To win or not to win: is that the question?

Should I go for it? or lay up and settle for top 3?

While playing in the club championship at my local public golf course a few weeks ago, I found myself in a position of needing a fantastic finish to contend or coasting in to finish in the top three.  After a great ball striking round one (15 greens hit) but a real horrorshow putting clinic (38 putts with six three putt greens), I found myself with a first round score of 79 and five shots back from the first round leader.  My plan was simple, I needed a solid 69 or 70 on day two to be in contention.  Not unheard of, but I would need to hit the ball as good if not better than round one, and find a way to decrease my putts from 38 to 28.

I started out like gangbusters on day two with 8 pars in a row.  There were one or two great two putt greens, and one or two missed opportunities, but all in all I was satisfied with my start.  I wanted to get to the 9th hole even par.  The 9th is a very reachable par 5 and where I wanted to be hitting my stride.  After a unconventional birdie on the par 5 9th, I found myself -1 under par on the 10th tee, another par five.  I hit a great drive and 3wd to put myself on the green in two with a solid 50+ footer for eagle.  Three putts later I find myself still one under par.  After a two more very makable birdie holes, and two more pars I was on the 13th tee box one under, and very close to the leader at the time.  I bogeyed the 13th after a bad drive, failed to get up and down on the par 3 14th, and missed a 7 footer for birdie on the par five 15th.

I now find myself +1 over par and on the 16th hole, which I believe is the toughest par 4 on the golf course.  I hit a great drive, hit too much club on the iron hit from the fairway, but a with solid up and down I get to the 17th hole (a par five) +1 over for the day, +9 for the tournament and what I think is three shots from the leader.  I am not a math major, but by my addition I needed to eagle the par 5 17th hole, and birdie 18 and hope to get into a playoff.  A very difficult finish, but not something that was out of my golf reach.  I have made eagle on the 17th before, and I have made birdie on the last hole several times.  Eagle Birdie to win would be a great story if I could make it happen.

I hit a very good drive on the 17th hole, but it was a little off the bottom of the club, and I was roughly 255 out from the green.  There is also something that I should mention, the par five 17th while reachable is dead nuts into the wind, over water (all carry to the front of the green) and while I have eagled the 17th before, I have never hit the green in two and made the putt.  My eagle came from missing the green right in two roughly pin high and chipped in.  Back to our story, I have 275 to the flag with the carry being closer to 250-255 over the water.  I had a great lie, and it was actually on a little up slope, so I knew this thing was going to launch up into the air, and everything was in place for me to hit a great 3wd and reach the green in two.  Although everything, but the wind, is in my favor I am going to have to hit a great 3wd to get this little nugget on the green.  I would give myself a 1 in 10 chance of getting this ball on the green, 3 out of 10 times I get it over the water to safety.  The question I find myself asking while I am trying to decide what to hit is… do I go for the green and a give myself a chance to win, or lay up and play for second place?

Go for the very low percentage shot, and give myself a chance at winning?  OR lay up, still have a chance at birdie? Even though, at this point birdie birdie finish would get me close to the leader, is not going to be enough to win.  More than likely I finish par par if I lay up and finish in a tie for second place three shots behind the winner.  Second is a great finish, and very respectable, but could I live with the fact that I laid up when I had a chance to win?  All I could think of was stupid Nash Bridges laying up in the movie Tin Cup and Roy McAvoy saying tour star laying up.  I had to go for it….

Well I am sure that if I had won this tournament and hit that three wood on the green the headline of this golf blog post would have read much different.  I hit my three wood, not well, but enough to get it almost over the water.  I took my drop behind the water hazard, knocked it up on the green, and three putted my way to a solid double bogey.  That was the end of my tournament.  I hit a hybrid down the middle on 18, fatted a 7 iron short of the green.  One chip and two putts later I find myself with a 76 and a 5th place finish.

I am not sure I did the right thing, should I have laid up and tried to make birdie the old fashioned way?  It would not have done me any good, I needed a -2 under par 70 to tie for first place.  The only way I shoot 70? Eagle Birdie finish.  I am glad that I went for it.  What’s the difference between 2nd and 5th?  Not much.  Either way my name does not go up on the plaque in the men’s locker room, and no one will ever remember who finished second in the club championship 10 years from now.  I would have always remembered the time I laid up when I had a chance to win a golf tournament just to save a score.

I took a shot and I missed, but better to have taken a shot and learn from it, than to back down from the challenge.

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