This competition, played as strokeplay without handicaps over 54 holes (men) or 36 holes (ladies, seniors, senior ladies, veterans) is designed to find the best player in the club for that year. Whatever else a player might achieve in golf, there is something special about the idea of being the club champion, it is something that all the players really want to win.
This year we played the competition 2-3 weeks earlier than usual (due to the clash with the Kytäjä challenge tour event) and this brought additional challenges in the form of very hot weather. This was especially difficult for the men who played 36 holes on Saturday in 30 degree heat and relentless sunshine, we spent 10 hours in those conditions with only a 30 minute lunch break between holing out on the 18th in the morning round and teeing off on the 1st in the afternoon.
I am sure that there are some great stories to be told about the ladies event (won by Camilla Sommar), the seniors event (won by Kari Ruotsalainen), the senior ladies event (won by Riitta Kiviranta-Kärkkäinen) and the veterans event (won by Reijo Viippola) but I was not there to see how they were won and lost, so their stories will need to be told by someone else, I am sure that the winners would be happy to tell you all about it if you asked them! My congratulations to Milla, Kari, Riitta and Reijo on their achievements.
The story of the mens event is something that I can relate to you, having been very much involved in the action.
On paper the three favourites for the mens event would have been Niko Helin (5 time winner and lowest handicap player (+0.5)), Henri Lahdenperä (Finnish Tour player with a handicap of 0.1) and myself (handicap +0.1) with a number of 2, 3, 4 and 5 handicap players quite capable of also mounting a challenge.
In the first round, played over the South East course, the scoring conditions were surprisingly good as the greens were quite soft and, while they were a reasonable speed, they were not anywhere near as fast as the usually are for this event (many players can remember putting off the green on the 2nd or 7th in years past).
Henkka went out strongly in 1 under par but did not manage to keep it going on the back nine, with a 7 on the 13th the biggest setback as he finished with a 76. Niko was 4 over after 8 holes but made an excellent recovery with 2 birdies and 8 pars in his last 10 holes to finish with a round of 73. I managed to match his score, although I was rather disappointed with my 73 considering that I used my putter for 37 of the shots having hit the ball very well. The best round of the morning came from Veli-Pekka Hakala, one of our caddiemasters, who offset his 5 bogeys with 4 birdies to take the lead with an excellent round of 72.
After a very quick lunch we headed to the North West course for round 2.
The North West course is particularly challenging currently due to the amazing variety of different greens that the course has these days. The six greens which were rebuilt 2-3 years ago are noticeably firmer and MUCH faster than the original greens while the four greens which were rebuilt over the winter are still much slower and much softer than the original greens and have not yet settled down to the point where they behave consistently. This means that there are three very different types of greens on the course and they come in a random order (e.g. the front nine starts with two firm, fast greens which are 2-3 years old, then comes two new greens which are slow and soft, then an original green, then a new one, then an original green, then a new one, then a 2-3 year old one). This really messes with your putting feel and is quite an irritation for players (I really wish they had planned this work differently... but maybe that's a topic for another blog).
The scoring on the North West course was somewhat less impressive, probably due to the cumulative effect of the 5 hours already spent in the really hot weather on the South East course and the challenges of putting. Vellu struggled out in 41 shots while Niko took 40 while Henkka played better with 38 and I managed to go out in level par 36.
On the back nine only Niko really managed to keep playing good quality golf, covering the final nine in level par 36 to finish with a 76 while Vellu survived with 39 on the second nine for an 80.
My last six holes were something of a disaster, I dont know if I had eaten too little, drunk too little (or too much) or if it was just the effect of being too hot but as I was approaching the 13th tee it was as if someone had flicked a switch... I completely lost the feeling (having hit every single fairway up to that point) and did not (and could not!) hit anything but awful full shots for the rest of the round, finishing bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey for an 80. I dont know if Henkka had similar physical problems but his scoring was not much better, bogeying the last 7 holes for an 81.
This left Niko with a 3 stroke lead over Vellu, with me one stroke further back and Henkka 4 strokes behind me, as the final round started.
In the early holes of the final round it was clear that Vellu was nervous. He hit it in the water on the first on the way to a double bogey and duffed a chip on the 3rd (another bogey) and chunked his approach on the 4th from about 80m... but after making a very good up and down for his par on the 4th he settled down and started playing well, boosted by a great birdie on the 6th.
Niko also started a bit shakily with bogeys on the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th and some shots which were not up to his usual standard. This allowed me to close the gap to one stroke after some very good striking (makeable birdie chances missed on 1,2,3 and 5 and actually managed to hole a birdie putt on 4 ) by the time we made it to the 8th tee.
The 8th was... interesting. Niko and Vellu hit very good drives while mine was poorly struck but pretty straight and long enough. The wind was swirling around and was very difficult to judge on the second shot, my 8 iron shot was not the best, heading at the left edge of the green.... only to hit a sprinkler head and ricochet sideways to about 4m from the hole. A remarkable bit of luck. Niko and Vellu both hit to the back of the green and would have putts from about 18m for birdie, Vellu hit a great putt which looked in all the way before sliding just past the edge... while Niko's putt was absolutely perfect and fell into the middle of the hole for a 3. I followed him in for my birdie and we carried on, Niko leading by one from me and by three from Vellu.
On the 9th I hit a terrible shot into the trees on the right of the green and had to scramble for a bogey, Niko hit a good shot but was fooled by the wind and came up short in the bunker while Vellu hit an excellent shot close to the hole. Niko made a great sand save while Vellu was unlucky with his putt, Niko was 2 ahead at the turn. Ahead of us Henkka had gone out in 33 to get within 4 of the lead.
The 11th and 12th were playing straight into the wind and they were very tough. Vellu, Niko, Henkka and I all played the holes in 10 shots (Vellu and Niko went bogey, bogey while Henkka and I went double bogey, par) so with six holes to play Niko led by 2 shots from me with Vellu one shot further behind and Henkka two more shots back.
On the 13th the wind was strongly behind us and a little bit from right to left. Niko and I both played fairway woods safely into the fairway but Vellu had a different plan. He smashed his driver as hard as he could, straight over the trees, the water hazard and the rough and let the wind bring it round until it was heading directly for the green, ending up some 40m short of the flag. From there he played a beautiful pitch shot to the difficult front pin, killing it in the bank at the front of the green and rolling perfectly into the hole for an eagle 2. What a shot! This was a key moment. Niko and I were playing with a sensible and safe strategy but Vellu just decided that he was going to go for it and he got a huge reward.
On the 14th Vellu was pumped up from the eagle and hit a great drive over the water. I thought that it was time to be more aggressive and I hit a perfect drive, cutting off as much distance as I could from the hole by hitting it on a line where only a great strike could have carried the lake. Niko, playing last, slightly mis-hit his drive and it failed to make the carry over the water, leading to a double-bogey 7. Vellu hit a lay-up with an iron but I only had 215m to the flag so I went for the green, a down the grip 5-wood left me with a 15m putt for eagle. Vellu's approach was an unusual one, landing 5m short of the green and skipping up to within 3m of the hole, I am not sure if this was on purpose or not but it was either a very good shot or a very effective shot. After I made a two putt birdie and Vellu surprisingly missed his birdie chance we were tied for the lead with Niko one shot behind.
On the 15th we all hit decent drives up the left hand side with a great angle to the flag. The wind fooled me on my second shot, switching direction and causing my shot to come up 15m short of the flag near to the front right bunker. Niko also came up short while Vellu hit a solid shot into the middle of the green. When I got to my ball I could see that it was in a really horrible place on the bank leading into the bunker. It was on a downslope in thick grass with a severe sidehill lie meaning that I would have to stand about 70cm above the ball with my feet pointing way left of the hole and somehow get the ball to go straight up in the air and land softly for the front right pin position. There was no miracle available from the position and it took me two to get on the green. Niko and Vellu made their pars and when I missed my bogey putt I was two shots behind Vellu and one behind Niko.
The 16th, a long tough par 3, usually provides a very tough challenge from the back tees. It seems that nobody had informed Vellu that it was a very difficult hole because he stepped up and smacked a beautiful shot with a hybrid which ended up about 2m from the hole. Niko then hit hit worst shot of the day, in a bunker some 40m short and way right. My 4 iron would have been a pretty good shot in other circumstances, but with Vellu sittign close to the flag I would have needed to have a shorter birdie chance than the 10m one which I left myself. Niko made a basic bogey from the bunker and my birdie effort just went past the edge before Vellu made no mistake, slamming his birdie putt into the middle to give himself a 3 shot lead. I wonder if anyone will ever again manage to make 2's on 6, 13 and 16 from the back tees in the same round? Amazing.
On the 17th we all had birdie putts, Niko's was quite short, but three pars were recorded and Vellu took his 3 shot lead to the tee on the 54th hole. It was now totally up to Vellu. Keep the ball dry and he was sure to win. He hit exactly the right drive in the circumstances, down the right hand side of the fairway. From there he played a perfect lay-up, leaving 92m for the 3rd shot. Perhaps he started to think at this point about what he was about to achieve because the approach shot was pretty awful... a thinned wedge which flew over the flag and the green into the rough over the back. He quickly got himself back under control however with a beautiful chip rolling down to within 80cm of the hole. I made my par and Niko made a nice birdie to grab second place but there was only one winner as Vellu tapped his putt in for an excellent victory.
After a nervous start to the final round (3 over after 3 holes) I have to say that Vellu played great golf. He struck the ball very well, played confident and aggressive shots and putted extremely well. His aggressive tactics and great execution on the 13th created an opportunity and he was not afraid to grab it with both hands and it was a fantastic achievement to play the last 6 holes in 3 under par to win your first club championship, he fully deserved to win and should be very proud of his performance.
Well done Vellu!