Reflections from the Championship
by Terri Leonard
There is golf; there is tournament golf; and then there is NCGA tournament golf… and the latter is something everyone should experience at least once in his or her lifetime. After a disappointing card playoff loss at my home club championship just a few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try and signed up for the NCGA Net Women’s Amateur Championship —a two-day tournament played at the challenging Poppy Hills Golf Course in lovely Pebble Beach. A few of my friends from the Executive Women’s Golf Association (EWGA) have played in the tournament over the years and enjoyed it, and I figured more tournament experience would be good for me. It would be a great chance to work on my mental game.
The last time I played Poppy was in 2003 so the course layout was not fresh in my mind, and unfortunately I didn’t have the time for a practice round. Instead, I took the NCGA self-guided tour on their website and asked my friends for their advice on the course. Most of them told me that the greens are really fast; and this was the best advice I could have received. Not only are they fast, but also they are deceptively difficult to read. They can fool you, that is for certain.
As I drove through the 17-Mile gate, the tall, beautiful redwood trees of the Del Monte Forest were the first thing I noticed. In the pictures on the website they look so unassuming, but their presence could not ignored, and I realized one key to a good round here was to stay out of them. Even more overwhelming was the number of players when I arrived in the parking lot, many of whom had caddies—intimidating for sure. I felt like I was at an LPGA tournament. The driving range—one of the most impressive layouts I’ve seen—had stall after stall filled with players practicing for their round. There was a stressful, panicked energy in the air; one player seemingly hitting ball after ball at a frantic pace. I decided to avoid all that stress and headed on over to the putting green instead, trying to remain calm. I’m usually one step ahead of a fit until that first tee shot, so my goal was to try to take it easy. On the way over, I passed a couple of men who, after being told they could not play that day because of our tournament, said they would head over to Cypress instead. Lucky them, I thought. One thing for sure is this area has world-class golf, and I realized that I should just try to enjoy the experience while I had the opportunity.
KC Cote, a delightful NCGA volunteer who taught me how to read the pin sheet and fold it “like the big girls do,” announced my name on the first tee on this overcast, drizzling morning and within a couple of seconds I was happy to see my first drive land long and center in the fairway. “Good shot,” she said. How it got there seemed a blur to me. But I kept my cool. After an opening bogey followed by a par, I was settled in to whatever the day had to bring me, and trust me it brought me one too many golf shots. Later, I pull-hooked one of my drives into that dreaded redwood forest mentioned earlier. To holler “Get lucky!” when your ball is traveling toward these trees is pointless here at Poppy. Chances are it will travel even deeper into the hazard, making getting out a hit and hope opportunity. Luckily, officials were scattered all over the course to help with rules and locating stray balls, and they seemed to be very busy during the tournament.
Overall I felt I played well but a few blow-up holes here and there took me out of contention the first day. But I was happy that I was able to play relaxed and to chat with my fellow competitors, who were also not having their best day. When I got back to the clubhouse, the mood was so much more relaxed then the tension I felt in the early morning. Game faces were turned off; it was clear that everyone here, whether bad round or good, shared a love of the game. Sure I was disappointed in my round, but it was fun to hear everyone’s best-shot stories and great to meet other women from around the region, some from the most prestigious clubs in Northern California.
Still, I hoped to play better the next day so I spent most of the afternoon at the driving range and putting green at Carmel Valley Ranch, the hotel where I was staying. That afternoon work paid off dearly for me when I opened my second round with a birdie at the difficult tenth hole. I finished the round twelve shots better than the previous day. The putter was working for me on this foggy day and things were just going my way. When I looked at the scores after the tournament, I noticed that most women who played poorly the first day came back strong the second. Mental game? Case of nerves? It is true the more you play in these types of competitions the easier it gets.
My good friend and regular weekend playing partner Martha Hagler blew the field away in the Director’s flight with an impressive two rounds under net par, and was awarded a lovely round gold medal with NCGA inscribed on it. Other winners included Candice Nishimura of Okole Maluna, for the President’s Flight and Karen Biscaha of Teal Bend Golf Course for the Secretary’s flight. As we all said our goodbyes that day in the parking lot, it was clear this tournament made us all stronger players. You have to experience it to learn from it. I’ll be back next year to try again.
There are still plenty of NCGA tournaments to play in this year. Visit the 2010 tournament calendar for a complete listing and sign-up instructions.