Yesterday was a new and fun experience as I dipped my toes into big time tournament golf. It’s probably not what you think.
Before teeing it up at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD, I headed to the starters desk and got paired up with an older husband and wife team and a young fellow, also named Brian, who informed me that he was playing a practice round for the June 30 US Amateur Qualifier. He advised he would not be playing out all his shots and would be trying a few things from different locations. As he loaded his bag on my cart, he asked if I had played the course, because he had not, and he needed help mapping out a strategy. I gladly volunteered to assist.
As we rode towards the green on the par-3 second hole, I asked Brian how he gained entry in the qualifier. He said he had just got his handicap below the 2.4 index requirement and was attempting to qualify for the first time. Brian was playing the tips (where the qualifier would be played from) and I was playing the whites, which were considerably shorter at 6,200 yards. This was still cool because I was able to watch a real good player and measure my game with his. How did I stack up? Handicap stats can be misleading. I play to a 4.3 index. Let’s say Brian just satisfied his USGA index requirement and was playing at a 2.3. Two strokes different, right? No way. In all fairness to myself, my short game and his were quite comparable, but ball striking was not even close. He was consistently ripping it 280-290 down the middle on every tee shot and his length and pureness of strike with the irons was impressive. The takeaway: whenever paired with someone from a different club, understand the context of their index. What is the distance they usually play at and what is the course rating? I was left thinking that a scratch at my course would get whupped every time by a five or six handicap from a serious venue like a Congressional or Merion.
On the 17th tee, Brian pulverized another low bullet about 300 yards down the middle, and I asked him what the loft was on his driver. He said about 12 degrees but admitted that he always hit the ball very low and learned an exaggerated shaft lean as a kid. He said that if he was fortunate enough to qualify and make it to Oakmont in August, he might have trouble with some of the carries because of his low ball flight. Then I asked him what he thought it would take to qualify out of Clustered Spires and he thought maybe a few under par for 36 holes. The US Amateur has 94 qualifying sites, each with 84 players. Roughly three of those 84 will advance to the 312 player field at Oakmont. I think it may take six or seven under par to advance out of Clustered Spires. Yikes!
All day, I found it hard to concentrate on my own game while helping to manage Brian’s club selection and making recommendations on where to hit it and what to avoid. In addition, our husband-and-wife team were playing very quickly, and the cadence became a little disjointed. I managed to hit 12 greens and shoot six-over par, but I felt rushed, especially on the greens, with Brian trying putts to all different locations and the other two racing to see who could finish the hole as quickly as possible. It was still great fun.
I have played practice rounds before tournaments, but just played golf. What I observed yesterday was a real competitor preparing for a serious event using serious preparation techniques. That I helped him in any small way is gratifying. I will be eagerly watching the June 30th qualifying results from Clustered Spires to see if he makes it.