To this day, I can still see the shot.
It was Aug. 8, 1990, and I hit what I thought was a perfect wedge on hole No. 2 at the Highland View Golf Course. As I watched the ball fly toward to stick, I thought T.J. Harrington was toast.
We were on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff in the boys’ 15-16 age group of the Butte-Silver Bow Junior City Golf Championship. T.J. was my opponent.
We both made par on the first hole of the playoff after shooting 78 to tie for first place in the division.
T.J. was at teammate of mine on the Butte Central golf tournament. He was about to be a senior, and I was going to be a sophomore. That spring, T.J. was No. 1 on the team, and I was No. 2.
Since T.J. played at the Country Club and I was a Muni kid, it was almost as if we were representing not only our course, but our people.
I wanted to win that tournament in the worst way, and my friends wanted me to win just as much. A crowd of 10 or 12 kids followed the playoff, and my Muni buddy Coley Crase, who won the 17-18 age group with a 77, carried my clubs for the playoff.
My hands literally shook the whole time, and I think T.J. was nervous, too. We did not say much, if anything, to each other as we played.
When it comes to golf, there is probably nothing more tense than a sudden-death playoff. It is really is as good as it gets. It is good for the players, too, because nothing makes or breaks your game like pressure.
Today, that playoff would never be played. At least it would not in a high school tournament.
Instead, ties are broken by the dreaded and absurdly anti-competitive scorecard playoff.
Yes, when it comes to high school tournaments, ties are decided by tournament officials who look at the scorecard. Sometimes they go backward from No. 18 and pick the first hole in which the two golfers did not tie.
If Player A took a par on hole No. 18, and Player B birdied it, the tournament title would go to Player B. Sometimes they have to go back several holes.
Other times, scorecard playoffs will go to holes on the card that are rated the hardest, then the next hardest.
No matter which way they do it, a scorecard playoff is unfair. It goes against the very competitive nature of the game. It is just plain wrong.
The scorecard playoff is nothing new. I saw it done a couple of times in my high school days, and there are many reasons why they do them.
For one thing, the courses that so generously host the tournaments want the high school players out of the way so their members can play.
The coaches and players, who just played a round that usually last well over five hours, also just want to go home. The bus drivers, too.
Nobody wants to stand around while ties are broken by sudden-death playoffs, which can take all day.
That happened at the 1996 Highland View Men’s Invitational when Mike Rapp needed nine holes of sudden death to beat Chad Petersen. It was probably the most intense nine holes of golf the course has ever seen.
Now, ties in regular-season high school golf tournaments are decided by the scorecard.
We saw that last week at the Butte Central Invitational. Livingston’s Avery Kelley was declared the loser of a scorecard playoff with Hamilton’s Jackson Heath after both players shot a 2-under-par 68.
How cool would it have been to see two players who just shot such great scores be put to the test in a pressure cooker of a sudden-death playoff?
Both players also deserved the chance to win that tournament the right way. If nothing else, they should have just been declared co-winners.
Scorecard playoffs are bad enough when they are used to break a tie for any place other that first. After all, as Ricky Bobby says, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
To use it to decide the winner of the tournament is downright criminal.
Can you imagine if they decided ties the same way in a high school football game? At the end of regulation, the visiting team is declared winner of the tie game because it outscored the home team 7-6?
Not a chance.
What about a baseball game? Should they break a tie by going back through the line score?
Actually, strike that last line from the record. We do not want to give Rob Manfred any more dumb ideas.
There have to be a million ways to break a tie that would beat a scorecard playoff. A putt off would be better. A chip off would be better.
Even playing rock, paper, scissors would at least make the tiebreaker somewhat sporting.
A scorecard playoff is worse than a tie, which they say is like kissing your sister.
On the second hole of the sudden-death playoff with T.J., I hit a beautiful drive right down the middle. T.J. hit his second shot a little short of the green, and I was set up for an approach shot from a little more than 100 yards out.
It was the perfect distance for my pitching wedge. I gave it a full swing, and it felt perfect.
I thought the ball was going to land on the green and stick to within a couple of feet of the hole. I was going to have a short, tournament-winning birdie putt.
Instead, my ball hit a hard spot on the green. It took a wicket hop over the fence and out of bounds.
A hush went over my crowd of Muni friends was they realized what just happened. Then, someone ahead yelled, “It’s out of bounds.” I knew I was toast.
In a cruel twist, Coley set my clubs down and slowly walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
The Muni was in terrible shape back in those days, which were right before Pete Yerkich took over as head greens keeper and turned the course around.
Then, the greens were not watered enough and the cups were changed only every few days.
So, I should have known better than to fly one right at the pin, even if it would have been a perfect shot had it landed a foot to the left. It was too risky on such an uneven course.
I played that course every single day, and the home-course advantage helped send me to the playoff in the first place.
T.J. chipped up close and tapped in for the par and the win.
Back at the clubhouse, T.J. was awarded the championship plaque, and I received a red second-place ribbon. I think I tossed it in the garbage without even looking at it.
I was devastated.
To this day, I think about that tournament 31 years ago. I think about that shot, and I think about what might have been.
I would give anything to get my hands on Uncle Rico’s time machine so I can go back and take a better, softer swing.
As bad as it was, though, I would not even think about trading that experience for a victory in a scorecard playoff.
— Bill Foley, who does not have a sister, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74