I have tournament fever after my first Golf Channel Am Tour event last weekend. It wasn’t quite the result I was hoping for, but I loved the competition and camaraderie.
For the record, I shot 88 on the par 71 Barton Creek Palmer Lakeside Course in Spicewood, Texas, in the Prelude to the Texas Open. It was just a one-day warm-up event for the weekend’s Texas Open at Horseshoe Bay, which I didn’t play in, but it got my feet wet on the Golf Channel Am Tour.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that 17-over-par isn’t exactly a good score for a golfer with a 7.6 handicap. It translated into a ninth place in the Senior Palmer Flight, out of 12 golfers. It was also 44th in a field of 106, so I wasn’t the worst golfer on the course by a longshot, but nowhere near the best that day, Gant Bills of Plano, Texas. He fired a 73 to win the Championship Flight. (It should be noted here that us Senior Palmers played the back tees with the flat belly Championship guys because the Lakeside Course is only 6,400 yards or so.)
My inaugural performance is actually pretty typical. As Texas Tour Director Scott Chilcutt points out, single digit players rarely play to their handicap in their first event.
One, because tournament golf is different than regular golf – way different. No mulligans and no gimmes (Yes, I missed an 18-inch putt and witnessed another player miss not one, but two from less than a foot). And, two, because your handicap, which basically averages your best 10 of your last 20 scores, measures potential, not your actual performances. So yes, I had the potential to shoot sub-80, but I didn’t.
Anyway, after five minutes being bummed out about my finish (5-over par on the last two holes) and the five putts I left on the lip of the cup, I quickly realized how cool all of this was. When we turned in our cards, there was a leaderboard on the big screen, just like the pro tour events, showing you where you and your competitors stood. In fact, because of the Golf Channel Am Tour app and the cooperation of the groups involved, there was live scoring during the event, so you could see where you stood throughout the round. On the GC Am Tour website, there’s a wealth of information about the tournament and how you played. And Monday morning, while I was watching Morning Drive, I saw the names of the winners of the Texas Open being scrolled on the bottom of the screen. How cool is that?
This was a great learning experience all the way around, and my fellow competitors, whether intentional or not, taught me plenty.
First off, there was my cart mate, Little John Hilgers. In case you missed it, he’s won a bunch of times on the Golf Channel Am Tour, including this February’s Kerrville Championship. But even more impressive is that Hilgers was diagnosed with multiple myeloma six years ago, a fatal form of cancer . He has been beating astronomical odds the last few years and says golf has been his salvation. (You can learn more about Hilgers here.)
“Without this game,” said Hilgers, who beat me by two shots. “I’d just be lying on the couch, dying.”
Hilgers resides in Wimberley, Texas, and learned much of the game from the great Harvey Penick. He lives each minute like it might be his last, and his carefree attitude kept me relaxed, or so it seemed.
I didn’t think I was pressing, but Tony Peppler of Dallas, who was also in my group and won my flight with a stellar 75, observed otherwise. “Especially putting,” he said.
Well, I had 39 putts, which is way too many. In fairness, I wasn’t very close to the hole most of the round and I didn’t know the greens, leaving myself a lot of five- and six-footers, which I converted just once (yes, a six-footer was the longest putt I made all day).
I also hit just six of 13 fairways (there were five par 3s) and managed to find only seven greens in regulation, three of which I three-putted. Arrggh.
On the 11th hole, Peppler asked me if I wanted to know where I stood in the tournament, pointing out that not everyone likes to know where they stand. I wanted to know.
“You’re just four shots off the leaders,” said Peppler, who had just converted a difficult up and down left of the green for par.
In other words, I still had a chance. If I could play the last eight holes around par, I’d have a shot of placing in the money.
Well, I subsequently left my par putt just short, and I would trade pars and bogeys until the triple on the par-3 17th, which isn’t even worth describing, although I managed that without even dunking one in the hazard or hitting it OB.
Again, the really neat aspect of this is being able to review your round(s) afterwards. It really does give you give a clear picture of what you need to work on. In my case, it’s almost everything, though you can bet I’m going to pay more attention to putting and finding fairways. Improve in those areas, and I should have a better result in my next event, April 16 at the Magnolia Masters just north of Houston at High Meadow Ranch Golf Club.
I can’t wait.