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Of Butterflies & Bees (USPMGA Masters Part 1
02 Nov 2022 at 12:07 | Posted in: Competition | Views: 876 | Comments: 0
|Me and Vanette after our stellar Aloha rounds
I’m writing this a bit out of order, covering the Master’s first while it is more fresh in my mind. I will circle back to our Matterhorn tournament soon to close out the season. I’m also breaking this up into two parts. Part 1 will focus on the experience playing, how the week went, etc. Part 2 will focus on some specific observations I had during the week. You can check out the article on this year’s Master’s for some base information on the tournament if you forgot some of the details, but overall it’s 12 rounds over 3 days on 3 courses.
Building on the more relaxed schedule I put into place from last year, my plan was to arrive a bit earlier on Sunday to give myself a full family-day at the beach as they were again with me. That was put into disarray as Hurricane Ian blew through on Friday and we decided it would be wise to give a little more time for clean up, especially on some of those backroads into Myrtle Beach. So we left Sunday morning instead and got in at the wonderful hour of 2 am. The long and short of it was I missed a few hours of practice on Monday morning that I had planned on, going to the pool instead with my kids, then headed out to Aloha for the early afternoon. I mentioned this on our two-part podcast with the 54 Problems team, but my goals for the week were simple - stay in the money and try to move up at least one spot. My practice plan was Aloha on Monday, Pineapple on Tuesday morning, Rumble on Tuesday afternoon then working through all three courses on Wednesday before the opening ceremonies. It wasn’t going to be much on any one course - no more than 4 or 5 hours - but it would have to do.
When I got to Aloha I was greeted by my Puttcast co-host Tom Loftus who would be my practice buddy for the week. I was also introduced to Justin Hawkins from California who was a Master’s rookie and who we’d take under our wing for the week. Great guy and thanks to Justin for all that time behind our camera! My focus for the first day and half was around re-establishing my starting positions, working a bit on speed and adding more breaks to my chart book. Tom and I also wanted to make sure we got some live recaps in for social media as part of our Puttcast coverage.
By Tuesday afternoon I was feeling ok having re-acquainted myself with the courses. The only one I felt I was stumbling on a bit was Pineapple given it’s always the one we play the least. My second shots I felt I had in order but a lot of my ace shots were still off putting me in positions I didn’t want to be for my second shots. But it was all I could do as Tuesday night was one of the nights it was time to enjoy some Myrtle Beach fun with the family, taking in the Pirate’s Voyage dinner and show again. The kids love it and it’s a great mental break from all the putting.
Wednesday was then focused on getting through all three courses with some straight scoring rounds. After the past few years, I’ve learned not to put a ton of energy into how I scored during practice as my rounds in tournament play have almost always been better. I used to be very focused on the scores but now I’m trying to focus more on how I’m hitting the ball, learning from every putt and making sure that when it came tournament time I was comfortable on every tee box. By the end of the day Wednesday I don’t know if I was quite there but I didn’t worry about it too much knowing that I couldn’t change it at that point.
After the “opening ceremonies” (more on that in Part 2), Tom and I helped out at the First Tee pro-am tournament that the USPMGA runs that evening. Our assigned putter was a good kid, a little unfocused, but seemed to have fun with us. As much as I’m not a person who much likes to interact with kids (other than my own of course), it's important to do things like this to help grow the game and make sure these kids have good memories of playing with “pros”.
With all that in the bag, it was time to get some sleep and prepare to be at my first course around 7:15 am on Thursday. I drew the Rumble-Aloha-Pineapple rotation for the opening 9 rounds. Tom got the Aloha-Pineapple-Rumble rotation. I have had all 3 rotations before and I’m not sure if I have a favorite. Most seem to like ending with Aloha because then you are already on-site for the 10th round which is there and it puts Pineapple first and out of the way for the rest of the tournament. However, you don’t get much choice in it, so I rolled with what I had. I was paired with Danny Tatum, which was a new pairing for me. I only knew Danny from Facebook friendship and he always seemed to be a nice guy, which he definitely turned out to be!
Starting at Rumble, I hoped to get the ace on the first hole, which while easier isn’t a guarantee as this tournament showed for a lot of seasoned pros. I also wanted to carry over my mantra from last year and which I had been trying to apply to all my tournaments - just focus on the lane at hand, be confident in your shots and don’t panic if you get into trouble. I got my wish, kicking off my Master’s with an ace and then got a bit of a bonus when I aced the second hole as well (both on video no less thanks to my fellow penguin Mandy Ranslow). I’d actually do well on hole 2, acing it 4 of the 5 rounds we played there. My front 9 gave me a good boost of confidence, shooting a 15, which would actually be my score for the front 9 on all 3 morning rounds. I’d slip a bit taking the bogey on hole 11 and then got my first chance to take on hole 17. I’ve talked about this one before and this year, despite some controversy to be discussed in Part 2, we still were playing it without the rock. I appreciate this and knocked in my ace, but followed it up with a bogey on 18 to card an opening 34, which felt good to kick off the tournament. Round 2 started in much the same manner, with 2 aces on the opening 2 holes, and I similarly ping-ponged with aces and bogeys to another 34. I’d really pick up the pace in the third round, finding a good ace pace (though not without a few bogies as well) and carding a 32. I really credit my mindset for those rounds as I didn’t let any of the 3’s I took, even the ones on holes where I “shouldn’t” have taken them, impact how I played the next holes or set of holes. Sitting with a 100 was a good set for me and generally better than how I’d played Rumble in the opening rounds in previous years. What surprised me was how well that score was when stacked up to other scores from the morning, landing me in one of the top pairings for the afternoon session over at Aloha.
Aloha would be where my entire tournament would turn and in some respects also shed a new light on my abilities even after 20 years. I’ve traditionally “struggled” at Aloha in comparison to the other pros, never really putting up consistent scores that were anything better than mid-30s at best, a couple strokes under par. Yes, for an average player scoring consistently 32-34 on any non-Putt Putt course would feel good, but it’s hard to stay positive when other players are lower in the 30s or even in the 20s constantly on that course. I’ve never really been able to put together the string of aces I needed to get those scores.
That all changed this year and I do credit some of it to my playing partner Vanette Block. I’ve known Vanette for a while as we’ve always seemed to be relatively close to each other on the scoreboard and we had the chance to play together on Team USA in 2019 in Sweden. She brings a good energy to the game and I was excited to finally have her as a playing partner. I think it helped put me at ease (especially after taking a kind of bad 3 on just my second hole that afternoon) and I found myself very settled into my brain and hitting each shot like I knew it was going to go in. I tried not to overthink any of the shots, telling myself I knew the course and I knew the shots.
After that one 3, I caught fire, finding 9 aces in the final 15 holes including acing the volcano/ant hill hole (not easy to do) and great ace on 18. This solidified a 28, which was my all time record on the course and well up there with some of the top putters that round - though I was still 3 strokes back of the great 25 Rick Baird shot. After listening to a recent 54 Problems podcast, I was trying to manage getting too over excited going into the next round but the confidence of a 28 carried over and I would top it by hitting a 27 that round. The best part of it was that I was bogey free, which included a very tough 2 save on hole 18 from down the hill as I failed to make it up on my tee shot. If nothing else, that round would make my tournament and the confidence of knowing I could be right up there with the best minigolfers in the US was a big boost. While it’s not the type of score that may also impress the best minigolfers, for 99% of the rest of the world it is a score, that when you tell them you got it, immediately puts you in the “pro” category in their minds.
Since that 3 on my second hole I would go 40 holes before taking another bogey. My third round ended up being rougher with back-to-back bogies on 7 and 8, and the volcano hole would finally bite me as I took a back-and-forth 5. That hole was the biggest test of my mental game thus far in the tournament as I tried to block each shot from the one before it - focusing not on how it was impacting my score, but just focusing on doing what I needed to do to land the ball in the cup. Even with that score I ended up no worse than usual, with a 33 and a personal best 88 for the 3 rounds. It was my first time under 90 and was better by several strokes easily from any other set I had. It was a great way to cap off the day and as Tom would see later, my hot streak continued while playing minigolf with my kids, knocking down aces while holding their stuff and generally having two wild ones under 8 be distractions (clearly showing my Distractor on Holey Moley should have been crazy kids).
It was during my rounds at Aloha where I noticed there were a lot of butterflies out on the courses this year. Mostly these lovely yellow ones and in talking with some other folks they had noticed the same. I decided to take it both as a sign of good luck and a sign that I should be enjoying the way things are going, being doubly blessed with some natural beauty.
By excelling at Aloha, I ended in a position I had never been at the Masters - the top couple of pairs within my group. I would head into my rounds at Pineapple on Friday paired with one of the Mr. Perfects (and 2 time Masters champion) - Greg Newport, and we were only trailing the pairing of Rick Baird and Matt McCaslin (who interestingly enough would finish the tournament tied for second). As much as I tried not to let it impact me, I was definitely nervous in that first round, beefing the opening hole to take a 3 and shooting my worst round of the tournament - a 40. I’d right the ship with a 33 the next round and then a 35 to finish it off. I didn’t hurt my position too bad and was happy with the 33 as it was another bogey-less round. The best part of that grouping though was being able to hang with those 3 guys between rounds and hear some great stories while we were waiting to tee up the next round. It’s not a chance I get too often.
Then it was onto the final round at Aloha. At that point I was sitting in 18th place and looking at the numbers, I had a sizable cushion between me and the cut for the afternoon grouping the next day, which meant I was almost guaranteed to meet one of my goals for the tournament. I told myself that all I needed was a “good” round at Aloha of 32 or 33 to close that out. This round I was paired with Frank Bisesi. It was my first time putting with Frank after getting to know him through the Puttcast and other venues. His round wasn’t particularly stellar, driven by some bad luck and not getting the best breaks, but I managed to hold my way through the round to a very respectable 30, including closing out with an ace. During this round I had my second encounter with nature, this time with what I think was a honeybee. As I lined up to take my shot on hole 8, this bee came down and settled on the back edge of my putter. I have a blade putter so it landed in that little depression on the back side. I tried to shake him off but he wouldn’t move, so I stepped back and tried to scrap him off into the bushes. He left, circled, and landed again on my putter. It took one more attempt to get him to leave for good and then I went up and knocked in my two with relative ease, which is nice for that hole. I once again decided that nature was on my side!
This all left me in a tie for 14th going into the final two rounds. It was by far the best I had ever been at the Masters and I was over the moon at how I was putting. Not only did I have the later morning tee time the next day, but I was well into the grouping playing with another Master’s champion Randy Reeves. I took my time that morning but still wanted to get to the course before I had to so that I could watch and encourage Tom finishing his final rounds. After enjoying a quiet morning on the balcony and a quick breakfast with the family, I headed over arriving in time to live stream a little of his finish. Mandy would capture much more of those rounds and then she and Tom did an amazing job of covering the final two rounds of the leaders.
As for me, I was a bit nervous, especially because we start these rounds on hole 5 which isn’t as easy to ace as hole 1. (For those not aware these rounds don’t start on hole 1 because hole 18 is inaccessible for crowd watching and filming). However, I got a little lucky with my bounce and knocked it in, giving me a solid start. This was also after my second encounter with a bee during the tournament. This time the little guy (and who knows, maybe the same bee) was crawling on the ground right in my line from the tee. So I did my best to move him, hoping I didn’t shank it right to where I got him to go, and teed off. Despite Tom thinking I had killed the little guy, I took it as a 3rd sign that nature was on my side this tournament. With just a little stumble on hole 10 and then knocking in some aces including both 17 and 18, I had a very respectable 33 for that round which pulled me just ahead of Randy after 11 rounds.
In the final round I unfortunately swung the other way and started with a bogey but managed to battle back and forth some as I made my way to hole 17. In my head, I was probably overthinking just trying to get through it one more time that year and as a result I hit my first shot a bit too much to the right and it returned to the tee. Trying not to worry too much, I re-teed and then hit it with way too much power and it missed, returning back to me. Of course at this point I started to have minigolf PTSD thinking back to my infamous 9 on this hole, but I took a moment, stepped away and then stepped back in. This time I knocked it right in and while a 3 wasn’t great, I felt good preventing a massive blow up. I was even more pleased I had the wherewithal to settle and knock in the ace on 18, “making up” for that three. My back and forth would continue with my finishing with a 3 on the final hole but I carded a 36. While I slipped back behind Randy that score was good enough to seal my finish as my best ever at 16th.
Afterward I was naturally excited about my finish and you can hear me talk about it more over on our Puttcast episode. It was great to exceed some goals and to do so without having to overextend myself in the process. My takeaway, as it is many times, is that the more you can have fun and connect with the people playing, the better chance you’ll have of allowing yourself to do well in the tournament.
In Part 2, I’m going to discuss a few of my goods and bads of the tournament. Some of these I have spoken about on our podcast and have some carryover from prior blogs but I wanted to continue to memorialize those items for future discussion and hopefully improvement.
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.