Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Beaver Golf Newbie: Why I Love the Game.

Sometimes, people are surprised to find that I’m a golfer. Their point is that I don’t fit the stereotype. “Isn’t that a little…you know, lily-white suburban elitist rich guy for you?” This was especially true before you-know-who came along and changed it all. And I suppose, taken that way, they’re right. I don’t much care for country clubs, or for some of the stereotypes of golfers, for that matter. But it wouldn’t be surprising that I love the game and play the game if you knew how I was introduced to it, and how I grew up in it.

Golf, to me, isn’t private membership organizations and $500 drivers. It’s about my dad’s Tuesday night after-work league. That was my indoctrination to the sport, and, while I’ve moved several hundred miles away and don’t necessarily follow exactly in the footsteps, it’s the spirit in which I play. I grew up around Cincinnati, in a working/middle class suburb. I didn’t even know country clubs existed until I was in high school. This was a public course, about 15 minutes from the factory where my dad worked.

Everyone there loved golf as much as any golfer, but there was a different feel to it. It was 300 pound guys in Jack Daniels t-shirts with the sleeves cut off and dirty work jeans, pulling their bags out of the bed of their trucks. The 20 year old leather bags (yes, kids, they used to make them out of leather) were filled with knockoff clubs that a buddy of theirs made, and you know they’re just as good as the real thing ‘cause he orders the parts right from the same place the real club makers do, they just don’t have the brand names on them. And he did me a set for $100, if you want I can get you some, but he usually charges $150, but I did some work for him couple years back, so he cut me a deal. The only other thing in the bag is a handful of the Top Flite X-outs he buys out at the flea market for $30 for 5 dozen, and whatever’s left of the giant economy sized bag of tees his kids put in his Christmas stocking last year, even though he never finished last year’s bag. There’s no glove, no head covers (except maybe a novelty Bengals one on the driver…this was the ‘80s, they were pretty good back then), no little multi-tool gadgets, rain gear or golf shoes. The only gadget was the telescoping ball retriever, because hey, $30 for 5 dozen doesn't mean free.

It was two-man teams, playing against each other in a scoring system that I remember, but don’t know the name of. The foursomes were made of two teams, and your “A” player played against their “A” player. You played a point per hole (net…handicaps were strictly tracked), with another point (or maybe it was 3 points) for overall score (meaning it wasn’t match play, you putted out every hole). You didn’t “win” or “lose” the week, you just got X number of points toward the league title. The last night of the season was “position” night, you played against the team immediately above or below you, depending. There was money involved, but a) it wasn’t much and b) it really wasn’t the point. After the last night was the awards banquet, the one night a year my dad didn’t come home before my bedtime.

They started teeing off about 4:00 or so, since first shift at the factory was over at 3:30. Hitting a quick bucket to warm up meant stopping at the KFC drive-through because you’d had lunch at 10:30. If you had the early tee time, you went right from the parking lot to the first tee, unless you were renting a cart. If you had the late tee time, you went into the clubhouse for a beer before the round.

The golf itself; you’d have to see it to believe it. These big guys who spent all day on the factory floor operating heavy machinery would take out their drivers, and with the cigarette still dangling on their lips just absolutely murder the ball with a swing that would make John Daly choke and make Hank Haney cry. It sounded like Thor hitting a boulder with an I-beam. It had roughly the same effect, too. The ball would scream down the left side of the tree line for a good 320 yards, then slice wickedly into the right rough until it stopped just short of the green. Then they’d skull a chip over the back, uttering profanities that would emotionally scar a sailor for life. Then they’d chip back on and three-jack it for a 6, before unleashing hell on the next tee box. My dad was revered for his short game, which is to say he had a short game (a trait that, sadly, is not hereditary).

As you’d expect, a thick skin was necessary to play there. I learned all my essential trash-talk, from “does your sister play golf too?” whenever a putt got left short to “nice shot, but you know the hole’s over there, right?” pretty much every other shot. God forbid you show up with a hybrid club, a specialty wedge, or a gimmicky putter, or you’d get “hey, do they also sell men’s clubs where you got that?” every time, or at least “brought your wife’s clubs by mistake again?” Twenty-some years later, it still doesn’t get old.

You might think a league like this was a free for all, with scores fudged and liberal use of the foot wedge, but you’d be dead wrong. You could count on someone in each foursome to have a rulebook, and while they occasionally played “winter rules” when conditions were less than optimal, proper etiquette was universal. On those rare occasions when someone could get a 7 iron in the air high enough to leave a ball mark when it came down, you’d better believe it got fixed. Bags and pull carts never touched the fringe of the green, and transgressions were never ignored.

The course was nothing special. Not too long, not too short. Water here and there, but not a lot. A ton of trees, but plenty of fairway in between them. It was always neat, and the greens were pretty good, but the rough was mostly crabgrass, and the fairways were…well, shorter crabgrass. They shut down the course a couple of years ago to build condos that, thanks to the housing collapse, are never going to be built. But they probably can't re-open the course,because they'd already torn it up pretty well. I secretly hoped that if they ever got around to clearing the land, they would set aside the things they’d find among those trees. My guess is they’d find several dozen rusted out, severely bent knock-off clubs, primarily short or medium irons; a few sets of truck keys; far too many empty cigarette lighters, and thousands upon thousands of Top Flite X-Outs.

Though I never actually got to play in my dad’s league, I consider it my introduction and education in golf. I played that same course a hundred times, usually with my dad, often with others from the league. When I was little, Tuesday night golf league meant we (my mom and sister and I) got to eat stuff for dinner that dad didn’t like, like McDonald’s, or the boxed kind of Mac and Cheese (as opposed to that Velveeta and shell pasta abomination my mother perpetrated on us; but that’s a story for a culinary blog). Once I was older, we’d sometimes go down to the course and bring Dad a sandwich, especially if he had the late tee time. That’s when I got to see it in action. And that’s why I never understood why people thought it was a game for snobs. Snobs? Rich people? Doing this? Are you kidding me? This…this is golf.

(Read Don’s thoughts on other stuff at his blog, Aggressive Lethargy)
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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My Apologies To Tiger

A few days ago, as I am sure all of you now know, Tiger Woods had a minor car accident in his front lawn that has become perhaps the most written about and investigated traffic ticket in the history of the world. The afternoon that the news began to leak out I wrote an article implying a suspicion about the circumstances surrounding the ordeal, and indirectly made comparisons between Tiger and a truckload full of other professional athletes all of whom had been charged with DUI or DWI. The comparison, as it turns out, was unfounded and inaccurate, and I am pleased to say that I am sorry for having doubted Tiger's decision making as it relates to drinking and driving.

As the media (I guess I am media as I write this blog) has done over the last few days is absolutely devour the public relations "Fortress of Solitude" that Tiger and the rest of us had thought was impenetrable. The continued development of news has revealed that Tiger was having, or had had extramarital affairs with at least one other woman. His wife, Elin, apparently discovered the impropriety, possibly phoned the other woman, and likely had a rather heated blowout with Tiger about it during the wee hours of the night. A very short "getaway" occurred, and whether in fear or anger, Tiger distractedly wrecked his Escalade and ended up lacerated and woozy.

Wow! A world-class professional athlete was having an affair outside of his marriage? What a shocker!

I am not dismissing the fact that cheating on one's spouse is widely considered bad form, and most definitely believe that Tiger has done something wrong, but is this news so surprising to everyone? Tiger knows he misbehaved rather badly, and has finally come out with a very Tiger-like public apology, to Elin and their family. In my opinion, this is a case closed for those of us who fall outside the Woods' circle of friends and family. The news was pursued and reported to the extent it now needs to. Tiger has paid his debt to society for the damage he caused to the hydrant, so now it is his job to repair the damage done to his family, and that is not for public consumption.

To err is human, and it isn't the first time that Tiger has erred, nor will it be the last. One of the reasons that I so enjoy watching Tiger play golf and listening to his quite candid and amusing interviews is that he is so human while performing at a super-human level. Despite suggestions to the contrary, I have seen him frequently show emotion on the course, both good and bad. He has a foul mouth, and throws clubs with some regularity, but he also smiles and laughs when the moment calls for it, and he can afford to step out of his "zone" for a moment. Is this behavior any different than most others' on the golf course? Should it be?

I say no. What is so great about Tiger (and Phil, Sergio, Anthony, Geoff, and so many others) is that they display that humanity that is part of the game, yet achieve so much more than any of us are capable on the course. A talent for golf has as little to do with being a good husband as being talented at politics, drama, accounting, advertising, or practicing law. Bad husbands are everywhere, yet we so excessively scrutinize when the guilty party is famous. While I might try to model parts of my golf game after Tiger, I would never assume to model any other part of my life after him, nor should anyone else.

So, let this be my formal apology to Tiger both for writing the previous article, which caused me to have to write this one. I am happy that Tiger endangered no lives, paid his debt, learned that even he is not immune to the popular media, and hope that he and Elin are able to patch their marriage together because I, for one, like Tiger Woods, and would like to see him happily behave and get back to the course sooner than later.

Fairways and Greens!

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Tiger, Say It Ain't So!

As I was perusing the Internet this afternoon, I came across the following story about Tiger Woods. From all the reports I am hearing and seeing, Tiger was in a one car accident early this morning in front of his own home. Obviously, being a fan, I was pleased to hear that despite some facial lacerations, Tiger is OK and has been released from the hospital.

What has yet to be understood, however, is what caused the accident. As of now, the police are saying that alcohol was not a factor, and hopefully that is true, but the circumstances are certainly peculiar and suspicious.

I tend to believe strongly in treating people as innocent until proven guilty, so would not like to infer that Tiger was driving under the influence, but the mere suspicion of it leads me to a different topic. Why do wealthy athletes and celebrities drive at all?

I certainly understand the physical desire to drive, especially once you have earned enough cash to buy the kinds of vehicles you would want to take out for a spin, Tiger's Cadillac Escalade not among them for me, by the way. To satisfy that urge, take a road trip if you must, or even an afternoon gallop across the countryside. Running errands, however, could certainly be left to someone else, and late night excursions to...well, anywhere, should definitely be left to a hired driver.

Over the last several years, many athletes have been arrested and/or charged with DUI including: Warren Moon, Kareem McKenzie, Jason Shirley, Matthew McCoy, Marcus Vick, Lawyer Milloy, Brandon Marshall, Karl Paymah, Jimmy Smith, Mark Bell, Lofa Tatupu, Jerramy Stevens, Carmelo Anthony, Jevon Kearse, Richard Collier, Cedric Benson, Dwayne Jarrett, David Legwand, Odell Thurman, John LeClair, and of course the more infamous cases resulting in the additional manslaughter convictions of both Leonard Little and Donte Stallworth.

Nobody...NOBODY should ever drive when they are consuming alcohol, but millions do anyway. Certainly civilian arrests for DUI/DWI (measuring in the hundreds of thousands) far outweigh those of famous athletes and celebrities combined. In no way should being wealthy translate to being held to a higher standard of conduct than those less fortunate. Being famous, however, like it or not, does translate to greater publicity of a mistake. Additionally, the fact that you can afford a Bentley (that, by the way, is the car that Stallworth was driving when he struck and killed Mario Reyes earlier this year) means that you can afford a driver to handle those duties. It's more than your legal responsibility, it's common sense.

So, I bring it up today because of the strange circumstances surrounding Tiger Woods' early morning accident. I truly hope that there is a different explanation for what occurred down in posh Windermere, FL, because Tiger is one of those celebrities for whom I have developed a genuine respect. Though the reasons I respect him would still be valid, knowing that Tiger would knowingly drive under the influence of alcohol rather than hire a ride (hell, he could summon a helicopter) definitely would impact the appreciation I have for him as a person beyond his talents on the course. Until we know for certain what happened this morning on the Woods' front lawn, however, we must simply be thankful that something worse did not happen, and we will be able to continue to admire the way this man completely and utterly dominates the sport of golf.

Fairways and Greens!

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Let's Call It Green Friday!

Hello all you Beaver Golfers! I hope you all had a nice relaxing Thanksgiving, and possibly even hit the links if the weather was kind.

Speaking of links, as much as I love writing about golf, I do have to make a buck from time to time as well. To that end, I have partnered with a handful of retailers who reside in the right hand column of my blog. Please take note of them each time you visit, as the deals change with some regularity. Most are specifically golf related, but not all, and anything you purchase after clicking through from my links helps support my ability to keep producing this blog, and much more in the near future.

Given that the day after Thanksgiving is a BIG day for retailers, and even bigger for online retailers -it has been nicknamed Black Friday after all - my affiliate partners are offering some pretty sweet deals this weekend. If you are going to do some online shopping for the holidays, I'd encourage you to use Beaver Golf as a starting point, and take advantage of some of these offers.

Some notable ones include store wide savings at Golf Galaxy and at Target. You can use these links below:

Callaway Golf Pre-Owned is offering an interesting tiered discount where you save $75 when you spend $300, save $125 when you spend over $450, and $175 when you spend over $600. Here is the link:

Rock Bottom Golf is offering 15% off SITE-WIDE this entire weekend using this link below:

Other shops on my site include Edwin Watts, Knetgolf.com, Medicus, Pine Meadow Golf, Oakley Vault, SmugMug, and Kinesys Eco-friendly Sunscreen.

So, instead of shopping on Black Friday, let's put those dollars to work, buy someone you love some new golf gear, clubs, balls, or training aids and change that color from black to green! Oh, and don't forget to grab something for yourself either!

Fairways and Greens!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Phil, Bill, and Jean - That Is Why It's Called Risk

While catching up on my blogroll this evening, I came across an interesting article that I found myself taking some exception to, i.e. a provocative article about a good topic. The post in question is from the Waggle Room blog and is titled "Bigger Idiot: Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot or Bill Belichick Last Night?"

For those unaware what this article might be referring to, on Sunday Night Football this past weekend, Bill Belichick, the well-known head coach of the New England Patriots football squad, made the decision to go for a first down on a 4th & 2 on their own 30 with just over 2 minutes left playing with a 6 point lead over the Indianapolis Colts in Indy. The play called was a quick out from Tom Brady to Kevin Faulk that was almost, barely, good enough, but after a brief bobble netted about a half of a yard, and gave the Colts the ball on the Pats' 30 with two minutes remaining and needing seven points to win.

I trust you can guess from the title of the article above, or from reading or watching anything sports related over the last 48 hours, that the Colts did indeed score the necessary 7 points, and Belichick quickly grew a little chin beard, short horns, and those crazy devil eyes (oh, wait, those were already there, they just became more apparent). Yes, for a change, Belichick was the goat, and lost what would have been a huge win for the Patriots.

If you hadn't already guessed, I'm not the biggest Bill Belichick fan (as if he cares), and I do think the decision was stupid (again, as if he cares). Bill Belichick has won 3 Super Bowls, and has coached the only 16-0 regular season record in NFL history. With the loss on Sunday night, his current team is 6-3, and still in good position to win the AFC East and once again head to the playoffs. I would bet a tremendous sum of money (OK, so right now I only have $22.64, but that's a lot for me) that Belichick and the Pats have already moved on to next Sunday's game against their rival Jets. So why can't the media? Because they are paid to talk and write about how Belichick should never have made that decision, that's why.

This is not a blog about football, though I do so very much love football. This is a golf blog, so on to the topic we go. The article in question (written by Ryan Ballengee) makes a comparison between Belichick's decision Sunday and Phil Mickelson's decision on the 18th hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot that ultimately cost him the major, and handed it to Geoff Ogilvy. In an unnecessarily cruel spin, he even brought poor old Jean van de Velde into the three-way comparison. Though I do find Mr. Ballengee's blog to be entertaining, I disagree with the comparison for the following reason; football is a team sport, and Belichick a coach while golf is an individual sport with Mickelson the player.

Sure, Phil has Jim "Bones" Mackay by his side playing the good angel on his right shoulder dressed in his all-whites while the dark-attired Phil sits on Phil's other shoulder suggesting a backwards flop shot swinging a draw biased driver right-handed from his knees, but Mackay is not Phil's coach. On the 18th hole of the 2006 U.S. Open, needing a par 4 to win, Phil made an aggressive decision and hit driver off the tee, blasting it well left and hitting a hospitality tent before making a not-temporary-enough home in the woods. He followed that shot with a mighty attempt to hit a high drawing 6-iron over the trees that found only more trees, then put the next shot, from an even more ghastly lie, into the greenside bunker. From there he hit a respectable bunker shot, but missed the putt that would have sent it to a playoff allowing Ogilvy to take the victory.

For many, many years, NFL football has been founded in risk-aversion, and while not very exciting to watch, did provide a blueprint for how to win. That blueprint has been changed quite a bit over the years, but if you look at Super Bowl winners over the last 10, 20, or even 30 years, the overwhelming majority of them based their teams on ball-protection, short, manageable plays, and solid defense. There are also certain decisions that should simply not be made, and one of those was made by Belichick the other night. What Belichick could not know was how each one of the 11 players on the offense felt at that moment, or more accurately, how pumped each of the 11 players on the Colts defense felt. Additionally, he had the lead of more than a Field Goal, and could have forced the opponent to earn points from much further away to win. The Patriots were not going to lose points in any scenario, and needed no additional points to win at the time of the decision. Ultimately, the failed execution gave the Colts a much easier task of earning the seven points they needed to win when three points was not an option.

Golf is different in a couple of key ways. First, golf is an individual sport. Nobody is more qualified to make decisions nor more responsible for the results than the player. The player must assess the situation, make many decisions, and execute the shot with nothing more than a variable amount of guidance and support from his or her caddie. It is also a sport where the idea is not to gain "points" but to lose them. Finally, golf is a sport where your opponents have no way of physically preventing you from playing well, though including some tackling or shot deflection might be fun to watch.

Though Phil Mickelson has been quoted calling himself an "idiot" for his decision, lots of players hit driver on 18, and he had been hitting it all weekend. It isn't like it was my foursome playing out there, hoping that our slices would only slice a little this time. Phil is one of the most talented golfers to have ever played the game, and has hit solid shots with his driver probably millions of times. On his second shot, he felt understandably trapped, and wanted to win so bad that he likely thought there was no way he wouldn't be successful with that 6-iron. Even standing in that bunker, I'll bet he thought he would force a playoff.

And, oh, by the way, Colin Montgomery could also have won the tournament on 18, but lost instead. Hey, guess what, Montgomery didn't hit driver off the tee, was hitting his second shot from the middle of the fairway, and also made a double bogey on the final hole to lose by one stroke. Had stodgy old Colin made birdie, and Phil a par, Phil would have lost anyway. And that isn't all, Jim Furyk missed a 5-foot putt for a par that would have forced a playoff as well. Phil was trying to play his best shots to win the tournament and failed to execute on a decision that is made all the time.

Yes, I consider myself a fan of Phil Mickelson. I have heard so many refer to him as plastic, insincere, and yes, stupid, but that isn't what I see. I see a man who is genuinely happy to be making an incredibly good living doing something he loves, and is very talented at. I see a man who loves his family, and understands the relationship he needs to have with his fans. I see a man who is incredibly generous be it the Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation or his handing a fan $200 out of his pocket immediately after striking and breaking the fan's wristwatch with an errant shot during the 2006 Ford Championship. Perhaps most of all, I see a man who tries things on the golf course that we all wish we could do, in the heat of competition, on television! He succeeds with regularity, and many times each tournament saves himself several shots with his inventive and daring strategy. On that day in 2006, however, he failed to execute not a daring shot, or even a risky shot, but perhaps one that could have been played more conservatively, you know, like Monty did.

So, let's be careful how hard we are on risk takers in professional sports. After all, if they didn't take risks and fail once in a while, you could never write about how they should never have taken the risk and failed so that you wouldn't have to write about it...right?

Fairways and Greens!

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