Saturday: Iíve been stirring throughout the night, endlessly watching dunk compilations on YouTube hoping that I would eventually get tired of watching Shawn Kemp fly over Alton Lister. No, I can never tire of that. Itís going to be a long day as today, Iím up early for the closed training session at Star City in Birmingham, travelling via Leicester to pick up Ed. Weíre a Bob down due to illness, or maybe confusion of our game of Kisstory Bingo. Itís dark at this time of year, the majority of the first hour of the journey has no street lighting. It heightens the senses somewhat.
The course at Star City is open at 8 am, we arrive just after. I know on the tour that we are appreciative of the efforts to help us along the way and five hours without public intrusion is particularly. If Iím honest, I try to avoid any kind of busy period with the public around. Normally, groups of seven upwards is common (the record number in a pack I have seen is FOURTEEN Ė and they wouldnít let me through) and some are slightly ignorant and oblivious that you are even there. Just like in Nottingham a few months back, I work closely with Ed on some shots, as well as Paul Preston, who attempts lines that really shouldnít exist at times. Paul has come up trumps on the first two holes and after deciding they are better than what I have in my locker, I stick with them.
Around 11 am, I started getting into some scored rounds. Anything around 33-34 is competitive here, so Iím pleased when all but one of my laps are lower than this. I make some minor adjustments to my stance, just favouring my front foot on the balls of my feet, similar to what I had done at Sidcup, three weeks prior. That had been an overall success. I generally struggle at Star City for one reason or another. Last year, my mind was elsewhere, digesting news that a family friend had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Itís never been a favourite course for me.
We play until the hordes of screaming kids arrive, they had already been on the other course during the morning, running everywhere, climbing everything. I take Ed to my normal haunt for lunch, the Harvester, where my team The Sussex Wasps was born almost four years ago. He gets his phone out so we can watch the Chelsea match. The rest of the afternoon is spent dozing on a sofa, football betting and loading up on calories. I swear it was a punnet of strawberries I bought but by the time I got back, it had turned into a trifle. The draw for the groups had been made in the meantime, Iíve got Paul and Geoff Farmer. With that news, our rock and roll days are long behind us and itís off to sleep in front of the television.
Sunday: We have to be out of the house at 7 am. Ed is still in his dressing gown at 6.50 am while Iím tucking into my breakfast of a tray of mini doughnuts. For me, Kisstory Bingo is already lost so the thrill of the journey is just reminding Ed what junction of the M6 we need to get off at. Star City is closed when we get there, most of the field are huddled outside the entrance. The manager eventually lets us in just before 8 am, meaning weíre down to around twenty odd minutes of sharpening up the lines. In that time, I discover that my pace of putt is a little quick, so I tell myself to relax and take a moment. Scott bellows out that practice is over. It could have gone a lot better.
We start at the third and despite my yellow and black attire, Iím thoroughly put in the shade by Paul, who has a penchant for being distinctive. Showing his love for the Seattle Seahawks, heís ram raided the club shop. Iím clearly going to need my shades this morning. I knock my opening tee shot off the platform but make the two up the hill. My first issue comes at the eighth, a long dogleg. Mentally, I find this one tough and I play it poorly for a drop. I vastly overhit the next and drop to two over. Within four holes, Iíve got it back to level. I mutter encouragement under my breath. In recent tournaments, Iíve become more distant from my fellow pros, just trying to concentrate on my game over conversation. I donít want to be a difficult person to be in a group with but I need to work on that side of minigolf. I finish with a level par score. I have no idea who has scored what. Itís too easy to get drawn into that and I donít want to know.
Round two starts where I grabbed my first ace in the opening lap so Iím hopeful. No. Itís a better performance without the luck. Amazingly, I make two of the most unlikeliest holes in the building, which sandwich a drop. On the top tier by the steps, it is a magnet for shadows, movement and muttering. I hear the words ďoh deary meĒ on my downswing on the 17th and I push my second right. I unleash the death stare. I recover enough to get to three under before carelessness towards the end brings me in with a 35. The score doesnít matter. I havenít played anywhere near well enough. I slope off for a cup of tea, away from everyone.
My final group of the year includes The Glowstick (Paul) and Matt. Two of the more positive people on the circuit. Iím going to need that after I start off with a pair of threes. Although I would start making aces, Iíve long stopped celebrating them. I focus my attention on the very last hole. Iím desperate to ace it to give me something going forward into new year. For once, my line is great and as I release the shot, I already know itís going in and raise both fists in triumph. Once again, 35. Star City has got the better of me. I finish thirteenth.
The one thing I want to do before I go is get a photo with Dave Gomm who, like me, has played every event this season. Daveís achievement is even more remarkable having been stricken at the beginning of 2017. I have a lot of admiration for him. From there, we all say our goodbyes. Myself, Ed and Chris all order the same Subway sandwich and weíre off home. Iím quite reflective. It shows just how far Iíve come in my career when Iím still trying to better myself, despite having eight podium finishes, a win and being the second best ranked minigolfer on the isle. Iím still fighting the anxiety but dealing with it better now. I know I have to work more on the mental side so during the off season, thatís what Iíll do. This is now the fifth year Iíve been involved in minigolf since opening social media drunkenly on a train near Brighton. I have found something quite special in my life which is bordering on a vice. Whatever happens during our time putting, the people who take part really are good friends. I donít know what I would do without them.