The wraparound season was a bit of a hit and miss on the course.
Having not played as much in this 2018-19 wraparound season as in previous years, due to setting up our Pro Shop business, 2018 turned into a calendar year of hits and misses on the golf course.
After a solid finish at the Sun Sibaya Classic, I played in the pre-qualifier for the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, held at Irene Country Club. Slow to get off the mark during the 18-hole ‘shootout’ consisting of 92 players gunning for just five spots, the back nine was a different story, as I came home in 33 to post a three-under-par round.
As always, the first thing we all do in that situation is double-, and then triple-check the scoreboard. I finished tie-fifth in regulation play with three other players, which meant a sudden-death playoff for the fifth (and final) spot for the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open. What happened next? I made a par to James Kamte’s birdie and left Irene CC empty-handed at 4pm.
I sat in peak traffic along the R21 for two hours, reliving every shot in my head all the way home. Most of the time that is the reality faced by players when they miss a cut, or fail to qualify for a R17-million event on the final hole.
Next up, the SA Open at Randpark, for which I did not have to qualify, but which turned out to be equally heartbreaking. An eagle on the 1st hole, leading to a round of 68 on the Bushwillow course left me inside the top 30 after day one. Met by a ‘three-club-wind’ kind of day on the Firethorn course on the second day, my chances of playing on the weekend were slowly dismantled as I closed out with a 75 to miss the cut. The only silver lining was that at least I finished at noon and missed the peak-hour traffic!
The final event of 2018 was the Alfred Dunhill Championship hosted by a new-look Leopard Creek Country Club, which for the majority of players is the season highlight. After navigating my way through the dreaded qualifier at Woodhill Golf Estate with a four-under 68 on Tuesday afternoon, I hit the road to Leopard Creek with a great friend of mine, Gary Hall, on the bag.
We started with an early-morning practice round on Wednesday before rushing up to Leopard Creek’s recently-built Par 3 Championship Course for the annual Alfred Dunhill Par 3 Challenge. Featuring replicas of the world’s most iconic par threes, from the 12th at Augusta to the ‘Postage Stamp’ of Troon and, of course, the infamous island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass, our next hour and a half was spent in absolute awe.
At two-under par, lying ninth and playing our 7th hole (TPC at Sawgrass) Gary and I walked on to the tee box, only to notice that all three of the players in front of us were still busy lasering their yardages from the drop zone for their upcoming third shots. Their target was TPC’s traditional Sunday back right hole location, which added to the live-televised occasion.
Ten minutes later we were ready to go and I was first up on the tee, as a ‘canary down the mine’ for the other players’ final club selection. Gary, or as I like to call him, ‘Tour Cad of the Year’, gave me two solid pieces of advice. First up, ‘Aim middle of the green, Cairnzy, as that’s a sucker pin.’ I proceeded to push my tee shot, but it took off straight at the flag.
The key in these situations with the camera tower guy zoomed in (awaiting another splash) is to always hold your follow through, so that the line you’ve taken looks intentional – and in this particular case, considered to be either extremely bold, or equally stupid.
It landed right by the pin and rolled out to 10 feet, coming to a halt just short of a watery graveyard. The next great piece of advice from Gary was to hit our 10-footer, including four feet of break and downhill, with what he called ‘dead speed’. I did not manage that either, but as the ball gathered speed, the left lip of the hole caught it and we walked off with an unlikely but very welcome two-club!
By the close of play, we finished tie-fourth, picked up a handy cheque and briefly enjoyed the feeling of seeing names like Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Grace, Immelman, Els and others below ‘Cairns’ on a leaderboard.
After missing the main tournament cut two days later, however, the golfing universe returned to normal. Another long drive home lay ahead.
Leaving Leopard Creek I joked with Gary that between my Toyota Prado-winning hole-in-one at the Kenya Masters in May and our Alfred Dunhill Par 3 Challenge finish I had probably made about 10 times the amount of money on par threes than in my 11 regular tournament starts in 2018.
– Cairns is a Sunshine Tour professional who writes monthly for Compleat Golfer