So while standing on the first tee, it was hard to ignore the thought of being in over my head. The golf gods had already extended what I assumed was the limit of their generosity, by stopping a 3-day long rainstorm just before my tee time. To think that anything good would be on the scorecard at the end my day at Bay Hill was severely pushing my luck.
The downside to playing any course for the first time is the lack of local knowledge that is virtually priceless. As with my trip to Reunion the previous week, I reached out to a trusted source for a little advice. In this case, a former champion of the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Although this was my first time playing Bay Hill, I have studied the course for years on television, so I wasn't completely in the dark. Not to mention the 51 I once scored here on the Xbox was a real confidence booster. Still, Rod's advice was valuable, yet mostly ignored, considering my drive on the first hole nestled itself under willow tree.
|The Practice Range and Lodge|
Coming to terms with the fact this would be a difficult day of golf, I decided for the first time in my life to let go of the urge to score well, and instead enjoy the walk - read: drive a cart - in the footsteps of Arnie and Tiger.
|Where on Earth do I hit it here?|
Throughout the day, there were two things that I learned at Bay Hill. First, driving the ball well is far from a guarantee of success, because there was an overabundance of insanely difficult 2nd shots. For example, I faced this on the 3rd hole...
And this on the 5th...
And then this beauty on the 13th...
The second thing I learned at Bay Hill is ignoring the score is 100% impossible for me. I tried to keep the whole "enjoy the walk with history" thing going, but behind every green stood an imaginary scoreboard with my name on it.
|The most sun I saw all day...|
I came to the 16th hole eight over par for my round. Three pars and I would shoot a very respectable 80 on the day, but the allure of 79 sounded a whole lot better. I stood in the fairway with 230 yards and a creek between my ball and the green. Knock it on, and it's an easy birdie. Leave it short, and I'm swimming with the fishes.
|The creek looked smaller from further away...|
I paused for a moment and asked myself "What would Arnie do?" Then, as if I'd shouted "Accio 3-wood," the club magically came out of the bag, and I was going for broke. I hit what might have been the most solid shot of the day, I just happened to hit it 1 yard too short...
|So close...yet so far...|
My goal in every round of golf is to at least finish well. There is nothing worse than walking off the course having face-planted on the last hole. The 18th at Bay Hill is one of the more difficult holes on Tour, and also happened to be the site of the Tiger highlights above. With a relatively easy shot remaining into the green, I tasted a little mud to end the day.
|Yes, that white spec is my ball, and I played it...|
In the end, I managed an 83. If Vegas had given me over/under odds at the start, I would have put $20 on the over, so I can't really complain. The shot of the day came on the par 3 fourteenth, where I smoked a 4-iron into a stiff wind to about 15 feet from the hole. Big surprise, I missed the putt...
|Perhaps I was distracted by the flowers...|
Bay Hill was easily the most difficult course I've faced so far on Deej's Florida Swing. Unlike the resort courses of Sandestin and Reunion before it, the layout at Bay Hill requires the golfer to play smart from tee to green, with a very narrow margin for error. Putting the ball in the fairway is definitely a start, however at that point your job is only beginning.
|"The Gamez Plate" ~Johnny Miller|
I thoroughly enjoyed my walk in the footsteps of The King, and can understand why he's called Bay Hill home for all these years. I may have missed the opportunity to create a Sportscenter highlight on #18, but I doubt Tiger couldn't shoot 51 on the Xbox. For now, that will just have to do.
Special thanks to Bay Hill for hosting Deej's Florida Swing. As always, all opinions are my own...