I have played in some amazing destinations but once landing in Papua New Guinea, its understandable to have mixed emotions. One side you’re a little concerned about the unknown (your safety) the other is letting yourself settle into the untouched by our modern privileges that we all take for granted.
The jump across the pacific was far from smooth sailing. Landing in the capital (Port Moresby) at 1:30pm on Monday and being firstly delayed then cancelled without much communication, food or water, my patience was truly challenged. Forty guys with golf clubs and luggage in tow we had to spend the night in POM (Port Moresby) after a solid 10 hours at the Port Boringsby airport. We didn’t meet our security transfer in Lae (Home of the Morobe open) until 10:30am on Tuesday a mere 18 hours later than expected which challenged my new found patience and had me toying with the idea of jumping straight back on a flight to Brisbane.
Lae is the second largest city in Papua New Guinea and has been hosting the Morobe Open I believe since the early 80’s. The clubs hospitality is second to none and we as players are always grateful for the open arms that the club and its members offer to us for without them it wouldn’t be possible. Despite the bad reputation Lae has developed in recent years (namely for crime) it is still a very bearable and enjoyable place to spend time. There has been many tales over the years from players regarding their close calls and safety concerns but the security guards who patrol the course with their trained guard dogs and hand made bow and arrows ensure that we are kept safe while we are playing. To paint a visual, almost everywhere that is worth while is protected by a barbed wire fence and 24 hour security. The course itself is a fun layout that can play short depending on the weather conditions. Known as “Rainy Lae” as the city gets an average of 3500mm of rain per calendar year, the 5th wettest city on Earth. In Summer its very sunny, hot and humid and this week was no different giving the locals a flavoursome, distinctive body odor which they can in no way help.
Battling performance anxiety previously, it was refreshing that stepping into this week I had no such emotions, i just wanted to enjoy the week and see where my game was at. Maybe I was just distracted by PNG but either way it was a nice change. Highlights from the week included a bogey free weekend and visiting Lae’s play school one morning thanks to our Ella who does an amazing job running her little school with all her smart students. Furry (Ray, Ella’s partner) took us on a Friday afternoon 4wd trip to a secluded waterfall in the hills an hour outside of Lae, truly a great experience meeting and speaking with the father of the local PNG family who were more than happy to have use share in their piece of natural beauty. The first week in Lae finished with a presentation dinner and a few green cans (The Local canned SP Brewery Lager) but only a few as we had a scheduled 7am departure.
Week one was over and we were off to Port Moresby, the 7th most dangerous city in the world according to some for the Papua New Guinea open. Stepping onto the plane i was feeling great about where my game was at despite finishing 21st in Lae. I knew a good game plan around Royal Port Morseby would go a long way to helping my chances of the W, a nice pay day and most importantly for someone with no status anymore, the two year tour exemption on the Australiasia tour. My goals were to stay patient and hopefully by sticking to my game plan and trusting where my game was at after the hard work that i have put in, I would be there come the back 9 on Sunday. I couldn’t have expected a better opportunity though then what i gave myself after coming home in -5 the last 5 holes on Saturday to give me the 54 hole lead.
The tale of Sunday wouldn’t be fair to tell without some drama. Playing the third hole of the day and starting scrappy to say the least, I noticed my playing partner who was at the time 3 shots behind make a rules violation. I did make it known to him that he had done something wrong with the way that he had replaced his ball after taking relief from the lift clean and place rule that the tour had set at the start of the week. The rule states roughly that a player may mark his position on the closely mown area only, clean and place the ball within one club length of it original position. This means that once the ball is placed back down and his fingers have released that ball, the ball is deemed in play and that is where the player must play from even if it rolls from there and stays within the one club length. My playing partner who won’t be named, clearly released his ball, didn’t like his lie and changed it again. It is my job as his marker to let him know that this is in fact a violation of the rules and we must seek the advice of the rules official to see what the penalty is. Well, after a 20 minutes delay, he changed his story several times and in the end it was his word against mine and proceeded without penalty even though he had stated that he had been “doing it that way all week”. This wasn’t exactly easy to take on the 3rd hole and the old Ray would have imploded and thrown away all of my chances as it was clear what had happened but I felt like I had dealt with it in the best way possible and put it in the back on my mind and went on about my business.
Now I would like to say that my comeback had a fairy tale ending and it would have if it was a 69 hole tournament. Fighting hard with my “B” ball striking game that day, I held a 1 shot lead stepping onto the 16 hole (which i had an idea about but wasn’t certain as there were no updated leader boards on course apart from our groups). I stuck with the club from my game plan all week long and committed as good as I knew how to. However, my old habits a different plan and as good as i had faked it well up into this point all week, it wasn’t going to cut it under the pressure. After finding the water with my first tee shot, I played a smart shot to the fat side of the green, barely missing it and catching an awful bounce that bounded off a rock hard, bare lie into the water over the back on the green. Tough to swallow as I had done such a great job until now.
So it wasn’t the dream week I had hoped for but for someone who didn’t even own clubs until 8 weeks before hand, it could be considered as somewhat of a “win.” Tied 5th after rounds of 72, 67, 67, 76, I now know what i need to do moving forward and I have reminded myself most importantly that I can mix it with my peers again.