Featured Blog: Canadian PGA Member Mike Mezei on the Canadian Tour
Above: Mezei returns home to Lethbridge, Alberta to teach a Junior clinic at Lethbridge Country Club
The past two events on the Canadian Tour covered the two extremes of Mexico; the white sandy beaches of the Riviera Maya and the high mountains of San Luis Potosi.
The first of the two events was the Iberostar Riviera Maya Open at the Playa Paraiso G.C at Iberostar's Playa resort, just north of Playa del Carmen. It's a great spot and a beautiful resort; our life on tour is not usually all inclusive!
Playa Paraiso G.C is a short but tight track that severely penalizes missed fairways. The course is always in great shape, aided by the advances in agronomy that have produced Seashore Paspalum grass. Developed from strains of grasses that exist in the salty spray of the world's oceans, Paspalum can be watered with salt water and is thus a huge help to many coastal regions nearer to the equator that struggle to obtain fresh water.
I felt much better about my game coming into the event.........and it showed in the pro-am as I posted a 68 in the wind to earn low pro honors and collect a rare pro-am cash bonus. However, in the event I didn't display the same scoring ability as I shot rounds of 72 and 75 to miss the cut by one stroke. It was two days filled with silly mistakes and mental errors that turned a week I should have contended on a course I like into a weekend off. Rookie Daniel Im, playing in his first event on the Canadian Tour, won in dramatic fashion after stuffing his approach shot on the tough par 4 18th for a birdie and a one shot win over Brent Schwarzrock and Oscar Serna.
Our second event was played in San Luis Potosi, a colonial city of a million people about 220 miles NW of Mexico City. The tournament was hosted at La Loma G.C, an amazing 7800 yard golf course set on the side of a foothill that featured many elevation changes and forced carries. Jack Nicklaus was on hand during the middle of the week to hit the opening tee shot of the event as La Loma G.C is one of his newest signature designs. On the course you could swear you were playing an upscale private club in Arizona, but in the clubhouse it was a different world. The 300,000 square foot monster was extremely impressive and luxurious; the men's locker room and grill were pretty much ideal. The building itself was a piece of art with several areas covered with sculptures, paintings and displays. Some areas felt more like an art museum or gallery than a clubhouse; a very unique place in the golf world.
The golf course was set at an elevation of just over 6200 feet above sea level, a full thousand feet above Denver, Colorado. Thus the ball would fly forever in the air........a nine iron of 140 yards at sea level would easily fly 160 yards or more in San Luis. For instance, the par 3 4th hole was 237 yards uphill and into the wind and was just a 4-iron. The 14th and 15th holes would look pretty scary on a scorecard, but in reality were simply just fair holes. The 14th was a 505 yard par 4 with water fronting a narrow green but the longest club I hit in all week was a 9-iron. Similarly, the 705 yard par 5 15th was hit in two shots many times through the week, including by myself in the final round (I'll admit I was downwind.....700 yards is still a long way no matter where you are!).
The first round of the event was cancelled due to 30 mph hour winds that blew all morning. Normally a 30 mph wind would be challenging but would not cause a tournament suspension. However, because the greens were so severe, firm and fast, the ball wouldn't stay in place, even on flat portions of green. Play resumed Friday morning, but what awaited for the players on the course was something we didn't expect. The course received no water after a full day of 90 degree heat and howling wind, so many portions of the greens and fairways were near dead and the severe greens were like granite. I've played on some firm greens before but some of the greens that day were beyond anything I had ever seen. Nine irons and wedges were bouncing 5 to 10 feet in the air when they landed and careening over the backs of greens. All fine and dandy on a true British seaside links course where you can run the ball up to the green, but on a target style course with forced carries and severe greens with tiny ledges and shelfs it was an extreme challenge to say the least. The grounds crew managed to get control of the course again over the last few rounds after some heavy watering, making the course play much more like they had originally intended.
Somehow Russell Surber shot a 67 that morning before the greens became next to impossible. However in the afternoon Marc Lawless shot a 67 as well that has to be called the round of the year on tour so far. Surber would ride his opening round straight to contention in the final rounds. Surber had a 3 shot lead with 4 to play, but Aussie Adam Bland birdied holes 15-17 as Surber bogied 17 to take a one shot lead into the last hole. Bland, however, hit his wedge over the green and into a hazard, eventually making an 8 on the hole. Surber made par despite coming into the green with a 4-iron on his 3rd shot; claiming his first Canadian Tour title by two shots over Bland and Wil Collins.
I started poorly Friday afternoon; 3 over par through 4 holes after some silly mistakes. However, I fought hard and managed to grind back to 2 over par with just 5 holes to play. I finished double bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey for a disappointing 81. It wasn't hard to do at the end of that afternoon; several great golf shots would not be rewarded and end up in impossible positions to save par over the greens. In my group, last week's winner Daniel Im and two time winner on tour James Lepp managed 76 and 79 respectively despite many quality golf shots. Still, the cut looked like it could go to as high as 8 or 9 over with similar conditions so I wasn't out of it. I started my second round poorly again, 3 over par through 8 holes. It would have been easy to shut down there but I knew that I had some par 5's that were reachable coming up so I could still make some birdies. I birdied the par 5 18th, my 9th hole of the day, then proceeded to finish the round with a 5 under 31 on the back nine to finish with a 69. It was good enough to make the cut with a shot to spare and I was happy with the fact I stuck in it despite a tough course and being so far back with only ten holes to play.
To make up the cancelled first round the tour decided to play 36 on Sunday to complete the tournament. It was going to be a long day as the length of the course, the temperature, the elevation, the grade of the land and the frustrating nature of the golf course would all combine for a tough test. I opened with a bogey free 67, the lowest score of the morning round. I started with a 32 on the tougher backside but managed one birdie on the front, along with an up and down for par from on the putting surface on the 2nd hole. I giant ridge was between myself and the pin despite being pin high on the same level of the green. My only option was to pitch the ball into a side bank and let it trickle down to at best ten feet. I did just that and managed a par and also to take a nice bacon strip out of the green with my sand wedge..............I wasn't the first or last person to have to chip off of a green that week.
The round in the afternoon was much more challenging as the wind picked up and the greens began to firm again despite their best efforts to water the course. Add to that the length and difficulty of a hot, 36 hole day in general. I shot a 76 in the afternoon, due mostly to a double on my 3rd hole and a triple bogey on my 11th hole. I made some nice birdies coming in on my 12th, 15th and 16th holes, but it wasn't enough to get it back to par. In the end I finished in T20th position; After the first round I was tied for 128th place. Fighting all the way back to finish 20th with plenty of chances to finish in the top 10 was a good feeling.
While not amazing considering I was 12 over though my first 26 holes and a long way from the cut line, it's a finish I needed and one that leaves a good taste in my mouth heading into the major part of our Canadian Tour season in two weeks.
Our next event is the Times Colonist Open at the Uplands G.C in Victoria, B.C. It's a tight, traditional, tree-lined course with very pure, very fast greens that challenges the quality and angle of approach shots. It was the site of my professional debut on the Canadian Tour back in 2005 after I gained status through the Spring Qualifying school the previous week. Rumor has it that Uplands will be hosting the Times Colonist Open for the next 5 years, moving away from the traditional three course rotation that included the magnificent Royal Colwood G.C and the challenging Gorge Vale G.C. The week before Victoria, Canadian Tour hopefuls will be playing for status at the Spring Q-School hosted at Swan-e-Set Bay G.C and Resort in Vancouver. Should be interesting to see what new faces will join the tour for the Canadian portion of the season.
All the best and I look forward to writing from Victoria!