The 9th Hole at Cypress Point: “My Story!”
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is I missed qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior British Open this year. The good news is that I got to spend some extra time at home in Carmel and rekindle my love affair with Cypress Point Golf Club. Yes, it’s been well documented; I don’t even try to hide it anymore. I’ll just come out with and say it as openly and as clearly as I can: Cypress Point is my favorite golf course in the world! If you’ve played it, you certainly know why. If you haven’t, your golfing career will never be complete without a trek around “the jewel”.
Having grown up on the Monterey Peninsula, I was certainly spoiled and at times didn’t appreciate the immense golf experience the area affords. Besides Cypress Point and it’s famous counterpart Pebble Beach, there are some other gems such as Spyglass Hill (my home course in high school), Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore and Dunes), and don’t forget Spanish Bay. If you venture inland a little you can play some real fun tests of golf, like Quail Lodge (my home club where I grew up in Carmel Valley) which is the best walking course in the world. Or, for a slightly different setting, there are Tehama Golf Club, Carmel Valley Ranch, and The Preserve Golf Club, three private clubs tucked away in the natural mountain landscape. If you still want more, cross over the hill and find Fort Ord’s Bayonet, Pasadera, and Corral de Tierra. All have their own distinct flavor.
Coming home to Northern California after globe-trotting all these years, I now appreciate that there is more great golf on the Monterey Peninsula than anywhere else in the world, and such a variety too! But when given the opportunity to play Cypress Point, I run to pack up the car. Such was the case last Tuesday when my friend Jim asked me to join him for a game. We were partners against two venerable opponents: Mark and Kim (both scratch players and Kim is one of my very best friends). A friendly competition is standard at Cypress Point. It’s not a gambling place. Competition is all the incentive anyone should need to want to play their best. Golf at Cypress Point is truly about pride, respect, and love of the game.
I grabbed my caddie, Jessie, and headed down to the first tee (Jessie, by the way, is one of the best caddies I’ve ever had at Cypress or anywhere else for that matter). Little did I know after a routine par at the first that this would be my fastest start ever at Cypress Point. My first birdie came at the second hole when I reached the par 5 in two and two-putted for birdie. At the third, I stuck a +4 yards 8-iron four feet from the hole for my second straight birdie. After a par at the 4th, I hit a big drive at #5 leaving only a 5-iron into the green. Two putts from the fringe later, I was three under par. I missed a great opportunity for birdie or even eagle at #6, but rebounded by sticking a 6-iron on the par three 7th hole just five feet from the hole to go 4 under par.
I was feeling really good about my game right then. Jim had helped, too, and we were two up on our opponents heading to the 8th where my well hit 7-iron approached curled up right next to the pin for a gimmie birdie. I couldn’t help feeling cocky as Jim and I proudly walked up onto the blind green to admire how close to the hole my shot actually was. “Looks like that’s the end of the bet on the first nine”, I proudly exclaimed. And why shouldn’t I, I was 5 under through 8 holes. That was unquestionably my best start ever at Cypress Point. “Not so fast”, Kim retorted as he headed towards the flag and looked in the hole, pulling out his ball. “You’re only one up now!” Kim had holed his second shot. “What! That can’t be true”, I cried with a puzzled look all over my face. “That’s what you get for making an early call, Bobby”, Kim delightedly stated as he delicately kissed the ball. “Wow, there’s a life lesson”, I responded, still in shock from Kim’s holed shot. How many times in life do we judge situations or people without knowing all the facts? And how does that serve us? Not very well in my life!
So we headed to the 9th, now only one up in the match. The 9th hole is the shortest par 4 at Cypress Point, only 289 yards. The playing yardage was only 275 downwind yards to the front of the green. Two weeks prior, Jim and I had played Cypress. I commented to him at that time after I drove to the back right fringe of the green then chipped to the back left hole location for a gimmie birdie, how a small part of the dunes over the green should be converted into a bunker so as to not overly punish a good drive that rolls slightly over the green. My drive had only been a couple of yards from disaster. But trying to get things changed at Cypress Point is not too different than trying to change the U.S. Constitution. You’ll need a 101% approval.
I shared my experience with Jesse and asked his advice. He quickly considered the way I was striking the ball that day and without hesitation said, “go for it and aim into the right side of the front, greenside bunker”. I pushed my drive about 5 yards. The ball landed right on the green, only to bounce over into the very dunes I had commented on to Jim during my previous round at Cypress. When we arrived at the green, there was my ball, buried in the middle of a lonely bush. After taking an unplayable drop, the ball half-buried into the sand dunes. I then half-bladed the ball over the green into the next set of dunes. From there I hit a remarkable shot that was inches from being perfect but settled on the fringe. I made “double-bogie”. Jim was holding off the team okay until Kim holed his putt from the fringe for the win. “Ouch, that really hurts,” I commented. The match was even.
My first inclination was to blame the course. My thoughts wandered. “They should know better at Cypress than to punish a good drive like that! My ball should have been in the bunker. Why I would have made a birdie from there and been 6 under par.” Then my thoughts ventured off again, “Jesse should never have told me to go for the green. That’s the wrong play.” Then my more reasonable side kicked in, “Why that’s one of the greatest life lessons you can ever learn. Don’t judge and don’t blame things outside yourself. You hold the key to your own power. Give it outside yourself and you lose it.” I realized that this event was neither a good event nor a bad one. It all has to do with the story I wrap around it. It is what it is! My perception of it will give it either positive or negative power. It’s a choice. Life is all about choices.
I took a pause and shared the following story with my group. “The year was 1981, my first time to play in the Bing Crosby Pro-Am. I had turned pro the previous summer and had dreamed about winning the Crosby as a kid. I played well enough in the first two rounds to start the final round just one shot out of the lead after a 67 at Pebble Beach and a 71 at Spyglass Hill. Now at the age of 20, I was playing the 9th hole at Cypress Point on a Monday finish, my last hole of the rain-shortened 54-hole event. I had just birdied the 7th when I struck a 5-iron dead at the flag. After a good up-and-in for par at the 8th, I was 2-under par for the round. Not a scoreboard was in site but I knew I must be close to the lead. I layed up at the 9th with a 5-iron and hit a wedge to 10 feet past the hole. Wondering what the putt would mean, I saw a gentleman dressed in his NCGA green coat with his Official NCGA logo on it. He was carrying a radio. I walked up to him. ‘Interested in knowing the scores, Bobby’, he offered. ‘You bet’, I responded! ‘Well, you’re one shot off the lead held by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.’ ‘Ok, thanks’, I quickly headed towards the green. Making birdie would tie me for the lead. I was faced with one of the slickest putts on the course, with a sizeable 10-inch break. I pondered the speed knowing I would have a greater chance of making the putt if I hit it a bit firmer and took some of the break out of the putt. The ball rolled towards the hole, caught the upper edge of the cup, then accelerated around the hole and took off down the hill, some 7 feet past. I missed the par putt coming back.
Deeply dejected, I signed my scorecard wondering what might have been. Little did I know what was about to happen. ‘Bobby, you are wanted in the press room back at the lodge’, the official informed me. I don’t know what I said to him, but I knew I didn’t feel like going even though I knew I had to make an appearance. As I walked into the press room, I was able to take my first look at the scoreboard. There I was, tied for the lead with four other players, none of whom were Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson. In fact, they were down at the bottom 4 and 5 shots off the lead. Then it dawned on me, the information I had been given was completely false. All I needed was two easy putts from 10 feet and the Championship would have been mine. I couldn’t believe it. My mind raced. Who was that guy? How could he have done that? Where did he get his bad information? But then I realized this was no time for second thoughts as I needed to get ready for the playoff. I parred the first hole at Pebble Beach while Hale Irwin and John Cook both birdied. John would end up winning the tournament.”
I continued to share the outcome of this experience with my playing partners, “Still today I am experiencing the effects of not winning that year. Had I won, I would have had two victories on the PGA Tour. Two victories give a player better status when joining the Champions Tour. In the past 15 months, I would have been able to play without going to Monday qualifiers, without depending on so many sponsors’ exemptions, etc. I would have gotten into more events and been able to better plan my schedule. Wow!
That’s one story I could choose to wrap around that event. However, that’s not the one I prefer. I choose to embrace the bigger and more meaningful life lessons this has taught me. Those life lessons include: 1. Be careful about being overly trusting of what people say to me. 2. Play to win, yes, but always play the percentages. 3. Tell yourself ‘you deserve to win’. 4. You can’t really control winning, just do your best and be satisfied that you gave it your best. 5. Embrace all the events in my life with the good that each offers.”
And so we went onto the back nine. I shot 2 under par, Jim pitched in a couple of helpful blows, we won the match and I still shot my lowest round at Cypress Point ever – a 5 under par 67. Just a couple reasons Cypress Point is my favorite golf course. And that’s my story!