Kids Play at The Orlando International Amateur
For the second year running, we took a winter hiatus in Florida. A week in Orlando competing in The Orlando International Amateur and a week in St. Petersburg competing in the New Years Invitational. To say I was competing is a bit of stretch – let’s just say I played in both events. The Orlando International was played on the Magnolia course at Disney. While the PGA regularly make this look like a Mickey Mouse course with winning scores -20 and less, for mere mortals it is far from that. In round one and two, it measured 7200 yards and round three 7500 yards. Hats off to Max, Tiago, and team for a brilliant event.
After practicing with the very impressive, and just recently turned 15, Tom McKibbin for two days, I was happy to shoot a level par 72 in round 1. In his senior debut, Tom shot 69, a fantastic performance by any standard which placed him in tied third after round 1. Given there were some of the best collegiate golfers in The World Competing in the event, this was exceptional. Yours Truly missed the second round cut by one shot, by shooting 77 in round two. A miserable start, being +6 through 7 holes proved fatal, despite a late rally. Tom had a difficult start to his third round but after an early triple bogey steadied the ship to shoot 75 and comfortably make the cut.
Tom eventually finished a highly creditable 17th when shooting 74 in the final round. His two victories in Junior events either side of the event at iconic venues such as Doral and PGA National are well documented. He was there with his Dad, Robin, and Mum, Sara who were a pleasure to meet during our time in Orlando. We will be seeing and hearing a lot about Tom in the coming years, nonetheless, it’s difficult to swallow when you get hammered by a 15-year-old.
Having missed the cut and got well and truly hammered by Tom, I decided to look for revenge against a young girl who had taken the money in 2016 in practice at Orange County National. Sara Byrne represented Britain and Ireland last summer at the Vagliano Trophy in a match against The Continent of Europe, which underlines her talent. She was also in Orlando to compete in the Orlando Women’s Invitational. To be fair she jumped off the plane and narrowly missed the cut in a first event on American soil without any practice. The following week at the highly competitive HarderHalls, Sara competed against some of the best amateurs in the United States and finished tied 14th.
Back to my quest for revenge and my attempt to at least leave Florida with some dignity. I thought I had managed to gain compensation when one up with two to play. Unfortunately not. I went down to a birdie, birdie finish followed by a birdie down the nineteenth. Sara’s Dad Derek was at close hand and indeed has her well tutored. Bragging rights over dinner were very much with the Douglas Duo. Having been well and truly put to the sword by a 15 and 16-year-old, the only crumb of comfort I could take was there would be an auld lads division in the form of mid-amateurs at the St. Petersburg Invitational.
These two talented Juniors excelled while competing in the United States. Tom closed a scholarship deal with the University of Florida on the back of his performances over the Christmas period. He has been signed up for, wait for it, 2021. Tom’s Dad, Robin informed me it is important to get signed up early if you wish to get into a Division 1 school. Competing in Florida over The Christmas period offered Tom the chance to perform in front of College Coaches in the United States environment which is hugely important.
Sara Byrne’s Dad, Derek, echoed these sentiments. He advised me “Sara has received three offers of scholarships from US colleges since returning”. Derek informed me that Coaches were very impressed and it was much easier for them to evaluate Sara’s performances on US soil rather than looking at results in Europe. Her performance at the HarderHalls Invitational showed coaches she is already at a level where she would be automatic on most US collegiate teams. Indeed coaches informed Derek she would be selected on their Varsity teams as of now. Sara is keeping her options open at the moment and is aiming for a scholarship that will offer the best academic and golfing tuition.
While it is expensive to compete in Florida over the winter, given the experience of these two exceptional Juniors, anyone with hopes to secure good collegiate scholarships should consider this when strategizing how to get an offer from your preferred college.
The New Years’s Invitational
Arriving at St. Petersburg Country Club for the second year running, I knew what to expect. We pride ourselves on a warm welcome in Ireland, however, the Floridians are very gracious hosts themselves. Mentioning an official Golf Nut such as Ivan Morris who boasts Eckhart College as his Alma Mater from just a few short year’s hence, and a former competitor at the 92-year-old New Years’s Invitational certainly garnered some great conversations.
I knew what to expect from this course – lots of birdie chance on a course that offers the impression it is there for the taking. The home of Arnold Palmer’s first PGA Tour victory (on American soil) is short by modern standards at 6900 yards but has tiny greens that by and large slope heavily from front to back, and have lots of run-off areas each side. Greens are well bunkered and apart from the entrance to the green are surrounded by Bermuda semi-rough. As to how anybody can gauge how quickly the ball comes out of such grass, I do not know.
Given the windy conditions for most of the week, the course offered up far more bogey holes than birdie opportunities. Downhill, down grain, puts on greens measuring 12 on the stimp ended up with chip shots coming back on a couple of occasions. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the challenge as the greens were absolutely immaculate. After another promising start, I was leading the mid-am division after round one with 76 despite feeling I had left a lot on the course. The wheels came off again in round two with an early triple and double which ended in78. From here I never really got back in contention and eventually finished sixth in the section and five shots back.
I had the privilege of playing with some great players during the week, three of whom were former Nationwide and Webdotcom professionals. The welcome for all in St. Petersburg for my wife Vera and I was second to none. We met Danny Brennan from Shannon who is studying in Florida and on a Golf Scholarship. While Danny had pretty decent finish in the event twelve months ago, this time was a struggle. Nonetheless, Danny and his uncle Gavin were great company all week.
Watch out for our upcoming “Target Handicap” blogs which is a series of expert blogs with advice from experts in Swing Mechanics, golf fitness, nutrition, sports psychology and sports vision.
As promised on our Facebook group last week, I will be blogging about golf balls. There are lots of good balls out there that can be purchased online and claim to be as good as Market leaders. I hope their balls are better than their response to our poll on IGN. I contacted companies selling balls online who claim their ball performs as well as market leaders, however, none of them seemed remotely interested in our poll results. Let’s see what the week brings!