The alarm clock went off at 4:00 am, but I didn’t need it – I had been both awaiting and dreading that moment – time to get up, get ready, and head out to the first tournament since my dismal showing at the 18th Buckhorn Open.
I had only played one round in the previous 14 days – an even par effort at Kentwood. I had thrown close to 5,000 putts though – and I needed to get back on the horse. I had taken a weekend off – and I missed the game – but I also didn’t know what I was going to do if I played poorly. Would it be the last time? Did I have the “quit” bug?
The drive was very nice. I traveled one hundred and nineteen miles under the mist and breaking dawn, driving towards the sun to Castle Hayne – Castle Pain to the locals – a course I have seen referenced elsewhere as the “ Pinehurst #2 of Carolina Disc Golf’. It’s a known foe – I had played a total of three rounds here in the previous 2 years – and none of them tournament quality in the least.
Castle Hayne is host on this day to the 2nd stop of the 2019 ECO Tour, but is likely best known for hosting the Azalea Tournament – a massive two weekend event that draws players from Wilmington to Timbuktu. Today’s event is small by comparison, with a potential field of 95 across 19 holes (an older repurposed hole was included). Much as been the theme in recent posts however, weather had been poor to be polite, and the field was a little shy, with many “waitlisters” hanging around and finding their way into the event.
I arrived at 7:20 – and of course Dave Morse was already there, practicing on hole 10 as I entered the parking circle. As I parked I saw other regulars and realized how excited and happy I was – I was making the right choice. I love the game – but I love the people, too. Handshakes and hugs around as I spoke to Kirk Yoo, Brian Schweberger, and Scott Conway just to name a few. Had a good moment to catch up with Ben Jeffrey who I had not seen since he moved to Wilmington. Soon I was joined by Geoffrey and Victoria Griffiths and James Graves – everyone was primed and ready to take on the challenge. I was reacquainted with Trey Cooke, and couldn’t miss seeing Brian Gilmette and his pink cart crossing the yard. Jon Karwacki ( Flippin Discs ) arrived and planned to caddy for James for the day. Got a chance to talk to Wade Benton, a guy whose game is really starting to catch fire and you need to be watching.
The players meeting was led by Jay Clark, and it as well as all of the event operation went very smooth. Jay’s experience is evident in the “no excitement” manner in which he gets his events going; like all successful events though it’s the guys who “just go to work” and pitch in a hand that make the difference. At different times Max Crotts, Gilly, Ken Olsen and others were selflessly making things run smooth. It was run very smoothly, and I hope all of the players recognize the efforts of these volunteers. (Full disclosure- Fly Guy Disc Golf is a season Hole Sponsor on the ECO Tour ).
Round 1, I was expecting to be carded with my usual round 1 crowd – and somehow ended up with none of them! All was well however, and I started on the 18th with Trey Cooke, Jared Washburn, Jared Schweitzer and Donovan Patterson.
I was ready. I had rested. I had meditated. I had practiced my putting.
I had the top of the card. I confident stepped up, took a breath, and made a practice swing. I closed my eyes. I opened them, committed – and squarely center punched a large tree 27 feet off to the left of the tee. Nice start.
After a bit of a scramble, I was finally within putting distance – and I missed left. With a 4 foot putt for a double bogey, I made sure to slam it like it was from 400 feet, solidly mashing chains to the center pole, spitting my putter back to my feet. I walked away with a 7, and only thirty seven more holes to play.
Oh no. Not like this. Please. Walking to the alternate 19th hole, I reminded myself “Just breathe. Its OK” I felt a bit of calm wash over me. Yes, It was ok.
The 1st round was very nice. Trey had some good local tips to share, both Jared’s played decent and clean for the most part and Donovan displayed the same positivity I remembered him for from the Johnson Street Jam late in 2018. I learned a few things I didn’t know - especially connections I wasn’t aware of ( Trey learned to play back in my area with guys I know and is also a vegetarian like me, Jared W is actually the son of a former coworker that I am quite fond of, etc.) and I enjoyed my card mates quite a bit.
One key thing after getting the first hole jitters aside – all the putting practice was paying off – I had found the putting stroke that I had lost. My issue seemed to be that I couldn’t get off the tee – but once I was within an average of 35 feet, I was pretty spot on. Just sadly , that put was often after having to pitch put, lay up – whatever – I was struggling off the tee, having to scramble, then _BOOM_ make the putt, move on. After about 10 holes I took a step back, left the drivers alone, and really put the Truth and Emac truth, as well as Evidence into play – and started keeping it more in the fairway; or at worse, would not be deep in the trash, instead, just on the edge. I eventually settled in after a few holes and I played a decent Rec round, carding an 87, or twenty three strokes over the DGCR listed par of 64. Not too bad – better actually than I had anticipated. Jared Washburn won our card with a 73, and the rest fell somewhere between there and Donovan’s 88.
At the meal break I discovered that Dave had bested me by a single stroke – and of course James and Geoffrey had to get into the action in what has become a tradition – “Can HP catch this guy?” bets. This days odds were simple, with Geoffrey getting 1:2 odds from James on my catching or passing Dave. The sates as usual was $1 to James if I failed, but $2 to Geoffrey if I succeeded.
Lunch was a simple affair from the seat of my Jeep – a couple of Mozzarella String Cheese packets, a banana and a huge helping of pistachios.
Round two found me once again on the 18th tee, this time with Jared Schweitzer on top of the card, followed by Dave, myself and Caleb Cooper. Caleb is a character that I’m coming to look forward to seeing more and more at events. Like Jared Schweitzer, Caleb serves our country in the United States Air Force; he’s a smart young man from Ohio, has a wonderful card presence – and he constantly asks me if I sell Prodigy plastic.
I didn’t think about scoring at all. I played loose, I listened to music quite a bit (new for me – I never liked the cord on ear buds and was trying some wireless ones for the first time) – I believe I started off par – par – single bogey – single bogey – and from there honestly don’t recall. I know I carded 2 birdies on the round, and leaving hole 10 Dave told me I had him by 8 strokes (!). I wanted to believe him ( Dave is if nothing else honorable ) but I also was wanting him to be joshing me a bit too, him knowing I don’t like to know scores in round, and maybe using a little gamesmanship for motivation. Either way it was a better round.
A note here – I had brought a new Custom Blend Emac Truth that I had gotten from Eric McCabe recently, because I like the grip on custom blend in damp conditions. I’m here to tell you, it was amazing. Between that Emac and going back to an old abandoned Super Soft putter, I may not have the scorecard to prove it but it felt like I was playing lights out. Confidence and feel go hand in hand for sure.
When the smoke settled I got quite a couple of surprises – I had come in with a 79 – eight strokes better than my first round! I had not only bested Dave, but I had won my card! And to top that off, I had actually worked my way into placing at last cash in a tie at 166 with Trey – not too bad for a guy who two weeks before was ready to just walk away . Instead I shot 87/79/166, with ratings of 787 and 859. My current rating is 821 – the two rounds average 823 – so right about where I should expect.
Geoffrey won the bet, and as the last time gave me half – I slipped the $1 bill into my cart – I’ll keep it like the other as a totem of luck.
James Graves took the division with his first PDGA win – and that made me happy. James is someone I’ve only recently been hanging around, but his rating is (for now at least) only 10 points above mine, he likes to play with about the same frequency as I do, and he seems to be a good fella. Congrats to him. (His rounds were 70 (923 rated) 75 (890 rated) for a total 145. With his recent Kings Cup finish I expect his rating to scoot on up, soon.
Usually I always stay for awards, and cheer on those who place – but I’ll be honest and say that had I not placed I would have left. We finished right as dusk settled, and I was looking at a 2 hour plus ride home. I was tired, I was hungry , and I already wanted to go to bed. Awards were held under the lights of the picnic shelter, hands were shook, I rolled my winnings into the entry fee for the next event and I left.
Midway home I rolled into a Waffle House and got my usual – a double hash brown with all the veggie toppings, as well as a big bowl of grits laden with black pepper and hot sauce. I sat alone at the counter and ate while reflecting on the day.
It was a good day. I had proven to myself I could play- even if it is at a rec level – I do belong. I had friends who cared for me; I had people whom I cared for. I was able to continue meeting and sharing in a sport that I loved.
And I beat Dave and got my $1 cut of the winnings. That was even better than grits with hot sauce.
Next week is the Camp Durant Classic - see you then .
All photo credits The HP