This Saturday I?m playing in my biggest ever golf event ? the Davies & Tate Trophy final, Sussex amateur golf?s equivalent of the Ryder Cup. It?s an eight-man team event played off scratch, comprising morning foursomes and afternoon singles, and as luck would have it, it?s being played at The Nevill Golf Club in Tunbridge Wells ? my old home club.
So what will happen under pressure? Will I wilt like a solitary flower caught in the blistering midday Arizona sun, or blossom and flourish just as Augusta?s azaleas and dogwood do every April? Who knows, but I?m taking some heart from the semi-final where I found myself 1-down with three to play in the afternoon singles?.
After an ugly half in double-bogey on the 15th, our match manager walked with me to the 16th tee. ?We?re doing okay,? he said, ?but it would be great if you could turn this one round for us.? ?Right,? I thought, ?let?s see what I can do.? The 16th was a 180-yard par-3 over water with the pin in a dangerous back-right position. My opponent, Adam, hit a ?not going in the water? shot and went long left leaving a tough up-and-down over a bunker. ?Just find the green,? I muttered to myself, opting for one club less than the morning when I?d gone through the back.
In the late afternoon glare it was impossible to see my 5-iron down, but as I neared the green a spectator told me I was in the back bunker, about 15 feet from the flag playing straight towards the water. Adam hit a good shot to 10 feet ? exactly where he had holed from in the morning – before I splashed out to about 12 feet. Not bad in the circumstances. I hadn?t holed a putt of any length for some time so now was as good a time as any, I remember thinking. But I was still in a state of semi-shock as it dived into the hole. Adam couldn?t repeat his morning putt so we walked to the 17th all square.
Things looked bleak again when I fanned my approach short right of the green, but with Adam missing pin-high right, all wasn?t quite lost. But it certainly looked to be when I arrived where I thought my ball was, only to be told by spectators that it had gone in the stream under the tree. Feeling slightly demoralised, I dropped, only for the ball to sit down rather than up in the grass, making the 40-yard pitch even trickier. I played a good shot to about 20 feet and as I walked up, saw Adam?s chip die in the bank and fail to find the green. Still a glimmer, but my putt was a downhill 20-footer across the slope, and with Adam?s second chip ending up close, it simply had to go in.
I studied the line from more angles than usual before settling over the ball and sending it on its way. If I?d been shocked when the previous putt had dropped, I was astonished when this one found its way home too for an unlikely half to keep my victory hopes alive.
We both hit good drives up the last leaving about 155 yards in, and after a brief debate over whose honour it was, Adam played first. I thought he was on but not very close, and with my caddie urging me to take an 8-iron – rather than the 7-iron I favoured – because I might just be a bit pumped up, I hit a solid shot to 10 feet pin-high. When we got up to the green, Adam?s ball was actually in the fringe 30 feet away, and when his chip barely got inside me, I had a putt for the match, which I left frustratingly short. But when Adam?s match-saver never threatened to drop, I?d somehow emerged the winner in a match I looked destined to lose, helping the team to an ultimately comfortable 8-4 victory.
Can I do the same again, or will the perceived extra pressure have an adverse effect on my game? Tune in next week to find out?
Either way, I?ve come away from my Davies and Tate Trophy experiences this year with just the smallest taste (in my mind at least) of what it must be like to play in the Ryder Cup, and a renewed feeling that matchplay is, indeed, golf in its rawest, most exciting form, capable of eliciting every imaginable emotion – well almost.