This past week I (Tim) played in the South Central Section PGA Yamaha Stroke Play Arkansas Series Championship at Mystic Creek Golf Club in El Dorado, Arkansas.
The is one of our annual section events (we play two in Oklahoma, one in Kansas and one in Arkansas each year) in which we play for a purse and points for our yearly tour championship.
This was the first time we played this course (built in 2013) and was quite an “adventure” to say the least….
I ended up winning the tournament, but rather than talk about my win, I wanted to write a newsletter article to hopefully help you when you might encounter similar circumstances on the golf course.
First – Let’s start with the difficulty of the golf course.
According to the head professional, Mystic Creek is rated as the 37th most difficult course in the United States (just ahead of Augusta National). And he believes, as more people play it and rate the golf course, it will be rated in the top 20 hardest golf courses in the US.
Two weeks prior to our event, the Symetra Tour (LPGA mini tour) played Mystic Creek and only 4 golfers out of 120 scored below par.
We had just under 50 professionals (PGA SCS Members) play in our event, the average score for 2 days was 20 over par with a few scoring 40 over par +.
The head professional and assistant from the course (who play the course regularly) shot 35 over par +.
It is / was a VERY difficult golf course.
The fairways were tight, heavily bunkered, rolling hills, VERY high pine trees, but the most difficult thing of all were the greens. And incidentally, I was told by the head professional, the architect who designed the course, felt like the greens were too difficult, but the owner wanted to make them “as hard as possible” to have a course that was extremely challenging.
The greens were Champions Bermuda that ran between a 11 and 12 on stimpmeter (very fast) with SEVERE slopes and “buried elephants” in the very large greens. Picture of # 10 green is below.
The course played extremely fast, hard and difficult.
In my over 40 years of tournament golf, I would say this is the most difficult course I have ever played (in a tournament) and the most mentally exhausted I have even been after a tournament.
So, let’s talk about some “on course” instruction that can help you (from what I “survived” earlier this week).
1. You must play every golf shot what I call “shot to shot”.
You must not get ahead of yourself or think about what just happened (in the previous shot). You can only control what is happening right now. You can not control what just happened or what is going to happen in the future. This course was so hard, it was really easy to start worrying about upcoming shots or what just happened. If you didn’t stay in the moment, you would very easily get overwhelmed with the upcoming or past difficulty.. (I saw a couple of my fellow playing partners loose more than a few shots because of being upset over what had just happened and what was upcoming..)
2. Do not worry about “par” on a hole.
To be honest, par is just a number that can be COMPLETELY irrelevant at times. I’ll explain…. The first day we played #18 (slightly downhill 540 yard par 5). I hit a good driver off the tee and had 185 yards remaining to the hole. It hit a 6 iron to the middle of the green and two putted for a relatively easy birdie. It was playing like a relatively easy par 4.
The 2nd day, on the same hole (#18) from the same tee box, I hit a drive into a dew covered fairway and had over 260 yards remaining to the green. My second shot, I hit a 4 hybrid and laid up short of the fairway bunkers, short of the green, about 75 yards out. I hit a Sand Wedge from 75 yards to the middle of the green (blind uphill shot) (pin was tucked just over the bunker in the front of the green). One of my playing partners said “good shot”, and we got in the cart to drive up to the green. As we approached the green, we saw my golf ball roll off the green, across the fringe, down the hill, around the bunker and was now 85 yards out. I had hit the 3rd shot – negative 10 yards. I was actually 10 yards further away on my fourth shot then where I was on my 3rd.
I went to the 4th shot, hit a sand wedge again, this time a little right of the 3rd shot (away from the pin), ran up to the green to see it roll to the front and stop on the fringe this time… I two putted for bogey… and did not miss a shot…
So, do not worry about what “par” is on hole… it really makes no difference. What matters is hitting your best shots and scoring your “best” possible on the hole.
3. Do not let how you “start” dictate your round (good or bad).
There has been many times, I have started my rounds with a couple of birdies, and told myself “this is going to be a great day” only to get too nervous / anxious, etc.. to continue the good round.
But this round (the 2nd round at Mystic Creek) was MUCH different.
I started on #18 the 2nd day (shotgun start and we were in the leaders group). You read above how I made bogey on #18 (without missing a shot) and then I stepped up on number 1 (my second hole of the day). A double dogleg par 5 that was playing 550 yards.
I hit a great drive that cut over the right corner of the fairway and ended up about 280 yards away. I laid up in the middle of the fairway about 90 yards out (laid up short of bunkers again).
My third shot, I hit 5 feet right of the pin with too much spin on the ball. The ball kicked to the left, spun back down the green and rolled into the lake short of the green. It rolled about 50 feet down the green into the hazard.
I took a drop (red hazard), chipped up and one putted for a bogey 6.
So, I had played two holes in my final round, and had bogeyed both without missing a shot… In fact, I had hit every shot basically “perfect” and was now standing on my 3rd tee two over par already.
Standing on my 3rd hole tee shot, I had an “internal” decision to make. I could worry about what had just happened and allow that upset feeling dictate my round, or I could say to myself, “$#% happens sometimes”, and there is nothing I can do about it now, except give the next shot my best shot and be as positive as possible the remainder of my round. I choose the 2nd option as I hope you do when you are in a similar circumstance(s).
4. Play to your strengths… take trouble “out of play”.
When you are playing a round of golf do NOT worry about what your playing partners are doing, or what you think others are doing, you MUST play to YOUR strengths.
# 14 at Mystic Creek is a 500 yard par 5 that is one of the tightest tee shots I have ever seen in my life…
In fact, while playing my practice round, I hit 5 shots off the tee down the middle of the fairway and none stayed in the fairway.
Three of the tee shots rolled into the left hazard and 2 rolled into the right bunkers under the lips of the bunkers… And all 5 tee shots I hit in practice, landed in the middle of the fairway and ended up in bad positions. Here is a picture of this “crazy / beautiful” golf hole taken from the tee box we played…
So, needless to say, I put some “extra time and thought” into this hole.
This is how I played # 14 for 2 days…
Six iron off the tee.
Six iron lay up to 130 yards
9 iron from 130 yards to an uphill green (surrounded by bunkers).
I made a par (5) the first day and birdie (4) the 2nd. I played the hole 1 under par, playing to my strengths on the hole and taking the “trouble” out of play.
You MUST play to your strengths and work on taking the trouble “out of play” to play your best golf.
5. Sometimes golf is hard and there is NOTHING you can do about it.
I assume most of you are like myself, you play this game because it is a challenge, that challenge to make yourself better is the enjoyment and fun part of the game. Many of you challenge yourself to shoot better scores, lower your handicap, beat your age, beat your buddies, par a hole you’ve never parred, or just play better today than you did yesterday…. again all GREAT motivation and why so many of us play and have fun at this game..
But, sometimes….. golf is just hard. And no matter how good you are playing and / or hitting the ball and / or putting and chipping, etc.. the course is just gonna beat you that day…. and sometimes, beat you up pretty good…
Why, because you have no control over how difficult the course is playing that day… whether it is the speed of the greens, the conditions you are playing (wind, cold, etc..) or just the difficulty of the course in general – ALL these are out of your control.
You can only manage yourself and your game to the best of your ability on and in the conditions you are given that day.
The PERFECT point as example is as follows…..
The first day of my tournament at Mystic Creek, I stood on #4 tee box (a down hill par 3 playing 178 yards – slightly into the breeze).
I choose a 6 iron and hit a very good shot – 15 feet behind the hole (hole was left edge of green).
Both my playing partners hit their tees shots on the green, slightly further away from the hole than me.
I watched my playing partners putt before me (one was to the right of me, one was uphill). Both hit putts that slid past the hole about 5 to 6 feet….
Thinking and reading my putt as down grain / downhill, pretty fast, I hit a lag putt toward the hole. It stopped about 4 feet short…. It was NOT near as fast as I thought.
I marked the ball, lined up the next putt, went through my routine and putted the next putt. It slid past the right side and went 4 feet past the hole. That putt was VERY fast. I went from being into the grain to down grain… (thank you bermuda green…)
I marked the putt that was now 4 feet below the hole. Went through my routine and putted the next putt. It “power lipped” completely around the cup and went behind where my putt had started…. I was now 5 feet away, same line, uphill, but 5 feet away now…. the greens were crazy fast and sloped. I had just power lipped a putt from 4 feet to 5 feet away and I had hit that putt easy.
I marked the ball, stepped up over my next putt from 5 feet and left it one inch short…..
I tapped in my one inch putt.
The equals a 5 putt…. yes a 5 putt and I hit EVERY putt on line with decent speed and gave them all my best effort….
Guess what, sometimes golf is just hard and there is NOTHING you can do about it.
You just have to give the next shot your best effort and accept that if you are playing in a tournament or competition that it is equally hard for everyone (not just you..)
If you are playing for fun (not in a tournament) accept that for every “hard” day, there should be an “easy” day on the links…. a great way to help accept those hard days…
Needless to say, after 2 days of golf on one of the hardest courses I have ever played, I was exhausted.
(So were my playing partners. One had 7 three putts and one 4 putt, the other had 6 three putts and one 4 putt). (I was extremely excited to say I had zero 3 putts, 0 4 putts… okay… 1 five putt…)
After the round…. mentally, physically, and ego… shot. But I was extremely proud of myself for staying “within” myself. I didn’t let myself get down after bad shots, I did my best focusing on the now, I played each shot “shot to shot”, I played to my strengths to the best of my ability and lastly, I kept telling myself, this course is hard for everyone, not just me…
I ended up shooting 5 over par for the two rounds (77 / 72) and won by 4 shots.
One of my playing partners commented my 72 was like watching a 65…. (to be honest, if felt like a 62… but I didn’t tell him that…)
I have shot many 65s in my life, in fact, I have shot 62s in my life… this 72 was better than many of those…
Hopefully this helped you think a little different next time you are on the course, especially those times when the course has that extra “challenge”.
Good Luck with your golf game.
Remember – ALWAYS practice with a purpose.