“The Word of the Day is Strategery”

Saturday at an event, I ran into a good friend of mine who is a big-time golfer. I asked Maddox when we were going to get a game together and in typical fashion he said “I’m playing a guy in match play tomorrow at MCC but you and William join us and we can play a little side action”. About 30 minutes later he found me and said we were on and to be ready at 12:45. Love it when plans come together like that.

He picks me up at 12:45 and we head to the Memphis Country Club, because his home course Chickasaw is finishing up a major renovation. MCC was founded in 1905 and boasts one of the bests courses in the city. It is a Donald Ross design and has hosted numerous USGA Amateur events including the 1947 Men’s Am. Kris Spence reworked the greens and bunkers in 2011 bringing them back to Ross’ original configurations. If you look at there current and past projects they work mostly on Donald Ross designs. I wish I could have taken pictures but they enforce a strict no phone policy, with fines rumored up to $500 bucks. They are also known for having some of the fastest greens around, so I make sure to start my warm up there. After a large evening the night before there I had to work a good bit to get my feels right. On the small range we hit a few balls and then make our way to the first tee. Me and my “cousin-in-law” (if that’s even a thing) William are on a team and Maddox and his buddy Shawn, who he is playing his match against, are on a team. We decide on a $10 Nassau to keep things easy, figure out how to handicap it and mark the holes we are popping on.  Maddox takes an iron out on the first tee and before he hits says, “Fellas, the word of the day is Strategery” and proceeds to hit it in the trees right by me. Got to love starting off a round with a good laugh, and that certainly wouldn’t be the last.

My drive goes left in the trees but am able to punch out to about 40 yards from the green on the downhill Par 4. William is in the fairway along with Shawn, who hit a perfect drive to the 150-yard marker. Maddox punch out doesn’t go as plan, hitting the tree but his 3rd shot comes up just short in of the green. Shawn hits the green in regulation and William fans it out to the right in a similar position as myself. We both chip up and go past the flag leaving ourselves long putts. Will chips up and ends up two putting. Shawn hits a great putt from the back of the green leaving him a kick in par. William hits a nice lag putt as well and cleans up for his 5 while I manage to have a nice three putt and finish with a 6. We were popping so we push and stay tied on the front. The 2nd hole is another short par 4, dog legged right with three fairway bunkers guarding the corner. William and I both cut the corner with drives and hit the fairway. Our foes, both go left with their drives and lead to two bogeys. We both hit our wedges on the green and William drops a bomb for birdie and I make par giving us the hole.

Shawn and William hit wayward drives and Maddox and I hit ours up the left side on the uphill par 5. The entire left side is guarded with oak trees that run all the way up to the green. I fly the green with my approach shot and think it may have gone thru the fence and OB. We get up there and I see a ball that looks like its floating in the air. It’s my Titleist 3, sitting in-between 5 stalks of a bush like a diamond displayed at a jewelry store. I take an unplayable, stuff my chip and make my par. I had no business saving par, but you need a couple of those every now and again.Image result for memphis country club That won us our second hole in a row, and the chirping starts from our opposition. The term “Sandbaggers” is being thrown around the course. It doesn’t help when I stick a wedge to about 6 feet on the Par 3 4th. Everyone hits the elevated green with William and Maddox making 3, and Shawn making 4. I line up my birdie putt and drain it. 3 holes in a row for the good guys. Now I’m a little worried about having to walk home but there is still plenty of golf left to play.

The Par 4 5th starts with a blind tee shot up and over a hill. The rest of the hole is downhill to the green. The green is protected by a bunker in front and to the left and also two small bunkers on either side that run the length of the green. I hit a low screamer over the hill, William finds the fairway, Maddox uncorks on a 3 wood that is the longest drive and Shawn just misses the fairway right but still has a shot. Shawn takes a Tiger line at the pin, that is just on the other side of the left bunker, and ends up short. William, myself and Maddox all hit the green with our wedge shots, giving us looks at birdie. Shawn has some trouble in the bunker and ends up off the green so we go ahead and putt out. I cozy mine down to the hole and clean up my par. I’m tending the flag for William and his put is tracking beautifully and at about 5 feet out you can tell its in. I may or may not have lifted my putter in the air with my left and the flag in my right and let out a nice “Boom Baby”. It’s another birdie bomb from him, forcing Maddox to sink his putt to halve the hole. He hits a good putt but it slides by making the 4th hole in a row. If you would have asked William or myself beforehand if this would have happened, we’d have laughed at you.

The sixth is a 432-yard par 4 oak trees line OB on the right with the left more open. The landing area is blind but you can see the green at the end of the fairway. I block my drive but the trees catch it and keep it in play, William hits his down the middle, Maddox hits his over near me and Shawn goes left but is safe. My ball is right up against the fence, barely leaving me any swing but I manage to punch it out into the fairway. This course is an old school park style course making it very tight with tree lined fairways. William comes up short and I hit my third on in regulation. Shawn hit’s his second over the green and Maddox doesn’t make it there with his second.  We all end up with bogeys so the bleeding has stopped our opponents. The par 3 7th is usually an extremely hard green to hit. It’s an elevated green with a deep bunker on the front right protecting the pin today. Due to the large tee box renovation that is going on, we are playing from about 110 yards out. I take dead aim and come up about a foot short, leaving me in the bunker. Everyone else hits the green in regulation, with Maddox draining a timely birdie to pick up a shot on us. Oh, did he pimp that thing in there too, the competitive juices are starting to flow now.

The 8th is another par 4 that, turns sharp back to the right about 100 yards out from the green. There are houses, actually mega mansions, all down the right side of the hole. Maddox nukes his 3 iron about 255 right down the center, Shawn hits a good drive down the middle and so does William. Me on the other hand, hit mine in the garden of one of the homes. Then hit a provisional into the left rough. This is not going to be my hole so I’ll stop there. William hits the green, Maddox hits the front of the green and Shawn flies it. Shawn hits a nice chip leaving him a few feet for his par and Maddox still has some meat left on the bone for his. They both convert keeping their match neck and neck. William makes 5 and I make 7 so they picked up a stroke on us here. The ninth is one of my favorite holes on the course. It is a true risk reward drivable par 4 at only 313 yards from the back tees. It moves right to left with trees hugging the fairway on both sides. The green is a lima bean shape and has two bunkers on the left side, one in front and a 100-foot-long shared bunker with the 18th green on the right. Image result for memphis country clubI hit my tee shot with an iron into the right trees. It’s just far enough that my second shot requires me to flight it low into the green, I clear the front bunker but am a little off line and end up in the left-hand bunker. William comes a little right as well but has a shot at the green, Maddox and Shawn both hit the fairway. After a poor bunker shot that goes just over the green, I pitch up and make my bogey. William makes 5 while Shawn and Maddox end up with pars but we have won the front nine and are two shots ahead going into the back nine. I shoot a lack luster 43 but with a careless 6 and 7 on the card it could have been much worse.

We make our way to what is normally a 224-yard par 3 but once again we are playing from way up so we have about 125 yards into the green. I’m feeling good now, and ready to throw this gap wedge up next to the hole and instead I skull it 40 yards over the green. Everyone else hits the green in regulation and makes par. Me on the other I continue my horrid streak on the par 3’s as of late. I don’t know what it is. I’m normally a solid iron player and I just can’t seem to make 3’s. I end up with a double but luckily this is a team event so no damage is done.  We move to the par 5, 11th which is a long dog legged left with a ditch all down the right side of the fairway. After William hit his drive in the ditch, I reach for a long iron but am immediately berated by Maddox. I hit my drive and what do I do, hit it in the ditch. I take an unplayable out of the hazard, hit a 5 iron to about 40 yards short of the green and hit a nice spinner into about a foot and am giving me around the world par. William and Maddox make pars and to be honest, I don’t have Shawn’s score down. I could be wrong but I feel like he made a 6. Next is the uphill drivable par 4, 12th hole, Maddox nukes his driving iron again and I hit drive pin high right. William keeps striping that 5 iron down the middle and hitting greens, allowing me to go for it a little more. What a team mate. Shawn hits another fairway and a green. I make a long 2 putt par and so do our opponents. The 13th hole is another one of my favorite holes. It is a downhill, 90-degree dog leg left. You only have 220 before you go thru the fairway and with trees lining the entire left side. The best play, take your 200-yard club with a little drive, and turn it over at the 150-yard marker. We get some more wisdom about “strategery” and we seem to take it to heart. Everyone hits the fairway with their irons but William’s has a nice draw and actually turns the corner setting him up for an easy approach. Everyone hits the green in regulation but me, leading to a bogey. William hits a laser into the green leaving him a birdie putt which he drains giving us another stroke. The man is full tilt on the greens. Shawn chunked his 2nd shot but threw a dart into the green leaving him about 14 feet for his par. I help him on the read since we have already won the hole, and he sinks it. Too bad I can’t listen to myself on the back nine, I’d probably putt better. Maddox makes par but Shawn was popping so he picks up a stroke on him in their match.

14 is a dead straight par 4, with a swale right in front of the perched green. There are 4 bunkers on the left of the green; two thin bunkers parallel to each other and 2 circular bunkers in line toward the green. Right of the green is jail, with a huge gulch moving around the back of the green as well. I lace my drive just short of the swale leaving me only about 60 yards into the green. I hit my wedge a little thin but it has some zip on it, keeping it from going into the gulley behind the green. I make my two-putt par and we pick up another stroke. This keeps us in the lead on the nine and the match. Can we keep it going for the clean sweep? Fifteen is another long par 4, that turns to the left almost and has a similar lay out to the 11th. Maddox hits one of his few drivers of the day, and laces it down the middle over the trees protecting the left side of the fairway. William hits his in the trees and so does Shawn. Once again, I hear someone giving me shit for pulling an iron. “Oh, come on man, tee it up and let it fly you can carry that tree no problem”. Thinking in the back of my mind that we are ahead, and my partner just hit it in the rough I should probably hit iron. The devil on my left shoulder caused me to go for it. I clipped the tree on the left and fall straight down. Of course, Maddox gets a kick out of this. I’m in the rough, have limbs hanging down 10 feet off the ground and have about 185 yards to the green. This calls for the Ol’ Colonial Country Club, punch driver as made famous by my pops Jeff Emerson. He used to choke down on the club all the way to the shaft, put it back in his stance, take a full swing and run it all over that golf course. I channel my best Jeff and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I run my shot about 30 yards short of the green. William punches out and gets on the green with his 3rd. This leaves him with a par putt. Maddox pars and Shawn bogeys if my memory serves me right. I decide to three put for no apparent reason making my first of three double bogeys down the stretch. In the heat of the moment sometimes it’s hard to keep up with 4 peoples scores and 2 matches. The funniest part of the round was about to happen.

The next hole is a 145-yard par 3 up the hill. The tee box sits extremely close to the 15th green. So close that a green 15-foot chain-link fence has been erected to shield you from any wayward approach shots. The guys behind us know Maddox, Shawn and William and pull up just as Maddox is about to hit his tee shot on the par 3. They start hollering “Let’s see that world-famous swing we all hear so much about.”. Not a second later, you hear “ca clank”, a straight hosel rocket, the Ol’ Shankapotamos, a shank. We were all in disbelief. Somehow the other three of us were able to collect ourselves and all hit the green. He shows the quality player he is by hitting an awesome recovery shot, over a bunker from about 90 yards and nearly makes par. The rest of us two putt for our 3’s. Coming down the home stretch we are still holding onto our lead by 2 shots on the back nine and on the round. We all hit good drives, except William who has some tree trouble, to start off the 17th. Image result for memphis country clubThe green neighbors the large gulch that was to the right of the 14th green which now protects the left side of this one. With bunkers about 40 yards short of the hole leading up to an extended collar, this green is meant to miss short if anywhere. The hole is cut on the front tier of the green. William and I both take multiple shots to get to the green and our best score combined is my three putt 6. Luckily, we had the juice on this hole to keep the Nassau tied on the back going into 18 as well as the match play. You can’t draw it up any better than this. Two matches, four men, one hole remaining. The home hole is more or less straight, with a little turn to the right. Everything runs to the right once it hits the fairway. Shawn hits a nice draw down the middle, and the other three of us all stagger into the right rough. I’m left with the worst angle into the green. I try and hit a big cut out of the rough but it goes straight, finishing in one of the left greenside bunkers. William hits the green with a nice shot out of the thick stuff and Maddox hits a shot that looks good but goes long. Shawn was short of the right bunkers but chunked his chip into the bunker. Maddox is left with an awful lie up against the back lip of the bunker. He is forced to go out sideways trying to keep it on the green but it rolls off into the collection area. Mine does the same, starting the fight for bogey. Shawn who had his woe’s earlier from the bunkers goes full Australian on us and checks one up about 6 feet past the hole. Maddox puts a good effort on his pitch but is left with 12 feet for his bogey. William has cleaned up for his four already sealing the match for us and I’ve gotten out of the way to watch things unfold. Shawn is staring down the putt, reading it from every angle when Maddox, pipes up, “Be aggressive, if you miss this I’ll give it to you for a halved match, on my honor.”. We were witnesses of a true gentleman’s agreement. This is straight out of the Jack Nicklaus’ Ryder Cup playbook. Shawn stepped up and rammed his bogey in the back of the hole to win the match. Wow, what a round of golf. There was so much going on during that 18 that it felt like we played 36. We head over to the patio to make it official and wash it down with couple “gold tops”.

That was one of my most enjoyable rounds of the year and the people were who made it. Maddox and Shawn were kind enough to let us come along and encroach on their match. Once again, rounds like this are one’s we will talk about for a long time. What stuck with me was how there are so many different ways you can add a competitive element to this game whether it’s 30 bucks or a round robin match play tournament. There is nothing better than a little friendly competition. Whenever I have the chance I’m going to put something on the line, to add that level of intensity and focus.

Even with the course work going on MCC continues to be one of the premier courses in this area. Growing up playing traditional, old courses like this brings back memories. There is trouble everywhere you turn and if you watch the tournament this weekend, you will see a lot of design similarities. I can’t say enough about the condition the course was in especially the greens. The are firm and fast, but fair. I’ll take them fast over slow any day of the week. The fairways were perfectly kept zoysia and the rough was lush thanks to the recent rain we have had. I truly can’t wait to play it again once the tee boxes get grown back in. All things I’m going to give it a strong 8.3/10. If the tee boxes were grown back in it would be pushing a nine.

My next round is coming in the Christian Brothers High School Alumni Tournament on Saturday. Coming to you live from the Links of Galloway, with the old man tee time at 7:30. I’m going to do my best to stay out of the Tight Lies.

Webb

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