As we sat down for lunch I think just about everyone on the team had their food in one hand and their iPhone or Blackberry in the other trying to figure out what Trainer was doing on the course. I know I pushed refreshed way too many times. As we finished up lunch we headed back to the 18th green to wait for the final groups to finish. After waiting for a few minutes and still nothing from live-scoring I popped my head in the door of the scoring office to see if any scores had been reported from the 16th. They had nothing. As I headed back to the 18th Alex told me he was headed to the putting green or he was going to go crazy waiting around.
As Alex headed to the putting green, Tim got word from a rules official that Trainer had made bogey on 16. Word quickly began to spread among the crowd that Alex and Trainer were now tied for the lead. With a par on 17, Trainer played the 18th hole. As he hit his tee shot left, I saw his coach head for the left rough, in some very deep grass…almost the same place Alex played from for his last hole. As we watched Trainer and his coach check out the lie, Trainer made the same play as Alex…a strong wedge out of the rough which ended up on the front fringe. He faced at least a 60 foot putt for par to force both an individual and team playoff.
With Trainer in for par and with Alex back from the putting green we headed to the 18th tee. It never crossed my mind that we could be playing the same hole seven times, but that is what happened. It has taken me a week to sit down and remember exactly what happened with each shot for Alex. At the time it all seemed like a blur. So here it goes…
Having been with Alex on the 18th hole during regulation I knew the 18th was not his favorite driving hole. I reminded him of his target and away we went. He hit a very good tee shot that got a poor bounce way left and just snuck into the rough behind a tree. As we walked up to his ball, which was marked by a rules officials hat, Alex said, ‘I’ve had this shot before.’ During the 3rd round of the tournament Alex hit his tee ball in an almost identical spot. From about 150 yards, Alex was going to have go directly under the tree and run something up the throat of the fairway and enter the front of the green. He took out his 5 iron and hit a great shot that ran all the way to the back fringe. (The hole location was 10 paces from the back edge)
After leaving the putt about 4 feet short, Alex faced a difficult par putt to continue the playoff. As he took a look at the read, I asked him ‘do you have it.’ He replied, ‘you can take a look.’ As we both read the putt, we decided it was actually pretty straight, a left edge putt.
With both Alex and Trainer in with par, we hop back on the carts of the rules officials and head up to the 18th hole. This time we decided Alex should probably aim just a bit more to the right. The left edge of the right greenside bunker. He hits a beautiful tee shot that again bounces just one foot into the rough, but this time on the right side of the fairway which leaves a good angle to the hole. Trainer hit a quick pull to the left off the tee and I think Alex and I were both thinking he might have him on this hole. As we made our way down the fairway we realized Trainer was sitting perfect fine in the left rough. We were going to need to make birdie to win. This would be the last time Trainer missed the 18th fairway.
With 134 yards to the hole we decided the ball was going to jump out of the rough and he probably wanted to hit a 120-125 yard shot, just right of the flag. He couldn’t have asked for a better angle and if he could land it just short of the flag, it should release right to it. As he made his swing and the ball left the club it started just a bit too far to the left and then was definitely flying. As it landed short of the flag, but on the downslope we were trying to land short of it, it kicked over the green into the first cut of rough and right against the primary cut.
Again with both players in with par we headed back up the hill with the rules officials for the 3rd hole. I reminded Alex of the same target we chose the previous time, but this time he missed his tee ball pretty badly and Trainer hammered one right down the middle. As we walked down the fairway, we found Alex’s ball in a pretty tough lie and a long way from the hole. With just over 190 yards to the middle and 180 to carry the front right bunker, Alex chose a 6-iron. Alex is a very strong player…I know I probably would have never gotten the ball on the green. But with a great swing of a 6-iron Alex’s ball flew just over the bunker and ran up into the middle of the green. Trainer hit a pretty mediocre wedge shot from the middle of the fairway and it was once again a putting contest.
With a nice lag putt effort to inside two feet, Alex tapped in for par after Trainer missed his birdie putt and we headed back up the hill. With the same target in mind off the tee, Alex hit a very similar tee shot to the one he hit on the 1st hole. It got a better bounce this time and I’m thinking it should definitely be in the fairway. As we walk down the hill it becomes apparent the tree we went under the during the 1st hole is again going to be an issue, but this time Alex should be far enough back to get around the tree in the air and fly something all the way to the green.
With almost 180 yards to the back edge of the green Alex and I both decided there was no way an 8-iron could fly the green. I forgot about the adrenaline factor. His attempt to hook the 8-iron around the tree and onto the green ended up flying all the way to the back edge of the green and kicking over the green. At this point I’m kicking myself! We talked about it after the playoff though and both decided there was no way he could get himself to hit 9 iron from there. As we walked up to the green…I ahead of Alex…saw that the ball was actually lying pretty good and if he could just get it onto the green it actually wouldn’t normally be that tough of a shot, but under these circumstances with Trainer putting for birdie again…it was not easy. Alex made it look routine though as he left it just short for an easy tap-in par.
I think it was at this point that I began losing count at how many holes we had played. But again I was on the back of the rules officials cart and headed to the 18th tee. This time, Alex hit the best drive he had hit on 18 in 8 attempts. (4 in the tournament and 4 in the playoff). It was hammered right down the middle about 340 yards which left him just 110 to the hole from the left center of the fairway. A weak wedge shot out to the right of the hole left him this putt for birdie…which we decided was a double break putt but with a little more left to right. A left edge putt.
With Trainer missing another birdie putt…we were back to the 18th tee. I really wished we would have played different holes for the playoff, but I think the tournament committee wanted to keep the playoff on 18 as there was a pretty large crowd around the green to watch the individual playoff and wait for the team playoff to begin. On the tee, Alex his a hard pull-hook to the left as Trainer again smashed one right down the middle. I didn’t know it until later, but Stanford GC is Martin’s home course. And during the playoff he looked like he had hit the tee on 18 a thousand times, and he probably has.
As Alex and I walked down the fairway, I sent a text to Tim asking what the status was of Alex’s tee ball. His reply, ‘fairway.’ I thought to myself, you have to be joking. His ball was going so far left. But as we made it down the hill, there it was, sitting right in the fairway…thanks to a bounce off a tree. I’m sure Trainer was thinking ‘how the heck does that happen!’ As we got the yardage, Alex was about 190 yards to the middle of the green. He told me all he wanted was another putt at it and he was going to make it. While the hole location was tucked on what seemed to be a slope there was literally no break around the hole. Almost every putt within 10 feet was either on the edge or inside the hole With a 6-iron in hand, Alex hit a solid shot to the middle of the green leaving himself another lengthy birdie putt. Trainer had hit his shot right at it…about 15 feet past the flag just onto fringe. In a very similar place to where Alex made his par putt from to shoot 70 during regulation.
I felt like Trainer was definitely going to make his putt. But amazingly he missed and we were again headed back to the tee. I knew Alex was struggling with the tee shot, so I reminded him of his target and told him to trust it as he walked to the tee. As I sat on the bench about 50 yards away watching him make a swing, I could tell it was going right. As I watched it land, it took a big bounce right into some long grass. When we arrived at the ball, it was definitely in some deep grass…probably 2 feet tall. As we discussed our options, Alex decided the best play was to pitch it straight out to the left back in the fairway. His 3rd shot was from about 10 yards closer than the previous tee shot. It was one less club and we need to go right at it to have any chance. Trainer was again straight down the middle with not much more than a SW in hand.
Alex hit a very solid iron shot, which left him in almost an identical spot as to where he was during the 1st playoff hole. But this time putting for par and knowing he needed to make to have any chance to continue the playoff. As we both read the putt, we talked about how similar it was to the 1st hole, but neither of us could remember how he missed the 1st putt! We decided on the right edge of an old hole about half way between his ball and the hole as our target. As I watched Alex’s ball roll, it looked to roll right over the spot we talked about and then I swear it bounced just barely into the air off the old cup. The bounce took off just enough speed as his putt and dreams of being Pac-10 Champion ended up about an inch short right in the jaws.
In my book Alex will forever have finished T1. Having the opportunity to create these memories with my student-athletes reminds me of just how lucky I am to be the Golf Coach at Oregon State University. Hopefully it won’t take too much longer to create more great memories as we now prepare for the NCAA Regional Championships, which take place May 19-21. We will find out where we are headed on Monday, May 9.