The last month has been very busy. I started my tournament year with the Victorian Open at 13th Beach where I played solid and finished tied 25th. I would like to take this chance to say thank you to Rex and Izzy for their hospitality whilst putting me up for the week.
I then headed to Huntingdale Golf Club for the Victorian PGA Championship where I played average, finishing T43rd. It was then back up to sunny QLD for the Queensland PGA Championship at City Golf Club in Toowoomba. I played ok in rounds 1 and 2 but thought I may have missed the cut after finishing at +2. Due to the wet weather some players were still to complete their second rounds and although I was keeping an eye on the scores, I had driven home the day prior and was 2 hours away on the Gold Coast. When the cut was made at approx 10:30am, I had made the cut on the number and quickly got dressed heading back up the mountain to Toowoomba for my 1:10pm tee time. I found something in the last two rounds shooting 65 and 64 to finish in a tie for 11th which was a real confidence booster.
But my trip to the states for the Cadillac Championship at Doral is much more interesting. Myself as well as good friend Rob Beecher and sponsors Robbie Bennetts flew to the US on Tuesday, flying straight into Las Vegas. It was around lunch time when we landed so it was an easy afternoon before heading to a course called Shadow Creek Golf Club on Wednesday. This is an extremely private course. If you lose $100,000+ at Wynn Casino, they are nice enough to let you play, for $500 US a head! The course is great with not a blade of grass out of place and you are treated like a king from the moment you get there.
On Thursday afternoon we headed to the airport to fly to Atlanta before driving down Friday morning to golfing heaven – Augusta National Golf Club. We arrived at 11am and met up with a friend, Pat Battle who is a member at Augusta. I will never forget driving down Magnolia lane for the first time. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and you feel like you’re in golf heaven, even though you haven’t set foot on the course yet. We had lunch in the clubhouse and then headed to the range to loosen up for our round. We all met our caddies there and, yes, they all wear white overalls.
Well, what can I say about playing Augusta for the first time? It felt surreal, the fairways were like our greens and the massive pines just brought back memories of watching the Masters when I was 10. I shot 73 which was a great effort with the highlight being a birdie on the par-3 12th hole, where I hit it to 12 feet and rolled the putt in. I think between the three of us we took around 500 photos.
When we finished the round we then headed across to the par-3 course. What an unbelievable little 9 holes! The longest hole is 140 yards but there were some tough little shots with a few of the greens surrounded by water. We finished the day off with a tour of the grounds, then a dinner in the Champions Room. I’m not sure I’ve ever been served food by guys in suits before!
Walking through the locker rooms and clubhouse and seeing all the memorabilia is something I will never forget. It was without a doubt the best day I have ever had on a golf course. We spent the night in a villa overlooking the 10th tee and had a 9am tee time the next morning. It was a little cold but I still spent the four hours on the course walking around in awe. They change 12 pins everyday so it was great seeing other parts of the huge greens. We each walked off the 18th hole with huge smiles and headed in for some quick lunch before heading back to Atlanta airport. I didn’t want to leave and still have to pinch myself occasionally thinking did that really happen. I have to mention my two playing partners. Rob shot 89 of the men’s tees which is a great effort and Robbie made a birdie on the 12th hole – not bad for a 20 marker and I’m glad I birdied the same hole or I may have never heard the end of that! In the end it would not have mattered how we played as it’s an experience none of us will ever forget.
We flew to Miami and arrived at Trump resort Doral on Sunday lunch time where I set out to register for one of the biggest tournaments of my life.
When you arrive at any tournament you must go in and sign your name. You also receive your yardage books, tickets for family and friends and any other information that you need for the week. For this event I also had to pick up my car. They give every player a Cadillac to use for the week. I was driving an Esplanade which had only done 15 miles on the clock and this thing had all the bells and whistles! It was definitely better than squeezing four guys into a Nissan Micra, which we have had to do many times over the years! I also had a free room at the Resort for the week which was probably too classy for me!
Donald Trump bought the resort about 3 years ago and spent 350 million on renovating it so you could imagine how good the rooms were. I was staying in the Tiger Woods villa which was only 50 metres from the practice fairway.
Ben Campbell, the Head Professional from Southport Golf Club came over to caddy and I had a great mate Kel Tremayne from Port Macquarie come over to support me so also.
Monday was my first look at the course and it was easy to see why they called it the Blue Monster. It was tight off the tee with massive bermuda greens which had slopes and run-offs all the way through them. Probably the hardest part of the course was the length. I’m not a long hitter and had to hit 2-iron into three out of the four par 3’s. Ben and I just played on our own so we could try to work out a plan on the best way to attack the course. I played again on Tuesday with a couple of other Aussies, Greg Chalmers and John Senden. I always love playing with experienced guys and just watching and learning how they go about their business.
Wednesday was spent practicing and then a quick-9 holes just to check the hardness of the greens hadn’t changed. I was paired with Geoff Ogilvy and Ryan Palmer the first two days which I really enjoyed. They are both great guys and can play! I played really nice the first day but three-putted the 15th and 18th to finish 3-over. Now, when you three-putt 18 I can tell you that you feel disappointed! 18 is one of the toughest holes that I have played in golf. 450 metres long with a tight fairway. Water all the way down the left and palm trees down the right. It’s the type of hole that you need to flush a drive to have any chance of making par. But if you do get it on the fairway you still have a 210 metre shot over water, into a 30 km per hour wind from the left to a massive green that angles away from you. Doesn’t sound that hard does it?
We had a welcome function with free food and drinks so we all thought we should go. I got to meet and talk to Donald Trump and was really impressed about how down-to-earth he was. I ran into him a number of times throughout the week and he would always stop and have a chat.
I was off at 1pm the next day and once again I played really solid. For me as an average-length hitter, it’s really a matter of survival out there. All day you’re staying away from water and then hitting 4, 3, and 2-irons into par 4’s. I signed for a 74 and could hold my head high after two rounds.
My playing partner for the 3rd round was Brendan Grace from South Africa. He is ranked 40th in the world so he has a little game! There were a few bumps in my 3rd round. From holes 2 through to 11 I had 7-over which you can do at the monster. I made a birdie coming in but signed for a 78. Once again I three-putted the 18th hole. I looked back after putting out and thought you have come 450 meters in 2 shots, dodging water and trees then you three-putt from 20 feet! I was back in the pack running into the last day and was paired with Hunter Mahan, who is a top-10 player in the world so I was looking forward to watching him play. I played great, shooting 1-over and would have got Hunter’s cash! I had two three-putts that cost me shooting one of the best rounds of the day.
After reviewing the event I can hold my head high. It’s never easy throwing yourself into the mix with the top 50 players in the world. I was ranked in the top 20 in ball striking and was the only player in the field not to hit a ball in the water all week! I did notice with the top players how good their short games were. When they were in trouble they seemed to get out of it so I know what I have to get better at. There were so many great experiences during the week that I couldn’t list them all. One thing I do know is that I will be working hard to make sure that this World Golf Championship event won’t be my last.
I write to you as I fly straight to the New Zealand Open with no practice rounds and over 30 hours of travel – it may be interesting!