By David Nagel
It was almost 26 years ago to the day when my sporting hero at the time – Greg Norman – held a six-shot lead heading into the final round of the 1996 Masters at Augusta.
Now, before I go on, my golf and that of the Great White Shark bare very little resemblance.
We both hold the club at the same end, and both have the same intention of seeing the ball disappear in the fewest possible shots…but that’s where the comparisons end.
But on Saturday – not at Augusta unfortunately – on the manicured first tee at the Deep Creek Golf Club in Pakenham, the Shark and I had something a little more in common.
It was the last round of the Men’s A Grade Club Championships, I held a six-shot lead, and Nick was in hot pursuit!
No, not Sir Nick Faldo, who would eventually crush the life out of the Shark, but Nick Gray, my closest pursuer and the man who had the potential to break my heart.
I’m 53 now, being playing golf on and off since the age of 13, so, to me anyway, this was a pretty big deal.
A big trophy, name on the Honour Board in gold letters…hang on, focus, let’s get it in the air off the first tee!
A nice drive, eight iron to 15 feet, a two-putt par…we’re away!
And the good golf continued on the second, a crisp iron to 15-feet again, another missed birdie, but tap-in par…seven in front now…only 16 holes to go!
But then a whistle could be heard in the distance, it was the bogey train…stopping all stations to the seventh tee…and I was the only passenger.
Bogeys on three, four, five and six…so much for that bloody good start?
And some already shaky wheels almost lost the wheel nuts on the seventh.
A hooked drive was compensated by an intentional hook out of the trees, leaving 218 metres to the pin.
The day before, playing with my great mates Dave and Chris, I hit this almost identical shot to 20-foot from the pin.
This time however, as the three-wood was heading out of bounds, probably 30 degrees off its intended line…it was happening…it’s the Shark all over again.
Fortunately the ball stayed in play, but four shots later, a double-bogey seven…the margin was back to three.
At this point, with 11 holes to play, some serious doubts were creeping in.
I started thinking about the embarrassing conversations that would take place with my mates, my family, other golfers at the club…this is the biggest choke of all time!
What’s happening to me…I can’t physically hit the ball straight?
But pars on eight, nine, 10, 11 and 12 seemed to have righted the ship. Nick was having battles of his own…back to six up with six to play.
But, as every golfer knows, if you ever start to feel comfortable with this great game…it will smack you right between the eyes.
The worst tee shot of the day was then struck…which started right, sailed over trees, then over a swing set, over a sand pit, and finished right next to a tree in an unsuspecting backyard!
Not good…three off the tee…triple bogey seven!
Consecutive bogeys on two par fives then followed, before a nine iron for par on 16 steadied that ship once again.
Three up, two to play.
“How do the pro’s do this…I’m not enjoying this,” I say to Nick.
A three-putt double-bogey on 17 then narrowed the margin to two…and visions of the Shark in ’96 came flooding back once again.
Let’s just get this drive down the middle, make par, sign off on a disgusting 85…eight shots worse than last week…and let’s get off the course and have a beer.
And that’s exactly what happened…me a four…Nick a five…and we hold on for a three-shot win.
I didn’t handle Saturday well.
It was windy, it was wet, and I felt the pressure and played some pretty ordinary golf for nine holes…buggered if I know how the pro’s do it!
But we got the hands on the trophy, with the gold letters to come…and I suppose that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
That and avoiding those embarrassing conversations with your mates!