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Cigar Aficionado

Don’t Jinx Myself

I’ve been holding off writing this blog, partly because I don’t want to jinx myself. But Dave has been putting pressure on us to submit some blogs, so here it goes.

Last Friday, I rescheduled a golf match to beat the weekend’s rains from Hanna. The match was part of Sleepy Hollow Country’s Club season-long Governor’s Cup, which is a match play format with full handicap. It is distinct from the club championships, and not all the low handicappers sign up, so it gives opportunity for hackers like me to get some real tournament experience and hopefully, not embarrass ourselves.

Last week’s match was in the semifinals. Yeah, after three years in a row of washing out in the first round, I had several miraculous recoveries this summer, coming back once from three down with four to play and once losing a three up lead with four to play, and then winning both matches. In fact, each of my first three matches had gone to the 19th hole, which is played on our first hole. I was beginning to feel invincible on that hole, however. In two of the first three matches, I had birdied the hole and in the third match, a quarterfinal, I played it perfectly to par it.

But the semifinal loomed as an impossible challenge. I was playing a great gentleman who carries a 25.8 index, and a course handicap of 31. The math was pretty easy. I was giving up 20 strokes. That’s right; a stroke a hole plus two holes with two strokes. To a man among my friends, not one thought I could win the match. Count me among the skeptics. I haven’t had the greatest of golf seasons as I’m been working on a swing change since late last year; after several years with an index in the six to seven range, it had climbed as high as 10.5 in June before dropping back to 9.2 by September. So, without one round under 80 all summer, I knew that I was hanging by a thread against my opponent before I ever teed off.

Last Friday was a perfect day. Thanks to the near unanimous dismissal of my chances, I was relaxed and feeling good. We teed off at 7:45 a.m., just the two of us with a caddy. My strategy was simple: focus early and get him down in hopes that he would start to press a little bit. Now how many times have you had that thought going into a round of golf, and suddenly look up on the fourth tee to realize you’re already four or five over par for the round and down a bunch of holes to your opponents. That didn’t happen this time. I parred one, birdied two to beat a bogey from my opponent and parred three, winning that hole too after he had trouble getting out of a sand trap. I’m on the 4th tee, up by three already and thinking, wow, this never happens to me! He won 4 after I hit an errant second shot, and I couldn’t get up and down, carding my only double bogey of the day. But I parred five and six for wins and then almost sank a bunker shot on seven for birdie, but we finally halved that hole.

I was up four and facing my first two-shot hole, a long par-4. After a mediocre drive, I had over 230 in but I hit a decent shot just short of the green. I chunked my chip, and thought, oh boy, here we go. I was still away and I almost chipped in for par, but the ball hung on the lip. I’m in for 5, he’s next to a green side bunker hitting his 4th shot and I’m thinking I’ve lost the hole. But he chunked his 4th, hit is fifth 30 feet past and above the hole, his sixth ran 15 past the hole, and he missed his 7th shot, giving me the hole. I parred 9 and suddenly, at the turn, I’m up six with nine to play. I had shot a 37 on the front.

On 10, a par 3 over water, I hit a perfect tee shot about 12 feet below the hole. My opponent says he hits in the water eight out of 10 times on this hole, to which I exclaim that I should start helping him with the mental part of his game. I rethink my kind offer almost immediately. He hits a shot slightly left that just clears the bunker, pops onto the green and rolls within two feet of the cup. I miss my birdie putt. He doesn’t. So, it’s five up with eight to play. On 11, I’m getting nervous finally, bogey the hole and lose it. Four up, seven to play, and I’m facing a two-shot hole, a long par 5. I play it perfectly, but my opponent has cleared the creek in front of the elevated green with his third shot, and he’s lying a net one. I figure I’m toast. But he chunks a shot, chips up past the hole and then two putts for a seven while I miss my birdie putt. We halve the hole. Four up, six to play. I bogey 13 and lose the hole. Three up with five to play. Hole 14 is a medium length par 4; I hit a perfect drive and leave myself 115 yards to the hole, and hit a pitching wedge about eight feet above the hole, and drained the birdie putt…the match was dormie. I bogeyed 15 and lost the hole. 3 up three to play. And, then, on the par 3 16th, I hit long, but chipped up close enough to sink my par putt, and he needed to par the hole to win; he pushed the putt and missed it, and I had won the match, 3 & 2.

We finished the round, partly because I knew I was on the verge of a career round. I parred 17, and after just missing my par putt on 18, I had carded a 38 on the back nine for an all-time career low of 75. I’m still in shock, but happy to be victorious. I got a lot of incredulous looks around the clubhouse; Of course, I returned to earth two days later with a 93 in a friendly foursome on Sunday. But who cares.

I’ll let you know how the finals go in October.