ICTSI Orchard Championship


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So this week I’ve been in the Philippines. I flew into Manila on Monday night to play in the ICTSI Orchard Championship. Held at the impressive Orchard Golf & Country Club over the Arnold Palmer designed course (there is also a Gary Player course.) I arrived at the golf club on Tuesday afternoon to play a practice round after the Pro-Am had finished. Once registered with the officials it was whilst walking through the clubhouse that I bumped into Shane Warde. I had completely forgotten that Wardey was living out here in the Philippines and was at the tournament with a couple of Asian Tour players who had stayed on from last weeks Philippine Open.

Bumping into an unexpected familiar face was great (Shane was the Assistant Pro at Royal Liverpool aka Hoylake during my early years as a Pro on the Wirral many many moons ago!) so I hooked up with the guys for a practice round. It was especially useful as Shane had played the course many times so knew the lie of the land and although some of his lines off tees were a bit dodgy πŸ˜‰ we got a good look at the golf course. Worryingly my driving during the practice round wasn’t at all good. The solid feel I had off the tee the previous week had completely deserted me. I can’t quite put my finger on how things come and go like this so quickly but it’s a horrible feeling standing up on a tee box not knowing which side it’s going to miss on.

Despite the poor driving and loss of several Titleists I really enjoyed the golf course. It was fair and pretty straight forward off the tee with the need to hit almost every club in the bag throughout a round. The greens were a main point of concentration during the practice round. Large and undulating the speed was magnified beyond belief when faced with a downhill, down grain putt. there was potential for the pins to be tucked into some quite nasty positions where short siding yourself would be very costly. Unfortunately the putting green bared little resemblance to the greens on the course so almost all putting practice had to be done in situ during this round.

With a 12.20 1st round tee time the following day (Wednesday) I at least had plenty of time to get on the range beforehand. I knew it wasn’t anything complicated, I just needed to find my rhythm and get out in the tournament proper with 100% focus on targets rather than worrying about where the ball was going to go. I’ve got to say we were well looked after by the tournament organisers, a bus collected us and took us back to our comfortable hotel half an hours drive away where I met up with a few other players for dinner. Buy one get one free Dominos, get in! πŸ™‚

Day one, 12.20 off the 10th tee

Thankfully the warm up out on the range went well and I regained some sense of control over my longer clubs. So with the heat of the day in full force we made our way down the tenth fairway, sheltering from the sun under umbrellas with bottles of water in hand and towels slung over our shoulders. Good birdie chances slipped by the cup on my first two holes before a bogey on the third was cancelled out with an excellent 116 yard gap wedge fired close into the slippery pin position on the short 13th hole. On the next hole I was faced with a bit of a decision. After hitting my drive safely down the left side of this sharp dogleg right par 5, my ball was sitting some 240 yards from the front edge of the green. In hindsight I perhaps shouldn’t have taken on the carry but with my second shot playing slightly down breeze and the front bunker not looking like too bad a spot to ‘miss’ I figured it was worth the risk as laying up would still require a tricky down breeze pitch to a mischievous green.

My approach shot landed in the bunker but unfortunately ran up the face of the trap leaving me with a steep uphill, ball above feet lie. Now the bunker didn’t seem like such a good place to hit it 😦 Long bunker shots are tough. Long bunker shots from an uphill, sidehill lie with deep, thick sand are even tougher. I made the lesser of too evils mistake of taking a bit too much sand which only saw my ball make the front part of the green. All was not lost though, a good putt from distance would still set me up for a par but that was not what I hit at all. I bolted my first putt far too wide of the hole, the excess speed not allowing the ball to take any of the break I had foreseen. This left me with a lightening fast par putt which I missed.

+1 through 5 wasn’t the end of the world but it soon felt like it as the pull hooked drive from the next tee took a sharp kick left off the side of a fairway bunker into an environmentally protected water hazard. What’s an environmentally protected water hazard I hear you ask? Well basically it’s an area of the golf course you’re not supposed to enter to protect the wildlife. There’s probably some lesser spotted Philippino newt living in there who now has a Titleist Pro V1 with my name on it to keep him company. I’m actually thankful that I didn’t spot my ball in the area as if I had I probably would have attempted to play it. My playing partner later confirmed playing out of one of these sensitive areas carries an instant two shot penalty.

Penalty drop, 9 iron over a tree, followed up by an absolutely average pitch onto the green before I holed the best 20 foot swinging putt I’ve held in years. The resulting bogey didn’t seem too bad considering the route I’d taken up the hole! A par on the next steadied the ship before I hit onto the 17th green (our 8th) in rapidly darkening skies. The heat of the day had brought with it an almighty storm that was rumbling away overhead, getting closer by the minute. A misjudgment meant I didn’t allow enough break on my hard right to left breaking first putt. It left me with a nasty, slippery left to righter which I uncharacteristically (sp?) wimped out of and dribbled past the right lip of the cup.

We made our way to the 18th tee with the sky getting blacker by the second. I had my ball on a tee and I was stood over it when the hooter sounded to abandon play. We made our way very quickly to the club house amid bolts of lightening and huge claps of thunder just in time before the skies opened up and what seemed like more water than any golf course in the world could cope with came down in a matter of minutes. A chance to grab something to eat if nothing else. An hour or two passed with golfers slowly filtering in from various corners of the golf course relaying stories of washed out bunkers.

Although ideally it’s best to warm up again before going back out onto the course we were going to be running out of daylight with a restart of 4.15pm so it was decided to send all the golfers back out ‘cold’. I wasn’t a massive fan of this decision, especially as I now faced a drive down the 18th hole with water to the right and a huge bunker to carry in the middle of the fairway. Not too surprisingly I bailed out to the left once the siren signaled play to begin again. No harm done it just made my third shot approach with an 8 iron all the more challenging. I hit a lovely shot onto the small section on the front of this large multi level green. So, a birdie putt from around 15 feet to hopefully get back to just a couple over through the first 9. Uphill and into the grain it had a large swing from right to left but perhaps I’d left my putting touch back in the clubhouse as I smashed my first putt through the break some 5 feet by. I was now faced with a similar par putt to the previous green, a lightening fast downhill left to right knee knocker. Having played the last one far too cautiously I decided I would instead return to my usual confident aggressive putting style. I hit it just outside the left edge but the ball didn’t take enough break and to my horror carried on past the hole 6 feet away. I missed the return return and walked off the green having four putted from seemingly nowhere. The first putt wasn’t particularly difficult I just got the speed wrong and it all went wrong from there.

It reminds me of a story I heard about Seve at Augusta. Asked how on earth he had managed to 4 putt a green he replied, “I putt, I miss, I putt, I miss, I putt, I miss, I putt, I hole!” I, like the legendary Spaniard didn’t feel like I hit terrible putts on any of them, they all just missed the target by a small but punishing amount. I certainly can’t remember the last time it happened to me in competition and I definitely don’t want it to happen again any time soon.

Ouch. +3, potentially +2 had rapidly spiraled out of control before my eyes into a score of +5 for my first nine holes. I started the back 9 probably understandably a bit punch drunk. The horrible feeling of a round of golf slipping away from me yet again was hard to swallow. I battled away for the next few holes hitting some surprisingly impressive drives. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself at the fact that my driver had performed almost faultlessly whilst I seemed determined to ruin my round with my favorite club in the bag. Safely through the tough back to back 470 & 485 yard par four 3rd & 4th holes I had 5 holes left to attempt to salvage something from a frustrating round. All hope of that vanished into the deep green side bunker to the left of the par 3 green with my tugged 5 iron on the next. A really tough bunker shot almost stopped by the hole but in slow motion tip toed it’s way onto the fringe from where I made a bogey.

A nice drive and a 3 wood nearly saw me onto the par 5 green on the next but again my approach shot with a 3 wood came up just short in a cleverly positioned bunker (damn you Arnold!) In rapidly darkening conditions I played an exquisite sand shot to 4 feet. The down hill super fast putt had to be shown a bit more respect after my shenanigans on the 18th green earlier but again the result was the same, it missed. At this point we were running out of daylight fast. We played the last 3 holes in twilight conditions. Not too surprisingly resulting in another 3 putt bogey on the next after a solid 4 iron to the centre of the green. Par for the last two holes despite not even being able to see the flag with my approach shot to the last. I trudged off the final green with 79 strokes to sign for. A very costly day on the greens again.

Sorry folks, I’ve just reread that lot and it’s depressing. I actually came off thinking I’d hit the ball pretty well in parts. Sure there were some loose shots in there but once more it seemed as though I was returning a score at least half a dozen shots higher than the round I felt I had played. At least we’d managed to finish the round. The thought of coming back at 6.30am to play one hole spurred us on towards the end and the extra couple of hours sleep would be much enjoyed!

I’ll write up day 2 later. I’m getting writers cramp and depressing myself with all my tales of woe! I do actually enjoy playing tournament golf you know! Just not under performing when I have such great friends, family and supporters behind me. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but there are signs of it getting better folks I promise! Stick with me, we’ll get there in the end πŸ˜‰

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