Monday, June 25, 2012

The stacked field and 6/24 results

Minigolf courses come in all shapes and sizes.  Putt Putt courses all come from a "cookbook" of holes, but their difficulty can vary from place to place. 

There are "aces races" courses, like the Red course in Martinez, GA; here are the scores from the 2011 Southern Open.  You have to hit the putts pure, but there is less randomness in the carpet and rails than other courses.

Martinsville used to feel like one of those courses, but in recent years it has become much more difficult on the back nine.  You better score early and hang on for dear life on the back because it is very easy to go from a 27 to 31 without any rhyme or reason.  Bad kick off the rail...fluff of the carpet in the heat throwing the ball off line...take your pick.  It is a test of patience and resiliency for the best of players. 

I was excited about my pairing on Sunday as I was playing with two former national champions:  Robert Johnson and Tony Varnadore.  Then again, out here on the East Coast, it seems like everyone has a major title to their name.  Every field is stacked, especially when the Southern Tour people show up.

Take the first 12 finishers on Sunday in Martinsville.  (Results via DoggHouse)
Seven of them have Pro national titles on the PPA tour.  One of the other five has multiple USPMGA national titles and recently won a PPA National major in convincing fashion.  One has a Senior National title (and a major National event) in recent years.  Two others have Amateur national titles in addition to multiple pro wins of state and major levels. 

Eleven of the top-12 have stacked resumes.  The 12th member of the dozen "only" has a couple dozen State level wins and a State player of the year award to go with it.

Mind you, only nine people can cash in this event.  Some top players are going to be left out of the money.  Competing at this level is difficult for the entry pro players; at the end of the year, like the weaker zebras in the herd, they are carved out and separated by the lions never to be heard from again.

The very top players never seem to finish out of the money.  Greg Ward is, in my opinion, the best PPA putter of the last twenty years.  His back-to-back Player of the Decade titles support this.  What really impresses me is that there _have_ to be some days he isn't 100%.  But as far as I can tell, over the last 20 years, he has cashed in all but a couple (if not cashed in all) events.  You look at most leaderboards and he is in the mix of every event he is in.

This is why I was excited to play with Robert and Tony.  I wanted to see what made them tick under competition.  What did I learn?  Their "bad" putts are still in play and have a chance.  Speed control is incredible, probably better than their ability to control line.  And when they are on a roll, it's fun to watch.  As an example, I shot a 12 on the front nine my last round.  By all accounts, even at this level, this is a solid score.  Only one was not in play as I severely lagged hole 3; the other two had a chance.  How did this match up?  I still got my tail kicked by my playing partners.  Tony shot an 11 and RoJo shot a perfect 9.

I gave up four strokes a round to people I want to compete with.  That's a lot.  Actually "a lot" underestimates the gap.  My deuce patrols on the back nine didn't help, but at the end of the day I didn't make the holes I needed to make.  I can take solace in  that one of my playing partners mentioned that I seemed more competitive this year.  The stats don't necessarily indicate that (15% cash rate and way too many finishes at/near the bottom).  But my swing is improved and when I miss is usually speed related, not because I'm clanging it off a post or obstacle.  So people I respect notice I'm grinding and improving, which is nice to fall back on in the weekly grind.

Next week is the North Carolina State Championships in Gastonia.  While I would like to go, as it will be a stacked field before the National Northern Open the following week, it is a 7-8 hour drive.  It might be best to take a week off; if I want to train I can drive to Richmond (2 hours) and practice for the National Eastern Open later this year.

Either way I need more reps and more speed control training.  The only way for the zebra to avoid being eaten by the lions is to grow faster and stronger.  Or grow a mane and blend in.  Time will tell which path I'm on.

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