Punta Cana- Cap Cana Championship

The Dominican Republic sports numerous challenging golf courses including Pete Dye’s incomparable Teeth of the Dog and the Champions Tour has been coming to Punta Cana for the last four years. Jack Nicklaus designed a challenging tract with eight holes directly touching the stunning blue Caribbean waters and a layout weaving around ancient underwater ocean formations. The first and second tees are perched on limestone cliffs, once submerged but now overlooking the Cap Cana Oceanside resort, the Caribbean, and on a clear night the lights from Puerto Rico.

The par three thirteenth signature hole resembles Cypress Point’s sixteenth with a funky green design. With the ever present winds the hole is next to impossible from the back tees so the officials moved us up two tee boxes within six iron range and it was still the second toughest hole. Rumor has it Jack showed for the grand opening and after listening to complaints about thirteen’s difficulty knocked a rescue club in the hole from the back tee. An ace for Jack and a silencing of his critics, timing is everything; he’s been known to rise to the occasion.

We used to play tournaments in Puerto Rico but this was my first trip to the Dominican and I was looking forward to my third week with Jim. He was getting more comfortable with the Champions Tour, we were jelling, and he was only a couple of shots away from top tens the last two weeks. The weaker field, windy conditions, and a chance to get into some warm weather for awhile raised our hopes. We weren’t expecting this much heat, sorry it’s hard to complain, but it was too hot down here. Sunscreen was lathered on every three or four hours and the first day I missed the back of my neck, quite a mistake.

I landed late Monday night after flying all day, the local tournament officials shuffled the players and caddies through a VIP customs booth, and I was settled into my Punta Cana Hotel and Resort room by ten. Starved, thirsty, and road weary I went searching for a cold one and a bite to eat. Sorry, no food after ten, room service starts at midnight, and El Presidente beers were five dollars plus a mandatory 26% gratuity and tax. The walk from the hotel lobby to my antiquated room was a good half mile, luckily it was along the beach, and I settled for lukewarm bottled water and a couple of Cliff bars before crawling into a musty bed.

Tuesday I walked the back nine, met Jim about 1:30 for a quick eighteen, and we discussed strategy, how things were going, and the NCAA tournament. Jim bleeds Syracuse Orange and the Final Four was in his sights. I don’t think Thursday’s loss affected the first round but things seemed a bit flat, we just couldn’t get anything going. After making a bunch of birdies in the Wednesday pro-am with some very excitable locals we were honestly discussing a top ten finish and being in the hunt come Sunday. His chest cold and a Dominican Montezuma’s revenge may have been the culprit. Our even par round left us in the middle of the pack and only three shots out of top ten, all was still okay.

We started Saturday’s round with a bogey on ten, righted the ship and kept paddling, then finished with a smooth 67 after birdying four of the last six holes. He’s starting to gain some composure and confidence even when the round is difficult and five under left us tied for twelfth paired with Craig Stadler and Jeff Sluman Sunday. It’s nice to see your name on the leaderboard, late Saturday afternoon. We’re starting to become grinders out here and that’s what you need to do each week waiting for that stretch when the putts drop and all the bounces go your way.

Things were slow Sunday and a catastrophic double on the short par four eighth really hurt. Making double from the middle of the fairway with a wedge in your hand is always tough to take especially when your playing partner, Sluman, chips in for birdie after knocking his second shot thirty yards over the green, and you get three bad breaks on successive shots. The hole was designed for extreme reward or disaster, we saw both Sunday. We got it out of our system, moved on, and finished even for the day tied for 23rd, Jim’s best finish so far.

We’ve all conceded that when Freddie shows up we’ll be playing for second. Corey Pavin was leading by two, shot 66 Sunday and still lost the title. Fred had five straight birdies on the front and the back, shot a new course record 62 and won by two. He may break Hale Irwin’s record of nine wins in a year.

We were holed up all week at the resort with minimal transportation so I didn’t get to see much of the island. I did get to reconnect with a lot of my old buddies, some new caddies, and spent some nights telling stories with the veterans. A lot of the caddies were referring to our hotel as lockdown because there was no place to go and little to do, but we made the best of it. There was usually a gathering every night at the pizza joint and Pavin’s caddy caught a white marlin which he shared with a few of us Saturday night. Other than that it was golf and not much else.

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