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  • Writer's pictureMason Reed

#36 Newport (top 100 rank #84) Part 3 of 3: An Epic Match

June 2024

WARM-UP: I’m screwed

My uncle drove over from Little Compton and met Jon and me on the driving range. After hitting some wedges and a few drivers I said out loud to both of them that my range session was “Perfect. Which is a bad sign. I know I’m going to suck today.” I really hate to have negative thoughts, especially about golf, but you can’t ignore decades of data that says that a perfect range session means you’re doomed on the course. It’s just a fact.

The solid range session was only the first of a few bad signs that I was in for a tough day at Newport. The fog from our night out hadn’t lifted. I also noticed that our host Jim didn’t hit range balls before playing, which adds to his legend. As we approached the first tee the caddies mentioned that #1 was a great hole to start because it’s a birdie hole. And sure enough it’s a very straightforward par 5 that was also playing downwind on this day. On any other day I think I could’ve made birdie, maybe par worst but today wasn’t any day. All of the handicaps had been created off my 4 handicap which was the final nail in the coffin on any chance of me hitting the ball well. My uncle and I were teammates vs Jon and Jim. I forced positive thoughts and tried to convince myself I would make birdie, but my brain wasn’t having any of it. Sure enough, my opening tee shot almost missed the club face and ended up about 200 yards directly to the right, near the 9th fairway.

HOLES 1-9: Why do I suck at golf?

Double bogey right out of the gate, but worse than that I knew my swing was not in a good place. I rely on a lot of hand-eye coordination and when that is thrown off by fatigue, lack of focus or Châteauneuf-du-Pape residue, things can get bad. As in hosel-rocket bad. Rather than a hole-by-hole breakdown of the front 9, let’s just say I couldn’t play golf. Here I was by the ocean, playing a course that had hosted the very first US Open, the very first US Am and countless other legendary events and I couldn’t play golf and I knew it. Every golfer has some version of bi-polar disorder which has them loving things when they’re going well and agitated when they don’t. I have to work very hard to keep my serenity when they aren’t going well. Thankfully this was Newport and I had a great group so I was doing ok.

Waiting on 6th. As in, waiting to top my drive on the way to bogey.

HOLES 10-11: Don’t call it a comeback

It should come as no surprise that when we made the turn for the back nine, my uncle and I were losing our match, down 3. At no point had we been winning. He’s a solid partner with his 16 handicap, but asking him to play by himself for nine holes in a match isn’t good teamwork. Jim mentioned I might need a beer at the turn (was it that obvious?). Unfortunately at Newport, “the turn” wasn’t until after the 13th hole which meant I was going to have to improvise. But just the thought of that beer made something click. The fog was clearing. I made the long par 5 in two shots to start the back. I then drove the green on the 11th for a two-putt birdie. We were down 1.

HOLE 12: Not being discussed

HOLE 13-17: Don’t call it a comeback, part 2

We arrived down 2 at the par 3 13th. A blind, uphill shot coming back to the clubhouse. It was only listed at about 140 but straight into the wind it was play closer to 160. Jon stuffed his shot and my uncle made a beautiful up to about 3 feet for his par/net birdie followed by Jon rolling in a natural birdie. Still down 2. NOW we could stop for a beer on the way to another par 3. This time, though, a very difficult 180 yard par 3 with a sloped right to left green, playing dead into the wind. I had to hit 3 iron. My uncle hit a driver. And boy did he hit it - right onto the green, best shot of the day. He lagged his putt across the green to about 3 feet and it was clear we were going to win the hole except our opponents’ lips were as tight as a bullfrog’s ass. Now would be a good time for me to tell you my favorite part about Jim today - he didn’t give a single putt no matter the distance, which is exactly how golf should be played. He just stood there with the scorecard in hand and a pencil and waited for everything to be putt out. A man after my own heart; I think you should always putt out. My uncle rolled his putt in (a littler nervier than I had hoped) and we were down 1. Jon made an outstanding par from the middle of nowhere on the following hole to put us down 2 again. Just when we kept clawing our way back we were getting pushed back to 2 down. With only three holes left, we needed some help. Unfortunately for us, on the 16th hole (the only hole with water on the course), Jon piped his drive about as far as I’ve ever seen him hit one. His left-handed draw sent the ball so far down the fairway - 300+ yards - that he almost ran out of room on the short 330 yard hole. The hole is called “Island” because, wait for it, the green is mostly surrounded by water (see picture below). I had 67 yards in from the rough and decided to stuff it inside of 1 foot. Jon was at the every end of the fairway, about 25-30 yards from the hole. Jon knew he needed birdie to equal my kick-in birdie. At this point my uncle and I engage in some friendly banter, with a series of bad golf jokes like, “whatever you do, don’t think about that creek.” Give Jon a bag of 20 balls and he’ll get all 20 somewhere near the flag - but on this occasion with the suffocating pressure of a match and our bad humor, he put it squarely in the creek. He hit it about 15 feet, total. After taking a drop he did it again. I wasn’t cheering for either of those outcomes, especially with my kick-in birdie, and felt a bit bad about the pre-shot razzing. Just when the match seemed to be going their way we stood on the 17th down one. We pushed that hole and now stood on 18 knowing the best we could do is tie.

"Island" - hole 16.The scene of the crime - Jon's pitch shot over this creek didn't end well. Either of them.

Hole 18: Kissing your sister

The 18th at Newport climbs back up the hill to the iconic clubhouse, with a blind approach shot. We needed a win to tie the match. I hit a very solid drive and stood about 130 out. My uncle and Jon ended up in their pocket. So it was Jim vs me for the match. My caddie Mike told me to aim at a hospitality tower (the Senior US Open was being prepped) well left of where the flag was and hit it 140. I aimed my nine iron at what looked like a point nowhere near the flag and stroked it exactly the way he wanted. It was perfect, at least by the instructions I received. Mike said “that’s going to be good” and we started our walk towards the green to find out. Meanwhile Jim made an outstanding pitch from a tough spot to put himself 4 feet for par. Unfortunately for Jim my ball was at 5 feet and he was about to find out how good I am inside of 10 feet with my putter. Despite the ball needing to be outside the hole, I buried it to halve the match. My uncle and I never were in the lead but it felt like a victory. I made 3 birdies on the back on the way to a 38. Tale of two nines. The front nine was a distant memory and a tie was the very best outcome for a great day and trip. When we shook hands Jim said it was like “kissing your sister.” Wikipedia says that in sports that’s often what you call a tie because “it’s not that bad, but it’s not that good.” Think about that for a second. Pretty sure we need to revisit that saying. There are so many other things that I think are not that bad / not that good: pralines and cream ice cream, rom com movies, unsalted peanuts. Anyway, an epic match that was only exceeded by an amazing experience and host.

Tee shot ready for takeoff on the way to a match-tying birdie on 18

Hugging your friend, after kissing your sister

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