The Ballynizzle Cup (Part Two: Monday Singles)

7/29/2009 0 comments

[Note: Click here for Part One]

It's probably just my obsessive nature, but nothing at the Nizzle was done half-hearted. First-class trophy. First-class collector item bag tags for the competitors (likely coming to an eBay auction near you. I've already received an e-mail from a friend who spotted one this week up at Erin Hills). Highly competitive pairings, literally modeled via Monte Carlo simulation to ensure fairness and variety over the three days. Did I mention that I'm obsessive? If not, I'm sure one of my dearest, closest friends told you.

All that hard work paid off, because at the start of the third and final day of the Ballynizzle Cup, Team Jefe led by just a point and it was clear it would come down to the wire. All six matches looked extremely even on paper -- anything could happen. Jefe and I were anchoring the matches, and it was destined to be an epic battle. We'd both shoot 75 or we'd both shoot 95. There was no middle ground. It was going to be close.

When we last left off, I was busy dry-heaving at 4:30 am the morning of the matches. Despite two hours of sleep, I felt pretty good. The key to cure any stomach ailment...Ballyneal bacon! An interesting subplot to the Nizzle was an apparent switch from the legendary Ballyneal bacon of 2008 to some form of regular bacon this year. Was the economy forcing cost-cutting measures? Were the pigs just not as tasty this year? Who knows, but it was a bitter disappointment either way. Wyatt, who has told more people about the bacon than he has about the course since his initial visit last year, almost stayed home when he heard the news. Well, I casually asked the waitress at dinner what happened to the old bacon. She had no idea, but lo and behold, at breakfast the next day they had the old bacon! How's that for service? You should've seen the look on Wyatt's face. He order two heaping helpings, partly because everybody took a piece off his first plate. I told you the Nizzle was first class all the way.

Short of bringing in a ping-pong table, renting blonde trophy wives and telling my guys to 'take a dead aim', I tried to rally my troops as best I could. I customized my motivational methods to suit each player, whether it be scare tactics, shame tactics or...well, that was about it. For team unity, I had my whole team decked out in blue shirts. This would've been great if Jefe and over half of his team hadn't been wearing blue shirts as well. Well played, Jeferiano.

Undefeated Jose-Maria OlaJimbo teed-off against hobbled Beau in the lead match. I hoped Beau could knock that smug grin of Jimbo's face with some aggressive play, but Jimbo kept humming along and parred him to death. I should've taken his hybrid and snapped it in half. (Actually I'm disappointed that I didn't think of it until now.) Jimbo cruised to a 5 & 4 win to cap off a remarkable 5-1/2 point weekend. This is the same guy who shot 52 in his opening nine during the Friday practice round. I like that guy a lot better. In related news, there is one spot open for Ballynizzle 2011.

If there was one word to describe Team Coltrain that morning, it would definitely be nervous. Like 'I-don't-want-to-disappoint-my-task-master-of-a-captain' nervous. Stephen looked shell shocked as he topped two tee balls into the abyss off the first tee. Fortunately, he was able to turn it around against Barry, making a bomb on the first hole for a halve and then cruising from there. Stephen was 4 up at the turn and finished Barry off 5 & 4.

The big question of the day remained...would John Mayhugh win a point? I think he was scared to find out what would happen if he didn't, because he smoked Kyle H. 5 & 4 to win a crucial match. Either that or Kyle was scared for him and threw in the towel. See, my motivational tactics had worked wonders. I should write a book.

Unfortunately, a combination of Tony Robbins, Michael Jordan and the Ghost of Knute Rockne would've been fruitless for poor ol' Brad, who was still Dead Man Walking from being 'Tanged' the day before. One thing I learned about Brad is that he is as hypercompetitive as I am. We should start a support group. Brad was up most the night envisioning the approach shots he'd have to hit into each green on Monday. Then the wind shifted and all that planning was out the window. That's Ballyneal for you. There is no prevailing wind and it can switch mid-round on you.

Even Brad at his best would've been no match for a bacon-infused Wyatt. After Wyatt hit a low pull into the 7th green (which was set up to the very back shelf of the famous E-green just for the singles), his ball skirted disaster and ended up in tap-in range, Brad knew he was in trouble. He lost in yet another 5 & 4 match, and it was Brad who looked like the Ghost of Knute Rockne after being delivered the knockout blow of a Jimbo right hook, Wyatt left uppercut and a Jefe knee to the groin, forever to be known in Holyoke as the Triple Buzzsaw.

All Team Jefe needed was one point out of the remaining two matches to clinch the Cup. The Dad's, my father-in-law Ken and Wyatt's dad Tom, were neck and neck in the second match. Tom had a 1 up lead after 9 holes. In the featured match-up, it looked more like it would be 95's instead of 75's early on, but we both settled down a little bit. I hacked around the 2nd hole and gave Jefe a 1-up advantage, then Jefe returned the favor on the 3rd to bring it back to all-square. I looked all but out of it the 4th hole, but somehow managed to get up and down from the deep front bunker for bogey to salvage a halve. The 5th and 6th holes were halved with pars (okay, bogeys) and the match remained all-square.

I mentioned that Ballyneal was a great match-play course. There are a lot of half-par holes that can make or break the match. The underrated aspect of Ballyneal is the lack of tee markers, which was nothing short of a brilliant decision on the O'Neal's part. In match play, having the honors and choosing the tee to play from can be a huge strategic advantage. With the tee, I tried to use my superior (albeit diminishing) length over Jefe to give me an edge, not by moving the tees back but by moving them up starting on the short par 4 7th hole. Jefe made a mess of the 7th to give me a 1-up advantage. Then on 8, I moved up two sets of tees to really bring into play the bunkers that pinch the fairway. I blasted a drive through the gap and reached the green in two with a pitching wedge. Jefe had to lay-up off the tee with a fairway wood but was still in the greenside bunker in two after a solid hybrid. My lag putt made it to conceded birdie range, and Jefe's birdie attempt to halve went way past the hole. I had a 2-up advantage.

On the 9th hole, I moved up a couple sets, originally so I could successfully hit a 4-iron to the fairway instead of blasting a driver 60-yards left again. But once my caddie told me it was only 313 to the pin from the tee, I pulled out driver and hit the fairway for the first time, ending up just short and right of the green. Jefe layed up with fairway wood again and hit a beautiful shot right down the middle. We both burned the edges with our birdie tries and the match remained 2-up at the turn.

Unfortunately for me, that is where the momentum ended. I hit it way left off the 10th tee and ended up giving the hole and the honors back to Jefe. We both halved the 11th with pars, then I conceded the 12th hole before Jefe got to hit his 2nd shot to bring the match back to all-square. No Jefe, you don't get to stat that as an eagle. On 13, I looked doomed again after hitting my drive way left (again), hacking it out of the vegetation successfully but into the deep, far right bunker. Miraculously, I was able to get out of the bunker to pin-high, just right of the green, then made a long putt for bogey to salvage a halve.

Feeling good, I absolutely toe-tagged a drive on the 14th tee that ended up just short and right of the green (this after telling the roving photographer -- yes, we had one -- to move away from the front of the next tee box, not because he was a distraction but for his own personal safety. I'm fairly certain that a 180-mph Jim Colton duck hook would kill a man.) Jefe found the middle of the fairway and missed the green long and right, his ball hanging up in the rough near the green instead of rolling down to the collection area below. I chipped up past the hole and let the slopes feed the ball back down to about 6-7 feet for a good birdie opportunity. Advantage Colton.

One of the things that makes the Ryder Cup so compelling is that it always seems to boil down to one hole or one shot that can ultimately decide the fate of the match or even the Cup. A make by one guy and a miss by the other, snatching victory out of the claws of defeat, or vice versa. The same can be said for match play in general. One sequence can define the match, and that's exactly what happened here on the 14th hole.

Our roving course videographer -- yes, we had one of those too. Wego took sitting out as an opportunity to tape some of the action -- just happened to be at the green when it happened. As Jefe prepared for his delicate chip shot, I whispered to Wego, 'I fully expect him to make this.' Jefe's chip caught the slope perfectly, and about 8 feet out you can hear me say, 'Told ya'. About 3 feet out...'Told ya.' His chip found the right edge of the cup and dropped in for an incredible birdie! A shot that will go down in Ryder Cup, err...Ballynizzle Cup lore.

Of course, I still had a chance to halve with a birdie putt, but you can guess how that ended up. I put my best Tom Watson impression on it and missed it on the low side. Jefe had a 1-up advantage. A 1-up advantage that didn't last long because it was 2-up just a few minutes later after I yanked my approach shot into the tall stuff while Jefe found the green about 25 feet above the hole.

So, I was 2 down with 3 holes to play. Last we heard on the status of the Ken-Tom match, Tom was 1-up thru 14 holes. There was a chance that our match wouldn't matter if Tom was able to hold on. Their match was likely over by now but we didn't know of its status. All I knew is that I had to get back into this match. I blasted another tee shot on the par 5 16th, almost thru the fairway and down into the bowl. I had 158 to the pin and hit pitching wedge to about 20 feet. Jefe hit into the greenside bunker and we had almost a carbon copy of the 8th hole. My eagle putt ended up just inches from the hole and Jefe was unable to get up and down. I love conceded birdies! Back to one-down with two holes to play.

Meanwhile, Wego had been on the horn with the clubhouse to get the status on the Ken match. On the 17th tee, he had word.

Wego: 'Ken and Tom is final. Do you want me to tell you the outcome?'
Jim & Jefe: 'Yeah. What happened?'
Wego: 'Ken won 1-up. So that means your match is going to decide the Cup.'
Jim: 'Oh...wait, you shouldn't have told us that.'
Wego: 'Well, I just asked if you wanted to know and you said yes.'

So it all came down to this. This is exactly what we wanted to happen when we set up the matches. But it was exactly what we didn't want to happen, if that makes any sense. So we did what any normal golfers would do in that situation:

We halved the 17th hole with triple bogeys.

It was the worst display of shotmaking on the 17th hole of match play since Calc at Kiawah Island in '91. I topped my ball off the tee, advanced the ball only 10 yards or so on the next shot, then hit the next one into the right rough. Jefe hit a decent drive but found a tough lie in the right rough. He hit his next shot into the bunker directly in front of him, and then into another tough lie in the left rough. Suddenly, it looked like I had the advantage. But I missed the green left with a gap wedge from 130, a shot that will haunt me until I'm on my death bed. Jefe left his next shot short, and we both layed 5 with near-impossible up-and-downs to a green sloping away from us. My lag putt ran 20 feet past and I missed it on the high-side coming back. Jefe lagged it about 15 feet past and his putt to clinch the Cup never had a chance.

So Jefe had a 1-up advantage heading into the last hole. Somehow, someway I had to win this hole. Thankfully, I had the full support of my team on the 18th to root me on (wait, I must've imagined that part). Jefe had Wego and Jimbo to rally him on. I still had the tee and chose the very back of the very back tee box on 18, a 470+ yard brute. With the Cup on the line, how could you play it any differently? I 'm happy to report that I didn't top it and I didn't duck hook it. I am making progress. But I did hit it into the junk on the left. After I forced him to move his tee back a couple feet, Jefe found the right side of the fairway.

I consider myself to be the preeminent expert on the playing characteristics of the vegetation at Ballyneal. I've been yucca'd more times than I care to remember, but have become amazingly adept at getting out of it. One of the great aspects of the vegetation is the random nature of it. Although the fairways are sufficiently wide that most people (i.e. everybody other than me) don't get into the junk more than a couple times a round, when you do miss a fairway anything can happen. In Illinois, you miss a fairway into the trees or a hazard, you take a drop or punch out and you probably still make bogey. At Ballyneal, you might make birdie, you might make quadruple bogey. More often than not, it's the latter.

My caddie Duncan found my ball, and I had a clean lie in the junk, 211 yards from the hole. Just like the match, this was exactly what I wanted and exactly what I didn't want at the same time. With a clean lie, I convinced myself that I could hit a 5-iron right at the flag. But that would require catching it perfectly and carrying it over about 170 yards of vegetation. Normally, I'd take a gap wedge and advance the ball 100 yards down the fairway. But 1-down with Jefe in the fairway, I didn't have much choice.

My five iron caught the sand a little fat, the ball advanced about 50 yards but still in the junk. This time, there was a plant about a foot behind my ball. My only shot was to try to take a huge hook swing (even bigger than normal) around the plant. Tiger may be able to manufacturer big sweeping shots under pressure, but obviously I'm no Eldrick. My next shot ended up in a yucca plant, and it took me two more shots to get to the front edge of the green. The wind was officially out of the sails.

Jefe was about 20 yards short of the green in two, in front of the deep bunkers guarding the green. I conceded the match and Cup right then and there, but only after Jimbo and Wego tried to talk me out of it. There was a still a 20% chance that Jefe would dump his next shot into the bunker, end up making 8, but in a rare display of sportsmanship, I didn't wait to find out. We exchanged awkward man hugs and the inaugural Ballynizzle Cup belonged to Team Jefenator. Back in the Turtle Bar thirty minutes later, he was the first to kiss the Cup, and he took the opportunity to practically molest it.

Two days later, we pulled into my driveway at 1:30 a.m. after our flight home. I dropped my bags into our mudroom, and there was the white box with the Cup in it, already hand-delivered back to Chicago by the Transporter (what can I say, the guy is a professional). Initially, I thought I'd get a couple months alone time with it before having to give it up. Jefe and I literally never see each other during non-golf season (he's my Summer Jerry), so if I could just make it to October I could likely keep it all winter. If he tried to pop-in and pick it up, I'd have no problem hiding out in the basement with the shades drawn and the doors locked. But in a second rare sign of sportsmanship, I picked up the box, brought it outside and gave it to him. I'd like to say that the thought of punting the box into the neighbor's front lawn never occured to me, but I'd be lying if I said that. Handing that trophy over to Jefe was easily the lowest point of my life. That is, until the next morning when I had to explain to my 5-year old daughter that I had lost the Cup. Every daughter turns 12 and thinks their dad is complete loser anyways. My daughter simply reached that conclusion 7 years early.

Dad: 'I have sad news for you. Daddy didn't win that trophy.'
Maddy: 'Why?'
Dad: 'Well, Uncle Jefe won it. It was close but he beat me.'
Maddy: 'Why?'
Dad (deflecting blame): 'Because his team beat my team. They had more points'
Maddy: 'Did you come in last place?'
Dad: 'Yeah, Daddy's team came in second place. It came down to the wire, but we were on the 14th hole Jefe pulled this chip out of his...'
Maddy: 'Why?'
Dad: 'I don't know why, sweetie. But I can get it back in two years.'
Maddy: 'Good. You win that trophy back.'
Dad: 'I will, sweetie. I will.'

The Ballynizzle Cup (Part One)

7/24/2009 0 comments

Somewhere, Samuel Ryder is rolling over in his grave.

Earlier this month, the inaugural Ballynizzle Cup was held at Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club, pitting Team Coltrain (me) versus Team Jefenator (Jefe) in a 3-day, 16-man golf battle royale. Jefe, nicknamed Jeferiano after Seve Ballesteros because of his uncanny ability to make par from anywhere, was a natural fit to captain the Euro's. I would be playing the role of Paul Azinger, tall and lanky with plenty of history and bad blood with Seve over the years. It promised to be a duel for the ages. After months of planning, preparation and potential pairings, the "Nizzle" was finally set to go.

The only question was whether my golf game would also make the trip. Just for kicks, I added up my last 20 rounds and calculated my was 8.6! Not quite the 10 that I thought it would be, but definitely a long way from the 2.2 from two summers ago. What happened to me? Will I ever break 80 again? How in the world would I beat the always steely Jefe in the anchor match of singles on the final day? I fully expected to go 0-6 for the weekend, not exactly a formula for success when 12 1/2 points would clinch it. The mere thought of the sweet ceramic Ballynizzle Cup sitting on Jefe's mantle and not mine for the next two years was simply too much to bear.

The format of the event would be three days of match play, Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon fourballs (best ball) and capped by Monday morning singles matches. Saturday late afternoon also included three 9-hole alternate shot match-ups, each worth 1/2 point. Ballyneal is the perfect course for match play. You (and especially me) can make a lot of large numbers if you miss the wide (but apparently not wide enough) fairways. But in match play, that'll only cost you one hole. In an average round, I'm good for 5 low duck hooks, 5 blocks that go 70 yards left of the target, and 4 actual good drives that are blasted about 290-310. So I'd either have to ride piggyback on my teammates (and the answer is yes, I would be stacking the rosters in my favor) or find a way to keep it together. Of course, the simple answer would be to hit more fairways, but I guess that's not a viable option for me anymore.

Saturday morning saw me paired up with Stephen, a Scotsman who lives in Milwaukee. Not only did Stephen win the Miss Congeniality award for the weekend, he could play a little golf too. Unfortunately, he was a) paired with me and b) playing Ballyneal for the first time. Stephen has a sweet swing, really pounds the ball straight, but a first-time visit to Ballyneal's greens is worth 4-5 three putts and Stephen was no exception to the rule. He did all he could to carry me, but we were no match against Jimbo (his first win of many) and Kyle H. from California and lost 4 & 2.

[Speaking of Kyle, I had the pleasure of experiencing a golf first with him the day before in one of the Nizzle practice rounds. We were playing a late afternoon nine with my father-in-law Ken when the weather starting looking ominous. While on the 7th green, the clouds swirled up in the sky as fronts collided just north of where we were standing. The sky sounded like a jet turbine engine. I was hoping to finish at least the front nine, as I was only 1 over par after 7 holes and hit a good drive in 'go range' for the par 5 8th. That's when one of the intern assistants, Brian, came in from a cart (yes, they have a couple of them) to 'strongly advise' us to get off the golf course immediately due to a tornado warning. Ken, in his infinite wisdom, immediately hopped in the cart and was out of there. All I could think about, however, was a potential eagle on the 8th hole. I told Brian that I would just walk in, but wanted to hit my next shot. Kyle went along with me, but not before picking up a piece of hail and saying, 'Hey, look at this piece of hail.' Most normal people would take that as a sign to get the heck out of there, but I'm not most people nor am I normal. Seconds after Brian left with Ken, the one piece of Hail was quickly followed by thousands of others, and Kyle and I were getting pelted by lima bean-sized hail.

The one thing you need to know about Kyle is that he's got a couple of similarities with Jefe. Essentially they are the same guy: homemade golf swings, bald head, wears two gloves, only if you took about 15 pounds of Jefe's lard and turned it into 30 pounds of Kyle's muscle. He's a personal trainer and is in phenomenal shape. When the hail started coming down harder, I tried running up the 9th fairway to the clubhouse, made it about 150 yards with my bag on my back and thought I was going to have a heart attack. Kyle casually jogged up the 9th ahead of me without breaking a sweat, although I'm sticking with the fact that he had a pull-cart.]

The morning match-ups ended up tied 2-2, with Jefe winning a singles match 4 & 3 against John Mayhugh from Kentucky, a legend. John has been riding a wave of killer golf courses this year. I'm not even sure he has a job. The Monday before the Nizzle he e-mailed me and said he was walking Cypress Point. And just two weeks prior, he made a hole-in-one up at Greywalls in the U.P. of Michigan. Ballyneal was just another pit stop for him. Stephen's buddy, Brad from Madison, teamed up with my father-in-law Ken to shellac my buddy Wego and his good friend Big Barry from Dallas 6 & 5. I was really glad to have Brad, a solid 2-3 handicap, on my side. Along with Pete from Chicago, who sports a scratch handicap and qualified for the Mid-Am at Bandon (in the same Rich Harvest qualifier that I lasted 4 holes in), the top of my roster was looking very solid. Pete disposed of his buddy Sean, who beat Pete handily in the practice round with a career-best 73, coming back from 3 down early to win 2 & 1.

In the afternoon, I paired up with Ken and went up against Wego and Barry. We called Ken 'the Transporter', for his Jason Statham-like Britishness and because he transported the trophy to Colorado via automobile. Like Statham, the car and the trophy made it to Holyoke in one piece, only without the homoerotic undertones. Unfortunately, we never really had a chance of winning the match, as Wego/Barry cruised to a 4 & 3 victory. Their best ball score was 72, a number that Ken & I had no chance of matching. I knew we were doomed when Wego, one of my closest friends and the most trash talkingest 15-capper in the world, smoked a hybrid right over the flag from 215 out on the long, par 4 2nd hole. I've played with Barry on two separate occasions in the past, and handled him easily both times. But that was the old Jim. The new Jim couldn't hang with Big Barr, who had a very solid 76 that could've been even lower. My weekend 0-fer was looking like a distinct possibility.

Thankfully, my team was there for me again. My dynamic duo of Brad and Pete went on a birdie barrage and hammered Wyatt Halliday from San Antonio (more on him later) and Kyle H. The other Kyle, fellow Illini-alum Kyle K. paired up with Beau to beat Sean and Jefe 1-up in a see-saw battle. Kyle had the shot of the day by nearly holing-out from the fairway on 18 with the match on the line. Wyatt's dad Tom was also on Team Jefe, and he partnered with Jimbo to beat John and Stephen 2 & 1. After the afternoon matches, the Cup was tied up 4-4.

Originally I hoped to get in 54 holes on Saturday and Sunday with some late afternoon alternate shot matches. I think Jimbo would've led a mutiny if I forced him to play a third round, but I coaxed a 9-hole, 4-club alternate shot format and nearly everybody was on board. Jimbo and I have been on uneasy terms since his Ireland trip, ever since he initially ranked Ballybunion ahead of my beloved Ballyneal and then had the audacity to buy me a Ballybunion green repair tool as a constant reminder. It's like he was trying to end the relationship right then and there. Asked for one word to describe my current relationship with Jimbo, the answers were 'strained', 'irreparable' and 'we are on a break' (that was Jimbo's). It also didn't help that Jimbo had morphed into Jose-Maria Olazabal, if Jose-Maria had a freakishly large head.

In the alternate shot match, I was paired up with superstar Brad and we took on the vaunted Tang brothers. Alternate shot is extremely tough, because the last thing you want to do is mess up and screw over your teammate on the next shot. But that didn't stop me. I can honestly say I did not contribute one positive shot to the team, but the match still came down to the 9th hole with us only 1-down. I have history with the ninth hole ever since the first time I played it, when I mistakenly thought the green was 60 yards left of where it really was. For some reason, I still keep hitting it over there. And this match was no exception. Brad hit a valiant recovery shot to short of the green, and we looked to be in good shape when Team Tang skulled their third shot into the back bunker. By now, you know that Jefe is a gritty match-play player. But I bet you didn't know that he's the only guy I know that can't hit a sand wedge out of the sand. Because of the 4-club rule, he was forced to try it on the 5th hole and skulled it way over the green. So on the 9th, he decided that putting the ball from the bunker was his best option. I was already getting ready for the sudden-death playoff (although I'm pretty sure Jimbo was going to concede the 1/2 point if it went to extra innings), but Jefe successfully putted out of the bunker to 6 feet and Jimbo calmly sank the putt for the match. The odds of my 0-fer were taken off-the-board in Vegas. Jefe's team won one other match and the other tied through nine, so Team Jefe went into Sunday with a 5-1/2 to 4-1/2 lead.

Sunday I was determined to get a point by any means necessary, so I paired myself up with ringer Pete and we took on Big Barry and Jefe. Barry hit some fantastic shots, including a hole-out from the bunker on 2nd hole for par to halve the hole, but Pete was in the zone on the front nine. I was basically along for the ride. He stumbled a little on the back nine, and like any good partner, I was usually B.I.P. (ball in pocket) by the time he got there. I did make one clutch 5-foot putt to halve a hole. We let Barry and Jefe stay in the match and it came down to the last hole with our team 1-up. Both Pete and I blasted our drives down the left side, and my long putt for par clinched the match (which Pete then topped with a birdie). It was a total team effort. Put it on the board...yes!

Jefe kept his one-point lead with another 2-2 set of matches. Brad and Ken looked like my dynamic duo with yet another 6 & 5 victory. I tried to come up with an equivalent real-life U.S. Ryder Cup combo (a la Seve and Jose Maria for the Euro's), but came up blank. Freddie and DL3? Has the U.S. ever had a formidable duo in Ryder Cup play? I can't think of one. One thing I do know is my play and captaincy was much closer to Curtis Strange than Paul Azinger.

Things were not looking good for Team Coltrain in the afternoon, as Pete and Sean had to head back to the airport and would be missing the afternoon matches and the Monday singles. (Poor Sean played out-of-his-mind the entire weekend yet only had halve a point to show for it.) My star player was gone. Kyle K. pulled up lame with a back injury early on in his match and had to back out, and Beau hurt his knee in the morning match and spent most of lunch icing it. Plus, Ken and I were going up against the Halliday's in a father/son showdown, and chances were slim that we'd pull that one out. Ken channeled the positive energy from Tom Watson's run at the British to post an unbelievable 41 on the front, but we were still down 2 at the turn. I checked the status of the other matches from my assistant captains Bruce Lietzke and Brad Faxon (okay, we just used twitter), and I knew that our match would be a crucial one for the Cup. We simply could not afford to lose. Somehow, someway I had to step up my game. I decided to get back to my roots and be aggressive, going into attack mode. I wasn't going to go down without a fight. I had good birdie chances at 10 (I graciously ignored the fact that Wyatt hit my ball) and 12, but Tom made birdie there while my putt just burned the edge. Ken halved the 13th but we were still down 2 with 5 holes to play. I had very good birdie chances at 15, 16 and 17 -- didn't make any of them, but it was good enough to get the lead back as the Halliday's stumbled. Ken made par on the 18th to close out the match with a 2-up victory. It was the highlight of my golf weekend, and I'm still not exactly sure how it happened.

It did turn out that our match was a crucial one. Brad & Stephen looked like a sure win on paper against the Tang Brothers, but everybody underestimated the power of brotherly love. With the Tang Brothers, the whole is exponentially better than the sum of the parts. They hammed-and-egged Brad and Stephen to a bloody pulp, and by the end of the 4 & 3 beat down, Brad had a glossed over look in his eyes, wondering how he just lost to these two clowns. Not only did the Tang's beat Brad in the match, it looked like they broke his spirit as well. He had been humming along with three blowout victories. Now he wanted to curl up in the fetal position. Definitely not a good sign heading into the singles.

The motivation to get in another 9-hole, alternate shot match was no longer there (I blame Jimbo), so I scrapped that. I was going to go out for a few more holes (I can't help myself), but severe weather rolled in and put the kibosh on that. Instead, a group of us tried the Happy Gilmore swing, hitting shots with the opposite hand, and trying the Mickelson backwards shot into a strong wind. I am proud to report that I was the only one who pulled off the backwards shot. As a lefty, it's just in our DNA. Mayhugh made up for not contributing a single point by providing comedic value from whiffing on the Happy Gilmore swing six times in a row, missing the ball by at least a foot and a half each time. My right-handed shot was good enough that I think Righty Jim could give Lefty Jim a decent match. If things get any worse for me, I might have to make the switch.

During Sunday night's dinner, I surveyed the group on a number of different topics, mostly about Ballyneal:

Favorite Hole: 7th Hole
Favorite Hole, Back Nine: 18th Hole (every hole on the back nine got at least one vote)
Favorite, Front or Back Nine: Front
Hardest Hole: 6th Hole
Easiest Hole: 7th Hole
Best Green: 7th Hole & 12th Hole tie; 8th Hole right behind
One Word to describe Ballyneal: fun (x2), fast, unique, amazing, special, serene, masterpiece

I also asked the group for one word to describe Jim Colton, which looking back was a huge mistake. Five days later, I'm still tormented by the answers. My advice to you is don't ask an open-ended question if you're not prepared for the answer.

One word to describe Jim Colton: obsessive (2); generous (2), 54, scary, ego, enthusiast, gritty, wonderful, maniac, long, pretty

My two closest golf buddies, Jimbo and Jefe, both went with obsessive. My father-in-law went with ego. They all claimed they meant it in a good way. The answers I was going for -- passionate, creative and brilliant -- sadly did not show up on the list.

With Team Jefe up 1 point, it was clear that the matches would come down to the Monday morning singles. Kyle K. unfortunately had to sit out with his back injury, so we did the whole 'name in the envelope' thing that they do at the Ryder Cup. Big Wego lived up to his nickname and graciously volunteered to sit out of the singles matches. The pairings of the remaining six matches were set, and each one looked like it could go either way. The anchor match was the two captains, squaring off in what could decide who'd be the first to kiss the Ballynizzle Cup.

Unfortunately, the combination of too much dinner, far too many Pepsi's, having my character flaws exposed, and the nervousness and tension of my upcoming showdown with Jefe led to me waking up at 2:30 a.m. and unable to get back to sleep. My mind was racing with all of the events and shots that led to up to that moment and all of the ones that were yet to come. My feet were aching after walking 35-40 miles over three days. My stomach was churning with the lethal combination of fajitas, tortellini and ice cream. I just layed there and waited for 6 a.m. to roll around. Not exactly a formula for success for taking down Jefe, who snored away comfortably in the other bed in our room. Short of pulling a Tonya Harding on him while he slept (the question is, would he have woken up and instantly screamed “Why me? Why anyone?”), I had to figure out some way to beat him. Either way, it shaped up to be a fantastic day of golf.


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