The 2018 Cowboy Cup Invitational was contested this past Sunday and, as always, it lived up to its reputation as a tournament of compelling competition and high prestige. This year, a field of 20 teed it up at Grey Rock Golf Club in hopes of having the elegant jacket slipped on their shoulders and hoisting the beautiful silver trophy. The handicaps ranged from a salty 2 to a solid 10, and some players travelled in from as far as Houston, Fort Worth, and Rockport. And on a hot and breezy day, scoring again reflected the pressure and nerves of a major, with only one player besting his handicap. That player was Patrick Giles, the tall, dignified Muny Rat stalwart who went off in the first group of the day and fired a gross 76, which was the low round of the day and earned him Medalist honors. With his 5 handicap, that score put him at net -1 at the end of regulation and earned him a spot in the Final Four with Billy Mutschler(5) at even par, Mark Herrin(5) at +1, and David Williams(10) at +2. Beer coolers were refilled, caddie’s were chosen, and those four, along with a sizeable gallery, headed to the 10th tee to play a final nine for all the marbles.

It’s very interesting what can happen to a weekend golfer who finds himself or herself in front of a gallery (particularly of close friends and golfing rivals,) with championship glory on the line. Adrenaline often causes the pulse to increase, the small muscles in the hands and wrists to tense and take over, and the swing to become nervy and self-conscious. It’s at these times when the game can render you naked and exposed for all the world to see. After four confident opening tee shots found the narrow fairway on #10, this phenomenon began to rear its ugly head, with each of the 5-handicappers hooking their approaches left of the green, leaving them short-sided to a tight front pin. It was the 10 handicapper, Williams, who hit the most serviceable approach, with his ball finishing just off the left side of the green.

But even Williams tightened up on his pitch, sending it way past the hole. After missing the come-backer, Williams made bogey while the others  sent their pitches woefully short or long, and, missing short putts in the end, finished with double bogeys. This put Williams ( who had popped on that hole ) now just one stroke behind Giles as they headed to the 11th. There, the nervy play continued and, over the next three holes, only one par was made - by Giles, on the par four 12th. 

It was now a full-on grind fest, with only Williams staying close to Giles’s lead as they approached the par five 14th. It was here that the championship narrative began to form, and Giles and Mutschler began to assert themselves as the true contenders. Perhaps it was Giles’s experience as a former tour caddy that allowed him to settle back into his game. Perhaps it was Mutschler’s experience in the final group in last year’s Cowboy Cup that helped him regain focus. Whatever the reason, it was those two who made crucial pars ( net birdies ) on the hole while Herrin and Williams bogeyed. That put the standings at Giles +1, Williams +4, Mutschler +5, and Herrin + 7. Williams would get a stroke on 18, but other than that, it would be straight up golf from there on out. 

     Mutschler had started the final nine with three straight 6’s. But once he settled  his nerves with that par, and needing to make up 4 strokes, he decided to go flag hunting. A solid approach on the short par four 15th and a curvy 15 foot putt resulted in the group’s first birdie. And with Giles and Williams both bogeying, Mutschler suddenly found himself in solo second, only 2 strokes back. With teebox honors on the difficult par three 16th, Mutschler pounced again, firing a 5 iron to within 4 feet of the pin. The challenge was issued. Mutschler was on offense. But Giles was next and, not to be outdone, fired his own mid-iron to within 5 feet!  The gallery was now energized by these two players rising to the occasion, but when they both narrowly missed their birdie putts, Giles’s lead remained at 2 strokes, with him at +2, Mutschler still at +4, and Williams and Herrin now at a fading +7. The reachable par five 17th was next, and both Giles and Mutschler hit good drives and went for the green in two. Giles, however, pushed his shot into deep fescue to the right of the green while Mutschler’s approach settled pin high on the left fringe. After hacking his ball out into the primary cut of rough, Giles would now desperately need to get up and down for par, as Mutschler was looking at an excellent chance for birdie. Mutschler’s eagle putt missed, leaving him a 3 foot comebacker. Then Giles, summoning all his touch and experience, deftly pitched his ball to within tap-in range for par, ensuring him at least a one stroke lead going into the last. But when Mutschler’s putt shockingly slid by, Giles strode to the 18th tee with a 2 stroke cushion. Mutschler, still with the honors, hit his tee ball a little too well and found the fairway bunker at the end of the dogleg. Giles then calmly split the fairway with a 3 iron . Mutschler faced a difficult approach and, pulling his shot to the left, found the green side bunker. Giles then confidently stepped up and hit a solid and committed short iron safely onto the front of the green. And when a deflated Mutschler’s sand shot sailed over the green, Giles knew it was his moment. A cautious approach putt left him 7 feet short of the hole, and drew a chorus of good-natured “meow”s from the gallery. And though his par putt slipped by, he marked, waited for the others to finish out, then tapped in for the victory. Having captured the TS34 with a flawless 70 at Lions two weeks prior, this was his second major victory in as many tries this year, giving him a shot at an unprecedented third leg of the “Rat Slam,” when the Dollar Open is contested in Mid-August. At the closing ceremony, former champion Mike McBurney slipped the jacket on Giles’s shoulders and lit him a fine cigar. Tournament Chairman, Andy Boutot, presented Giles with the trophy, the low gross medal and the accompanying bottles of whiskey for each award. Loaded down with hardware and fine spirits in each arm,  Giles was customarily humble and gracious in victory, offering simply, “ I’ve been working on my game. I played well. It was a great tournament.” Indeed, it was. All had enjoyed the competition and camaraderie and a toast was raised to a fine champion.

As Bobby Jones once said, “In order to win, you must play your best golf when you need it most, and play your sloppy stuff when you can afford it.“ Patrick Giles had done just that.

2018 Cowboy Cup