2012 World Am: And ... we're .... off!
PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- We're off and crawling.
All right, the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship is off and running. Hooray. However, a lot of us who staggered to the finish line in Monday's opening round here are barely crawling after our games failed to survive an initial reality check. You want me to be clearer? Count me among those in the Not Ready For Prime Time Players on this day.
The moment that captured the mood came on our next-to-last hole. My threesome was waiting at the sixth tee at the nicely conditioned River Club. The twosome ahead of us was on the tee waiting to hit. The threesome behind us pulled up in their carts. Yeah, we were stacked three-groups deep on the tee. That had happened on the opening nine, too, on a par 3 that featured a semi-island green. (It's all your fault, Pete Dye, wherever you are!) Anyway, the guy in the group behind us who was riding solo in his cart had his iPad out and was already fiddling with it when he asked us sarcastically, "Are we having fun yet?"
It was five hours into our round, we had two holes left and I was so many over par that I'd lost track. What else can you do but laugh? Actually, my playing partners had some highlights. Derek, a younger guy probably in his 20s, played a nice little draw and threw in a couple of birdies while Jeremy, who works for Barefoot B.E.R.B.S. and was wearing a pair of their killer golf sandals, hit a few bombs off the tee and piled up some birdies. Derek shot 78 -- I kept his card. Jeremy had to be around even par.
The longest putt I made on the firm and slightly quick greens was five feet. And I only made one. A baboon could've holed more putts from where I was. Thus, a lot of easy up-and-downs from just around the greens turned into a buffet of bogeys. It didn't help that as a Northerner, I didn't adjust to playing the occasional shot out of some thatchy, grabby bermuda rough.
There was a little wind and it was heavy ocean air, apparently, because I came up short repeatedly, including on that next-to-last hole where my 4-wood second shot on the par 5 dropped out of the air like a bird that had been shot. It splashed in the pond. That turned into another bogey when I missed an 8-footer for par. I didn't read the greens well and I had no handle on the speed. It added up to 81 but it was worse than that, really, because I was playing out of the middle of most fairways.
Wait, I just remembered another moment that better symbolized the day. At No. 14, the semi-island green hole that was the official Closest to the Pin hole, I dropped a 5-iron shot in there to about six feet. The previous closest, according to the card on the green, was seven feet and change. I didn't sign my name on the card because I'm playing as a "celebrity" guest -- I don't need to steal prizes from the paying customers. Anyway, my putt was apparently downhill. I didn't notice that. I didn't feel it. But it obviously was because I lightly rolled it and it raced four feet past the cup and broke right. Before you could say "Don't tell me," I missed the par putt coming back. I don't have an excuse, other than some butterflies in Zambia that were flapping their wings excessively loudly at the time.
The River Club was a pleasant mix of shade trees and pines. Some holes are bordered by condos or homes, but they're set well back and don't really come into play. It's a nice course, designed by Tom Jackson, and it was in excellent shape considering the area has had more than five inches of rain in the last week or so. The only nitpicky thing I noticed was that from the black tees, which we played in the championship flight, the par 3 holes were the same -- all in the range of 185-190 yards. When we were going over the scorecards at the end, I'd written down a 3 for Derek at No. 2, and he thought he'd had a 4 there. What did the hole look like? We couldn't remember. The par 3s were too similar.
The River Club's signature hole is undoubtedly the 18th, which has a fairway that curves left around a lake. It was also dead into a stiff breeze, so two of us played safely out to the right. Jeremy tried to carry the fairway bunker but the wind dropped it into the sand. He had only 203 in from there, still over the water, but if he'd known the hole better, his tee ball easily would've carried onto the land left of the bunker and he would've had a short iron in.
I bumped into some of the guys I played with during last year's tournament in the shop after the round. We all commiserated on our scores. It was an interesting contrast from the scene before the round when everyone was warming up and, as golfers usually are, brimming with optimism and hope.
I heard somebody in a nearby cart (we were lined up for a shotgun start) tell a story about his buddy who made a hole-in-one at a golf outing that was giving away a $50,000 Cadillac Escalade for a hole-in-one. His pal thought he'd won the car but learned that he apparently aced a different hole than the prize hole. When he was offered $100 to spend in the pro shop as consolation, he wasn't pleased.
"Then he said three guys came up and hit him up for free drinks because he made a hole-in-one," the guy said. "He said, Screw that, I just lost $50,000. I'm not buying drinks for the whole field when I only won a hundred bucks."
The World Am, by the way, continues through Friday. It's 72 holes of stroke play with handicaps, and it's a blast. It's like having a golf trip organized for you. You play a different course in the greater Myrtle Beach area every day, under tournament conditions, and you're flighted so you're playing against competitors of an equal level. I ran into two guys in the hotel elevator who came over from Italy to play.
Anyway, I've still got plenty of time to stop sucking. My flight heads to Wild Wing Plantation tomorrow, so I'll crawl there first thing in the morning. It'll get better.
(Photo: Chris King/Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday)