It's been an aim of mine my whole life, everything I've worked for - shooting an under par round. I love golf, it's a quite brilliant sport. Frustrating, yes, but ever so rewarding when it all comes right.
So, it was Monday afternoon and I was off for a fun round with my mate as we do once or twice a week. It was at my local course, as ever. It's not a difficult course but neither is it easy. It's challenging, you have to plot your way around and good iron play is crucial.
I walked down for the first hole, relaxed, looking forward to an enjoyable round in the sunshine. Seven iron on the simple first hole, the shortest par 4 on the course. I was determined to leave myself a good distance in, but I pulled it left. Swing felt stiff and rusty. Maybe it was going to be a long day.
I was left with only a wedge in, but I was right behind a tree. It was a crisp strike and it landed softly. Right of the pin but had a 12 footer to get my round off to the ideal start. When through my usual routine, this was a great chance to start perfectly. Lined it up, solid stroke.... BANG! Straight in the middle. Few better feelings than seeing a birdie putt hit the bottom of the cup. I fist pumped and got the adrenaline running, maybe this could be the day for that under par round.
Onto the second, a very difficult, long, uphill par 4. Sweetly struck my drive but pushed it right. Left myself with a 7-iron in from 160 yards. Again, struck it beautifully but pulled it. It was a tricky up and down left, and a poor chip left me a 10 footer for par....oooo! Shaved the hole. Back to level.
Third hole. Tricky, downhill par 3 with a two-tier green. Not easy. Got an 8-iron out, didn't hit it cleanly but it was straight and stopped a whisker short of the green leaving me a 20 footer for another birdie. Huge swing off the right but I fancied it. As soon as it left the putter face, it was in. Curled beautifully into the centre of the cup, back to under par and I was feeling confident. Especially now we were entering a very friendly stretch of three holes, all are birdie chances.
First is a 480 par-5. Good drive, set myself up for a 5-wood approach that left me 30 yards short. Another birdie chance. Hit a decent pitch to leave me a make-able 20 foot birdie putt to get to -2 but I left it high.
Now came two short par 4s, and I played them both immaculately. A solid drive down number five left me with a sand wedge in, I had a 12 footer for birdie but pushed it. To number six and again, I laid up of the water with a soft 8-irion leaving myself a sand-wedge in. Crisp strike and had yet another 12 footer for birdie. I didn't fancy it, outside left and quick, very quick, but it rattled in. Another fist pump, now two under. I was feeling good.
The seventh hole is, in my opinion, the toughest on the course. A 410-yard dogleg left par-4 which was playing into wind. A narrow entrance to the green with a bunker left and right, it's tough. I took my 3-wood off the tee, my usual choice as I don't carry a driver due to my consistency with the 3-wood, and it pinged of the face but right and in the rough. Took a 5-wood but came up a good 20 yards short to leave a tricky up and down. My chip was good, if not spectacular, leaving me with a testy 15 foot par putt.... straight in the middle again!
This was the moment when I began to realise that something special could happen, I was -2 and feeling relaxed heading onto the eighth tee. Another great par-4, not long but not easy. Another good drive set me up but I miss-judged my second shot and left a long, bendy putt up the hill for birdie. I struck it well, it looked good and curling towards the hole, I thought it was in....but it just held up a fraction short. Tap in par, that'd do nicely.
The ninth is a long par-4, a couple of sweetly struck shots gave me a 30 footer for birdie. Again, the stroke was good but it trickled by. I tapped in for a third straight par and was thrilled with my front nine, 34 shots, two under par.
It's a long walk to the tenth, plenty of time to gather my thoughts. I prefer the back nine but I've struggled on it of late. The tenth is a middle range par-4. Two heavy irons left me short but a neat chip gave me a further tap in par to remain at -2 and heading onto a very reachable par-5.
I smashed a drive down the middle but the wind into face made reaching the green in two difficult, I failed but was only 20 yards short. I chipped to within 8 foot, could have left an easier putt but I rolled it in firmly. Another first pump and suddenly.... I was -3!
The 12th is ranked the most difficult hole on the course but it was playing downwind and a straight drive put me in prime position. I had a 6-iron left, wasn't my cleanest strike but it was straight and I had yet another make-able birdie putt from within 15 foot. I was scared of it. Left it a good three feet short. No matter, I confidently rolled it in to remain at three under.
The 13th is a challenging par-3, I was half a club short with my tee shot but I had a 25 footer for birdie. Again, my stroke was good but it tailed off to the right, leaving me with another par - five in the last six holes.
I felt in control. This was it for me, an amazing chance to achieve a dream of mine. Usually, I think too far ahead when scoring well and that's my downfall. Not this time. I had a nice rhythm and was striking the ball well. Most importantly, I felt confident with the putter. I took each hole as it came, it wasn't until the 14th tee when I started to play with fear.
It's a par-5 and a presentable birdie chance, but I was scared of the trees down the right, which resulted in me pulling my tee shot well left. Safe but left. Again, my second shot I pushed right, fearing the ditch on the left. I was now faced with a 140-yard shot from the rough, over a lake. This was the most nervous I felt during the whole round. I was so close, but there were still four holes to go to achieve my ambition. I stepped over the ball, I said to myself 'confident, free flowing swing' and.... bang! It was a beauty. Right over the pin, giving me a 15 footer to go -4. It trickled off to the right but I was content enough.
The 15th is a gorgeous hole. A short par-3 but a narrow, long green and a huge bunker at the front make it tough. I hit my 8-iron dead straight but well short. It left me with a long, snaky, uphill putt from 40 foot for birdie. All I wanted was a two putt. I lined it up and was determined not to leave it short. I didn't. As soon as it left the putter, I knew it was good. It tracked beautifully, dead straight the whole way. Rolling, closer and closer until....bang! Another birdie! It nearly bounced out but I couldn't care less as I leaped in the air and let out a huge roar and a fist pump. Now FOUR under with three holes left.
Just three pars James, that would make me more than happy. Sixteen is tough, very tough. Narrow and long with a ditch in front of the green. I pushed my tee shot right, leaving me with 175-yars left from the rough and facing some trees barely 20 yards in front. Shall I play safe and just lay up or hit the green? I went for it.
And I got it. I was determined to play confident, natural golf and not be scared of any shot. I hit my trusted hybrid and stuck it to 15 foot. This was the moment when I knew I'd done enough, 17 and 18 are not difficult holes. I knew, at this moment, that I was going to be under par. I fancied the putt but left it a fraction short. I stayed at -4 heading onto my favourite hole on the course, the short 17th.
My drive left me with a 9-iron in and I hit it as clean as you can get. It was straight down the pin, and I was left with a 4 footer for birdie. I missed! I thought it was in, I took a step thinking it was in but it lipped out. I tapped in but, despite my current score, I wasn't happy. I wanted to shoot as low as possible.
But now for the final hole and a glorious par-3. It really is a fantastic finishing hole. Short, uphill, over a lake with bunkers and a small green. So picturesque. I took out my 8-iorn and hit another beautifully struck, precise shot to within 15 foot.
I had dreamt of this moment for years, walking onto the final green with a putt for a round sub-70 and under par. It was even better than that, it was for a 66. I didn't particularly like the look of the putt but I was determined to finish with a flourish. I did. It was speedy but straight into the centre of the cup. YES! I shouted. COME ON! I bellowed. Fist pumps galore. A round of 66, I was in disbelief. My playing partner and friend was in shock.
I will never forget it. A dream realised.