Epic Fail: My Shinnecock Hills Debacle


Phil Mickelson versus Jim Colton. Feel free to play along as we compare and contrast two of golf's most beloved lefties.

- They both hit from the right side of the ball. SAME.

- One is naturally left-handed; the other is just really, really good at faking it. DIFFERENT.

- Both have highly unoriginal nicknames (Coltrain and Lefty). SAME.

- Both are dedicated family men with beautiful wives and floppy-haired kids who run across the 18th green to give daddy hugs after a big tournament win. SAME, except for the floppy-hair part. And the last time I won anything golf-related was in 1997, two years before I got married and five years before my eldest son was born. But hypothetically they'd do it, so...SAME.

- Both are listed between 6'2"-6'3" and 185-190 pounds. SAME. One guy's measurements are current; the other guy's were last taken when he won the 1991 Tucson Open as an amateur. DIFFERENT.

- One guy displays utter shock and dismay when a putt burns the edge; the other is genuinely shocked whenever one goes in. Shock: SAME. Situation: DIFFERENT.

- One guy has Premier status on United; the other has Owner status on a G5. DIFFERENT.

And one more after this week:

- Both guys choked away a prime opportunity at Shinnecock Hills in June. SAME. One guy did it in the 2004 U.S. Open in front of 40,000 fans and millions of viewers. The other did it in front of three playing partners, two caddies and 145 Facebook friends. DIFFERENT, but equally crushing.

Day three of my epic Long Island golf trip was what the cool kids call an epic fail. After playing the sporty National Golf Links of America the previous day, Shinnecock Hills was going to be the test. A test that I failed miserably. I picked the absolutely wrong time to play what was my worst round of golf in five years, although sadly there's been a lot more competition for that dishonor recently.

Riding back on the plane from LaGuardia as I type this, the in-flight entertainment is showing the series Friday Night Lights. I can't help but think of the original FNL movie, starring that Dawson VanDerCreek guy with the Jimbo-sized head. All I remember about that movie is something about a whipped-cream bikini (my high-school experience as captain of the golf team versus Dawson's experience as QB1 in West Texas: DIFFERENT) and the infamous teaser-trailer tag line: "I DON'T WANT YOUR LIFE!!!" But that doesn't quite fit here. I mean, playing bad golf at Shinnecock Hills is still playing Shinnecock Hills, right? I doubt anybody is really feeling sorry for me. And I'm certainly not feeling sorry for myself. Shinnecock Hills was awesome.

Instead, I think a more fitting late 90's bad-movie quote would be from the movie "Cop Land" starring Sylvester Stallone as a partly-deaf police officer of a town that was (SPOILER ALERT!) inhabited by a bunch of corrupt New York City cops. I don't remember much about the movie, other than it had an equally memorable tagline from Robert DeNiro. Or maybe I only remember it because my younger brother Jason and I got a good 5+ years of mileage out of it with some really amateurish New Jersey accents.


That basically sums it up for me. Shinnecock Hills was a once in a lifetime experience, and I spent most of the day in the heather contracting Lyme Disease three times over. I was so jacked to play this course and terrifyingly nervous of those famous dual-shaded slivers of fairway that my heart was pounding out of my chest ON THE DRIVING RANGE. I can't think of a worse time or place to lose one's golf swing.

Here I am 10 days away from trying to play 6+ rounds in one day (in order to play fast, I absolutely have to play well) and less than a month from trying to win back the Ballynizzle Cup from Jefe (who has beaten me by an average of 11 strokes in our two rounds together this year). What do I do now? Do I get lessons or will things get worse? Do I continue to beat balls and hope I find something? Or do I just chill out and hope it comes back to me by osmosis? I'm completely lost here.

The most unfortunate thing about my Shinnecock Hills disaster is that I wasn't able to fully appreciate the course and the architecture. But from what I could tell while red fescue grass was riding up my shorts, Shinny is a tremendous golf course. The routing is genius, with a series of triangles that force the golfer to constantly play in different wind directions. Its back nine is probably the best that I've ever played. And it has three of the most devilish par 3 greens you'll find anywhere. I'd love everything about the place and my day there other than the number of X's on my scorecard.

Check out the photos and comments below:

First of all, in the list of the world's great clubhouses, there is Shinnecock Hills and then there's everything else. The amazing thing is a fairly busy road bisects both Shinnecock and National. Any ol' Joe can drive right through two of the best golf courses in the world. Try that at Augusta! During our stay at the nearby Atlantic Motel Hotel, any time we had to hop in the car to grab a bite to eat, run an errand, etc., we found ourselves repeatedly going out of the way to take the scenic route.

No. 2 - Plateau

No. 7 - Redan

After playing Shinnecock, I am 0-for-12 on Redan's lifetime. I blew it into the deep right-hand bunker and made bogey. At least the follow-through looks good though! Shinny's Redan is tough. After putting on that green, it's not hard to see how the USGA lost control of it in the Open. I kept looking for the maintenance guys to syringe the greens in between groups.

No. 9 - Ben Nevis

My friend Dave, a.k.a. the guy who I will forever be indebted to for making this happen, was about two seconds from hitting his approach shot from the 9th fairway to the 18th green before my caddie Artie (who has been looping there since 1959) intervened. This was one of the few pars I made on the day.

No. 10 - Eastward Ho

Eastward Ho is the one of my favorite holes on the course and also the hole most likely to be the name of Snoop Dogg's next album (subtitled Drive fo' sho, Putt fo' dough). It's somewhat fitting that I birdied this one...

No. 10 looking back can see just how far the fairway drops down into the valley before going back up to the green. I hit my tee shot into the left rough and was up on the high side, then stuck an 8-iron to about 6 feet for a rare GIR and birdie opportunity.

No. 11 - Hill Head

Another excellent par 3 with a very severe green. I won this hole in my match with buddy Matt.  I went from staring a Stephen Ames in the face to suddenly being only four down with momentum and a fighting chance to make it a match.

No. 12 - Tuckahoe

Then I blew my drive into the left hay and the comeback was over before it started. Schulte 6&5. He's tough to beat when he's playing with his own clubs.

No. 13 Road Side

No. 15 - Sebonac (can we have a summit to unilaterally decide whether Sebonac should have a 'k' on the end or not?)

No. 16 - Shinnecock

One of the great short par 5's in the world. The 16th has a really well protected green and the clubhouse provides a beautiful backdrop (to most of the course, as well)

No. 17 - Eden

Site of the Phil's 3-jack double bogey and the final nail in the coffin in the U.S. Open. Site of a pushed tee shot left and one last B.I.P. for me.

No. 18 -Home

Shinnecock has its own version of The Climb up from the 18th green. I'm glad that we had caddies, otherwise Matt may have made carry our clubs all the way in from the 13th green.

Despite failing the U.S. Open test, it was nothing but smiles after the round. Phil may have his permanent 'I just stole something and nobody knows about it!' grin. I'll stick with my ear-to-ear 'I just played Shinnecock!' jubilation. DIFFERENT. And I'm okay with that.

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  1. Tyler Kearns said...:


    I'm sorry your swing was not with you at Shinnecock, but I imagine you still had a great experience. I've had a few of those situations where you put a lot of pressure on yourself when playing a "great" track in order to get everything out of the experience. I'll bet you'll get another crack at it.

    How did the fescue roughs play? I'm always disappointed when they turn out to be unplayable, like having out-of-bounds border both sides of the fairway.



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