Knowing what to do and then doing it is not easy

February 3, 2017

The connection between knowing what to do and being able to do it can be a bit tenuous, especially in the heat of competition. 

That was evident in the Round of 16 match between Michael McDermott and Derek Busby at the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

McDermott, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., made 16 previous USGA championship appearances. Busby, from Ruston, La., doesn’t have the same USGA pedigree, but he finished fourth in the medal play portion of the 2016 Mid-Am, won his Round of 64 match 7-and-6, and then won his Round of 32 match 3-and-2 before facing McDermott. 

Both men started out well. McDermott went one-up on the first hole with a birdie, and tied the second. Busby made a fine birdie on the third hole, conceding McDermott’s par.

McDermott said later, “I started out birdie, birdie, par, and I walked past my parents. The match was even; he went par, birdie, birdie. I said to my dad, I’m not going to win this with any mediocre effort. I have to play lights out against this guy.“

The 395-yard fourth hole proved McDermott’s point, but not in a good way. Busby’s drive finished 118 yards out in the fairway. His approach landed 10 feet from the hole. McDermott drove into the right rough, with trees blocking a direct shot toward the hole. His approach landed on the green 60 feet away, and his first putt slid 7 feet past the hole. McDermott made bogey, while Busby made a routine two-putt to go one-up. 

McDermott also hit a wayward tee shot on No. 6 that only reached the fairway because it bounced hard against a tree in the left rough. Busby continued to play quietly, quickly and well, and made nice recoveries, including a blast out of a greenside bunker on the seventh hole to 6 inches for a conceded par. 

Both golfers had trouble with the par 4 eighth hole. Busby’s second shot from the left rough stopped 37 yards out, but he made a good pitch to 6 feet and made par. 

McDermott made bogey to bring Busby to two-up, while showing that even the best golfers can sometimes look just like the rest of us. His second shot came to rest 100 yards from the green, under a tree.  

Here’s how he described it: “Off that sidehill lie I shanked it, which you can do when the ball’s basically at your waist. It was worth a shot because he was going to get up and make par, which he did. But I’m in grass this thick, and there’s a branch sort of hanging here, and there’s a little window, and I have to get it up really high. There’s nothing else.  

“So I said ‘give me 58’ to my caddie, and I said I’m just going to whack away, and I hit it. I didn’t hear clapping, but I think it’s because nobody knew how ridiculous of a shot I was attempting. And then I got it on the green, and said I have to make this putt. I didn’t. My caddie said they would have put a plaque there if I made that putt.”

I think the fact that he laughed it off helped McDermott. He bounced back on the next hole with a routine par, while Busby made a rare mistake, missing the green and making bogey. The Louisianan was still one-up.

That’s how things stood until the 16th hole, with McDermott keeping the honor the whole time. Here’s how he described it:

“I felt like that was helpful because I sort of know where his ball’s going to go. He was going to hit it down the middle, [then] he was going to hit it at the pin – his wedge game’s incredible. I think it was helpful not to be polluted with good images of my opponent before [making my own swings],” he laughed. “Because that’s what the front nine was, watching him stripe it. My caddie and I were saying, ‘He’s just a machine.’ Fortunately I made those putts to keep it around.”

The match returned to all square on the par 4 16th hole. After a fine drive, McDermott’s second shot landed in the right rough, 22 feet from the hole. Busby’s drive finished in a dried-out patch in the left rough, and his second shot finished 29 yards from the center of the green. His chip to 10 feet led to a conceded bogey, after McDermott chipped to 15 inches for his conceded par. 

Both made good pars on the 17th hole, bringing the match to the par 4 18th 

At the tee box, Busby showed the first signs of nervousness. He took extra time to hit his drive, and yelled downrange to have a volunteer move farther away from the right rough, where he was stationed to find any balls hit in that direction. Busby then hit a great drive to the center of the fairway 137 yards out, and an even better second shot to 5 feet past the hole.  

McDermott’s drive landed in the right rough, but he also hit a fine second shot to 12 feet short of the hole. His first putt stopped 3 inches away for the conceded par. 

Busby’s first putt slid about a foot and a half past the hole. Everyone around the green assumed the two men would be going on to extra holes. 

But Busby’s par putt lipped out. The match was over. He quickly gathered his items, shook hands and left the green, clearly stunned. 

McDermott was gracious about his good fortune: “He gave me a putt on 18. Obviously, that’s where the match ended, but there was a lot of good golf. This is not the last time you’re going to hear from that guy in this tournament.” 

I think he’s right. Based on how Busby played this round, I expect him to make that kind of short putt the next time he has the chance.