I realize it has been a hot minute since my last blog post and I didn’t even do a true 2022 recap. With everything else I’ve been trying to do, especially the Puttcast, I’ve put the long form writing a bit to the side but felt it was a good time to return. Before jumping into the real reason I’ve returned to the blog, I’m going to take a quick paragraph to sum up 2022 and look at 2023.
In short, 2022 was a success for me. I played well at Odetah, O-Street, Dolphin and Matterhorn and got my 3rd win at Farmington. I added icing to the cake by coming in a personal best 16th at the Masters to wrap up the year. Matterhorn was also a great success of a tournament and despite a rough start to the year, the AMA ended up with a solid inaugural season. The Puttcast continued to have strong episodes and we’ve built up a decent little following. I’ve worked hard on WMF things and in general it just seems like minigolf was in a good place coming out of the pandemic. Looking at 2023, it is going to be a very different year from 2022 for a variety of reasons, including a trip oversees, but some of the main continuing projects I’m involved in (AMA, Puttcast, Matterhorn) are all positioned well for another solid year and one that is poised to bring with it some growth.
That brings me to the first tournament of my 2023 season. With the way the local and AMA schedule is, alongside some other minigolf commitments, it looks like I will be missing at least two of my more preferred tournaments. I won’t be playing Odetah in a few weeks and sadly I’ll have to miss out on Farmington due to my trip to Sweden around the World Championships, Executive Committee meeting and Delegates Conference. As a result, I decided to add the Looniest Open in Minnesota, one of the new AMA events for 2023, to my list. It was held on National Miniature Golf Day (May 13th) at the Loon’s Nest course at Island Lake Golf Center.
When you do well in something, I know it may seem a bit insincere to say “I didn’t have any expectations going into this” when doing a recap. Despite that, it was true for this tournament and my co-host Tom Loftus can attest to me saying it several times. In my mind, here’s what I had going against me:
- I was traveling to Minneapolis to play a course I’ve never been at against a bunch of locals who had just played the course a week earlier
- I was getting about ½ a day’s worth of practice on about 4 hours of sleep and a 2.5 hour plane ride
- I hadn’t played competitive minigolf in 6 months since the Master’s
- In fact, other than about a dozen putts on two holes for video, I hadn’t played on an outdoor minigolf course since the Master’s
- I had only played one round of indoor minigolf since the Master’s
- About the only putting I’ve done was either the Putt18 mat or virtually in Walkabout
So yeah, I wasn’t thinking I’d go out there and crush it. Why was I going out there at all?
- Of course to have fun and play in a new tournament, and get a chance to play some other new courses while out there!
- Since meeting Tom and Robin in person at Holey Moley in 2019 I had yet to make it out to visit them at home despite them coming East a few times
- To promote the AMA and to meeting a bunch of folks I had seen in recaps of things like Puttcraft or other AMA events that A Couple of Putts have organized
- As mentioned, to try to make up for some lost tournaments later in the year
Tom had told me a lot about the course and I watched some of the videos he put together so I felt somewhat informed ahead of time. The holes were long, with very few consistent aces, so it was going to be a deuce-heavy tournament. It seemed like a “clean” round was about 40 but scores were expected to be in the 42-45 range for the top places. I figured I could hang not too far off that so was hoping for a good solid Top 5 and maybe sneak into the Top 3 for some extra AMA bonus points. I knew, though, that even if I didn’t have high expectations that some of the folks I would meet would put the pressure on me. It is hard to show up and be one of the guys who’s “played for Team USA” or “played tournaments for 20 years” and not have people there thinking “I wonder what he can do?”.
With reasonable expectations on my shoulders, I boarded my flight at 6am East Coast time and landed just before 8am Central time. Tom was there to greet me and we made a quick stop to drop my stuff at his house. I can’t say enough about Tom and Robin being gracious hosts for me that weekend. It added to my comfort that I didn’t have to worry about lodging and transportation.
We were at the course shortly thereafter and it was down to business. It was overcast and spitting so we felt on the clock to get in what practice we could before the rain came. I know a lot of people have put together, and sometimes preached, a practice routine but my routine is more feeling the situation and what I think I needed. Instead of a cold playthrough we went out and Tom showed me some tee shots and some of how the course played for deuces. It took us a little while to get through the course but after that I felt it was worth a scoring round. I’m glad I did because I shot a 40, with a very lucky almost out of bounds shot on 16, but it set a good confidence level that I understood the course.
After a quick lunch it was back to the course to work on my notes. My goal was to make sure I was teeing off from areas that had a good mix of ace potential but any miss-hits or bad bounces didn’t put me in too much trouble. I realized that a lot of the breaks were readable but there were some positions where they were subtle enough that I wanted notes on them. I know notes are not seen as purist enough for some folks but for me I use them for a couple of reasons:
1) I need something to look at sometimes to make sure I’m taking the right time with the shot. I don’t play slow with them but it gives me a pause.
2) I have crap for memory.
3) When I’m on the course for practice it very rarely is 100% focused on the course as some people do. I’m out there talking with others, doing social media, promoting the game, etc. So my brain always has a ton of things going on – writing stuff down helps me to remember all little nuances other may be able to store away more easily
We cut off around mid afternoon as the rain arrived in earnest and we had some other minigolf on the docket. I felt good though I was worried there were sections of the course I was still lacking some knowledge. I know some folks would have carried on, putting in rep after rep but for me I was ready to enjoy some other minigolf. So it was off to Can Can Wonderland to explore that fantastically chaotic course and have dinner, then a quick visit to Lilliputt where the AMA has the Miniest Open in the Spring.
With the tournament starting later in the day I got the benefit of a good night’s sleep and Robin cooking a wonderful breakfast that morning. We also got the benefit of not playing in the rain or soaking wet mats as it came down pretty good early that morning. A further benefit was that with cloudy skies the mats wouldn’t dry up too much which meant the course played a bit easier without the fast run backs from the hole. Having confirmed that with some practice I had a couple of decisions to make on how to approach some holes given this knowledge so I focused on those until it was time to tee off.
It was a small group of 12 pros and 3 amateurs but most had played the course before and many knew each other from Puttcraft and other Couple of Putts events. For the first two rounds I was paired with Erik Haselius, who I had recognized from Puttcraft. I was ready to go, but my confidence took a quick hit when I took a 3 on the first hole and watched Erik slam it home for an ace. There was a brief moment of thinking “I’m going to get walloped” but I remembered the mantra that has carried me for the past few years – each hole stands alone. Keeping that in mind, I got back that stroke acing hole 5 after maintaining for holes 2-4. After nine I was actually even with two aces and two 3s. I thought things were going smoothly until hole 15. I took a different path than some players did to this big uphill horseshoe and it bit me on my first shot, hitting the rock at the top and sending the ball back to the tee. Even worse my second shot was short and it was back to the tee for a second time. I finally got it around but missed the deuce so I walked away with a 5.
That could have been devastating but I carried on and because I had paced the course well otherwise and I carded a 42 at the end of the first round. I knew it was good when I started to hear some of the other scores come in. Being methodical was the mantra of the second round as well, as I kept ticking off the holes playing each one almost exactly how I wanted to and even picking up a 2 on the complicated 13th hole. As a result, I was rewarded with a 40 on that round, which I definitely knew was good!
What I didn’t realize was how good until Tom came out with the spreadsheet. I was 4 shots clear of the nearest competitor, Ryan McCormick, the general manager of the Island Lake complex. It was one of the largest leads I had going into a final round in my career and I knew as long as I could put in a just a solid round I should have the trophy wrapped up. The next set of competitors were 3 more strokes back so I likely didn’t have much of a challenge from them on my hand. Of course, I was thinking that and immediately took another 3 on the first hole and watched my lead drop to 3 strokes when Ryan made a good deuce.
There was that creeping sensation that things would get away from me but I harkened back to the first round and dug into focusing solely on each hole. By hole 4 I had turned it around, getting the very tough deuce from the upper section of the hole. I wouldn’t say it was clear sailing from then on out but I had confidence and was breaking a bit further away from Ryan as the holes clicked on. Even when I went out of bounds on hole 12, which we had actually talked about earlier in the day and the strategy for if that happened, I felt ok. I wasn’t worried about taking a 4 there so I didn’t go too aggressive but I knew I had a good line. Good enough it turned out to play perfectly off the back wall and right into the cup, saving the 3. With a make up ace on 14 and despite my only 4 on 16, I then had a great run at the blocked cup on 17 leaving me with the easy deuce and a walk into the championship.
Winning any tournament of course feels good. I didn’t realize it until later but it was my 10th win in a tournament (leagues and stuff not counting) and now marks the 5th year in a row that I have won a tournament. I was extra elated having done it coming off such a hiatus and also being able to go into foreign territory and hold up against some great putters I had never played against on a course I had never seen. With a limited tournament schedule for me this year, it was the confidence boost I needed to not feel bad about playing so little and I was very excited to get such a unique trophy for the mantle. It will be a long break until I play competitively again so here’s hoping it comes with some repeat success!
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.
» Looniest Recap» Puttcast