It was a stormy weekend at Blackhorse Golf Club in Cypress, Texas, but somehow we got in all 36 holes of the Houston Tour Championship. Hats off to Scott Chilcutt and the Golf Channel Am Tour staff as well as the maintenance crew and pro shop staff at Blackhorse Golf Club for the way they handled the inclement weather and difficult conditions. The courses took on a lot of rain, and we certainly appreciate the staffs keeping us safe during the lightening delays.
I couldn’t be more relieved, however, that we got it in because this represented my last chance to qualify for Nationals. As it turned out, I got one of the final spots as the top finisher not exempt in another category by shooting 84-81-165 in what was my local tour championship (this is the eighth and final way to qualify).
For the first time in a while I felt like I knew where the ball was going (that’s huge in tournament golf) and was a couple of near-misses late on the greens from finishing in the top three in my flight.
Still, I was seven shots behind our Senior Palmer (4.0-7.9 handicap) champion Robert Corbello, who overcame a quadruple bogey and triple bogey in the first round to fire 81-77-158 during some really tough conditions (mosquitoes were brutal after a week of rain and no wind).
So it’s been a whirlwind experience this year playing on the Golf Channel Am Tour. It hasn’t been more difficult than I expected, since I didn’t expect it would be easy. I really don’t get nervous playing golf of any kind, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t succumb to pressure. I’m definitely a better golfer today than I was a month or two ago, so with that said, here are the top five things I’ve learned in my rookie year on the Golf Channel Am Tour as I get ready for the Senior Nationals.
- There’s no substitute for tournament experience
Just ask Corbello. The 57-year-old lefty from Vidor, Texas didn’t take up golf until he was 30, but he’s been playing on a version of the Am Tour for the last dozen years. Corbello always walks when possible, keeps himself in terrific shape and knows how to remain patient on the course. He opened Round 2 on the North Course with a 41 on his first nine holes, then grinded out a terrific even-par 36 over his last nine holes.
“It was beautiful to watch,” said his fellow playing competitor, Tim Kozlowski, who finished third, five shots back.
Corbello, who won by four shots over Mike Hafner of Katy, Texas, also won the Senior Palmer Order of Merit as the top points getter this season. He’ll be looking for his first national title, Sept. 19-22, at Innisbrook Resort near Tampa, Fla.
I’ll be looking for my first title as well, of course. I may have to look a little harder than Corbello, though.
Still, there’s no doubt, playing in 10 events leading up to this has made me a lot more comfortable with tournament pressure. I did something Sunday I hadn’t done all season. I didn’t make a double bogey or worse, and I didn’t three-putt, which was a big improvement over the first day, when I made five doubles, four of them coming after missing greens and three putting.
- Yes, you often do take a step backwards after a lesson
But it was worth it.
I took a lesson from instructor extraordinaire Mike McGetrick about a month ago. At the time of the lesson, which was at the Golf Club of Houston and Golf Channel Academy and Mike McGetrick Golf Academy, I felt pretty good after our session. But something got lost in the translation between that lesson and my next three tournaments, which all came during a long span on the road when I couldn’t practice.
When I came back to Houston, I still couldn’t figure it out initially. But while watching Jim Furyk shoot his historic 58 at the Traveler’s Championship at the TPC River Highlands in Connecticut, I rewound his swing a few times on my DVR and discovered where I was amiss. I had let my shoulder plane get too steep in an effort to keep my hands close to my body. When I came out for the Houston Tour Championship I had a clear understanding of what McGetrick was trying to get me to do. So yes, I was wrong (see my July 21 blog); you often do get worse before you get better.
- GC Am Tour is a great place to make new friends
I can’t even begin to tell you how many great folks I’ve met on the Tour, both at home and around the country. I’m even planning to play a practice round with a few of the Texas players once I get to Innisbrook in three weeks or so.
On Saturday, one of the players in my group, Bob Hayward, had the ultimate compliment for the other player in our threesome when he said that Leslie Henry was an absolute joy to play with. That was an understatement as both of them made difficult weather conditions a breeze with their terrific demeanor.
I have great admiration for Henry, by the way. In those wet conditions, she often had well over 200 yards to the green on her approaches (playing just one tee up from the guys and not getting much of a break), but managed to get up and down for par many times and shoot the same score I did – 84. Of course, her athletic ability and competitive spirit transcends golf. The successful Houston/New Orleans attorney was a terrific college tennis player at LSU and top amateur after that. And now she’s excelling in golf. Last year, she won the Houston Women’s Senior City Championship and qualified for the Texas Cup South Team, USGA Women’s Mid-Amateur and US Senior Women’s Amateur Championship and is in line to become the first female president of the Texas Golf Association.
- You learn how to play in adverse conditions
This weekend wasn’t the first time I had to play in less than stellar conditions. It was probably the fourth instance in which I’ve played in weather that would keep recreational golfers at home on the sofa watching reruns of Seinfeld. But playing in those types of circumstances is great training in patience. It’s no wonder that the top players in the world do so well in soft conditions. They don’t worry about what they can’t control. They just take a little more club and adjust to the conditions, then fire at pins.
- Competitive golf is addictive
I’m not saying I don’t enjoy playing casual golf anymore, but there’s a certain Adrenalin rush when you have to count every shot, when you can’t take a hole off, when you know your score is going to be posted for everyone to see. And in the case of last Sunday, it was one of the few times I was actually in the hunt for the top spots.
And I liked it.
The more tournaments I play, the more I want to play tournament golf. There’s nothing like it.