I got to the course about an hour before tee time. It was still kind of cold out, but the makings of a really nice, clear blue sky fall day. There were a few guys on the range, and the practice greens were packed. A news crew was on hand to cover the opening of the tournament.
Ms. Legit was gracious enough to take the morning off work to drive the car and hang around with me while I warmed up. It was nice to have someone to talk to. I started by hitting some irons on the range, and hit them so well it kind of freaked me out. One of the tournament staff who was tending the range, refilling the ball trays asked what division I was in. He suggested that maybe I was sandbagging. He was kidding around I think. "No," I protested, "I've just been practicing hard for this." So a good little confidence boost to start the warmup.
Then I tried to chip and putt, but I couldn't really get into it, couldn't concentrate. The best I could hope for was to at least internalize the speed of the greens somewhat. At that point I was sort of distracted by everything, thoughts mostly fixed on the imminent tee-off.
Carts were included with the entry fee, so I toyed with the idea of riding (who likes leaving free stuff on the table?) but ultimately declined, easy choice since sharing a cart with a stranger is always potentially distracting and/or awkward in any situation, never mind in one's first individual stroke-play competition. I spotted a few other walkers here and there on the course but we were grossly outnumbered. But I enjoyed the solitude and pretty sure us few mavericks who dared to not ride enjoyed a slight competitive advantage.
On the tenth tee the starter broke down for us all the rules and regulations and what not. He informed us that we were ideally to play a four and half hour round. (Three hours later and not halfway through the round those words from the starter would be roundly mocked.) This is where I got my last-minute indoctrination to the process of tournament scorekeeping: each person gets an official scorecard with his own name printed on it, which is then swapped with someone else's. Each person keeps the score of whoever's card he gets, and on the detachable bottom portion of the same card, his own score. Okay, that wasn't so difficult.
When it became our turn on the tee I felt pretty calm. A little bit of nerves, but nothing much different from usual jitters that precede the first tee shot of any round, even the ones where there's not another soul around. Anyways by this time the tournament was well under way and there was no fanfare on or around our teebox. I've felt more way more freaked out teeing off in a casual round on a backed-up teebox with lots of people waiting around.
The tenth fairway at Marine Park is huge, as in wide and welcoming off the tee. Still, we saw a few nervous hooks and slices. There was a random course employee sitting on the bench behind the teebox, who had designated himself as "the clapper" for the all the groups starting their rounds here. He and Ms. L gave me a nice applause when the starter called my name.
Taking driver, I put a decent swing on it--it started down the middle and faded to the rough. I was happy with that. Only a few strides down the fairway and I began to feel settled, in a familiar element now. Just another start to just another round. Glad to be here. I felt so good and comfortable that I went for that green in two, finding a greenside bunker.
The bunkers at Marine Park are unlike any I've seen. They're made of bedrock. The conventional splash shot is not just ill-advised, it's physically impossible. The technique to use here is more akin to what you'd use hitting off a cart path--try and nip it off with a clean strike.
I've never quite come to terms with all this though. I basically tried to chip this one out with a soft little stroke, and somehow missile-launched it clear over the green and on to a cart path near the 13th green. When I got there I was taken aback because I saw a female competitor in the group there. In a flash though surprise was replaced with disgust as she drove her cart right over my ball.
Whatever. It was already a bad enough situation--this cart path looked more like an incidental cart-driving area than an actual intended one, just a worn path in the dirt where the carts happen to tread. So I wasn't sure if free relief was warranted. F IT, let me just play it from here, what do I care. I probably should've been more freaked out at this point, but I'm no stranger to bunker-skulling balls over the green and I've always tried to handle it with calm and maturity--I guess it all paid off in this instance.
I managed to nip it off that rocky patch of semi-cart path and got it barely on to the green, which was blind from where I stood. Under the circumstances a minor coup. It took three more to get down though--double bogey. But I didn't feel too bad as I knew that it could've easily been an epic disaster.
The next hole, I swoop hooked the tee-shot nearly onto the adjacent hole and into a wasted, barren-earth area. A tree blocked my view of the green, but more of a mental obstacle than anything. I took an 8-iron and inches into the takeaway the clubhead snagged on a thick clumpy weed. Crap. I swung down anyways and launched it right at the pin, about ten feet short. Because this shot came out so nice despite the screwed-up takeaway, I felt that everything was going to be okay today. I holed the birdie putt and that pretty much erased any bad vibe from the opening double bogey.
By the third hole, things got extremely backed up. It took almost an hour to get through the first two holes and that pretty much established the tone for the whole event.
A couple holes into the round, the black guy took me aside and asked if I had seen one of the guys in our group mark his ball improperly on the first green. No, sorry I said, I didn't notice that.
"See, I'm a rules guy.."
Hey, that's cool, I am too.
"No you not! You didn't see it. If you was a rules guy, you woulda saw that!"
Sorry, I'll pay more attention, I told him. He basically warned me that he'd be watching everything.
I think he was trying to both lay down the law, and also intimidate us all in the process. Early in the round, he scolded the other two guys a couple times, for standing in the wrong place, etc. He was very watchful about every rules situation that came up during the round. When someone's ball was hit near a questionable area, he insisted that I get in the cart and ride over with him to make a ruling.
He saw me looking at my phone and got on my case, citing the "no cell phone" rule. Of course I knew the tournament rules also specifically allowed phone use for GPS range-finding, so it was a non-issue.
Rules Guy ended up schooling us all in more ways than one--besides shepherding this group of newbies and hacks, he also shot 81 and tied for first in the division. His golf was unspectacular, and all I can really remember him doing was chipping it close and making the putt, but alas that is how you do it. At this handicap level, especially. He might've missed two makeable putts the whole round.
I was sorry to see the other two guys in our group bring up the rear with triple-digit scores. DFL. The older guy was friendly and I appreciated that. His tournament ended though on the 12th hole when a couple of lost balls led to a 14. The Euro guy took the steadier route towards his hundred-something--he topped and shanked pretty much throughout, in both directions too.
I started with some double bogeys and a +10 on the first nine, and then settled into something of a groove on the second, which for us was Marine Park's tougher, windier, nastier front side, with a +6 to finish at 88, good for a tie for seventh out of 21.
It was breezy for most of the round and the greens started out fast, and dried and sped up even more throughout the day. This is typically a hard and fast course, but today the greenside areas had been watered copiously, which killed bounces and made approaches tricky. That's right--I am trying to make my score seem better by playing up the difficulty of the course, so what.
After the round there was a free buffet in the banquet/scorer's area. I wasn't feeling any of it. I ordered a Heineken at the bar instead. One of the crusty locals sitting there drunk, saw me trying to pay using a debit card and made a scene, shouting "Debit card?! Come on, I'll buy ya the beer, that's how we do it here, we take care of our own!" The bartender shot me a look like Trust this guy at your own risk. "Next time," I told him. "That's a really nice thought, but we only just met right now, I can't let you do that." "Thought? What thought? This is how we do it." Couldn't tell if he was kidding around or was actually put out. I went outside to drink. There was a group of Brooklyn guys sitting around waxing nostalgic about some butcher shop. Back in those days, soon as you'd walk in the door they'd hand you a free slice of bologna! Some other guys who finished early had already been hitting the sauce fairly hard. One dude stumbled into me and then tried to play it off like he knew me and was pal'ing around. Another brother, drink in hand was working hard trying to pick up one of Marine Park's hoochie-mama cart women. It was quite a scene; I guess for some of these guys it was time to let off steam that had built up during the competition.
With several groups still out on the course, my 88 put me at third on the clubhouse leaderboard. I was going to stick around and see if I'd won anything, but right after getting that beer I saw my name on the board bumped down to seventh place. Crap. I chugged the bottle as quick as I could and left for home.
All in all, the event went well. Word on the street is that there was plenty of demand, and that it will be returning next year, with a much bigger field and stricter entry requirements. I see no reason for this not to become an annual event, and a tradition too. Why the F not. The six-hour pace of play was painful, but outside of that the tournament staff did a nice job, treated the players pretty good. The borough president of Brooklyn showed up for a bit of politico shuck and jive act--this world-class golf course, great champion, yadda yadda, now if you'll excuse me I gotta get back to work, etc. We made the local TV news too.
Also there were some interesting results throughout the field. A grizzled Staten Island golf instructor and some skinny Korean kid from Queens both shot 1-under to tie for first and duked it out over five sudden death playoff holes. The older guy prevailed, and after the round revealed that before last Friday, he hadn't been on this course in twenty years. Really impressive stuff.
Surprised to see some of the high scores throughout the competition-there were a couple of pros who shot worse than I did. They left the course feeling awful about their lives, probably. In the top amateur division as well, there were quite a few blowup scores in the 90s. Either a lot of vanity handicaps here, or else people just got brutalized by Marine Park, which is not only tough but has a number of idiosyncrasies not really seen anywhere else.
In any case to all these people who blew up their rounds yesterday, who are supposedly better at this, I salute you--your terrible scores are making me feel a lot better about my game.
For my golf game this was a big step forward. Breaking apart my swing and then putting it back together in time for the tournament was a minor feat; I'm kind of proud of that. Yesterday was one of the best driving rounds I've had ever. With every full shot I took confident lines, played aggressive and didn't have to resort to some emergency plan B or C just to get the ball around, like I had worried about earlier.
Chipping and pitching was pretty bad though. I chipped through a number of greens. Standing over a basic 60 yarder I felt pretty shaky, and realized how completely focused I got myself on the long game over the last few weeks, and how I did almost no short shot practicing.
Looking back it was a good time, and it'll make for a good memory. Certain shots here and there especially. There was a hole-in-one contest hole with a Cadillac prize; I flushed a 6-iron to the moon and as it apexed, it actually looked like it might have a chance.
Frankly though, my initiation into tournament golf wasn't all that special or memorable. There were times during the round where it felt like any ordinary weekend, slow play round. The tournament experience itself was good, not great, or life-changing exactly. (Legitimategolfer Jfurr had it right when he guessed that I wouldn't find the tournament experience too different from ordinary workaday golf.) But for a time, it gave me a focal point for all that sweatin and practicin at least. With some real stakes on the line I got fairly focused on what I was doing and came away with a big, lasting improvement. Right now I am swinging it better and simpler than ever.
So I have a nice segue into the late-fall/early-winter golf season, which a couple years ago I decided was my favorite. We got seriously derailed due to the hurricane last year, but barring any freak weather catastrophes, I am looking forward to carrying on the good play (and continuing to explore the hidden dark corners of NYC golf) for the rest of the year and who knows, maybe even deep into the winter if we're lucky.