Ever since we introduced Putt as the official mascot of The Putting Penguin, he has been with me on the course at every miniature golf tournament except for Holey Moley (didn’t want him to get ruined, he stayed at the hotel and was subbed in for by Duffer, one of our other penguins). That was until a couple of weekends ago at the Matterhorn International Pro-Am. As I’ve discussed before this is our tournament to administer so there’s a lot going on that morning when I’m prepping to leave the house. Unfortunately, this year I had to add on making sure I had my masks due to COVID and at some point I managed to walk by Putt sitting on my shelf about 12 times before exiting the house. Of course, I didn’t realize it until I was far enough away from the house to make it not viable to turn around and still be on time. Luckily, I have a reserve penguin always in my car, Skipper, who was going to get called up to the majors.
When it comes to minigolf I do tend to be a somewhat superstitious person. Exhibit A being the need to have a penguin with me but there’s other stuff like ball choices that creep their way into my routine. While finishing the rest of my drive to the course I did find myself wondering what impact not having Putt would have on my play. Over the course of the day I was able to block those thoughts out just because there was so much going on….but I do wonder if the ultimate result would have been better with penguin A being onboard.
The day of the tournament was a brilliant New England September day. It was only about 45F when I got to the course, which meant hoodie and shorts for sure, and it felt crisp and refreshing. The sky was cloudless and the overall temperature wasn’t expected to be much over mid-60F, which is probably the best weather we’ve had in the four years of the tournament. I knew I wouldn’t have much time on the course that morning which was fine. I had some practice earlier in the week at league and then a couple of hours the day before with Mandy, who was able to make it up for the tournament with some last minute changes to Connecticut’s restricted travel list. Overall, I wasn’t feeling bad about my play. I hadn’t been putting up great scores but I knew where my trouble shots were and thought I figured out where most of the new breaks had been forming.
With thoughts of practice placed to the side we got everyone checked in and ready to go. We had some worries that the tournament wouldn’t be well attended given the pre-registration and we were right when it came to the professional division. We only had 12 competitors there and only that many due to some last might sign-ups. Some more discussion on that later. However, the amateur division has 25 people – larger than most of the previous years of tournaments combined divisions. That was great to see and the combination of weather forecast and COVID fatigue must have brought out some new folks to the tournament. We kicked off at 9am and the players meeting had me feeling good because A) there were very few questions, which means I’ve finally gotten my notes and speech down and B) everyone was good about trying to distance and wear their masks which meant I didn’t have to have any difficult interactions trying to enforce course rules. It was only going to be when everyone was in close contact where masks would be in play. Due to space on the course you could remove it while playing, which about 75% of the people took advantage of as the day went on.
With some help from our starter Dave Hudon (shouts to Dave on helping us all day, freeing up Mandy and I to focus on other things), we got the tournament rolling with the pros out first followed by the amateurs. The morning went about as well I could hope for from a tournament perspective. With the number of people the 2nd and 3rd rounds were a little slower as the pros caught up to the back of the amateurs but we still finished pretty much on our scheduled time.
Personally, the first couple of rounds were bumpy to say the least. All summer long I struggled at the league to turn in great scores and it seemed like this was an extension of that. The first round was going along fine until I had a weird bounce on a miss on hole 9, kicking me out of bounds at a terrible spot and causing me to take a 5. After that I dropped another bad shot on hole 12 (the cow) which historically has been one of my better holes but it did me in this tournament. I finished the first round with a 43. I wouldn’t manage much better the second round, ending with a 42 after messing up a completely different set of holes. It seemed like I just didn’t quite have the ability to pull everything together into a good round but in talking around it also sounded like the competition wasn’t tearing it up either. Through two rounds there had been only one sub-40 score from the pros, which was very strange. Not sure if it was the temperature or the way courses change over time but those scores meant I was still in the hunt. Perhaps that motivated me in the third round to turn in a sub-40 score (39) just as others found their pace as well. Despite dropping a bad shot on 17, I recorded my first ace of the day on hole 13 which kept me at the relatively “clean” (for that course) score. This left me 7th overall but it was only 2 strokes to the top spot so I was happy that I was within striking distance. I also had a good time because I got to play the three rounds with Josh Tiberio, who I might see once a year at a tournament, usually up in Maine. Josh and I go way back – he was one of the first people I connected with on the pro minigolf circuit and we’ve played many a tournament together often finishing in around the same spot given similar skills. Was great to spend a couple of hours with him on the course.
I didn’t have much time to reflect on that, however, as I needed to wrap up the amateur tournament. Of course ,we had a playoff for the top spot, which is always fun. Consistent with prior years (we’ve never had a tournament playoff go past the 3rd hole), this one was quick ending on the first hole. One thing about this course is that a lot of the holes are deceivingly tricky. Even when you go around the apple on the first hole, if you are off with your pace that second shot can be tricky, especially if you are more novice to competitions and haven’t worked your way through understanding how all of the putts break.
With that out of the way, it was off to round 4. I had it in my head that if I could keep it under 40 then mostly likely I would be within striking distance of the top spot. I was annoyed then when I dropped a shot on hole 3 (“Holey Moley” of all holes) but made it up with an ace and another on hole 8, meaning I was shooting right at target. Once again, though, Hole 9 and the horns spotted me another 5 due to a bad leave up the hill and a bad read on the final putt. But I finished out strong and carded a 40. It wasn’t enough to keep pace with the leaders as most of them went sub-40 in that penultimate round.
I was still only sitting 2 shots out of the top spot, which I could definitely make up in the final round, but more intriguing was that the top 4 competitors were all tied for first. While I definitely wanted to win the tournament, or at the very least place high in the money, the organization/promoter side of me wished that for the moment I could take myself out of the competition and just film the final round. It’s the type of thing where I knew there would be drama and excitement and unfortunately like so many events it would be lost to the world because we didn’t have the resources to memorialize it. As I’ve mentioned before that’s one of the key reasons I ramble on in these blogs – I’d like to have as much archived as possible.
Knowing there would be a lot of pressure on the top for as they played what was essentially a playoff round, I worked on doing my best to jump up there and put up an “in clubhouse” score that would give them a slight scare. I started the front nine playing the average 20 through 9 holes which made me feel good. I knew there was some ace-able holes on the back nine and I felt like I had it rolling. That all came to a screeching halt on hole 12 and the cow again. I still don’t know what I did wrong exactly but I think it was a combination of changing the angle slightly for the better chance at the ace and putting too much pace on it but I bounced my ball behind a berm instead of at the hole and was left with zero chance of carding the 2. I flubbed the layup shot as well which meant my third was a tricky breaking shot which I played terribly. I took my worst score ever on that hole in competition and it wasn’t really the time for that distinction! Unfortunately it reminded me too much of hole 14 at Maine just a week prior .The difference here was that the next hole was much easier and I rebounded there with an ace using the New Zealand Minigolf Federations famous glass ball. I would get through the round only dropping one more unintended shot and carded a 41. I knew it wasn’t going to be enough to win but I just hoped I kept in the money. I had done my part and beaten my playing partners so there wasn’t a risk of being caught at this point.
As expected the final round among the top players had plenty of back and forth excitement. That four consisted of Justin (the reigning two-time champ), Highlighter (first champ of the tournament), Jonah (the youngest pro and has been playing in the tournament since day 1) and Dylan (another younger player who I edged out in the Farmington tournament last year). I would have been happy with any of them winning as they are all friends but I was pulling a little for a first-time winner and that’s what we ended up with in Dylan . I think a result like that just goes a long way to furthering the draw of a tournament when there is “new” blood on top of the scoresheet.
I ended up in 5th overall, which is the lowest I have finished in the four years but I only had minor complaints about my game as it came down to 3 of 90 holes I played that did me in. Seems to be the story of a lot of my tournaments. I guess messing up just a small amount is better than playing badly across all! I can’t help but think if it was a little bit of bad karma though for leaving Putt literally on the shelf!
I alluded to this earlier but for 2021 we’re going to look at making adjustments to the Pro division. We don’t quite understand why it’s not better attended given the value (5 rounds at a tournament is the 2nd most in the Northeast) and the potential money to be won (we pay down to 8th if we can get more than 15 players in that division), especially in a year when other entertainment options are limited. We’re not sure if the names in the division put off some locals as they know they may not be as good as them, or if the length is actual detrimental as people don’t want to spend most of the day at the course. Would love to hear any suggestions in the comments. I suspect we will see a change in the format for 2021 since there’s no point in just hoping things right themselves without taking action!
I would love for my next blog to have been about the Masters but with COVID 19 still flashing up around the country and too many of my fellow Americans and American leadership overall treating it like a hoax, there are travel restrictions in place between my state and South Carolina. Instead I’ll be headed up to Maine for a new Fall tournament at Tabers which holds a summer tournament I’ve been meaning to get to. Sounds like a lot of the regular New Englanders will be in attendance so I’m looking forward to a close competition on a course I haven’t played before (though that worked out for me earlier in NJ). Happy Putting!
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.