John vs. Golf
One man's quest to love a game that hates him.
The 2018 Myrtle Beach World Amateur
(The world's biggest golf tournament.)
Wednesday, August 22
The World Am event starts in just 5 days. It's the 35th annual but this is my maiden voyage. Four days on four different courses.
My goals, day-by-day:
Monday--finish in the top half of my flight.
Tuesday--finish in the top third.
Wednesday (the toughest course)--avoid a big number and see what happens.
Thursday--keep the leaders in sight.
I'm in the Super Seniors (age 70-79) Flight with highest handicaps. (The flight above us is for guys 80-89, called the "Seasoned Super Seniors(!)) At this age, will we be the slowest flight? They must really pity us--we're playing off the red tees. Yep RED. I usually play around 6000-6300 yards. Here I'll be playing 4700 yards, 4900 yds, 5500, and 5400 yds.
MON, AUGUST 27
Things I learned at the 2018 Myrtle Beach World Am.
1.Old guys don’t warm up.
“I’m saving it up for the course. You wanna see me die on the range?” There were only about 5 of us on the range and I’m was already sweating like Niagara as the haze lifted and the sun creased the sky, and half the other guys were sitting in their carts with a cigar or an ice coffee. The event announcer said: “Sorry we ran out of handicap flags for the carts—just be careful where you drive.” How many of us are no longer 'spry?' Hoo boy.
2. Golf course coffee is served one way: coffee. Little creamer peelaway cups and white sugar only. Take it or leave it.
3. It’s hot out here. Hot, humid, 92 degrees. Standing on the greens waiting for your partners to putt is the toughest part of the game.
4. Massachusetts sign makers should visit Myrtle Beach. You ALWAYS know what road you’re on and also what’s coming up. Fancy that.
5. However, driving the main street in greater Myrtle, Route 17, is kind of like driving down a carnival midway: seafood restaurant, tobacco and vape store, ribs place, steak house, beach gear shop, tobacco and vape, seafood place, retail mini-mall, ribs place, golf shoe warehouse, repeat repeat repeat. It’s like Orlando and Vegas had a love child. Fortunately, if you go one or two blocks east or west of 17 you find golf courses everywhere.
6. Golfers are mostly good people. I played with John from Chicago, Mike from Santa Barbara, and Terry from Texas.
How did we play?
On day one, we were assigned Myrtle Beach National’s South Creek course. Our Super Seniors flight was assigned the Red tees, yes, that’s right, at 4723 yards. Well, guess what: it sounds really short. But guess what else: you still have to make the shots. And there was enough trouble out there to challenge us in the form of massive waste bunkers, water, and fast greens.
Mike sprinted out of the blocks with about 5 one-putts for a bunch of pars and four bogeys for a first nine 40. (We started on #10.) My goal for the day was to play conservatively, stay out of trouble no matter what, stop lifting my head on every shot, and hope to finish in the top half. I opened with a 7 on the 10th, a par 5, and started to wonder if it would be a long day. Then I parred the 11th, settled down, and, after another 7 on 15, had an okay day. I finished the back nine with a 48 that included 4 pars, then carded a really weird front nine: 5-5-5-3-5-5-5-3-5 =41. That 89, with 23 strokes (!), gave me a 66. (First day goal reached.)
Currently I’m fifth in my flight of 51 players. The leader shot a net 59. Mike blew up on the back with a 51. Chicago John was great off the tee but couldn’t buy a putt, and Terry scrambled from everywhere on the course and finished with a higher score than he deserved.
Tomorrow we head south to Willowdale, and a new foursome. I’ll be starting on the 4th hole in the 9am shotgun.
Daily results here, usually after 3pm or so:
World's Largest 19th Hole
Along with your tourney entry fee, you get a pass to the nightly 19th hole, held at the centrally-located Myrtle Beach Sheraton, which serves as event headquarters. At this 19th hole, it's an all-you-can-eat-and-drink fiesta, with 10-12 different restaurants each night offering samples from their menu. It's small dishes, and you have to stand in line each time, but I did say FREE. And the multiple bars everywhere are dispensing everything from Tito's to spiked seltzer and soft drinks. Yes, for free. Monday through Friday night. Also, while this is going on, various golf folks from the golf channel and even Paige Spiranak are on stage discussing various golf topics. Behind them on the big screen are the day's top ten leaders in each flight. I have to say it was fun being listed for a brief moment.
TUES, AUGUST 28
DAY TWO, WILLBROOK PLANTATION
Shot an even 100 today for a net 77. That drops me from solo 5th to a tie for 16 out of 51 players, hopefully still within striking distance of the top. I'm at 143; the leader, Barry Sailor, who was in second yesterday, is at 129. (Can he keep this pace?) Yesterday's leader, who opened with a net 59(!!) dropped 10 spots, and there was lots of movement among players. Tomorrow we play Long Bay, which will be the toughest of our four tracks, so more changes in the leaders are likely.
My tee shots were so bad today, I went to the range afterward and hit drivers and 3-woods just to work a few things out. Hopefully it will pay off.
Today's course, Willbrook Plantation, was gorgeous. Huge old oaks with Spanish moss hanging down everywhere, massive cultured grasses acting as both course decor and hazards to avoid, and multiple water and sand hazards made even the red tees challenging. The real challenge today, though, was putting. The greens tended to the smaller size and our foursome struggled to hit them; once we got there, we found them lightning fast. This was exacerbated by the pin placements, often just in front of or behind a small mound. If you missed your first putt by more than 18 inches, chances were good it would go 4-8 feet past. There was a lot of moaning in my group today. One nice touch was the beverage cart woman offering cool towels; it was another hot and humid day, and as a special added treat, we had a ten-minute downpour during which we huddled in our carts.
This is such a fun event. Even with us old guys hacking it around. A lot of guys are hitting drivers off every tee, but as one of the younger guys, I'm hitting six-irons just to keep it in play.
Very tired now. Heading up north for the day tomorrow to Longs, SC. (Who names a town "Longs?")
WED., AUG 29.
DAY THREE, LONG BAY GOLF CLUB
In years to come, they will call this the Massacre at Long Bay. Or the Mashing at the Mounded Wonder. The Decapitation of DiCocco. Or maybe just I will.
This was our toughest course by far. Anything off the fairway sunk into the wispy-yet-thick Bermuda rough. Nothing with less loft than a 7-iron could extract a ball. Nothing. I tried. Lord, I tried.
Also, my marvelous tee shots on the first day diminished Tuesday, and disappeared today. I was so out of rhythm I considered swinging left-handed. Or with my eyes closed. Or using a garden hoe. When you start 12 holes about 60 yards from the tee, it nullifies the red tee advantage.
Also adding to the sterling play was the 93 degree temp and the 120% humidity. I was sitting in the golf cart listening to the pro’s instructions before we headed to our starting hole, and I thought it was raining. Nope, just a small waterfall off my brow.
Let me say Long Bay is the nicest track we have played so far. It’s a “Jack Nicklaus Signature Course” so I’m pretty sure the Golden Bear was pissed at somebody that year. He placed mounds along many fairways so you thought they would steer the ball away from danger, but then planted horrendous deep rough on those mounds, and that assured the ball would never get back to the fairway. When he used water in his design, he made sure the greens were behind it, not beside it. He even included an island green, which was cute, and very short for us at 101 yards. Lulled into a state of overconfidence (totally without any evidence), I topped it into the drink.
Other observations of the day.
Yesterday's leader of our flight held his lead today, and even expanded it to 5 strokes. His net 198 is 18 under. Second is 203 (13 under).
I played with a good ole boy from Alabama who didn’t know what ibuprofen was. He also claimed he didn’t know he was in fifth place (my place, damn it!!) after Tuesday, and played well enough today to hold on 5th again. And yet he swears he only plays 15 times a year… [Am I playing that badly??]
I opened the round with a slice deep into the woods right (lost ball), topped the next three shots, and carded a 10. So I immediately gave the field a 5-shot headstart on this par 5. Not satisfied with this artistry, and because at heart I am a giver, I duffed and bludgeoned and hooded and misguided balls all the rest of the day, concluding with a 114 total. (“It shoulda been 113.”) 87 net. Three days so far: 66, 77, 87. Not trending well. But I'm holding down 31st place with a vengeance.
On the positive side, my socks stayed up all day, and two others in my foursome also got at least one 10, so I had that going for me. Tomorrow is supposed to be our easiest course, but unless I shoot a gross 59, I most likely will not be in the prize ceremony. At least that should mean a relaxed round tomorrow. Now I'm back to my first day's goal: try to finish in the top half.
hahahahahahahahaha [maniacal laughter receding into hospital mental ward...]
THU., AUG 30
DAY FOUR LION'S PAW GOLF LINKS
Again on the red tees, 5363 yards, 121 slope. This facility was just over the border in North Carolina and had four courses, so it hosted our two old-guy flights plus a full women's flight on an adjacent track.
On the fourth and last day, you start according to position, with the leaders going off one and ten. I was back on the fifth hole with my fellow sloggers, all of us bitching about what might have been, and hoping for slight redemption today.
After yesterday's brutal workout, today looked like wider fairways, shorter holes, more inviting greens, and far less stress--which proved to be true. Although there was more of the frustrating deep Bermuda rough, we kept most shots in the fairway, avoided the water hazards, and looked like semi-golfers as we got up-and-down from the bunkers. Lion's Paw was a little burned out, which made for some fine tee shot rollout. And the slower greens were more forgiving. I ended with a net 74, which after four days, left me 27th of 51, or just out of the top half. Sigh. How do the Tour pros do these four day events week-after-week? In MUCH tougher conditions, and MUCH MUCH MUCH longer holes? My admiration has now increased for them.
I hadn't mentioned the birdie pool till now, but each flight has one of one kind or another. Ours was for gross birds only, so only a handful were awarded per day. On number 11, a par 3, I sank a 15-footer to collect my only bird of the week and $90. So all was not lost.
Back in the clubhouse, the women (who are flighted by handicap only, not age) were whooping it up, and us male fogies sat in small groups, just enjoying the air conditioning, and testing our hearts and lungs for minimal function. Our tournament was over.
The Friday Final is Very Exclusive
The winners of each net flight and ties advance to a Friday final to determine the year's overall net champion, and the top three from each gross flight do the same.
Our flight's winner, Sailor, was leading the overall until his 11th hole, where he carded an 11, and that was that.
Would I do it again? You bet!
Should YOU try it? Absolutely. Visit the Myrtle Beach World Amateur website to get all the details of this year's event and get on the mailing list for 2019. It is ALWAYS the week before Labor Day. Signups open up in March.
My first day flight partners were all old. What the hell?
People come from 20 countries to play the World Am. Mercedes sponsored a whole group from Germany.
Every day, on every course, but especially day 3, we battled the notorious Bermuda grass rough. This photo shows one of the easier lies of the day. Most of the time, you had to be standing directly over a ball to see it at all.
For one day, it was great to be on the leaderboard. Things went south after that.
Four guys from The TOUR of Greater Boston made the trip. From left, Rich Machado, George Babineau, me, and Steve Salvucci.
The women's flights were louder and more fun than the men's at the end of day 4.