So close, yet so parThinking was my first mistake
By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
One-over par after 14.
Standing over a 2-ft. birdie putt on the 15th green, I suddenly found myself a shot or two away from qualifying for the PGA's Nationwide Tour event in town Thursday through Sunday at GlenEagles.
That's when it happened.
My grip tightened, my stance widened, my stroke shortened and my jaw dropped as I rolled what many of my pals (good pals anyway) would consider a gimme right past the hole. Pushed it. Didn't even give it a chance.
Seconds earlier my approach from 155 yards had lipped out for an eagle and now this. Gulp.
Still, with three holes to play at Country Hills' pristine Ridge course, I felt I had a legitimate shot at grabbing one of the 14 spots a group of 106 hopefuls were chasing.
Thing is, I promised it wouldn't get to this.
Never having competed in any tourney that didn't include either mulligans, power carts, ball-in-the-water draws or a scramble format, my humble goal was simply to stay in the 70s. After all, my pre-tourney preparation included a runaway stag in Montreal on the weekend and a radio show from 5:30 to 9 yesterday morning.
Yet, suddenly I found myself intoxicated by the competitive juices flowing through my body as I buckled down for a finish that would require at least two birdies.
On the 16th, I found myself putting uphill from 10 ft. for birdie. Once again, I pressed a little too hard on the lightning-fast greens, knocked it 3 ft. by and missed another short one. Bogey. With the last two squandered holes dancing in the back of my head, I then fell apart.
Those who play any level of golf are aware you're always one swing away from disaster, especially from the back tees. That's what makes consistent pro golfers so damn incredible.
In the midst of my backswing on 17, I did something I rarely do on the golf course or off: I started thinking.
It kills me every time.
Putting a tentative swing on it, I sliced it left (yes, I'm a southpaw) into the lateral hazard and the dream was dead. I did it again on 18 to finish double-double for a 6-over 77 I knew would keep me up all night.
The top 14 qualifiers all shot 69 or better, leaving me tied for 72nd.
The No. 1 truism in golf, I've found, is that you can't play scared. Whether it's a putt, a chip or a drive, if you worry about hitting it askew, chances are you will. You need to put a solid swing on everything and trust yourself.
Yesterday, quite frankly, there were times I was terrified.
Funny thing is, I had nothing to lose. A two handicap last year, playing more like a five or six of late, I knew I had little chance of qualifying. I simply wanted to experience the highs and lows talented PGA hopefuls go through while trying to earn a living at the world's most frustrating game.
Having to focus for six hours (yes, it took just under six bloody hours) with families and mortgage payments dependent on those two footers is a kind of pressure I don't think I could ever get used to. I still wince when my caddy yesterday, John Burns, presses me for a fin.
Having covered several majors over the years, I see journalists roll their eyes when Mike Weir or Tiger Woods suggest that with a bit of luck, they could have turned a 74 into a 69. Truth is, they're right.
On the second hole, I followed a 301-yard three-wood with an 88-yard dart that hit the flagpole, landed an inch from the hole and rolled 60 ft. away. Instead of an eagle or a tap-in birdie, I three-putted for bogey. That's unlucky. But that's golf.
One thing my playing partners -- Peter McCarthy and Courtney Hutzul -- made obvious is the importance of keeping a level head and plugging away.
For 15 holes I did just that.
Then I started to think.
Hope I never let that happen again.