Matt Lowe stood off the 18th green where the 14-year-old had just claimed the latest victory in a golfing career that has already seen many.
The top high-school golfer on Long Island was asked where this win ranked on his long list of accomplishments. "I'm going to be perfectly frank with you, quite low," Lowe responded.
Twenty-four hours after I challenged him to a round of mini-golf, Lowe and I approached the first hole on Miniature Golf Mountain at Heartland Golf Park in Brentwood.
As the only customers willing to brave the chilling winds, the course was all ours. The fewer witnesses the better, I thought.
It was dubbed a battle between prodigy and pencil pusher. Lowe vs. Gavin - Lowe, a freshman on the Farmingdale golf team whose golf accolades have graced the front cover of newspapers, and Gavin, a novice golfer who has never completed a round of golf without conceding a hole so as not to draw the ire of the group behind us.
Advantage Lowe in experience and talent. Advantage Gavin in age and size, neither of which applies to golf.
Let the games begin
On the horseshoe-shaped first hole, Lowe calmly banked his first shot off the back wall to within a foot of the cup. I followed with a soft shot that failed to make it up the incline, rolled back down to my feet, and wound up farther from the hole than my original spot.
The gallery of three prepared for a long afternoon.
Long afternoons have become commonplace for Lowe's opponents. Lowe, at 14, won Nassau's individual tournament in May, becoming the youngest winner in county history. Along with fellow freshman Kyle Brey, he helped Farmingdale (14-0) complete an undefeated season earlier this week, extending their winning streak to 42 league matches. Also joining Lowe on the team this year was his 12-year-old sister Alix, who made the boys team as an eighth grader and went 5-2 in seven matches.
Not so fast, Lowe
Lowe easily parred the first six holes, taking a four-stoke lead to the par-3 7th, where I birdied to win my first hole. I then parred the 8th, an inclined tee box where you must skip the ball over a stream of water, and the 9th, a sloped green where the hole rests up an incline, as Lowe double-bogeyed each.
To the amazement of the golfing world, I took a one-stroke lead to the back nine and officially awoke a sleeping giant.
Lowe was born into golf. "My dad took me down to the basement when I was young and we just cut out this little hole. We had a rubber tee, a couple plastic clubs and a ball," he said. "If you put a small weapon in a child's hands and give him something to hit they get pretty hooked."
Ever since, he has used those weapons to make Long Island golf courses his victim. The first time he broke 90? Bethpage Yellow at 9. 80? Bethpage Black at 11. 70? Bethpage Yellow at 12. He shot a career-best 6-under 66 at Bethpage Blue at 14 last spring.
Not so fast, Gavin
My lead disappeared faster than Greg Norman's at the 1996 Masters. Lowe parred the 10th after a beautiful first shot up a steep embankment set up a tap-in to pull even. He then perfectly read the break on 13, where he regained a one-stroke lead.
After I had a near hole-in-one painfully rim out on the three-tiered 14th, Lowe and I each sent our tee shots on 15 into the rough four feet beyond the hole. Lowe's par putt carried just left while mine found the hole, evoking a Tiger-like fist pump, to pull even heading to the 16th hole. Lowe avoided the long narrow trap down the center of the green on 16 to regain a one-stroke lead.
The 17th, with a deceivingly steep slope that will forever haunt me, is what cost me mini-golf's version of the green jacket. Our tee shots landed side-by-side in a large patch of rough six feet from the hole. I sent putts back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball for double-bogey as Lowe effortlessly sunk his par putt to take a three-stroke lead.
Fight to the finish
Needing a miracle hole-in-one and a four-putt from Lowe on 18, my prayer to the golfing gods was nearly answered. He pulled his first shot left and my 30-plus footer rode just over the lip of the cup. He recovered to sink his par putt for the win, 5-over 42 to 9-over 46, as I tapped in my bogey putt for nothing but pride.
"I was not that nervous going out there but then you started to whip me around a little bit," Lowe said. "I knew if I focused and grinded it out, this would be a cruise-control victory."
His father, Mike, told me, "I was trying to root for you, but really deep down inside I wanted him to crush you."
It was a four-stroke victory for Lowe, but a moral victory for myself. Whether Lowe took it easy on me or not is a secret that will forever remain between him and his putter.
'Can you beat a 9th-grader?'
Shortly after, Lowe - who added 50 yards to his swing this year - headed for the real golf course for a charity event titled "Can You Beat a Ninth-Grader?" Stationed at the par-3, 136-yard second hole, Lowe challenged each member of nine foursomes, 36 grown men and women, who paid five dollars each for the privilege of losing the hole to Lowe.
Much like I did, they learned the hard, humiliating way just how inferior they are on a golf course to someone less than half their age. What are the chances of beating ninth-grader Matt Lowe?
I'm going to be perfectly frank with you, quite low.