So Brisbane to LA, LA to Dallas and then finally Dallas to Columbus Ohio, home of the Buckeye!! Thankfully there were no delays on the first two flights meaning that I could make my connections. The final flight was delayed out of Dallas, not what you want when you have already been travelling forever!! Needless to say that I was pretty tired by this point although my pre trip strategy to beat the jet lag(I stayed awake all night before flying out of Brisbane at 10am) seemed to work ok as I got a good 7-8 hrs sleep on the long flight to LA. Staying awake all day in America after arriving in LA at 6:45am was a challenge however. I was committed to making it through to night time though. The tough part was that not only was there a time change from Australia to LA but 3 hrs further back when arriving in Columbus.
After the flight delay we managed to still make it to Columbus, just an hour or so late and much to my delight, my bags made it too. The next challenge and one that presented more stress than playing with Davis Love III and Ben Curtis later in the week was driving in America. I hadn’t done that before and certainly was a little stressed about the process, wrong side of the car to sit in and wrong side of the road to drive on. To add to that a few different rules too, turn right any time after stopping at a red light and also first in first served at intersections with just stop signs!! I think that first drive from the airport to the hotel was the worst, just feeling my way, and at the end of a very very long day!! Success though was mine as I found the hotel, checked in, checked some emails, had a shower, checked on Friday’s plans and then hit the bed exhausted.
Friday was meant to be a day for just getting some movement going and hopefully starting to feel a little more normal again. I had plans to go and watch the PGA Tour event that was on in Columbus and had organized a ticket off an Aussie caddy. Those plans looked bad though when I looked out the window and saw the rain falling. I decided to head out anyway thinking that if they were in a rain delay that maybe I would get a chance to catch up with the Aussie boys. That turned out to be the case as I caught up and had a chat with Geoff Ogilvy which was good as he chatted to me about the qualifying courses. After that play was about to resume so I went out on course. At first glance Muirfield Golf Club looked unbelievable and I couldn’t wait to go for a look at the course and cheer on the Aussie lads!!
The cool thing at this event was that they gave out little earpiece radios to the spectators which had the tournament commentary running through them. It meant that you knew exactly what was going on all around the course. It was a cool thing to hear on the radio that someone had just made a birdie and then hear in the flesh the cheers as the noise took its time to travel to you in person. I heard on the radio that Adam Scott was playing well and coming to the turn on the 9th so I headed that way. After putting out for a par on 9 he headed up the hill to the 10th. As he walked up the hill he looked up and saw me but then looked back down again. It was one of those moments when you see someone, look away and then realize, “hey I know that guy!” He looked back up at me again with a surprised look and said “Hey Matty? What the heck are you doing here?” as he headed over to shake hands. I told him why I was in town and that I was just out stretching the legs, and that I might follow him around for 9 holes. He said “cool, good to see you mate, see you out there!” So he headed one way and I went another as the gallery ropes required.
Adam seemed like he was right on top of things, shooting 4 under around the front nine in terrible rainy conditions and hit two great shots into 10 leaving a short birdie chance. He missed it and then after a perfect drive down 11, his lay up on the par 5 seemed to unravel him a little. He hit it way right into the trees and made a disappointing bogey. After a couple of uneasy holes on 12 and 13 which he made pars, he made a great birdie on 14. I thought he was back and I left him after he hit a great drive up the par five 15. I went to see if I could catch up with Badds before he played and as he was playing the group behind Tiger and two groups behind Luke Donald and Rory, I thought I might catch them on the range too.
Sure enough, all of them were on the range but getting a spot to see them hitting balls was not an easy task. I managed wrangle a spot about 3 rows back but with the beauty of a long arm, got video footage of Tiger and Badds. As I was doing this I was hearing Adam Scott making bogeys on the last 3 holes…..not a good taste in the mouth!!
I had a quick catch up with Badds at the putting green before he played. He seemed ready and focused, and when he found the bunker on the right side of the 1st off the tee and was left with a hanging lie and a big lip to come over and a good 150m to the green, I thought he was going to find it tough to start with a par. How wrong I was as he hit an incredible bunker shot to about 15 foot. Badds being Badds he rolled the putt in for a birdie 3!! Very impressive. He was playing with Jim Furyk, and for me it was the first time I had seen Jim in the flesh and see that swing up close. I have to say it was a shock to see it, wow it is a weird swing but at the end of the day he was super impressive, shooting 4 under in brutal windy, cold conditions. Something strange happened on the 2nd hole. As I was standing there a TV guy came up to me and asked if I could be in shot he was wanting to shoot as Jim teed off on the 3rd. Obviously I questioned him “Why me?” He said “Because you have that Callaway rain gear on and we are doing a piece on Jim about Callaway.” I replied that I didn’t know Jim was with Callaway and he certainly didn’t have a Callaway bag. As far as I knew he left Srixon and went to Taylor Made. Anyway I helped these guys out with their shot and I guess got the scoop on the fact that Callaway must be about to announce his signing soon!
I have just realized that this blog is rapidly growing so maybe it’s time to move on from the Memorial. I watched the whole round of Badds, flicking in between his group and that of Tiger, and Rory’s. Badds finished even for the day which was impressive in the conditions despite Furyk shooting 4 under alongside him. I think one of the highlights of the day was watching Tigers group on 17. Tiger was playing with absolute crowd favourite Freddy Couples and when they reached the green it was Freddy who knocked it inside Tiger but on a similar line. Tiger putted and hit a great putt down a very fast slope with the ball threatening to do what we have all seen before, sit on the edge and then drop in……it didn’t drop despite looking like it had to!! The crowd were hilarious, yelling at the top of their lungs for Tiger and the ball to drop. One drunk guy just near me yelled out “Oh Tiger, you deserved that putt, you DESERVED that putt!!!!” I laughed thinking, “why, why did he deserve it??” Anyway Freddy then stepped up and calmly rolled the putt down the same line with the same speed only to see it drop to a huge roar. Wow they love Freddy, what a roar!!
It was great to have a few minutes catching up with Badds after the round as he had to do a drug test so went to hit some balls until they needed him. With no officials on the range and only one other player I headed out onto the range with him, standing behind as he hit about 30 balls. He was certainly flushing it and I thought he had a good chance to win this week. After chatting a little more he had to go and so did I. It was a great day, inspiring to watch the “big show” live and to see that even the best, best players in the world struggle at times, hit poor shots and make mistakes on course. For the record, Tiger won and Badds had a solid top ten finish. Also for the record, Muirfield Village golf Course just went into the top 5 all time courses I have seen. Very impressive and a course I would love to play one day!!!
Now it’s time to get into the real reason I was in the US. Saturday saw me playing my first practice round at the OSU (Ohio State University) Scarlett Course. It was going to be interesting out there as the wind was extremely strong and in talking to the 3 members I was playing with, they said it was very rare to be windy at their course. The Scarlet course was very strong, long par 3’s, long par 4’s and par 5’s that wouldn’t offer up birdies too easily. A par 71 course with US Open style thick rough and hard and fast greens, it certainly fitted the mold of being a US Open final qualifying course. I was hitting the ball well but my priority over the next day or so if possible was to try and continue to freshen up as I felt quite fatigued after the round.
Sunday saw me head to the Scioto Country Club, the other course we were to play in the qualifier. Now this place was unbelievable. A true Country Club that you see in the movies, tennis courts, swimming pools, a massive clubhouse and certainly the staff making you feel like you were a King!! The course itself matched up to the feel of the place. In spectacular condition, lush green fairways, bunkers perfect, greens perfect (still hard and fast) and just a quality, tough place to play golf. I took a cart to play the course as I was still feeling a little down on energy and with 36 holes the next day on foot I figured this was a smart move. I really liked this course and thought it stood up above the Scarlett course, with no disrespect to the Scarlet Course at OSU. This course was a par 70 measuring just over 7100 yards, longer than the Olympic course where the Open is being held!!
One more sleep it was until my first chance to get a start in a Major!! With preparations complete, I headed to bed looking forward to the day of golf ahead. Unfortunately as has happened in the past when going into big life events, my body decides that sleep isn’t going to be easy. I had a terrible nights sleep, unable to get to sleep until about 2:30 in the morning with the adrenaline running and nerves starting to kick in. Not exactly what I needed after feeling a little run down already. Finally I got some sleep and woke at 5:30 in the morning to look outside to a beautiful day. It was a little windy which meant by the afternoon it was going to be very windy.
Off to the course I went looking forward to the day that lay ahead. US Open qualifying and 36 holes playing with two Major winners, Ben Curtis 2003 British Open champion and Davis Love III 1997 PGA Champion and 2012 Ryder Cup Captain. I think it was safe to say that I have never looked forward to a day of golf more than this in my life.
What I didn’t expect was what a grouping like this was going to bring, sure, I knew I was going to have some nerves on the first tee but figured once we got the introductions and first tee shot out of the way that I would be ok, much like any big tournament I have played in. What I hadn’t counted on was a gallery at 7:50 in the morning. I guess I was playing with two decent players and Ben was a local too, but still I didn’t figure on much of a crowd. With no gallery ropes they just wandered along with us and simply stood behind you for every shot of the round.
Thankfully the wind was ok for the first nine holes and only started to pick up on the turn. I started quite well and made pars at the first and despite a great drive on 2 and a beautiful 4 iron onto the green I was left with a crazy putt that deserved to be on a putt putt course somewhere, not out here with me having to hit it. I three putted but was still confident in how I had started. Three more pars before missing my first green of the day. I struggled all the way down the 615 yard par 5 6th and was left with a very difficult shot over a bunker out of the rough with no green to work with. The beauty of the shot was that I had no option other than to play the high flop shot and I had been practicing this shot for the last two days trying to get used to the rough. I played a great shot and got it to about 8 feet, almost as good as I could have hoped for. When the putt rolled in I got just as much applause from the gallery as when I finished out at Wollongong for my win last year. The gallery numbers had swelled by now and when we came through the turn they multiplied again. I turned 2 over thanks to a bogie on 9 where I misjudged the wind seeing my beautiful iron shot sale straight over the pin, dead into the back bunker.
Interestingly the chat on the front nine came from Davis Love. I sort of thought that the younger Ben might be the guy who might, might chat with me but it was Davis who sparked the conversation. He was a quality guy, an incredible talent for the game as well but what struck me the most was just his professionalism. Ben did chat to me down the 3rd hole which was funny, he asked me what I what I was up to, I told him I was just over for the qualifier and was playing in Australia and on the One Asia tour. I said to him that he had been having a solid start to the year to which he responded with “Yeah I have made just over 2 million bucks so far so yeah it’s been pretty good” Internally I had to laugh, wow, to be able to say that……
The back nine started badly for me, having two plugged balls on the 10th and 11th resulting in a double and a bogey. The circle game I have been playing with my coach Kev in practice was working a treat though and I moved on with things as though nothing had happened. I was in this for the long haul today and just thought that despite the set back , I had been playing really well and just needed to continue to go through my processes. I played a great final 7 holes but only managed to pick up the one birdie and 6 pars. Still, at lunch I thought that with shooting 4 over I was still in it and just needed to play a great round in the afternoon. I was certainly more comfortable with my pairing now and also the gallery which had seriously swollen towards the end of the round, especially once word had gotten out that Davis and Ben were both going well, shooting 3 and 1 under respectively.
A quick trip in the car down the road to the other course, Scioto, and then into the clubhouse for lunch. Ben was already sitting with a few people so I just found my own table. How good was it when Davis walked in and sat down with me for lunch. A genuinely nice guy and as I would have done with any of my mates, we chatted about life, sport and interestingly Tiger Woods career. Davis made mention that he has won 1 in 4 events he has contested since he turned pro, including the win at the Memorial the day before. Davis went on to say that he was chatting about that stat the other week with someone and had said that they worked out if he turned all his seconds and thirds into wins that he still wouldn’t make it up to the 73 wins Tiger has. A surreal experience sitting with Davis at lunch.
It had to end and I have to say I was glad to head back out to the course again. Our 1:50 tee time was bound to attract some galleries if this mornings early time was any indication and I was right. It was crazy. I followed Badds at the Memorial for 18 holes and we had 3-4 times the crowd they had. This was just a qualifier but still the members of this Country Club turned out. Incredibly, and in something I have only ever been a part of as a spectator before, people were bypassing the putting to get the spot right behind the tee on the next hole…how cool. In fact when we came through the turn and made our way to the first tee I had the honour. I teed my ball up and stepped back to do my routine. The tee markers were so close to the back of the tee I couldn’t make a swing because of the crowd. Not only were they close but in looking they were 4-5 deep behind the tee. Not something I have experienced before but certainly hope I experience again!! For the record I flushed it!
Anyway the story from my afternoon was that again I played really well but boy did the putter let me down. I don’t know why as I had putted quite well in the morning. I just put it down to the change of courses, a different speed and a different type of grass. Anyway I struggled all afternoon on the greens. I missed a 5 footer on my first hole for par, then 4 foot misses on 2, and 4 left me 3 over through 4 holes. My task was now looking impossible as the wind was ripping and the greens had dried right out and were impossible to hold down wind. Even Davis mentioned in his press conference afterwards that he couldn’t even stop 8 and 9 irons on the greens downwind. Once again I just trusted the routines and was determined to put my best foot forward and above all else enjoy having the best seat in the house, watching two major winners trying to qualify coming down the stretch.
I managed to get the honour on the 9th hole of the day and what I thought was impressive was that I managed to keep it for 6 holes but that was where it ended. Still though, I matched it with two major winners for those 6 holes. When we reached the 14th hole, where I lost the honour something amazing happended. I was first to hit and on this hole in practice I had hit driver. It was 299 yards to run out of fairway before the water hazard, that’s around 270m. Today however it was downwind and I decided on 3 wood. I flushed it and saw it land in the fairway. Davis was next to hit and he moved onto the tee with his caddy. The were deliberating over the club choice for about a minute or so, crunching numbers and coming up with the right play. Finally they decided, and I thought it was just about what iron to hit. With that Davis decided on his club and to my absolute dismay he pulled the driver!!! I couldn’t believe it and had to get my yardage book back out to see what the carry was over the creek. Amazingly it was a 320yard, 292m carry!!!! What the!!!! His caddy then said “Davis you have the cover (which means you can carry the ball that far with that club) so just a normal swing” WHAT THE!!!!!!!!!! Sure enough though he made a normal swing and sailed it over the water……incredible golf.
By the time I lost the honour with 4 holes to go, my day was done and I was 5 over. I think that was the time when I learnt the most. Ben was also done after two double bogies, but Davis was right in the mix, really tight with the number to qualify over the closing 4 holes. I was still thoroughly enjoying the process and my own golf challenge on what was now an extremely difficult golf course, but I was also going to enjoy watching a seasoned professional at work. Davis was exactly that, composure, poise, precision and just the right amount of boldness, closing out with 1 under the final 4 holes which included a 502 yard par four to an island green!! His intensity levels went up incredibly and it was like he went inside a bubble all of his own. He prowled his putts, and made them and just simply owned his game and the outcome. Much learned from me!!
It was sad that it had to come to an end. The day I had been waiting for was over and it truly didn’t disappoint. I hadn’t qualified but I had grown as a player experiencing many things you couldn’t pay for. What I learnt from my day was the Davis Love III is still a great player with incredible length and was someone who always played within his parameters. His putting too was incredible. I also learnt that I have the same amount of tricks in the kit bag as a British Open winner Ben Curtis. I hit it the same distance etc, just need a little more experience. What a day it was, and I have left out so many more stories, you will have to catch up with me in person to hear more. It was a golf trip of a lifetime and I hope to take my game to the next level because of it. I am about to board a flight from LA to Brisvegas and can’t wait to get home and keep working on improving as a player!! See you soon