While chatting with a buddy after the whole World’s fiasco, he told me that I was going to go win the next tournament I play in. We’re both similarly rated and have experienced some of the same ups and downs. “Miss the cut one weekend and win the next!” I took this conversation to heart and decided that was exactly what I was going to do. It wasn’t easy getting right back on the horse, but that’s what I did. What helped make the decision was that Plastic Addicts was hosting the Central Illinois Championships at two of the best courses in Illinois, McNaughton and Morton (Northwood Park).
McNaughton is a classic course and known as one of the most challenging courses in the state for the past 15+ years. It is one of my favorite courses of all time. I can remember my first time playing there, it was in ’03 and I had only been playing for a year. I played it with my left hand, as my right hand was broken from a lacrosse accident. Like most of the locals that play McNaughton, I only managed to play the easier front nine.
Over the following years I would try to get over and play McNaughton as much as possible. As I got better and better, it became a goal to shoot a round in the 40s from the long tees. This feat had only been accomplished two times, and that was by Brian Schweberger (long time touring pro) and Cam Todd (’01 World Champ). They both did this when the course was a little bit easier. Many of the long tees have been lengthened and a few baskets pushed into tougher placements since then, making it extremely difficult to break into the 40s. There had been many events with many world class players and no one had been able to do it. Many rounds started out on pace to shoot in the 40s, but would fizzle out on the difficult and demanding back 9.
I woke up early Saturday morning and made the two hour drive down to Pekin. I was feeling pretty good about my putt, even after coming off a horrendous showing at the World Championships. I had put in some time on the practice basket and found my putting rhythm. Adding a little ‘hitch’ seemed to get my timing back together.
I started my round on one of the easier par 3 birdie holes, hole 2. A solid drive left me with a 28 ft. downhill putt, which I confidently made. I then went on to have drop in birdies on the following 2 holes. Short birdie putts were made on holes 5 and 6 before I took pars on 7 and 8. Another good birdie putt on 9 left me at 6 under par after 8 holes being played. This was not new territory, as many others have lit up the front 9 before. The back 9 is where things get serious. I was unable to capitalize on any of the few par 3s on the back, but I was getting 3s, which is not easy to do. My hot putting streak ended on hole 17 when I missed my difficult, downhill putt for 3 and carded a par (4). At this point, I knew that I had a special round going. Just thinking about it right now makes me feel like I could go out and putt as brilliantly as I did for those first 16 holes. Hole 18 is one of the better finishing holes in the state. Unfortunately, a few of the trees that made the drive difficult are now dead and gone. I took advantage and ripped a solid teeshot. It wasn’t my best drive on the hole, but it left me in a spot where I could reach the pin on my 2nd throw. I proceed to nail my 400+ foot upshot. It looks like I’m parked for the birdie 3 and that baring any craziness on hole 1, I was going to card a 49. As we get to the basket for #18, we see that I’ve gone deep and have a tester for my birdie. Had I done as so many others before me have done? Did I count my chips before I had em? These were the thoughts bouncing around my brain.
I am now facing a 25 footer for what is most likely a record round. I had just missed a putt on 17. I shake these thoughts off and all of the other negative ones that were wreaking havoc on my confidence. I go through my routine, which now consisted of the mantra, “Hold the pose, like D-Rose” (a reminder to follow through on putts). My card-mates stare on, possibly aware of my score or possibly thinking about their shots and their less than stellar round. I’m now in my routine and putting just another 25 footer. In the scheme of things, that’s all it is, just another putt. Center chains and it sticks on the old basket. I don’t let my emotions get to me, we still have hole 1 to play.
Hole 1 is a par 3, but its a pretty tough birdie. It is easy to rack up a 4 if you get aggressive and miss your shot. I take a safe shot that nearly turns out perfect. I play the low flex shot with an overstable disc and I just clip one of the guardian trees. No bad kick. It just drops me into the fairway, roughly 125 feet out. So I’m left with all of the same thoughts as the last hole and I can hear the story, “I had a 49 in the bag, but couldn’t get up and down from 125 ft on hole 1″. Not today though. I again bear down, pushing out the negativity and perfectly place my Ridge (Vibram Putter) next to the basket. It was such a relief to tap out and count up the scorecard. I had done it, a 49 from McNaughton long tees. Too bad it wasn’t a few years ago when there was a $50 bounty offered by the TD (coincidentally I was the TD) on a sub 50 round. I didn’t care though. I could have shot it in a practice round and been this happy. But I managed to put it together and do it during the 1st round of a B-tier. That was just the icing on the cake.
I went on to win the tournament after a decent 2nd round over at Morton. It felt more like a celebratory walk in the park than a competitive tournament round. In a year of ups and downs, this round would definitely be one of my biggest highs.
A month later a star studded field of golfers tackled McNaughton long tees for the Ledgestone A-tier. Lefty all-star Devan Owens absolutely shredded the long tees. Owens would unfortunately (for him) run into problems on hole 17, much like I did. He wasn’t as fortunate though, carding a bogey 5. He would finish his round on 18 with a birdie 3 to card another 49. I am not gonna lie, I was excited that my 49 was not trumped. I’m happy to share the record with a friend and great golfer like Devan.
So there is the story of my 49. Many of you probably haven’t played the long tees at McNaughton, but I’m sure you have a course that you can relate my story to. I’m already looking forward to getting back out there and trying to top those 49s.