My day at the World Am: Going, going... gone!

Tuesday August 30th, 2011

Gary-Van-Sickle_Monday MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.-- Ben Crenshaw is a big believer in omens, not to mention fate. Me? Not so much. But I did feel like it meant something when I walked into the clubhouse at The International Club here on a humid Monday morning for the opening round of the World Amateur Handicap Championship and bumped into Tracy Stallard. It wasn't the famous pitcher himself -- he's the man who famously served up Home Run No. 61 to Roger Maris -- but his autographed jersey in a display case, a No. 39 Boston Red Sox jersey. Next to it hung his New York Mets jersey, No. 36, when he pitched for The Amazin' Mets, the 1962 expansion team that, holy Marv Throneberry, may well have been the worst team in baseball history.
Along with the jersey are several photos of Stallard, plus a couple of Maris and Mickey Mantle, apparently autographed back in '61. Pretty cool stuff. I overheard another contestant asking about the Stallard mini-museum and someone in the shop told him Stallard was simply friends with the club's owner.
Anyway, it was a pleasant surprise to see the memorabilia, but I couldn't figure out which way that omen might swing. A 61? That would be a personal -- duh -- best. And not very likely. A 61 on nine holes? I'm a scratch golfer. That's not going to happen, either. Serve up a home run? In golf, the equivalent might be belting one over the fence into an adjacent homeowner's yard. Yeah, that could happen.
What did happen as this tournament featuring more than 3,000 amateurs playing in a kajillion flights kicked off was that I did, indeed, hit a couple of foul balls. Played all right most of the round but four poor swings led to six wasted shots.
I was paired with two locals. To disguise the innocent, I'll just use their first names. Tyler lives in the Myrtle Beach area and Jeff lives in Charleston. Jeff brought his family for the week as a make-up call for missing his 1-year-old's birthday party Sunday. I gave him my usual advice for new parents: Get the kid into the game early. He's your free pass to playing lots of golf for the next 15 years -- it's called father-son bonding time, and it really, really works.
We played in the championship flight -- I'm not sure what its official title is -- and my reputation preceded me. I made a cameo appearance in the second round of last year's World Am, had an uncanny day at True Blue Plantation where I could do no wrong and shot a bogey-free 67. Jeff brought that up shortly after we introduced ourselves.
I hope he wasn't expecting an encore because he didn't get it. I three-putted our first hole from about eight feet, lipping out a 15-inch second putt for par. I didn't rush it, I wasn't careless. It's grainy bermuda grass, the greens haven't fully recovered from a recent aeration and, OK, my putter-face may have gotten slightly closed. Then I doubled the next hole out of a poor lie in greenside bunker. Later, I hit a pair of balls into water hazards, only one of which I knew was there. Am I saying it wasn't my fault? Yes. It was Tracy Stallard's fault, I'm pretty sure.
It added up to 80 on the scorecard. A little more course knowledge, a better chip or two and a couple of lipped-out putts and I'd have had the 74 I probably should have shot but didn't. That's golf. It's a fine line in golf. Plus, I've got three more rounds to recover and work my way up through the pack like Jimmie Johnson craftily picking his way through a backed-up NASCAR field. Wait, I just made a NASCAR reference in a golf story? What the hell am I doing?
Actually, I thought about writing an angry-golfer spoof column here. We all know the type, the golfer who plays crappy and comes home hating the world and himself.
How was Pebble Beach, dear? I hate it. What a craphole! How did you play? How do you think I played? The freakin' wind blew six of my shots in the ocean, a sea lion ate one of our caddies and I played hockey back and forth across the 14th green and made an 11. What a lousy course! But what about the view on 18? Yeah, that's great if you like a view of me hitting two tee shots in the ocean and two hybrids into the water left of the green to make an X and lose three press bets to Louie, who beat me with an 8. An 8! That place sucks! Bah! But I figured somebody wouldn't get that I was kidding. The International Club was a pleasant enough track. I had low expectations after the introduction from the club official who informed us that 17 of the 18 holes have out-of-bounds stakes on them. "Well, that's something to be proud of," I told Jeff.
Chris King of Myrtle Beach Holidays came out with a camera and followed us for a few holes, under orders from our Golf.com empire to snap a few photos of me in action. I think he got a nice one of me stiffing a bunker shot close at 13 [Editor's Note: pictured above]. He probably got a good one of me looking for Tyler's errant approach in the hazard among the trees at 14 -- we never did find that one. But he missed the real photo opp.
At 17, after a wait on the tee, I pull-hooked a drive left. It looked OK to me, it was just going to bounce over a large mound and dribble down the other side by the cart path, no problem. When I got up there, left of the cart path was a few feet of pine needles next to a creek. Oops. Problem. I saw a ball in about a foot of water there and figured it had to be mine. I fished it out with a 4-iron while Chris sat back in a cart 50 yards behind me.
On the next tee, I asked, "Did you get the shot of me retrieving my ball? That was the shot of the day." Chris shook his head and said no. "Man, you blew the photo of the day. You blew it!" Chuckling, Chris said, "I know, I know."  All I know is, Tracy Stallard would've gotten that shot.
Tomorrow: Another round, another new course as I creep closer to reaching the 1,100 mark for courses played.   More: Golf.com World Am website (Photo: Chris King)

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