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After his successful participation in the 2014 DR Open, Casa de Campo Living had the opportunity to interview Michael Buttacavoli to find out about his experience in the competition… and taming the Teeth of the Dog.
@cdcliving: Tell us a bit about your experience in the tournament.
It’s been an awesome week. Family and friends from my home course came in town and I’ve been at their house all week. I invited my coach to come as well, so my coach has been here all week. It’s been great. Been able to go home, watch movies, play cards, watch sports, it’s been a great way to spend the week.
@cdcliving: Do you think that them being here played a part in your win today?
Absolutely. Having my coach with me is always helpful. I trust his opinion and having the support of friends, who are practically family and have supported my career as a golfer even before I was a professional, just helps to put you at ease.
@cdcliving: Tell us about today, I understand you were not the favorite to win?
Probably not. If I had to guess it was probably Rick, because he’s been up there so much. Rick’s a great player, this is the first time I’ve ever played with him, but I’ve seen his name there a lot. He also started off great, the front nine, he really started strong. I kept up with him for the first two holes and made two birdies on the first two and then made two bad bogies and I birded nine and he made eagle. I was 4 or 5 down. In reality at that point I was thinking you can’t get down just because somebody’s going crazy. That’s golf, you never know what’s going to happen. I knew the last 4 holes were really difficult and at the end of the day if you can’t win second is not so bad. If somebody goes out and shoots 64 and you lose by two then you shake his hand at the end of the day and say good job. You just have to keep fighting and that’s what I did. I made a bad bogey on 10, but then I just went on a run. He made a few bogies and then coming down through 15 and 18 along the water you walk right through that walkway out to 15 tee and you just feel the wind coming right at you and you know the next four holes are going to be tough.
So I knew I was down 3 with 4 to go. I knew anything could happen. I made it a great up and down on 15, great par on 16 and 17 and just had an absolutely perfect shot on 18. So it worked out in my favor.
@cdcliving: Was there any advice that anyone gave you to pull you through that last bit and pushed you to come back from behind as you did?
It’s my coach, it’s my friends, my mom, my dad, my brother, it’s all the people that have supported me and told me I could do it. Just hearing them in your head throughout the day and throughout the week. You keep telling yourself just that over and over: You can do it. Everybody’s going to hit bad shots, everybody is going to have bad holes, but my mum sent me a text everyday to motivate me, telling me she loves me and she knows I can do it. Eventually things are going to work in your favor and I have been there enough times when things haven’t gone my way. Sometimes I’ve played ok and I still haven’t won just because I got outplayed, but you learn from all that. That is the beauty of this tour, you have such great competition and you gain experience. I think that was really all it was those last 8 holes: experience. That regardless of Rick starting off great and not having an idea of what anybody else was doing, the knowing that anything could happen and I knew that if I started playing well and put some pressure on, it could suddenly turn in my favor and it did.
@cdcliving: What was going through your mind during the playoff?
It was crazy. I definitely felt I had an advantage having finished strong. Rick not having ended well. We got to play 18, where he hadn’t hit a good drive yesterday. He hit birdie yesterday because he hit an incredible recovery shot, but he hadn’t hit a good drive yesterday, hadn’t hit a good drive today and I’ve played the hole well. Apart from one bogie I put my ball where I needed to and I made a birdie in regulation, I also birdied it one of the other days. I felt pretty comfortable playing the hole. I just wanted to get it on the green, I knew that with him on the fairway getting it on the green was important and I didn’t play as aggressive as I did in regulation, but I got it on the green, which is what I needed to do and unfortunately I couldn’t convert the two putt from really far away.
He shot way past me on nine. I knew I had to make birdie and make him make eagle to win. If he makes eagle then you shake his hand and congratulate him because he’d deserve it. Yet his shot just came up short and he hit a great chip. I was in quite an awkward spot and I knew how sloped it was around the hole and I hit a great putt from off the green. Then we got to go back to 18, where I felt like lets avoid the ninth hole again, because with his length I felt he had a little bit of an advantage, I had trouble getting it to that hole with a six iron just because the ball would not stop. Going down 18 I hit a hybrid again down the tee, I left myself pretty far back, but it was kind of where I’d been every time I had played the hole today. I mean I could have been a little more aggressive, he tried to be but ended in the bunker. I felt comfortable with a six or seven arm from the fairway and it worked out. It’s a really nice feeling.
@cdcliving: How do you rank the Teeth of the Dog?
I’ve heard a lot about it. There’s a lot of members from my course that come play the Sugar Tournament. A lot of members from my course have houses here, so I’ve heard some great things about it. My coach had played it a long time ago and he said it was a special place and thought it was even better now that when he played. And it was, it lived up to it. It’s just a very challenging golf course. I think Pete Dye did a great job of making it very risk-reward. I think it’s more risk than reward actually. There is times where you have to take your medicine and say I am going to put the ball here even though the flag is there and that is kind of how I played the course. All 72 holes were really about trying to keep to my game plan and the few times I got too aggressive it cost me. At the end of the week it was a really special place and it really means a lot to win here.
@cdcliving: Did you think the Teeth of the Dog represents any unique challenges?
Absolutely. I grew up in Miami and unfortunately we don’t have any golf courses that are really right along the water. At least not down where I live and you come here and you are so close to the water that you get these really gusty winds. The gusty winds with the typical, fairly small peaked eye greens, where just hitting it into the middle of the green is a good shot, you’re standing there and you think: “Man, hitting it into the middle of the green is a hard shot, I’m not even thinking about the pin.” Through 15 and 16 I wasn’t even looking at the pin and it was still a very intimidating shot to try to make it to the middle of the green. You don’t get many courses like that. Usually one can hit it to the middle of the green no problem, but up here you’re getting some areas where hitting it to the middle of the green is tough and especially 15 through 18. Then you go to the front nine and you have holes like 4, 5, 7 and 8, where you are right against the water. 6 is a great hole too, the green is a little bit bigger, which helps, but there are just a lot of really good golf holes out there.
@cdcliving: Is there any particular one that stood out as being most challenging?
For me, I thought 17 was the hardest. This was purely because it required a very good tee shot. I hit driver in the practice round because it was playing very much into the wind and it was alright, but then the tournament started and the tee was a little bit towards the front of the box and it was a right to left wind, and suddenly the water starts to look a little bigger. So I didn’t want to be quite as aggressive and was hitting three wood, I hit hybrid the last two days and was leaving myself 6 or 5 iron. That green is extremely narrow and you have an into wind that was quartering in from the right, a little right to left. If you hit it into the left bunker you had an extremely difficult shot as you have an overhanging tree that blocks you, if you hit it right you’re in the water. You’re almost intentionally trying to hit it to the front of the green, which is what my coach and I discussed. To play that hole, hit it to the front left, even if you have to chip up, that’s how you play the hole. It almost plays like a par 4 and a half, if I could be inside of 10 feet for par, then I played the hole well. In reality I hit it in the water off the tee for the first round, but besides that I made three pars, which was really big especially coming down the stretch today.
@cdcliving: Do you have a favorite hole?
I think 5 is just a beautiful hole. The 5th hole I think is fantastic. I think all the photos that I posted on Instagram this week were from that hole. It is such a great short par three. To get to a hole, where usually from the back is 176, but it was playing downwind and you’re not even looking at the middle of the green, you’re laying it on the front right and the ball is going to roll out. It’s such a great hole and such a difficult hole, because things can change so quickly there. I went and I made 4 there today. I went and I thought I hit an OK shot that the wind just took and it ended up in the back bunker. Then you’re just off the green and you’re suddenly looking at the flag and all you can see is the water behind the green, so it’s not an easy chip either. The level of difficulty for being a hole that doesn’t look too bad and combine that with the view, is pretty unbelievable.
@cdcliving: How would you describe the Teeth of the Dog to someone who has not played it before?
Testing. It tests your patience. It is a course where you have to be extremely patient because if you aren’t in the right part of the fairway, or if the hole is in a certain spot, or if the wind is blowing in a certain direction with that pin placement, you have to play away from the hole and that is hard to do, especially on some holes where you only have a pitching wedge or a nine iron. I think if I was telling anybody that came here it is just really, stay patient. Don’t be aggressive, because Pete Dye has designed the course a certain way and he’s trying to make it look like you can go for the hole, but before you know it you walk off the green with a bogey or double bogey pretty easily.
@cdcliving: What makes Casa de Campo special as a golf resort?
It’s a beautiful place. I felt safe the entire week. The safety is like a community, you feel loved by everybody, so it’s a really fun place to be, especially with such a great golf course and the great people around it.