In June of 2003, something happened at an event that at time didn’t seem odd. 16 ½ years later, I look back and I’m still amazed that it happened and in awe of it. And to be honest, I don’t think I can ever do it despite wanting to.
What in the heck am I talking about? TDing an event and winning it in the open division.
David McQuay blew the field of 18 away winning 7 throws at the 2003 Big Valley Challenge. Playing what we now call the whites for four rounds, “Diamond” Dave averaged 1014 over the weekend and presented himself the trophy and winning check.
I’ve come close a few times – most recently losing by one to Chase Jernigan and the NICU event in Chapel Hill. As I sit and writing this three days after the completion of the Raleigh Winter Jam, I realized I might have just blown my one true shot at this ultimate feat that I’ve never seen done in North Carolina since.
I’ve been competing in PDGA events since 2003 and played at least 10 events every year until my son was born in 2018. When you have played as many events as I have, you know exactly what your routine is. I stop and get breakfast at a drive through, get to the course about 1 ½ - 2 hours before tee, check in and begin throwing. I will throw probably the equivalent of 4 – 10 holes, pending how cold it is and then find a nice empty flat putting green. When I start putting, I can putt for as little as 5 minutes or as long as 30; it’s all about feel. Once I get the release feeling right, I’m good.
When I run an event, I get about 5 putts and some fake throws with my flight towel. Not only do I not get anywhere near the amount of throwing time I want, I have zero chance to work out any feel based release issues. Ironically at the NICU event, my feel was off and I couldn’t throw my putter in the ocean (well, if the ocean was below the basket, I could because when it’s off, everything is low). When I play good at my own event, it’s simply because the feel of the putter is there that day; I won’t use the word luck but that’s kind of what it feels like.
Saturday, that feel was there on the very first putt in my “warm up” time. I knew I had a chance on my very first released practice putt.
I birdied 1 to start with a 20 foot putt and then tickeled the chains off the tee on 2 to go 2 for 2. 2 bad drives on 3 and 4 and I was getting a little rattled (the worst I ever want to be on 1 – 4 is 3 under). I got A and B and finished the first 12 holes (1-10) at 8 under. Not amazing, but hanging in there. A poor drive on 11 and 12 led me to thinking my event was over.
I purred the left gap on 13 and as I turned around, Justin Jernigan make “ooooh” sound that lets you know something funky happened. He said I hit the tree about 20 short right on the ground and rolled backwards about 10 – 15 feet. He wasn’t wrong. I had a circle’s edge putt that I knew would make or break my round. That release I felt an hour and a half before -and hadn’t been challenged as all 8 birdies were inside 20 and all pars were poor drives with upshots results in putts in 20 – was suddenly being challenged.
The putt hit dead center and I went to -9.
14 is always a make or break hole at Kentwood and the worst part of it is I can easily get it to the pin. I’ve been aggressive going the inside route over the years and it’s cost me; if you miss that line, it kicks left and that’s where bogeys live. I sat on the tee a realized that 15 – 18 are usually pretty successful holes for me so even if I par 14, I can shoot -13 which would be acceptable considering the driving errors. I pulled out my distance ESP crank (I carry a lot of Cranks, but only have one I throw for pure distance) and decided to throw the wide gap. Maybe if I caught it with the speed on the Crank, I could get a putt.
I absolutely hit the line perfect and the release was clean and it barely missed the wide tree about 100 feet short. I walk up and I have a 27 footer. Dead center. After parking 15 and 16, I hit a 25 footer from the ditch on 17 and made a routine 18 footer on 18 to shoot a 46 and was one off the lead heading to round 2.
Phil Bartholomew was leading by 1 over me and Justin Jernigan was 2 back of me. Justin and I started strong, each birdieing 1, 2 and 3 while Phil struggled missing 2 and 3. I got 4 with Justin missing and then got A before getting the circle par on B. I parked 5 getting the only birdie in the group and Phil took a bogey. All of the sudden I’m leading by 3 over Phil and Justin.
*singing* and then it all came crashing down.
Six has been in my head for about 10 years. I’m so worried about going long or over turning it that I short it. Well, I miss 6. And then miss from 20 on 7 – my first missed putt of the day. And then hole 8. Oh hole 8.
Golfers talk about “holes that fit their eye” all the time. For example, if a player prefers to hit the ball right to left, they aim right. If there are trees or other things in their way, that doesn’t “fit their eye.” As a predominantly hyzer flip throw, when something is off set to the right, it doesn’t fit my eye. The tree about 100 feet down on the right on hole 8 is a perfect example.
Saying that, I’ve NEVER hit that tree. I’m not exaggerating. Never.
Out of my hand my yellow magnet does exactly what I’ve been fearing for decades on this hole. Comes out to the right, hits that tree and kicks OB left. I threw a poor upshot and now I’m left with a 30 footer for bogey with a death drop behind it and I had just missed a putt on the previous hole. Dead center, however.
I get 9 and then miss a 25 footer on 10, get a little unlucky on 11 and then miss 12. Meanwhile, Justin got 6, 7, 8 9 and 12 and my lead is gone. Phil had also caught me. I threw a poor drive to about 35 feet on 13 and walking down the fairway I had the same feeling I had on the same hole just hours before. This putt is huge.
I took the same conservative route on 14 but this time landed where I usually do on that shot – about 45 short, but under par on 14 for two rounds is never bad. I finished with birdies on 15 through 18 again shooting a 49.
I walked off and thought “my God, I was even on 6-12. This round could have been magical.” The round before I was -4 on the same stretch and even that wasn’t good, I thought.
I took the positive mindset of “you shot 11 and were even on 6-12” which is basically the same thing, I said before, but hey, positive spin. I made the finals and was 2 off the lead in third. Anything can happen in those finals.
This was the third time I’ve been in the finals at this event and second year in a row. I know the layout – hell I designed it – and I know the challenge. There are no easy holes. Every hole is hard. It’s designed to force you to execute to catch up and for the leader to feel pressured into throwing good shots to hold a lead.
It just wasn’t in the cards and I struggled out the gate in the finals starting bogey bogey bogey. I almost got the crowd pleasing eagle on hole 4 (15 to 4) with a 90 foot jump putt that only traveled 87 feet. My third place finish was 4 off the win and my mind went right back to Dave McQuay in 2003 as I tapped out in the final 9.
I was -4 on holes 6 – 12 for two rounds and lost by 4. No more positive thoughts. I lost the event on a stretch of the course that makes and breaks rounds. No sugar coating it. I gave it away.
By Robert Leonard #21676 , Team Fly Guy, Discraft Underground, Former NC PDGA State Coordinator , TD of Am Worlds 2018, Charlotte NC