Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The U.S. Open Preview

We have what could be a memorable week unfolding with the U.S. Open, the NBA Finals and a three day road trip looming for the FGR. Rarely do we get this many powerful forces colliding and I can practically hear Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio screaming into the radio, "What the hell are you doing? For Christ sake! You're steaming into a bomb! Turn around for Christ sake! You're headed right for the middle of the monster!" as weatherman Christopher McDonald orgasmically murmurs, "you could be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this . . . it could be a disaster of epic proportions."

Let's break these three events down in order of importance (to me).

THE MEMBER-GUEST
This could just as easily be the
FGW screaming into an iPhone.

This is the last event of my early season trifecta and let's just say I have some unfinished business to attend to. If you've never had the opportunity to play in a multi-day tournament and the Member-Guest Preview wasn't enough to make it one of your goals in life, let me sweeten the deal with a description of what one of these golfing free-for-alls looks like. Here is my itinerary for Thursday-Sunday*:

Thursday

8:20 a.m. - Depart Baltimore via Southwest Airlines. Resist the urge to order a beer.

9:45 a.m. - Arrive in Greenville, S.C. Resist the urge to order a beer on the way to baggage claim.

10:50 a.m. - Tee off for practice round. (The beer resistance movement will definitely have been crushed by this point).

3:00 p.m. - Cocktails while planted in a leather chair watching the U.S. Open. Hopefully everyone within earshot will be in the mood to listen to a know-it-all stranger babble on endlessly about golf.

6:00 p.m. - Auction style tournament Calcutta. This is going to be a new experience for me. Expect a follow-up report on this next week. Especially if I win money.

OK, OK, I'll have
a Bloody Mary.
8:00 p.m. - More U.S. Open viewing. I know I've said this before but primetime U.S. Open golf is one of the most underrated viewing experiences in sports. There's just something about watching golf live when it's dark outside. It's kind of like the Bizzaro version of going to a strip club for lunch . . . or so I've heard.

9:00 p.m. - Tip-off for Game 2 of the NBA Finals (more on that below whether you want it or not).

Friday

8:30 a.m. - 27 holes of matchplay. My typical Friday 9-hole scoring pattern goes like this 42-40-37. I've never quite figured-out why my scores go down as the day goes on. Maybe it's the tides.

5:00 p.m. - Post round banter and more U.S. Open. I will probably spend close to 14 hours this Friday playing and watching golf. That's either really sad or really cool depending on your view of the game.

Saturday

9:00 a.m. - 18 holes of matchplay followed by a playoff for the flight winners. I've played in twelve tournaments that had a playoff at the end and made it that far in three of them including the last two.** These things are probably the closest that most of us will get to the feeling of playing in a tour event because there is generally a pretty good sized crowd following the action. By the time you get to that point, however, you've played a lot of good golf (by your standards) so you don't feel that nervous . . . until you stand over a putt. And that's when you consider Tom Watson at the British Open, Scott Hoch at the Masters and Stewart Cink at the PGA Championship and think, "ahhhh now I get it."

Sunday

6:00 a.m. - Wake-up call for my 7:50 a.m. flight so I can get home for Father's Day. I'm pretty sure there's a special place in hell for the person who invented Father's Day (it's right around the corner from the spot for the people who invented toll booths and little league "travel" teams***). I love being a dad and I don't need a new set of Craftsman tools to tell me I'm doing a good job at it. Besides, one of the perks of being the dad is if that I want some new tools, I'll buy them whenever the hell I want.****    

THE U.S. OPEN PREVIEW

The U.S. Open returns to Olympic Club for the third time in the past 25 years ('87 and '98). The winners those years were Lee Janzen and Scott Simpson, two guys whose style of play has the same effect on viewers as Seann William Scott's tranquilizer dart had on Will Ferrell. If you're looking for modern versions of Janzen and Simpson, think Jason Dufner and Luke Donald. Those comparisons earn them the 5th and 8th spots on this week's list. Here's how the rest shakes-out:
"Look at that. Another 250 yard drive
right down the middle. Awesome."

1. Lee Westwood
2. Phil Mickelson
3. Tiger Woods
4. Jim Furyk
5. Jason Dufner
6. Peter Hanson
7. Justin Rose
8. Luke Donald
9. Matt Kuchar
10. Dustin Johnson

You could make a case for any of those ten guys to win plus a few past major winners like Louis Oosuizen, Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell but I think one of two things is going to happen: Either (a) Westwood finally gets off the schneid, or (b) we get back to Tiger or Phil putting some spice back into major championship golf. We haven't had a truly big time winner since Mickelson at the Masters in 2010 and before that it was Woods at the U.S. Open in 2008. Sure we've had some exciting finishes and intriguing winners (this year's Masters gave us both) but this first timer thing is getting tired.

I like Mickelson because he has devoted this year solely to winning majors and he would already have one if not for a horrible ricochet off the grandstand at Augusta. His withdrawal from the Memorial had far less to do with people taking pictures with their cell phones than it did with the fact that he was off his game and at some point in the first round he thought to himself, "what in the hell am I doing playing a tournament in Ohio when I should be practicing in California?" Once that thought crept into his head, he had the psyche of a guy who blew-off his daughter's dance recital to tee it up which then magnified all of the other distractions. If anything, that withdrawal strengthens his case at Olympic.

Westwood's credentials for this week are so obvious that I almost went the other way. He's finished in the top 3 in six of the last ten majors and he won the Nordea Masters last week by 5 strokes. Players who suffer that many near misses usually break before they break through (think Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia) but Westwood is different. He doesn't agonize over the missed opportunities and expose his wounds to the media. Instead, he just politely says that he didn't quite get it done that week and then moves on to the next one. If he was going to crack, he would have done it by now so he's my pick.

Last Week's Report Card: D

1. David Toms - M/C
2. Zach Johnson - M/C
3. Padraig Harrington - T13th
4. Ryan Palmer - T3rd
5. John Rollins - M/C

I hadn't had one of my personal picks miss a cut all year until David Toms' half-ass fly-by in Memphis. My picks sucked last week. How's that for a report card? Let's just move on.

THE NBA FINALS PREVIEW

"Hey, I got a better idea. 
Why don't YOU try 
guarding Durant!"
I just watched the Thunder flip the switch in the second half and run the Heat off the court to win game 1 with a B+ effort. The Mavericks, Lakers, Spurs and Heat have won 11 of the last 13 NBA championships and the Thunder are on their way to beating all four of them on the way to this year's title. The average age of their four best players is 22.5 years old. The other teams in the league must be watching this and mumbling every Bill Paxton line from Aliens . . . "Well that's great, that's just fuckin' great, man. Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We're in some real pretty shit now" . . . "What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?" . . . "Hey, maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!". . . "Game over man! Game's over!". . .  (Paxton's character has to be the second worst Marine in movie history, narrowly edged by Vincent D'Onofio's Private Leonard Lawrence from Full Metal Jacket).

My preseason prediction was the Thunder over the Heat in six games (and yes I am going to keep repeating that until it can't happen . . . and if it does happen I will find a way to reference it every week until the end of time). As I was watching the Heat dominate the first 20 minutes last night, a six game series actually seemed possible because they needed to take advantage of the Thunder's lack of Finals experience and steal the first game to avoid a potential sweep. Then Dwayne Wade spent the second half launching three pointers and flapping his arms like he was trying to fly every time a Thunder player looked at him funny and he didn't get a call. (Sorry Dwayne, this isn't the 2006 Finals when the refs still liked you). Now this series may go five games but it's game over man . . . game's over.

Endnotes

* Make no mistake. This is bragging in its purest form. You may want to cut this with a little baking soda.

** My .250 success rate is actually better than it sounds considering how many guys win their flight and make it to the playoff every year leaving only so many spots for those of us who don't manipulate the handicap computer like Matthew Broderick in War Games. Some are sandbaggers and others just don't give a crap until they're playing in a tournament. Either way, the system fails in these cases and I'll never understand why tournaments don't just take two strokes off the handicap of anyone who wins their flight two years in a row. And yes I am still bitter about a loss from five years ago.

*** Sorry about all of the ranting but do you think we might be heading in the wrong direction when we have the NCAA limiting the number of hours college kids can practice but at the same time we've got second grade soccer players taking road trips? I knew it was bad when we were checking into a hotel and my 8 year old son said, "don't use my real name."

**** I love the Craftsman commercial with the dad under the car. The only time you'd find me under a car is if a brand new Pro V1 fell out of my golf bag and rolled under it.

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