It was another case of a long day and a short night. One that was hastened even more by the time change that occurred on the drive from St. Louis, Missouri to Louisville, Kentucky. The day before, I’d played a second full round of golf at Prairie Dunes Country Club. This time it was with my host, Dave Curtis. I then, in the words of Willie Nelson, was “on the road again,” to make the 11-hour drive from Hutchinson, Kansas to the land of blue grass, thoroughbreds, and the Valhalla Country Club.
Eleven hours would be much too long of a drive after leaving Hutchinson at 2 o’clock on Friday afternoon. I decided that I would drive just to the other side of St. Louis, Missouri, which would leave me four hours of driving on Saturday morning to get to Louisville. I wanted a good night sleep. I stopped and spent the night in Fairview, Illinois. I later learned that Richard, one of my former co-workers that I would be playing with on Saturday had once lived in Fairview.
The round at Valhalla was scheduled for a 2:00 tee time. This round was not going to be my usual round of golf on my Top 100 Tour. This round was to be a match between Kevin Hobbs, Richard Byrne, and me. Kevin and Richard were former colleagues at ExxonMobil.
I had taken the time to get ready for this match. In addition to playing rounds at Flint Hills and Prairie Dunes, I had taken a lesson from the Head Golf Pro at Flint Hills. I had also spent hours on the practice ranges at both courses. I prepared myself for some butt kicking in Kentucky!
The trash talking started early Saturday morning. As I was preparing to get on the road for those final four hours of driving, the text messages from Kevin and Richard start to come fast and furiously. It was on now!
I arrived at Valhalla at about 12:30pm. It was very clear, that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. It was back to limited access, gated entries and the posh surrounds that one sees at the most exclusive golf clubs. This was also a place steeped in the history of the game of golf. Valhalla has hosted two PGA Championships, a Senior PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup.
The drive up the road from the gate is lined on one side with trees and on the other with a white fence that gives you the sense of being at a well-maintained Kentucky horse farm rather than a golf club. I took in the beauty of the rich and thick Kentucky bluegrass as I made the drive up to the clubhouse. While this was not Magnolia Lane at Augusta, it was just as majestic.
Kevin, Richard, and Kevin’s brother-in-law, James were having lunch when I arrived. Kevin had invited James to join us to fill out the foursome. Kevin grew up in Kentucky and much of his family still lives there. I’m not sure though that James knew what he was getting himself into. Kevin, Richard and I have several years history of goating each other. So, while James would participate in the two-person round robin team part of our competition, we spared him the melee of the individual competition.
After lunch, we headed to the range to warm up. There we met Dylan. Dylan is interning at Valhalla this summer. He is a student at Sam Houston University, in my birth place, Huntsville, Texas. Dylan had interned the previous summer at Southern Hills, one of the two courses that I will play when my tour gets to Oklahoma. His father is the Head Pro at Whispering Pines in Trinity, Texas, another of the Top 100 courses. Kevin, Richard and I will also have a match there in the Fall.
As we warmed up on the practice range, the trash talking picked up where we had left off with our texting from earlier in the morning. As we got ready to tee off, we had to determine how many strokes each of us would get. Kevin had looked up our USGA indexes on GHIN, but I thought he was giving himself and Richard one too many strokes each. I should have kept my mouth shut because after the discussion, Richard ended up with an extra stoke.
After the discussion, it was time for the butt kicking in Kentucky to start. I teed off first and hit a nice 250-yard draw on a hole that doglegged left and play 390 yards to the center of the green. The flag was positioned on the right front of the green. This left me 120 yards out and sent a message that I meant business. I think I rattled them with that drive, I think both Richard and Kevin missed the fairway on their opening drives.
I hit my approach shot just slightly thin. The ball rolled to the back of the green, leaving me with a 72-foot putt for a birdie. I putted it to within 3 ft of hole and made the second putt for an opening hole par to win the first hole. I’d laid down the marker – game on!
The second hole is a par 5 with a creek bisecting the tee boxes and the fairway before turning to run the length of the left side of the fairway. My caddie, who will remain nameless in this blog for reasons that will be explained later, pointed out two trees that were right of the fairway and about 300 yards out. He said my drive should be a field goal on a line between those two trees. That’s exactly where I put my 235-yard drive into the wind. I hit good second and third shots to again hit the green in regulation. My approach shot ended up about 30 feet from the pin. I two putted for par. Richard hit the best approach shot on the hole and made birdie to win the hole.
The third hole is where it started to get a little more interesting. The hole is a par 3 that has Floyd’s creek running in front of the green about two thirds of the distance between the tee boxes and the green. It also has a front bunker, a greenside bunker on the left and a bunker off the back-right part of the green. The flag was on the back-right part of the green. Rather than hitting to the middle of the green, I decided to go for the pin. My ball started at the pin, but faded and hit off the back right of the green into the bunker. I had now shorted sided myself. I then tried to get too cute with my sand shot and left it in the bunker. My second shot wasn’t so cute and rolled to 25 feet past the pin. I two putted for a double bogey, but I think I still tied the hole.
On the fourth hole, you will now start to see why my caddie on this day will remain nameless. The fourth hole is a short par 4. My caddie recommended a line over the bunker which I should have easily cleared with my driver. As I did on the first and second hole, I hit my ball on the exact line he recommended. But this time I hit the ground before hitting my ball with my driver. The shot, while on line, needed a couple of more yards for the 215 yards needed to clear the bunker. I ended up in the grass on the upslope just past the sand in the bunker.
This is where you’d expect a good caddie to earn his keep. I was 85 yards out. I asked him for a recommendation on the shot. I asked if I should hit my sand wedge to the middle of the green, or take a pitching wedge and try to get the ball to the back pin position. He recommended the pitching wedge shot. He was concerned that with the ball in the grass on the upslope of the bunker, a sand wedge shot would go straight and land short of the green. If you’ve followed my blog from the first round of my tour, you know that I follow the recommendation of my caddie because he knows the course and I don’t. When I follow the recommendation and execute well, I expect to have a good outcome. If I execute poorly, it is fully on me. I executed just fine and the ball landed on the green, just slightly past the flag, took one hop over the back of the green. I expected that I would find it just over the green. What my caddie didn’t tell me was that there was a steep slope on the back of the green, straight down to a creek. And that is where we found my ball. I had to take a drop and ended up with a double bogey on the hole. More importantly, I lost confidence in my caddie.
I rarely let what happens on a golf get to me. It’s just a game. And I know that no matter what my results are, my wife and kids will still get to eat. This was different. This was “the bout in the bluegrass!” This was Jimmie versus Kevin versus Richard. This was manhood on the line! I let my disgust get the best of me. I went on to make triple bogeys on the fifth, sixth and seventh holes, a bogey on the par 3 8th hole, and a double for the long par 4 9th hole. This resulted in a front nine 9 score of 52. This was my worst performance on my tour to date.
As we moved to the back nine, I realized I could not find my cell phone. This distracted me for a moment. I hit a drive that stayed left and ended up in the left rough. While thinking about where my phone could be, I forgot that I had intended to stop listening to my caddie. With my mind on the whereabouts of my phone, I heard him say that I should take a fairway wood and hit a low shot to get under some tree branches that were in front of me. I tried twice with no success to hit a 3 wood out of thick Kentucky bluegrass rough. On my third shot out of the rough, I took a 5 iron and easily advanced the ball 190 into the fairway. I recorded my score as an 8 on the hole, Kevin recorded it as a 9, he is right according to the rules of golf, but my view was that I’d been penalized enough for listening to my caddie. And I just gave myself the short putt on the hole that resulted in an 8.
I finally located my phone deep into one of the side pockets on my golf bag.
As we approached the 11th hole, I was ready to again focus on golf and to stop listening to advice from a caddie that I had lost confidence in. The 11Th hole is a 190-yard Par 3. My ball landed in the bunker. I hit my sand shot out of the bunker but not onto the green. I chipped on and one putted for a bogey.
For the next three holes, I played reasonably well, but I had lost track of the match. Kevin, who had struggled early on, when Richard and I were making pars (me) and birdies (Richard) had regained his form and probably had won a few holes. While my two easy pars on the two opening holes may have rattled him, after my poor play on the subsequent holes, he regained hope. Richard was playing steady with some great shots from time to time and an occasional poor shot. One of his brilliant shots was a three wood on the par 5 sixth hole that got him to the green. He was usually in the mix on each hole, while Kevin and I played ourselves out of a few holes. But Kevin had crept back in match and probably had a slight lead.
Kevin, Richard, and I were all lucky that James wasn’t participating in the individual match because he was probably the one kicking butt.
I made par on the 12th hole, which is the toughest hole on the back nine. It’s a 420-yard par 4. I hit a short drive of 200 yards, but followed that with a 3-wood shot that skimmed the trees on the left side of the fairway just short of the green. My ball still landed pin high just left of the green. I pitched onto an elevated green and one putted for par.
The 13th hole is a beautiful hole with an island green and waterfalls. It is a short 325 yards. I hit my 3 hybrid to about 110 yards, in between a cluster of six bunkers that were designed to make you think twice about taking the straightest and shortest line to the green. I followed with a gap wedge onto the green, about 20 feet from the hole. Unfortunately, I three putted and made a bogey. I followed the three-putt bogey on 13 with another three-putt bogey on the par 3 14th hole. I was wasting my greens in regulation.
Valhalla is a Jack Nicklaus designed course. The caddies told us that the 15th hole was, Jack’s most favorite hole on the course. My drive on Jack’s favorite hole, landed in the middle of the fairway. I then hit an ugly shot that hit the rocks on the side of the green and bounced into the creek that ran along the right side of the green. I made double bogey on the hole. Sorry Jack, this is not my favorite hole.
Come to think of it, neither are 16 and 17. I also double bogeyed them. I hit good drives, but not good iron shots. My driver was certainly “epic”, but my irons were not. I’ve checked out the price of the new Callaway Epic irons. Not going to spend the $1800 on them – even if I wasn’t on a fixed income!
As we approached the tee box for the short par 5, 18th hole (470 yards), the caddies pointed out a plaque. The plague contained a quote from Tiger Woods to Jack Nicklaus as Jack was about to miss the cut in his final major. Tiger said, “let’s finish it off the right way.” They both went on to birdie the hole.
So, I repeated that sentiment to Kevin, Richard, and James and said - lets finish it with style. I then commenced to hit a 100-yard pop up drive. So much for style...,until the very next shot. I had made a mental error on the 5th hole when I tried to hit my new Epic driver off the deck to stay under the wind and reach the green from 230 yards out. That didn’t go well, and I avoided any additional attempts to hit my driver off the deck…until now.
On this, the final hole of a week in which I’d played Flint Hills, Prairie Dunes, and now Valhalla, I was indeed going to still try to finish in style. I didn’t care that there was water along the right side of the fairway and a driver hit off the deck, often tends to fade. I didn’t care that under pressure, my miss is almost always to the right. What I did care about was that with my poor play on several holes. Kevin and Richard had probably kicked my trash talking butt! So, I did it. I took my new $500 Callaway Epic driver and hit an Epic shot off the deck! One that traveled around 270 yards and landed in the fairway, 140 yards from the pin.
With my confidence regained, I proceeded to put my approach shot to 8 feet of the flag. My old Callaway Edge irons worked just fine. So maybe it’s a new Scotty Cameron putter that I need, because my Odyssey Red Hot didn’t get it done. I left my birdie putt, just short of the cup.
The real “finishing in style”, were the smiles and laughs that Kevin, Richard, James and I shared as we shook hands on the 18th green, following our round. Who cares who won! Kevin, Richard and I will have another match in the Fall at Whispering Pines in Trinity, Texas. As for me, it’s off to Ireland with the family and a two-week break from my tour before I’m back at it in July.
I’d like to thank Kevin for setting up our round at Valhalla and for his generosity. I’d also like to thank Richard for flying up to Kentucky to play with us and James for putting up with the three of us for 18 holes.