ASU Thunderbird Invitational & The Dreaded 36-hole Day

April 12, 2011 · James Blog

ASU Thunderbird Invitational – 72, 71, 69 (-1), T9

After failing to make the team for Vegas, I was happy to be back in the swing of things at our home ASU Thunderbird Invitational at Karsten GC. Unfortunately I wasn’t included in the starting line-up, but I played as an individual and knowing I would have a chance to win the tournament was enough motivation for me to prepare to my absolute best. Karsten is a golf course I am very comfortable with – I have played it probably over 100 times during my 4 years at ASU – but I wanted to make sure I knew every bunker, every pin and every read. I played the course probably 10 times in the space of 2 weeks, shooting well under par a couple of times and shooting 29 for the front nine on one occasion. By the time Saturday rolled around, I knew I was creating a lot of birdie and eagle chances and to win I would just have to convert them.

After almost 10 days straight of 90+ degree weather, the clouds predictably rolled in early Saturday morning and we played the entire first round in pouring rain. Being a Scot, and having played countless rounds in conditions that Americans would liken to the apocalypse, I was enjoying the weather and had my fingers crossed that it continued all weekend. Such was the extent of my confidence in the adverse conditions, I started my 7am round with 4 birdies in my first 5 holes. I tried to think back to the Eisenhower Trophy last October, where in howling winds and heavy rains I shot a bogey free 68 to drive Scotland into the top 10. My perseverance and patience would be to my advantage, but in Arizona, unlike in Scotland, rain isn’t followed by more rain, and sure enough after a few hours the sun showed up. I dunked it in the water on 18 from the right rough and never really recovered. At the completion of round 1, I had played 72 shots and was 6 behind the leader, my roommate, Scott Pinckney.

36 hole days in the UK are typically broken up with an hour for lunch. If the field is big, that break might only be 20 minutes, but it gives players a chance to regroup and catch their breath. In most countries, 36 hole days aren’t considered reasonable and are avoided altogether. College tournaments in the US, however, are littered with 36 hole days, and ONLY in this country have I seen time and time again, players being asked to walk straight from the 18th green to the 1st tee. No break, no lunch, no time to use the bathroom. “You’re late, please get to the 1st tee immediately.” The result is effectively a 10 hour round of golf; a never-ending slog that requires about 8 miles of walking and on average about 150 shots to be struck.

In addition, players are REQUIRED to carry their golf bags. The purpose of such a rule, who knows? On a rainy day such as Saturday was, my golf bag contained the following: 14 clubs, 9 golf balls, 3 soaking headcovers, 1 rangefinder, 50 tees, 2 pitchforks, about 5 quarters, a couple pencils, a set of keys, a wallet, a pair of mittens, a wooly hat, 2 towels (one damp, one saturated), a pair of socks, 1 jumper, 2 bananas, an apple and a bottle of water. Once the sun appeared for round 2, you can add to that a pair of waterproof trousers (wet) and a waterproof jacket (wet) and a large umbrella (wet). Needless to say, I believe asking players to drag these items around for 10 hours in cold, wet conditions with no break is both irresponsible and imprudent.

Perhaps parents and tournament organisers in the United States like to think they are toughening up their kids by making them haul that stuff around all day. Well, I’m certainly not a kid any more and the only toughening up I experienced were blisters on my feet and a sore back. Do not think I was alone in my displeasure. Rest assured, I was far from alone; 1st round leader Scott complained of soreness all over his legs at the end of round 2 and followed his 66 with a 74. San Diego State, tournament leaders with a couple holes left, playing in poor light and almost certainly on weary legs, finished with 4 double-bogeys and a triple on the 18th and fell 9 behind USC. Tournament over.

I suspect the reasoning behind the whole “36 straight” philosophy is to speed up play, but that also makes little sense. You speed up play by setting rules on slow play, and actually enforcing them. Penalise the culprits and actually do something about it. Starving the “innocent” players of rest or food achieves nothing.

The soap box is away, let me talk about the rest of the tournament. I began the 2nd round poorly; whether or not that was a result of tiredness or the fact I had to play about 5 shots whilst chewing on a sandwich is not important. What’s important is that having been 3-over-par for the round after 7 holes, I played excellent golf from there on in to shoot a level-par 71 with a bogey at my final hole. I still wasn’t converting enough birdie chances, but I had stayed patient and calm, despite my frustration, and played my way back into the tournament.

I figured that going into round 3 I needed about a 63 or 64 in order to make the leaders nervous. I began steadily, with birdies at my 1st and 5th holes to get 2 under par. When I bogeyed 16, my 7th hole, I lost all previous momentum and from that point onwards I knew getting back into contention would be a big ask. Good birdie opportunities at 17 and 18 were squandered, and when I finally made about a 10 footer for birdie on 1, I gave it back straight away with a dropped shot on 2. Squandered chances was again the story from that point onward, although I did make a great birdie on the 500 yard par 4 5th hole to reach -2, where I would remain until I stood on the 9th tee. Knowing I was probably inside the top 10 (my secondary goal), I figured I needed another par to stay there. The water that lines the right side of the fairway stared me in the face, and I pulled my drive left into nasty rough. From there I played one of my best shots of the tournament, a hard 4 iron from 205 yards that started on the flag and never left it. It pitched just past the pin, and bounced over the green into tangly rough, which I hacked out of to about 15 feet. My putt had perfect line and speed as soon as it left the blade, and when the ball dropped I smiled at a disappointing but certainly positive day.

The bonus is my T9 finish exempts me for The Far Western at Pasatiempo next week, a course which supposedly gave Alister MacKenzie the inspiration to design a reasonably well known course called Augusta.

With 4 tournaments left in my college career, I’m hopeful I can end it on a high note.

Sorry about particularly long post this week, but thanks for reading and for bearing with me. If you have any ideas on how to improve the 36-hole day format, please send me your comments or even better, send them to The Golf Coaches Association of America at as they have the power to actually do something!