This evening I played my Round of 16 match in the Esmond Trophy...and, just, wow. I was playing a scratch golfer and a North Berwick local named Neil, and the wind was properly howling tonight - 25-35 mph, according to the Met Office - and it certainly seemed for a long time as though I would lose very comfortably. I mean, the best hole I played into the wind on the way out was the 8th, a 509-yard par 5 on which I hit a solid driver and two great 3-woods to 10 feet behind the hole, but Neil (who was pounding the ball well past me all day) holed a 20-footer for birdie and I lipped out, and at that point I was 3 down. But he bogeyed the 9th and conceded my 10-foot birdie putt, getting me back to 2 down at the turn; then after I found a terrible lie in a badly raked bunker at the 10th and failed to get out at the first attempt, I holed a 30-footer to halve Neil's bogey, which was quite a momentum swing. And after a couple of pars at 11 and 12 - the former being a net birdie - I was suddenly all square. Neil wasn't exactly endearing himself to me with his lack of conversation and a series of F-bombs he kept dropping in annoyance at the (relatively) bad shots he was hitting, so I was getting pretty motivated to complete the comeback and finish him off.
We both made pars at 13 and 14, then I bogeyed the Redan 15th to go one down, having left myself more than 100 feet down the length of the green for my first putt. We halved the 16th, his par to my net par, and then at the 17th I crushed a drive more than 300 yards (downwind) into a bunker which I didn't think I could possibly reach. Despite that, I almost managed to save par and win the hole, but I just missed a tricky left-to-right six-footer, so I was 1 down with 1 to play. The 18th is a 277-yard par 4, and after Neil bailed out to the left (away from the out-of-bounds road on the right), I went for it, smacked another good one and *just* clambered up the big false front to the edge of the green, about 80 feet from the back-left hole location. I *think* Nick Dougherty - the former English Tour pro who fronts Sky Sports' golf coverage and might be staying in North Berwick, given that the Scottish Open is just up the road - and his wife watched me hit that tee shot and then my lag putt, which finished 8 feet short, on their way into town; they were gone, though, when I rolled the birdie putt right in the middle to win the hole and extend the match to the 19th, Neil having failed to get up and down from short and left of the green.
So we teed off again on #1, with the organizer of the competition now tagging along as our referee. Back into the wind we went: at the 19th, I had an uphill 10-footer into the wind for par to win the match but pulled it to the left. At the 20th, a 433-yard par 4 along the beach which is one of the most difficult holes on the course, I hit my two best shots of the day, driver-driver to pin high just left of the green, no more than 30 feet away; the three previous times I'd played it this past week, I hadn't been closer than 80 yards in two shots. Neil never looked like making par...so of course I hit my first putt four feet past and missed the comebacker. At the 21st I got a stroke, but I kinda half-topped my second shot and had to pitch my third from a scruffy lie through a gap in the wall crossing the fairway; I hit a good 9-iron from there to 20 feet but missed and made double, and then Neil lipped out his 10-footer for the win. At the par-3 22nd I had eight feet left for par and rather generously conceded a four-footer to Neil for his par...and so of course this time I drained my putt! I played the 23rd and 24th well but missed makeable putts for par to win, with Neil resolutely refusing to play like a scratch golfer and finish me off. So to the 25th, with the light really fading - it was now well after 10 p.m. - and sprinklers now randomly coming to life around various greens, I hit a low duck-hook off the tee into a fence post that caused my ball to ricochet back onto the previous green, parallel to the tee. I burst out laughing, then took a drop and quickly played a decent 3-wood forward - quickly because sprinklers were gushing onto the green behind me, and I was fearful that I could get drenched at any moment. I was getting another stroke here, so I wasn't without hope; I had about 170 to the pin into the wind and over a burn, and I thought I hit another 3-wood well and pretty much right at the pin, but after Neil played onto the left side of the green, we went forward and simply never found my ball. It wasn't in the burn, but it wasn't over the green or in one of the greenside bunkers either (and it wasn't in the hole). I suspect it must have been in the burn, but at this point I called it a day and shook Neil's hand. (At which we point of course then had to walk the length of seven holes back to the clubhouse, which took us another 20 or 25 minutes...my smart watch tells me that I walked nearly 10 kilometers out there this evening.)