had quarantine restrictions in place for most states in the union if we were to come back from them.

That’s not to say I haven’t had some in-person competitive putting. Most of the outdoor courses opened around the end of May here as lockdown restrictions were eased. That’s because minigolf was identified as one of the businesses where social distancing and crowd control were the easiest to implement. As a result, the course we hold our tournament on, Matterhorn Mini Golf, also started their weekly league not long thereafter. Thus far, the weather has held up on Tuesday nights (except for a tropical storm) and we’ve played 7 weeks of competition. With the state rules in place, the health restrictions haven’t been too cumbersome. You need to wear a mask in the building and then you are free to take it off while playing, as there is plenty of space on the course to stay as distant as possible. Personally, I’ve had no problem with all this mask business. It’s very easy to wear it for a few minutes while inside and I generally keep it on outside too when we are gathering pre-post league. I’ve even played some with it on and haven’t found it restrictive. Worst I’ve noticed is on the very hot days it gets sweaty with the beard, so I just make sure I’m not around anyone and remove it for a minute to cool off. We’ve even made custom Putting Penguin masks, so it’s another way we can self-promote which I’m all about.

We’ve also had the Putt18 league going, which is a virtual at-home putting league. Once the season for both of those leagues are over, I’ll do a more detailed blog discussion but I mention them both here just as a way to say I wasn’t totally flying unprepared into the Farmington tournament.

The tournament itself was a bit different this year and my approach ended up being far from my normal prep for a tournament, even for a more casual one. For a couple of years, we have provided feedback to the course that having a two-day, three-round tournament was difficult for a lot of players. While we don’t mind playing over multiple days, doing it for just 3 rounds made it tough to justify putting aside two weekend mornings, especially back when there were so many other in-person events going on in the summer. This year it seemed like the pandemic was the catalyst needed to make the change to the tournament. Although most of us would have liked if they kept the 3 rounds, it was definitely easier to play just the one morning even if it meant it would only be a 36-hole tournament. The change in format had a bit of an impact on my mindset for the tournament. Previous to tournament day, I had only managed one round at the course and that was a couple of months ago when the course first opened for the year. In any other year, I would have tried to play the course at least once in the week running up to it but the way that 2020 has been going, getting out of the house to do so has been a bit more difficult. So the only putting I did in the lead up were the two leagues that week.

That’s not to say I wasn’t taking this tournament seriously. I had won in 2019, so there was the pressure to defend the title. In addition, while the money or tournament isn’t “big” there is a lot of local pride on the line for this tournament. Many of the local pros have won this tournament at least once, so there is always jockeying for local superiority. With that in mind, I did make sure to get there early to practice on Saturday. There were a couple other reasons for this as well. First, I made the decision to change the putter I had been using for all of 2020, switching back to my “European” style rubber-faced putter away from the normal golf putter I had been using. Thus,I would need a few reps on the course with it. Second, this tournament makes you use the course ball versus your own so I needed some time to get the feel of whatever ball I picked.

When I arrived at the course there was only one other participant there and the owners were busy clearing off the night’s flora droppings. It was a beautiful morning and there is very little better in the sports world than being nearly alone on the minigolf course in weather like that, just working at your own pace. I made my way through the course with a couple of balls, then bounced around to some other holes I wanted to practice a bit before the full crowd started showing up. This year we’d see 22 competitors overall, which was about the same size as 2019. I had picked a light blue ball and a green ball to practice with and after hitting them both I felt the light blue one called to me more, so I decided to go with that one. I’m glad I didn’t toss back the other one though as we’ll see in a minute.

I talked a lot about the course and the tournament in my blog from last year so I won’t repeat much here. The major adjustment with the format change was that there would not be a break to re-group the top players together so you were staying with the same group for the two rounds. In this tournament those groups are completely random, matching folks from across skill types. Some might see that as a disadvantage but it’s part of what makes this tournament different and a challenge compared to other more “professional” tournaments. This year I was paired with Henry Eagan, who I never asked his age but had to have been under 13 and Brad Beady, who is another person I had never played with before. Amusingly when we got to the first tee, we found out that all three of us picked the exact same color ball. This may not matter in most tournaments where you play out, but in this tournament all players tee off first, so it was up to a couple of us to change colors. We of course let Henry keep his color choice and I went to my back-up green ball. I had a brief moment of dread given I’m a bit superstitious on the course, but decided there was nothing I could do about it except crack on. The ball choice must have worked for Henry, though as he would ace the first hole, which would come in very handy later on during a tie-breaker.

Henry’s dad would end up keeping score for us and it was a fun two rounds talking about competitive tournaments, especially with Henry who had plenty of questions about competitive play. I was even able to give him some uplifting stories after he took a 6 on a hole. He would end up winning the lower tier as a result of his ace on the first hole and I hope between that and learning about what else I did in tournaments will keep him excited to keep playing and to play more. We need more youth like him in our tournaments.

Knowing this tournament was going to be a sprint with some of the top players, I tried to start out fast and I felt good through the first 7 holes having dropped one but picked up an ace. Hole 8, which is normally a favorite of mine despite being a tricky plateau, bit me hard. My tee shot returned past the tee box causing me a stroke penalty (local tournament rules) and I couldn’t get the 3 with a recovery ace. So it was a 4 on the books early. I would compound this two holes later by taking a 5 on the well hole because of some bad short putts after missing the center pipe. This had me sitting +5 after 10 holes which I knew wasn’t too hot and I couldn’t recover any of that on the rest of the back nine. I went into the break with a 43, which was 6 strokes off the leader after the first round – past winner John O’Leary. There wasn’t a ton of scores between me and the top, and while I had thought first place might have been out of reach, I knew if I ground out a good second round I’d at least have a chance to stay top 3, which would have been a respectable finish.

Grind I did. Despite improving my score on hole 8, I still dropped a couple of shots and shot my second 20 of the day on the front nine, but then successfully navigated the well for a 2 instead of a 5 and knew I could make a good run on the back. The decision of the day was made on hole 16, which has three ways to play it. There is a moderately safe right-hand path that normally will set you up for a makeable (although not always easy) deuce; there is a left-hand path with a slightly higher level of difficulty that can award an ace but can also leave you with a long two putt with some break and then there is the middle narrow channel right up the middle. One would think and experienced player like myself would be able to consistently hit the middle channel but it is slightly offset from center and provides a bit of an optical illusion when lining up your tee shot from the mat. It’s also not a guaranteed ace, though the percentages are much higher than the other paths. Thinking that I was still several strokes behind the leader I wondered if I should chance it to try to make up a stroke or play it safe and see where things fell out. After a moment of consideration while standing in the tee box, I made the decision to play the course and my strengths and went for the right-hand path in an attempt to keep my round under 40. I deuced that hole as well as the next two, carding a 39 to end the tournament. I was pleased with my round but figured it was top 3 at best.

I was surprised then when I started talking to the folks who finished before me (as I was one of the last 3 groups) that a lot of the top players had dropped a lot of shots and posted higher scores. As I gathered more information it was becoming clear that I managed to sneak my way to the top. So while it wasn’t the drama and excitement of a final hole ace to win like in 2019, there was a lot of joy in that I had actually defended a title, which was a personal first.

While 2020 might have been a bust in a lot of ways on the minigolf front and who knows what the rest of the year will bring, I can be happy that I had at least this one moment. It was my 6th tournament win in my career and I’m looking forward to seeing if I can be the first to three-peat in this tournament next year at the 40th anniversary!

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.

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