Early in 2016, I declared it would be The Year of Golf, much to the chagrin of my endlessly patient wife.
What that meant was I would commit totally to improving my game by any and all means necessary; I would get regular lessons, training aids, new equipment, better looking shirts, and whatever else I could justify in my quest to be a scratch golfer.
Looking back, my statement was eerily similar — in its delivery and ludicrousness — to Seinfeld‘s George Costanza character when he proclaimed the months following his Yankees tenure “The Summer of George.”
Thankfully, and unlike Constanza, I would end up being much more successful in my pursuits, with my handicap dropping from an 8.8 to a respectable 5.2 that year.
Emboldened by my success in a single year, I declared that 2017 would be a sequel, The Year of Golf II: Electric Boogaloo1
2018 capped the trilogy, with The Year of Golf III: Back In Business, seeing me come back strong from neck surgery and my handicap falling to a mere 2.1, the lowest it had ever been to that point.
With everything considered, it was a great year of golf, so here’s the cleverest title I could come up with for 2019 is…
The Year of Golf Fore: A Few Dollars More
Golf in 2019 was filled with many unquestionably great golf courses, memorable trips, and a lot of good swings. Previous years saw me rebuild the foundation for my game, and this was the year it all came together with surprisingly strong tournament and match play rounds and even a few rounds under par.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course
Getting to play the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is a fantastic way to start the year, especially since THE PLAYERS is now contested in March. When the winter rye grass is in, the course is green and gorgeous.
Technically these pictures are from a round I played at the end of 2018. I did play the Stadium Course again in early January, escaping the treacherous 17th and 18th holes with a par in the same round for the first time.
Many thanks to my Bay Hill member buddy for the invite down to Orlando a month before the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Even though I putted like a fool, I thoroughly enjoyed the insider access and chance to play Bay Hill at its most pristine and tournament-ready.
The Battle at the Beach: Hammock Beach
This was a fantastic two-man competition put on by Bryan and Mel LaRoche of Steez and Tees. My partner and I won our pod convincingly but were the victims of an unbelievable 65-foot putt in the shootout. We ended up taking second place.2
The Ocean Course was tougher than I expected but my play was solid enough when my partner needed it to be.
One of my stated goals for the year was to qualify for the FSGA Florida Amateur, but I have to be honest and say that at the beginning of the year it was one of those things I put out there to motivate myself and justify some extra play and practice.
A major benefit of trying to qualify for the tournament is the quality of venues available. I chose Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club in Central Florida because it’s such a cool course. It has “tribute” holes modeled after famous ones from Augusta National, The Old Course, Royal Troon, Muirfield, and Baltusrol.
I knew that in reality I needed to play the best tournament round of my life to make it happen. Historically, a +1 73 was the worst score that was likely to qualify.
Oh, what could have been! After starting on Golden Ocala’s back nine, I made it through “Amen Corner” and “The Road Hole” at -2.
Skipping to the end, I came in with a 74 and missed a 4-for-2 playoff by a shot. It was still my best tournament round and I was thrilled with how I hit the ball under pressure.
Again, I can hardly say enough thanks to my wife for being amenable to a July pilgrimage to Cabot in Nova Scotia.
In spite of meticulous planning, down to the timing of my payments to the resort to maximize the USD to CAD conversion rate, the trip still got off to an inauspicious start thanks to the airline industry.
The evening before we were set to fly out, the airline called to let us know that our flight for the next morning out of JAX to PHL had been cancelled because of weather (a lie). After some wrangling, we secured an alternate flight to PHL from TPA, rented a car one-way and drove overnight, and made it to PHL with 45 minutes to spare.
A wave of relief washed over me as I watched my SKB travel case get loaded onto the plane, and the rest of the trip to Cape Breton went without a hitch.
In a word, Cabot was special. Cabot combines a pair of incredible golf courses with a low-key resort that caters to serious golfers.
And even though I struggled to score on its undulating fescue greens, Cabot Cliffs was by far the most amazing course I played all year.
I went into the trip saying I just wanted to have fun and wasn’t going to worry about what I shot.
That, of course, was a lie.
My best round at Cabot was on Cabot Links the first time I played it, shooting a very solid 74 from the back tees. That got me a nod from the caddies and kept the ego sated as I took quite a few more shots to get around the next two days.
The Rider Kup VII at Pinehurst
No tournament compares to the Rider Kup. Two 12-man teams battle over 72 holes in a three day marathon, culminating in the ultimate victory for one team and a year of trash talking privileges.
In my second year as a Team Kaptain and defending champion, we brought the gang to the great American golf resort of Pinehurst the week after the US Amateur was played, taking on No. 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, and the Cradle.
No. 2 and 4 were still in crispy, USGA condition, and a real challenge. I managed a 77 on No. 2, surprising myself with a 27-putt performance, and did even better on No. 4.
Oh, and the Cradle is some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.
The Players Cup II at Reunion Resort, Orlando
The Players Cup was another Steez and Tees event with a great bunch of golfers. I played absolutely out of my mind all weekend, shooting a -2 70 during the practice round and keeping that momentum going into the best ball matches with an eagle on my first hole and lot of birdies to follow.
I’m proud to say #TeamRusty got the W and we hoisted the Players Cup trophy.
In November, I reached my lowest handicap ever, 1.0. It’s not quite scratch but I think it’s a hell of an achievement for me considering I was a 9.2 a decade ago.
To think I used to be excited when I shot in the 70s. Now I’m disappointed when I shoot over par!
A shoulder injury in November knocked me out for a month, so it was a real treat to have my comeback round on one of the most unique and fun courses in North Florida, the Legacy Course at White Oak.
I can only dream about the new course at White Oak, which unfortunately is not open to the public. It is rumored to be one of Pete Dye’s last signature designs and from what I’ve seen of it the fairways are nicer than some of the greens I’ve played on!
What a year.