Below is a Guest Blog by my partner, the best 14 handicapper this side of Jupiter, Rich Oelkers. ¬†As you'll see from Rich's notes, we had a day to remember.
Michael and Jamie were meeting my son and me this morning at 8 pm. My son, Ryan Oelkers is the member and I am thrilled to be playing with him and especially the ‚??boys‚?Ě from New Zeeland. I have been following their blogs for the past 2 weeks after Ryan alerted me to their ‚??magical mystery golf tour‚?Ě around the world. I really didn‚??t know what to expect. Were they hackers or serious golfers?¬† Are they travel bums or were they just the two greatest golf enthusiasts in America today.
After driving in past the Baltusrol gates, dropping off my clubs at the bag drop, I went to the parking lot to try to find Ryan and the 2 kids from the Land of Kiwi. It did not take a great deal of searching since the parking lot was full of European sedans, American sport cars, and a few high end SUV‚??s. Standing out by itself, was an old, brown, Dodge Van with California plates and two very lean, handsome young guys unpacking their clubs and my equally handsome son who parked in the adjacent spot. After a few introductions, we went to the clubhouse, changed, ate a quick breakfast, and proceeded to the practice area to loosen up. I was impressed form the get-go on the fluidity of both Michael and Jamie‚??s golf swings. (Oh what I wouldn‚??t give to have a young back!) After 10 minutes on the range, we walked to the area near the 1st tee. Jamie was very impressed by the Rolex Clock in the staging area and said that any golf course with a Rolex clock has to be very important and equally impressive.¬†
Ryan gave the lads a short history of Baltusrol. The club was founded in 1895. It has two Championship courses‚?¶ lower and the upper. The courses were designed by A.W. Tillinghast and together the courses have hosted 16 national championships including 7 US opens and 1 PGA Championship. Legends who have left their historic marks on Baltusrols fairways are jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Tiger woods, Phil Mickelson, lee Jansen, Payne Stewart, John Daly, and now Jamie Patton and Michael ??????.
Anyway, our tee time of 8:50 came and I humbly went to the first tee. After checking my index against the handicap conversion chart, I determined that I was in for a long day with these three youngsters. I asked which tees they wanted to play. ‚??Green‚?¶ 6385 yards‚?¶or Blue 6652 yards. I was shocked when Michael said they wanted to play back. ‚??Oh, I asked. You want to play 7015 yards? ¬†(Since that was the back tees on the scorecard) ‚??No‚?Ě, ¬†Michel replied. We play all the courses from the tips.‚?Ě¬† I didn‚??t even know there was yet another sets of tees. But there they were; hiding back by the boxwoods in a shady area that had NO divots on the teeing area and no scorecards telling you that the slope was 147 and the course rating was 76. The Championships tees play 7400 yards and you have to go into the pro shop to find a card for the handicaps and yardage. I really felt small and agreed to give it a try. Why not? Why can‚??t a 65 year old 10.9 handicap index player keep up with two 25 year old lads who have played for 176 days straight? I suddenly realize I was daft, outmatched, outgunned and certainly crazy.
We threw the balls in the air and chose partners. Ryan paired with Michael and I got Jamie. We went one up on Baltusrol‚??s signature 4th hole. Jamie hit a 5 iron 205 yards to within 6 inches on this challenging 3 par hole. It was quite a shot and Jamie posed for an incredible picture doing his Birdie dance. We got to 2 up on the 482 yard 6th hole, par 4.
Ryan and Michael fought back with stunning long shots and tied the match on the 15th hole. Somehow, we all halved the 17th hole which is a monster at 647 yards, even for a 5 par. (John Daly is the only golfer to have ever gotten on this green in two. He hit driver and one iron.) The match was going to the 18th¬†with Jamie and I in the comfortable position of being dormy 1 up. ¬†This is such a storied hole. This par 5 plays 553 yards, crosses a relatively large stream and rises in elevation to a very well protected slick green. ¬†It is the hole that Jack Nicklaus won the 1967 US Open by hitting his one iron 247yards to the hole. Anyway, I made par to win with my incredible partner Jamie.
Playing the game of golf is such a privilege. Its rules have endured for a century. The handicap system is ingenious, making pairings fair when abilities are so different. It is a game where honor is more important than the competitiveness of the moment. I feel very honored to have been able to share this day with the two greatest golf ‚??nuts‚?Ě that I have ever met, and my son Ryan who helps to keep me thinking young. Thanks Ryan for setting up this match and making contact with Michael and Jamie. ¬†
Thank you for sharing your experiences with me.¬†
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