One pro proudly posted a 7. Another outdid himself and put a 13 on his scorecard. Everyone else was trying the best they could for even bigger numbers.
For one week, top players in the Metropolitan PGA ignored their golf DNA, which tells them the lower scores are preferable (and 1 on a hole is perfect). During the Treiber Memorial Tournament of Champions at Wheatley Hills, the credo read this way: the higher the score, the better. Thus, Charlie Meola of Mohansic Golf Club was not only pleased on Friday with the 15 on the leader board, he was the champion.
That is how it works in the Stableford scoring system. It doesn't go by strokes but by points, 8 for a double eagle, 5 for an eagle and 2 for a birdie. Par, normally the gold standard, counts as a zero. A bogey is minus-1 and anything worse is minus-3. So it pays to be daring because going bogey-birdie is worth more than going par-par.
"You can make 18 pars and you're down the road. It's not a U.S. Open-type format," said Jon Kudysch, the former Woodcrest pro after having just missed being in the senior division final four despite a plus-7 Thursday.
Kudysch, who has played in the U.S. Open, added that he often used the Stableford system in tournaments with his members. Never mind that, psychologically, aiming for big numbers is a little like asking a righthanded golfer to play lefty. The main point is that it is different, and it is a reminder that golf is supposed to be played, not worked.
The Treiber, based on the format the PGA Tour used to use in its International tournament, is a reminder to all golfers to stop being so preoccupied about breaking 100 or 90 or 80 or par that they miss out on the fun.
"Just go play. Just clear your mind and go play," said Nick Beddow, assistant pro at Great Rock Golf Club in Wading River, who finished the first round with an admirable 4 but missed the finals by coming in with a minus-4 Thursday. "You definitely play better and swing easier when you're not grinding about your score."
As for grinding about a score, "Everybody gets caught up in it," said Deepdale assistant pro Matt Dobyns. "The funny part is, the more you think about it, the more it hinders your ability to play the shot in front of you."
Dobyns and fellow Deepdale assistant Jeff Gschwind recently won the Met PGA Team Championship the conventional way, with a low score (9-under par). On Thursday at Wheatley Hills, though, Dobyns' minus-4 was not helpful. Still, he liked the change-of-pace scoring.
The pros said the Stableford system encourages golfers to go boldly after birdies and eagles, especially on Wheatley Hills' five par 5s and two short par 4s. They added that they had to be conservative on par putts because if they missed the bogey putt coming back, the minus-3 for a double bogey would be a real pain.
On the other hand, it doesn't matter if you make a double- , triple- or quadruple-bogey. Each is a minus-3. "I happen to like this format because I don't have to putt anything out for more than a double," Dobyns said with a grin. Host pro Jamie Kilmer, who reached the final Friday, said, "It picks up the pace of play and it takes away the thought that you can make a 9 and it screws up your whole round."
A lesson in that for amateur golfers is that a 9 shouldn't mess up your whole day, no matter what. The score on one hole or even in one round should not overwhelm the whole golf experience. "I tell people, rather than keep score, to go out and see how many times you can repeat your routine. And put that down on your card," Kilmer said.
Pros point out that in Scotland, the game's native country, many golfers do not even keep score in recreational rounds.
"It's funny, when you get a little bit older, you get a different perspective on a lot of things," Kudysch said. "Golf is supposed to be fun. Basically, if you can have some fun when you play, you're going to play well. It's a mind game, really and you have to not put that pressure on yourself. Tomorrow, you get a brand new scorecard. See what you can do tomorrow and don't worry about it."