|"Just take this Sharpie|
to remember me by."
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.
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 Wind. The 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?"|
|"Hey! Put some fookin'|
clothes on . . . I got my
fookin' kids ova heeya."
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?"
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
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."
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
* 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.