Posting this on behalf of Dylan Koerner, a local minigolfer from Connecticut, USA.
The title of this post is a question I never thought I would ask myself while playing mini golf. It's a question no one would ever think I would ask myself if they've ever seen me play mini golf. Yet here I was, standing on the 18th tee at the final round of the 4th Annual International Pro-Am Mini Golf Tournament at Matterhorn Mini Golf in Canton, CT asking myself a question everyone else knew the answer to. But before we get to that, you should probably know how I got here.
I felt very prepared for the tournament this year. I had been close at another local tournament in Farmington, CT two of the last three years, playing against other pros in the area. I had placed 4th in this tournament last year, my best to date, with a record-tying 10 aces as well. I also had my best year in the weekly mini-golf league at Matterhorn, winning three of the nights including one dominant 13 stroke victory and another where I aced the aforementioned 18th hole to clip three others to win by one. I felt comfortable under pressure, my play was improving, and I knew I could compete with the best despite having not won a tournament yet. I was as confident as I could be arriving at this tournament...and then Round 1 happened.
It wasn't an awful first round but the three tough holes on the course, Holes 7, 9, and 18, really hurt me. On Hole 7 I tried to go around the pond on my first shot and ended up going off the course and settled for a four. I also got stuck on the top part of Hole 9 and made a four there. Finally I tried my infamous shot on Hole 18 that gets me down near the hole and went out of bounds and that led to a five due to how tough the hole is and where I had to drop. That combined with two other dropped shots left me with a 45. I was disappointed because I knew that wasn't a great score or even a good score for the course. I was surprised to learn, however, that the lowest score in round 1 was a 41 by my playing partner Justin and two others. I wasn't in great shape but no one was going out hot with a sub-40 round so I still felt like I was in the hunt.
The second round was an improvement on the first. I still dropped a shot on 5 as I did in last round. I still got a four on Hole 7 trying to go around the pond. I thankfully only took a three on Hole 9. The real blow up was on 12. After a dropped shot the previous hole I got an awful bounce off the back wall and got stuck behind another obstacle. I couldn't get a clean shot straight at the hole so I tried to go around it and I hit it too hard. My third shot lipped out and I was suddenly 6 over for the round. I was livid, but thankfully I settled down. I got twos the rest of the way in including Hole 18 by successfully doing my shot and leaving myself a short five footer for a two on a Hole I know the rest of the pros would rarely get two on if ever. I learned I was 7 back of the lead but I again told myself I was in the hunt...I just needed to execute my shots next round to get under 40 to be close.
Thankfully Round 3 was my masterpiece. I went around the pond perfectly on Hole 7. I aced Hole 8. I got it through the horn on Hole 9 leading to a tap in two and a 17 on the front. I dropped shots on 11 and 16 but I aced 13 and was even par going into Hole 18 again. I had heard I wasn't the only one going off though. Highlighter was one ahead of me after two rounds and had just shot 37. My playing partner Justin was also one ahead of me after two rounds and was about to shoot 38. I needed to execute my shot on Hole 18 to keep up, and thankfully I did. I left myself a tap in two, tying my career low and the tournament record with a 36. I was now one back of the lead but more importantly in a large pack of seven people within two of the lead. I knew it was going to be a brawl once everyone came back from lunch but I felt more ready than ever after shooting the tournament low.
Coming back from lunch everyone felt the pressure. I was paired with Highlighter in the second group out. We were behind the leaders and we both went out well. I struggled with yet another 4 on Hole 7 and I had gotten a three on 9. I was mad about Hole 7 but still felt comfortable with my strategy despite it costing me two shots to the field. But I knew I had to pull it together as Highlighter had pulled into the lead with an 18 on the front. I kept calm and thankfully played a clean back 9 including yet another perfectly executed shot on the dreaded 18th that led to a two where as Highlighter dropped three shots on the back overall and tied me at 39. We learned that Jonah from the lead group shot 40 and that Justin had shot 38 behind us. We had four players tied at the top now and it was a winner take all last round.
It was no surprise to me who the top four were. We had the two time defending champ in Justin, the first champion in Highlighter, and the two best performers in the weekly league in myself and wunderkind 14 year old Jonah. If I had picked people to have a shot in this event I would have chosen us four and tournament host Pat the Putting Penguin. I knew all of us were capable of winning and it would almost certainly be a game of who made the least mistakes in our final group. The first six holes are normally all twos but Justin had a gaffe on the first Hole accidentally hitting his ball while reaching over the apple to address it and Jonah went off on a tear getting an ace on two of the first five holes. He thankfully came back down to earth on Hole 6 to keep myself and Highlighter within one of the lead. On Hole 7 Highlighter took a three, then I went and shocked everyone with my decision. For the first time in probably three years playing this course I laid up like a "normal" person and then went around the pond on my second shot and took a three. I surprised my entire group and other on lookers with my decision but I knew I couldn't be risky. Mistakes weren't going to be made in this group and I couldn't afford yet another four on Hole 7. I think this signaled to everyone I was taking this seriously. With Jonah taking a four on 7 himself I was back in a tie for the lead and thanks to a fortunate bounce on Hole 9 I matched Highlighter's two and we were both tied for the lead with 9 to go.
The next few holes, Highlighter blinked first. He dropped a shot on Hole 11, missed the hole in the castle on Hole 13 which led to a four, and went between two bordering rocks and out of bounds leading to another three. Jonah kept pace with me but dropped another shot on Hole 13, leaving me with a two shot lead with four to go. Unfortunately I did blink myself. I took a three on the very easy Hole 15 and cut my lead in half. Highlighter aced it to jump back to within two. Thankfully Jonah dropped a shot on 16 by hitting a tennis ball and I took a safe route to a two bringing my lead back to two with two holes to go. I stepped onto the 17th tee knowing I couldn't afford another mistake to let two great competitors back in it. I stepped up and got my fourth and final ace of the tournament. I was ecstatic. I thought I had sealed the deal with it...only to have Jonah ace it right behind me to keep within two. I felt I was in trouble with a two shot lead coming to the infamous 18th hole.
Now I can explain the situation from the beginning properly. The 18th hole is notoriously long and difficult, but I was known as the guy who tamed it. What was normally a lay up hole for a three for most every other mini golfer, I went for with gusto every time. I have gone through the tiniest sliver of green that led from the tee box to the area with the hole many times. Sometimes I bounced off or over the side bricks, other times I got through without leaving the carpet at all. I aced the hole twice in official play, once in the final round of this tournament two years ago and once in league play as I mentioned before. I had always gone for it and yet I stood on the 18th hole telling myself there was no way I could even think to do that. I was not about to be Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot in 2006. I couldn't risk a 5 or 6 especially with Jonah getting a 3 in front of me (I went last despite honors since it was the last hole). The problem was I didn't know how.
I frantically and half jokingly asked the bystanders who had finished their rounds "How do I lay up on this hole?" I watched as all three of my playing partners laid up as they always do and made their three and yet I was still nervous. I had not done this in competition ever and it showed as I messed up the first putt hitting it too close to the left wall. I went off the hill but it didn't give me a straight putt for a three. I laid up again as close as I could leaving myself a three footer to win by 1, and thankfully I sunk it as that was the only putt I was comfortable with that entire hole. I was so thankful to finally win a tournament. It took years of competing against the best around to finally get a win but it was worth it. It is the first individual tournament that I or my friend Brian, who brought me into mini golf tournaments five years ago, had ever won (though we did win a team tournament that I made a post about here). It only happened because of putting in the time and effort and most importantly feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable, which I definitely felt trying to lay up on 18.
I want to thank Pat and Mandy, the two putting penguins, for putting on a remarkable and fun tournament every year and working so hard to make it possible. I want to thank Autumn, the course owner, for creating such an imaginative and unique mini golf course and keeping it so well maintained. It is easily my favorite course in the state. I want to thank my friend Brian who brought me into the sport and put up with me during our long drives across the state to play many mini golf courses. Lastly, I want to thank everyone who I've played with whether at the weekly league or just in the tournaments. Your camaraderie and enjoyment of mini golf make playing these tournaments fun and exciting. I hope to try and defend my title next year, and maybe I'll practice laying up a bit more.
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.