Up-and-Down Day at U.S. Senior Amateur Makes Me Wonder: Do I Hate Golf or Myself?

Up-and-Down Day at U.S. Senior Amateur Makes Me Wonder: Do I Hate Golf or Myself?

Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle plays his third shot on the sixth hole during the first round of stroke play at the 2014 USGA Senior Amateur at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, Calif., on Saturday.
USGA/Chris Keane

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The U.S. Senior Amateur Championship gets serious Monday.

First, let me explain the Senior Am using the definition offered by the wife of John Schaller, a Phoenix guy I played with in a practice round. His wife explained the Senior Am to a friend by aying, “You know what the U.S. Amateur is? Good. This is the U.S. Amateur for guys who’ve had colonoscopies.”

She nailed it. And now, allow me to take a brief timeout to hate golf. I hate golf because I was standing in the middle of the 17th fairway with an eight-iron in hand and I proceeded to make a double bogey that I figured knocked me out of the U.S. Senior Am’s match-play round. A bad swing into a bunker, a poor bunker shot short of the green in the frizzy grass, a decent chip to a dicey pin, then a poor putt on a two-and-a-half footer. Double.

All right. I’m done hating golf. Now I just hate myself.

(VAN SICKLE: Living the Good Life at the Senior Amateur)

Oh, wait. I could still hole out a 94.7-yard sand-wedge shot on the par-5 18th for eagle. And in fact, my shot drew a scream from a greenside gallery. It just missed hitting the stick as it rolled past and I made a three-footer for birdie that was scary because it was late in the day and the green was crusty and footprintly (a new golf word for you!).

The top 64 scores among the 156-man senior field advance to match play, which begins Monday. That last-hole birdie after the double gave me a 75 and a 36-hole total of 149, five over par, here at the luscious Big Canyon CC. I’m right on the cut line so I have to show up first thing Monday morning for a playoff. It’s 15 players for the last 13 spots. Those aren’t awful odds.

All right, I’m done hating myself.

Oh, the playoff starts at No. 10, an uphill, dogleg left that I have yet to par.

Whoops. I hate myself again.

All right, all right, I’m okay.

On Sunday, I hit a perfect drive around the corner at the 10th and misjudged the uphill factor and the wind, which I thought was into my face. Well, it was in the fairway. By the time I got to the green to play my ball off a downslope in the back bunker, I felt the wind in my face again so it was actually on my back when I hit. I selected the wrong club. I blame my caddie. I don’t have a caddie.

I hate myself again.

I had two decent days of play for me, a run-of-the-mill golfer whose strength is missing it straight and keeping the ball in play.

After my first-round 74, I figured another 74 would be good enough to qualify. A bad stretch on the front nine had me three over but I stuck it close at the 9th and made birdie. Back to two over, all I had to do was shoot even on the back.

Then I bogeyed the 10th and hooked a six-iron into a deep-dish bunker in front of the 11th green. Hated myself. I hit a pretty good shot to eight feet and, feeling particularly annoyed, poured in the putt for par.

Done hating for 90 seconds. Then I stepped up on a par 3 and whiffed a seven-iron into another deep-dish bunker in front of the green. Hating. Mediocre bunker shot was followed by a mis-hit putt and a bogey.

Then I stuck a pair of good short irons close and birdied the next two holes. At the 16th, a par 5 that makes a right turn and then goes sharply uphill, I saved par with a slider of an eight-footer. Two more pars and I’m in good shape. Then came the 17th, a real foul-up, and you know the rest. So after a 75 I’m on for Monday morning, three fivesomes playing off to determine which two guys are done.

It was a pretty warm finish. The Los Angeles area is having a heat wave but a weird one in which it’s over 100 degrees but also pretty humid. The natives here are cussing this humidity run, and even here near the coast, the sun felt like a laser on my face. Or at least, how I’d imagine a laser would feel.

I have enjoyed the week. I wrote last week how the players are being treated almost like Tour pros, what with free locker-room snacks and beverages and daily patio lunch buffets. Well, the buffet is $17 but it’s awesome — one day they had frosted pie pockets. That’s right, the only way you can improve on cherry pie is to add frosting. And Big Canyon did.

They’ve also been putting signs with our last names on them in front of us when we’re hitting balls on the range. And a couple of guys roam the range tees, grabbing clubs you’ve just hit and cleaning them for you without asking. Pretty sweet.

The men’s locker-room attendant with a big smile and a can-do energy is named Bobby. His full name is Bobby Orr, I kid you not. I found that out Sunday when he left a note in my locker thanking me for the good things I said about Big Canyon in my Senior Am preview story on Golf.com a few days ago. He signed it Bobby Orr and left me his card.

Saturday a package of Skittles dived into my pocket from Bobby Orr’s snack bar. Today, after my aggravating finish, it was another Hershey bar, this time one with almonds. I don’t normally do candy but, hey, this is a national championship. I need energy.

I have one main thought on Big Canyon CC: Don’t make me leave.

Anyway, Friday night featured a players’ banquet with all the USGA officials and keynote speaker Paul Goydos, one of the PGA Tour’s smarter and funnier players. He immediately said he didn’t know what a keynote speaker was and that he wasn’t going to be one. He told a few stories, then answered questions from USGA president Thomas O’Toole Jr.

“Wasn’t he great in The Christmas Story, folks?” Goydos asked a full ballroom, drawing huge laughs. O’Toole has moppy blond hair and black horn-rimmed glasses and, yes, he’s a dead ringer for a grown-up Ralphie from the iconic Christmas movie. O’Toole responded that he gets that all the time and while Goydos thought he was being original, well, he wasn’t.

Goydos was extremely amusing. I should’ve written down more of his comments. He was great on the Ryder Cup topic and the U.S. having trouble winning it. He’s not alarmed, he said. Why not? “The Ryder Cup is basically a coin toss,” Goydos said. “If I tossed a coin ten times and it came up heads seven times, I wouldn’t immediately think that that coin is defective.”

His point? The Ryder Cups are usually close. The Europeans just happen to win. And before the team was expanded to include all of Europe he reminded the room, “It was like the Harlem Globetrotters playing the Washington Generals.”

One other Goydos comment worth repeating was that he admitted he couldn’t tell you how many times he played, say, the Sony Open or Bay Hill Invitational. “But I can tell you for sure that I played in two U.S. Amateur Public Links and ten U.S. Opens. There are 156 players here this week and they are playing in a national championship. You can’t overvalue that.”

All of them have probably had colonoscopies and if they haven’t, well, they should have.

Monday should be fun unless I’m one of the two losers who don’t make it to match play. I’d probably hate myself and golf if that happens. At least until Big Canyon opens the patio lunch buffet.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Gary advanced to the match-play round after a playoff Monday morning. Follow live U.S. Senior Amateur scores here.]

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