After the first day of play, tied for 4th with several other players, I looked at Hannah and said “I think I can win this tournament tomorrow.”
My dad had a good short game. He had to work on his driver, which was his weakness, but he was always able to get up and down. That influence on my game was important as I faced the 2016 Tennessee Senior State Open last week.
The tournament is held every year at Stonehenge Golf Course in Crossville, Tennessee and 2016 was my 5th year to play. I love that golf course. It fits my game. You don’t need distance on this course so you often hit a 3 wood off the tee. You need to manage the second shot. You need to know where to miss it. The holes are tight so to play well at Stonehenge you have to be able to chip and putt .
After playing even par on the front nine on the second day, I birdied 10 and 13 and came to 14, the signature hole, which is an 80-foot drop par 3. I hit a pitching wedge and the ball landed on a steep bank on the right just short of a small green-side bunker. It was challenging just to get a stance and hit the ball forward, but that’s what I did. The second shot landed in the bunker, I pitched it up within a few inches of the hole for a bogey. That shot kept me in the tournament.
I was one stroke off the lead after parring 15 when I hit a nice 3 wood on 16 leaving 97 yards to the hole on this par 4. My sand wedge landed the ball 5 feet in front of the hole. The ball skipped up past the hole, turned around and rolled in. Eagle. It was the shot of the tournament. I was tied with Gibby Gilbert.
I made 2 solid pars on 17 and 18 and headed into a playoff with Gibby. A rain delay earlier in the day put time pressure on us and after a good up and down and one final 9-foot putt we were out of daylight. Gibby Gilbert and I share the title of Champion of the 2016 Tennessee Senior State Open.
This round was the perfect example of how important distance wedges and your short game are. Your short game determines your rhythm and pace in tournament play. More than half of the 142 shots I hit over those 2 days were within 100 yards of the hole, including 55 putts. While we all like to go out to the driving range and bang balls into the field, when you’re on the course, your short game is more important than your drive. So here’s my challenge to you…for the next month, spend your practice time working on the shots that will help you win. Spend 75% of your practice time on your short game. It will improve your results.
My dad brought me into the game when I was about 7 years old. He built a 30 x 50 foot putting green in our side yard and taught me to focus on my short game. Other mentors and coaches like Jim Suttie, Charlie King, and Mike Bender would stress the goal of 1 chip and 2 putts on each hole. When I have experiences like I did this year at the Senior State Open I know it is the influence of those men on my game, and my dad’s hand on my shoulder, that has made the difference for me.