Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Member Guest Wrap-Up

Editors Note: I started writing this thing about six weeks ago but, like that one time in your college career when you attempted to start writing a paper way before it was due, I have stopped and started at least three times completely killing my momentum and putting more distance between me and the foggy memories I'm trying to write about. Now I'm getting ready to hang-out with some of the same guys in the story (and the same guys from The Golf Trip to the Sun 2) so I'm setting an informal due date of tomorrow at which point (to continue with the analogy), I'm going to hit the print button, run across campus to the faculty mail boxes and drop it off no matter what it looks like.*
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"Just take this Sharpie
to remember me by."
A few weeks ago I boarded a plane for South Carolina to play what would be my final Member-Guest tournament of the season (barring any looming invitations of which I am not aware - I can be reached at Email the FGR). My plan when I got back from the trip was to bang-out a tight timeline of the events of that weekend and sum up my May-June tournament season in the process. The problem was that, by the time I got home, I was done with golf. To paraphrase Loyd Dobler, I didn't want to play golf, watch golf or write about golf. I didn't want to watch golf I played or write about golf I watched and I certainly didn't want to write about golf I had played. I didn't even see my clubs for two weeks and for the first five days of that, I actually thought about quitting the band.

But now, after three and half weeks of playing tennis, swimming laps and drinking Coors Lite (yes it was that bad), I feel like I'm ready to get back in the game. I think it just took some time off and the approach shot I hit to 4 feet on the 18th hole with a 1-up lead** to bring me back around. That and the fact that if I changed the name of this thing to the Fantasy Tennis Report, even fewer people would read it. So let's turn the clock back a few weeks and reminisce about the beginning of summer and its endless possibilities.    

Thursday, June 14th

This is an actual picture of the
bar from their website. I would 
be the guy on the far left.
As part of my game plan, I was going to resist the urge to start drinking on the 8:20 a.m. flight down . . . but I never said anything about the airport and that was before I got to my gate and discovered an Obrycki's Bar sitting right next to it with about a third of the stools already taken. I looked at the bar, then I looked at the people sitting at the gate on the iPads and iPhones, then I looked back at the bar and decided that none of the people sitting there could be doing anything less important than what I was going to be doing that day so I grabbed a seat and ordered-up a bloody.

I'm not a big traveler and it's rare that I find myself alone on a plane for an hour so I didn't have a game plan. I did have a new iPad so I figured I might spend some time familiarizing myself with it (translation: spend an hour playing Angry Birds). That plan quickly went by the wayside when what appeared to be the first three Amish dudes to ever fly in a machine took the three seats closest to me and immediately began a painfully detailed discussion of backwoods musical theory. I felt like I had walked into a scene from A Mighty WindThe last words I heard before I donned my headphones and checked-out were, "a lot of people out my way play the 5-string banjo but what makes me different is that I do it while performing a one-man country line dance." I did not make that up.*** 

"So do we need to build the plane first?"    
When I removed my headphones for landing, the guy next to me was explaining the nuances of blowing into a jug so the moment we hit the ground, they went right back on. I used to scoff at people who would walk through the airport wearing headphones primarily because, when you fly with kids, you are the leader of a team responsible for the extraction of individuals hell bent on leaving everything they own on the plane and doing whatever it takes to sidetrack your mission so you need to maintain complete awareness of your surroundings at all times. On this day, however, I realized that I didn't have to interact with anybody and, even better, I could avoid being subjected to other families yelling their post-flight strategies across the seats to each other ("I said I'll get the bags and YOU GET THE CAR!!!" . . . hey could you speak-up, they didn't hear you at the Sbarro on Concourse D). And then right on cue as I hit the gangway I had one of those iPod moments that tells you good things are in store as Eric Clapton's The Core kicked-in and provided the theme music for my walk through the terminal. (I cannot overstate how much I love when shit like that happens - The Core). 

"Hey! Put some fookin'
clothes on . . . I got my
 fookin' kids ova heeya."
The rest of the afternoon was fairly uneventful. We played a practice round, then something called the "Three Hole Challenge" which was an alternate shot competition with the winner receiving an automatic spot in the overall tournament playoff (this was ten times more entertaining than I thought it would be even though we never really gave ourselves a shot to win it). That night we bought our team in the Calcutta, solved a few world problems sitting on the porch drinking beers and shut it down at a reasonable hour.

At this point I should note that my partner for this event was the same guy from The Blue Monster and someone with whom I may have, along with a few others, stayed-up until dawn with on the morning of his wedding and then walked down a public boat ramp into Hempstead Bay dressed like the guys at the end of The Full Monty. (I used to feel bad for the unsuspecting kids who had to witness that but then I realized that (a) we gave them a story they can tell for the rest of their lives and (b) they were from Long Island so, in the grand scheme of their childhood development, watching a few naked guys walk down a boat ramp was the least of their problems). On this night, however, my partner was all business and, with the prospect looming that I might actually get some sleep during this tournament, I went to bed thinking, "we could win this fucking thing."    

Friday, June 15th

Thanks to Thursday night's training rules, I woke-up Friday morning feeling great (note to self . . . nothing in particular, just try to make a note of that for future reference). We hit the course early, had a relaxing warm-up and then went inside for some breakfast where they had a fully stocked self-service Bloody Mary bar. If they had had membership applications on it, I might be writing this from a different state.

"Let me guess, I'm auditioning
 for the bad guy again. What
is it? The black turtleneck?"
For our first match on Friday, we were playing the overall tournament favorites (as determined by the wagering) and we caught a break when one member of the team ditched his warm-up for ten more minutes of sleep in an air conditioned car (been there) and frankly, his partner didn't look much better. They played the first three holes in a coma, my partner was solid and, after five holes, we had 3 and 1/2 points so the first mission of overcoming my predictably terrible starts had been accomplished. Then I dropped a bomb on the 6th hole for a birdie and a 3 point lead with 3 to play which seems huge in a 9-hole match until you finish loss-halve-loss and only win 5-4. At the beginning of Steven Seagal's one great movie, Above the Law, he has a stand-off with consummate bad guy Henry Silva and, as he's being escorted away he says, "if I don't cap him now, he's gonna do me later." That's how I felt after this match.

I had shot 44 on the first nine which is awful for a 6 handicap but it was right on schedule for my traditional 44-39-36 first day 9-hole sequence. Then things got weird as I started ringing-up pars in our second match and it became clear that I was ahead of schedule. Could this be the tournament where I actually find my game before it's too late and make a difference? Apparently so because I went on to shoot 37 with another birdie putt from a different zip code (not many better feelings than doing that in a match play tournament) and we picked-up 5 and 1/2 points along the way. We were cruising and I was smelling the cash.

But it turned out that wasn't cash I was smelling, it was the stink of the nine holes we were about to play. The trouble started early in the next match. Literally five minutes after I told my partner that I was ready to focus and grind, I picked-up my ball mark not knowing that I had a ten foot putt to win the hole. (I had the dreaded half stroke which always seems to screw me when my opponent has it and now I had just found a way to screw myself with it). On the second hole, I hit a wedge over the green, made double and lost and then on the third hole my partner and I both turned chicken salad drives into chicken shit, made double and lost to a double-bogey/net bogey (not many worse feelings than doing that in a match play tournament). By the time we reached our 8th hole, we were down 5-2 and on pace for a combined 9-hole score of about 94. At that point, however, we found the smelling salts and I made a par for a win followed by my partner sticking it to 6 inches for a birdie on our last hole. We gave away a lot of ground with the 5-4 loss but, thanks to our earlier success, we still had a shot.

Saturday, June 16th

"Rubbin' is
racin' baby!"
I'd like to tell you what happened in our two matches on Saturday but I can't. You see up until that morning, I had avoided the many pitfalls that I feared may come into play with me being left unattended and without fear of arrest, divorce or expulsion from my home club. Maybe it was because I had made it 48 hours without seriously offending anyone or embarrassing my host (as far as I knew) but when I arrived at the course on Saturday morning, let's just say I left the restrictor plates in the garage.

I know my partner won the first hole with a par and then I won the second with a pretty sick up and down from a bunker where I landed it on a slope 20 feet past the hole and had it come back down to 4 feet and then drained the putt. From that point on, things start getting a little dicey but I'm pretty sure we won the match and were feeling confident that we still had a shot until we got to the scoreboard and saw that the mercenaries from our first match had rolled another team to take a 4 point lead meaning that our final nine would be for second place money.

It turned-out to be a blessing as we went into a flat spin over the last five holes (and I mean that the course was literally spinning). At one point my 8-iron felt so heavy on my backswing that it almost got stuck there. We came to the final hole thinking we needed a win to secure second place which would at least get us paid. I made a ten footer for par and then we watched both of our opponents 3-putt culminating with one of them missing a 2-footer which made for some very chilly handshakes. (We would later discover that we had actually taken second place by 3 points so we could have given him the 2-footer. Oops).  

By the time the round was over, so was I. Thank God we didn't win our flight because I would have looked like this guy trying to get from the cart to the first tee Too Much Gravity. I spent the next two hours sitting in the clubhouse watching the U.S. Open while alternately nursing a Gatorade and a water. We were going out to dinner with a bunch of people that night and I was determined to answer the bell even if it meant wearing sunglasses at dinner and sleeping between courses.

"Hey I know you . . . we
played golf today."
When we got to the restaurant, everyone I had met over the past three days was there with their wives and I proceeded to greet each of them with some variation of "hey man" and, for the ones I still recognized, I probably added a two-handed shake or even a half-hug. Then things started to improve as they always do in those situations when you couple a change of venue with a nice meal. You're still hammered, but it's like you're hammered on a different day.

The conversation was cordial and entertaining until one of the guys from the team that beat us sat down at our table and, for reasons I cannot now nor will I ever be able to recollect, the topic turned to who would win a 2-on-2 basketball game between our respective teams. By the time we were done about an hour later, I think the wager was $1,000 per man on a game to 50.**** Not long after that, I was dropped-off at the airport hotel and eight hours later in what felt like one of those blurry hostage transportation sequences, I was landing in Baltimore on Father's Day morning. The one thing I distinctly remember is picking-up my clubs at baggage claim and feeling like a dad picking his son up from jail. I just kind of looked at them in disgust, shook my head and said, "come on . . . let's go."

Email the FGR

Endnotes

* The most ridiculous part of that process was that, by the time I got the paper back with a grade, I had always convinced myself that I worked really hard on it and was shocked when I saw the inevitable "C+" (it would have been a "D" but one of the benefits of being a future "professional" writer was that I could make it look good enough so that professor's wouldn't realize that I hadn't done any research until about page three).

** Then again I hit this shot after missing a 3-footer on 17 that would have won the match. We'll discuss my putting another time. Let's just say that lately I've been finding myself standing on the 7th tee dreading the 3-foot putt I could potentially have on the 18th green. I think sports psychiatrist Bob Rotella describes that condition in one of his books as "not a good thing." 

*** Are planes always stocked with that many oddball characters or is my impression skewed because I'm always flying to places like Greenville, SC and not business destinations like Chicago and Dallas and wherever else those guys wearing gray suits must be heading? I always seem to end-up next to one of three people: (1) guys like the aforementioned frontier musicians who probably got stopped at security for trying to get through with a gallon of homemade pickles, (2) the guy in jean shorts and a Yankees' jersey who has no inside voice, or (3) the the guy who opens a book as soon as he hits the seat and reads so intently for the entire trip that you think he's in some bizarre version of Speed where if he takes his eyes off the page, the plane will explode.  

**** This game will never happen but I liked our chances in a match-up that would feature the classic contrast in middle aged styles of their team comprised of two guys who, by all local accounts, were both "great" high school basketball players (that was 25 years and, I'm guessing, a combined 50+ pounds ago) against our team comprised of two college lacrosse players who are still in shape. I lobbied to play full court but I don't think I got very far with that.