Friday, June 28, 2013

The U.S. Open Update: Massacre at Merion Ridge

PREAMBLE

This is the best clothed picture I
could find of The Departed's
Vera Farmiga (hint, hint).
Let's clear-up a couple items before we get rolling on this thing: (1) The reason this U.S. Open post is coming-out nine ten eleven days after the tournament is because I gave-up six hours of writing time watching my beloved Spurs* gag away the NBA Championship and in a life that involves three kids, a job, a money pit for a house that's been doing it's best impersonation of a Carnival cruise ship for the past six weeks and the maintenance of what is currently a very shaky 5 handicap, six hours is an extremely precious commodity, and (2) I have no idea what that title means. It's not really a reference to anything in particular but it sure sounds dramatic, like the title of an 80's made for TV movie before it dawned on someone at HBO that you could make movies for television with real actors that didn't have to look like they were shot on a porn budget. So without further ado, the FGR presents . . .

Oh wait, one more thing, the rest of this will make a lot more sense if you've seen the following: The Departed, The Happening, American Psycho, Pulp Fiction, Lethal Weapon 2History of the World: Part IGame of Thrones, Season Six of Mad Men and the original Star Trek series. If you haven't, just fake it and pretend like you know what in the hell I'm talking about.

THE MASSACRE AT MERION RIDGE (Oh my goodness) 

At some point about an hour after the leaders teed-off on Sunday, I realized that we were in for a roller coaster ride that called for me to go beyond a few sporadic tweets and into the always popular (and formulaic) timeline format. But before we dive into that, let me give some background on how I was a virtual (emphasis on the word "virtual") lock to take home some cash based on the leaderboard heading into the final round.

We'll begin with the fact that I had a wagering interest in 22 of the 156 players who qualified for the U.S. Open. How did I find myself holding tickets for roughly 14% of the field? Let's break it down starting with my two season long teams which yielded a total of 10 separate entries (see if you can guess which team is in first place and which one I'm thinking of renaming "Don Draper's Liver"):

Apparently Charl only brings his
"A" game when there's a prop from
Game of Thrones at stake.
Team 1                             
1. Phil Mickelson
2. Adam Scott
3. Jason Day
4. Chris Kirk (not entered)
5. Ryan Palmer
6. Tim Clark

Team 2
1. Bubba Watson (buyer's remorse)
2. Charl Schwartzel (see Bubba)
3. Robert Karlsson (desperation free agent)
4. Stewart Cink (see Robert Karlsson)
5. Tim Clark
6. Jordan Spieth

Then I had my two one-and-done picks and, after laboring over that decision for a couple of days, I went with Brandt Snedeker alongside the guy who was pretty much my lock of the year, Graeme McDowell. Thanks for stopping by Graeme. Don't let the door of the G6 hit you on the way out. And because I needed a little more action and felt so confident about the prospects of McDowell and Schwartzel, on the Wednesday before the tournament I got mixed-up in a U.S. Open Calcutta and, feeling a little frisky, bought a stake in a couple of teams that included the following players:
Great Britain = Union Jack =
Rosie Jones = Hubbahubba

The South Africans
Charl Schwartzel
Ernie Els
George Coetzee
Branden Grace
Louis Oostuizen

Great Britain
Graeme McDowell
Jamie Donaldson
Martin Laird
Paul Lawrie
Darren Clarke

Finally, to top it all off, at the Calcutta, everyone was given a player who had been randomly drawn and, if your guy won, you would take down a pretty nice sized hat pool. I drew Hunter Mahan. If you're scoring at home (or even if you're by yourself . . . HAHAHA . . . I do love baseball humor), that adds-up to 22 players. By Sunday morning, here are the contenders I had going into the final round and where they stood before play began: Phil Mickelson (1st), Hunter Mahan (2nd), Charl Schwartzel (2nd), Jason Day (8th), Ernie Els (16th) and Paul Lawrie (16th).

Sixteenth was about as far down the leaderboard as I thought you could go on Sunday morning and find a potential winner and that would have required one of those guys at +6 to shoot 65 or 66 with the winning score coming in at +1 or +2 which turned-out to be about right (and Jason Dufner actually had a chance to win it from all the way back at +8). But I didn't even need that kind of magic as I had the leader, two players tied for second and maybe my best shot, Jason Day, only three strokes back.

I also had three FGR All-Star wives
(Mickelson, Mahan and Day) rooting
along with me so how could I lose?
This is so darn interesting, let's drill-down a little deeper on my Sunday morning. For breakfast I had raisin bran with blueberries, I shot a 78, won $20 and then ate a turkey club sandwich on wheat toast with no cheese (because that stuff will kill you). But I digress (which should be the name of this website). Let's go ahead and get to the action starting a couple hours before the leaders teed off at the point where Rory McIlroy decided to reconfigure the shaft on his wedge after dumping two balls in the water at no. 11 on his way to making a quad. Of course now we know he was just foreshadowing what would be a diabolical day for most of the players (and at least one volunteer).

Time to powershift into the present tense for effect. I'm going to be approximating some of the times here so bear with me.

3:20:  Just as the leaders are preparing to tee-off, Charl Schwartzel hits one tight on no. 1 and side-doors the birdie putt to tie for the lead. I'm not going to go into great detail on the amount of money I have on Schwartzel but let's just say that, if he wins, a new set of Rocketbladez Tour irons is coming my way with about enough left over for a threesome at Pebble Beach. Suffice it to say that after he birdies the first and sets himself up for another one on the second, I am deep into the custom fitting process on the Taylor Made website. I'm not just touching the money, I'm rubbing it all over myself like a Dom Deluise style treasure bath.

"Mmmm Speed Pocket technology."
3:22: One of the few guys at the top of the leaderboard not representing Team FGR is Steve Stricker who was a sentimental favorite because he's a great dude and has put together a career worthy of a major. Unfortunately, there's a reason some guys never win one and right on cue he wipes a ball out of bounds from the second tee and then follows that with a shank in the same direction. Kudos to Strick for grinding-out the ten footer for triple which keeps him within striking distance but let's face it, he's as done as any member of a Star Trek landing party wearing a red uniform.**

3:24: Luke Donald drills a standard bearer with a driver on the par-3 third hole (nice course set-up USGA). Apparently, she's never played paint ball before because she obviously took cover on the wrong side of the tree. Either that or she just wasn't paying attention which is fairly typical of a woman at a golf tournament.***

3:44: Well it looks like Donald may not recover from cracking that girl's coconut because he just hit a wedge into the creek on the 4th hole. Mr. Donald, if you will come with me, we have a nice seat for you right over here a little lower on the leaderboard in between Mr. Stricker and Mr. Westwood where we think you'll be more comfortable. Someone will be by with your 8th place check in a few hours.

4:11: After lipping-out for birdie on No. 1, missing a short one for birdie on No. 2 and three-jacking No. 3 for a double, it appears my prediction that Phil's putter would finally get hot on Sunday may be going the way of my Graeme McDowell pick. Meanwhile, Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose and Jason Day look like they're playing a different golf course. It's as if they're the only guys who got the memo that you're not just permitted to hit fairways at Merion, it's actually encouraged.

4:40: Schwartzel avoids his third three-putt in row by making a bending 4 footer for bogey on No. 5 but now he looks like someone just handed him a note that says, "Marcellus Wallace has $50,000 on you not finishing in the top ten."
"The South African cat has to go down like
 it's Lethal Mutherf-ckin' Weapon 2. Dig?"

4:42: Jason Dufner is -5 through 14 holes and is on his way to posting +2 or +3 which could be the number for a playoff . . . and of course he just hit his tee shot on 15 over the fence leading to a triple bogey. At about this point in the proceedings, I tweeted that this was starting to look like the last hour of The Departed and Phil was on his way to a stunning demise a la Leonardo DiCarprio exiting the elevator. (Steve Stricker's shank-fest on the second hole was Martin Sheen sailing off the top of the building).

4:45: Phil just made his second double in five holes. His putter is absolutely killing him . . . and me. This isn't The Departed, this is M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening and Merion is the ominous wind that makes people spontaneously drive into telephone polls and walk into moving farm equipment.****

5:32: Holy crap Mickelson just holed-out for eagle on No. 10. In the words of Flounder from Animal House, "oh boy, is this great!" Speaking of Flounder, did you catch Phil's vertical on that celebration? That just became Exhibit "A" in the case against golfers as athletes. 

6:00: On the 13th tee, Phil asks someone what the lightning forecast is. WTF?!? If we had to pinpoint the moment when we should have known it was about to go south, that was probably it. Not surprisingly, he pumps it over the green from 121 yards. This is why if you want Phil to win the U.S. Open, you can't watch him play the U.S. Open. It's like watching Don Draper try to be a good parent. He wants it so badly but it's just not in his DNA. For Don, it's getting busted by his daughter with the neighbor's wife and for Phil it's trying to finesse a pitching wedge tight on a 121 yard hole where everyone else has been hitting gap wedge. They just can't help themselves.   

6:02: Billy Horschel pumps his fist for Jason Day's putt to go in. That was kind of cool. By the way, I think Horschel is a little tweaked and it's not just because of the octopus pants or the fact that he looks exactly like Christian Bale's character in American Psycho. At one point on Saturday, Mickelson was hitting a putt on his line and as soon as he made contact, Horschel bolted behind him to get the read. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but, if someone did it to me, you would definitely hear something muttered that sounded a lot like "dude, what the frick is your problem?"

6:08: Phil completes the fiasco at No. 13 with a bogey which cancels-out his eagle. He has officially entered the Greg Norman zone of inventing ways to lose the tournament.

6:37: After a solid par on No. 14, Phil puts himself in position to make birdie with a very aggressive tee shot on 15 that leaves him a wedge into the green.

Side note: At some point over the weekend, PGA pro Colt Knost tweeted the following, "I told Phil one day he's pretty good with his wedges, he replied 'no, I'm really f'ing good with them.'"

"Wait, you know what would be really cool? If you
intentionally hit a pop-up 3-wood from 121. That
would blow Johnny Miller's freakin' mind."
6:42: Unfortunately, as he's getting ready to hit this wedge, he makes a comment to Bones about being able to spin it in there and I'm thinking "NOOO." Every time a player tries to spin a wedge on this course it ends badly so of course Phil spins it so far back that he has to chip his next one off the front of the green. This of course leads to his second bogey in three holes where he had a wedge in his hand. Phil makes so many bad decisions, sometimes I wonder if he ever thought seriously about quitting golf to become a break dancer.

6:55: Phil puts himself in position to make another birdie on 16 but slides the putt by. Now the golf Gods are just screwing with him and he has to play 17 and 18 one under to force a playoff. Unfortunately for Phil and us, the USGA set the course up so someone would lose the tournament on the last two holes, not win it.

7:14: Jason Day lips-out a 5 footer that was his shot at a playoff. My golf gambling afternoon is absolutely coming-apart at the seams. Ironically, my wife and kids just gave me a new tennis outfit for Father's Day. Speaking of M. Night Shyamalan, I'm pretty sure that's a sign.

7:32: Phil chases his birdie chip up the hill on 18 and it's almost sad like the dog who bit the mailman one too many times chasing the family car as it leaves the farm where you ditch crazy old dogs never to return (holy crap, I just had a Don Draper Hershey bar in the whorehouse moment on that one). You can even see some hope in the way Bones pulls the pin as the ball rolls a foot wide of the hole. There will, however, be no more miracles for Phil today. It's as if the golf Gods gave him one on No. 10, watched him screw it up on 13 and 15 and then said "we can't keep enabling this guy." I don't think I've felt this bad for a player since Tom Watson let the 2009 British Open slip away (and I'm still not quite over that).

"Hey Taylor Made, how about a
little something, you know,
for the effort, you know."
In the end, the winners were Justin Rose and Merion which turned-out to be an outstanding U.S. Open course. For those who thought it was too difficult, consider that there were twenty-three rounds under par this year versus eight at Oakmont in 2007. My only complaints were the ridiculously long par-3 3rd hole and the fact that making birdie on 18 was next to impossible which eliminated much of the drama. The losers of course were Phil Mickelson and the FGR. Phil racked-up another painful 2nd place finish and I walked away with nothing but new tennis duds (at least until yesterday when I bought the Rocketbladez anyway).

Endnotes

* I've been a Spurs fan since the days of the Iceman who's poster was one of three on my bedroom wall along with John McEnroe and Tony Dorsett. Then they landed David Robinson who I had spent my high school years watching live as he took the Naval Academy all the way to the Elite Eight in 1986 including the demolishing of #2 seed Syracuse in the Carrier Dome before losing to a Duke team that included Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas. Just about everyone remembers where they were when they started hating Duke and I was in my living room watching them deny David Robinson and Navy a trip to the Final Four. Twenty-seven years later and I had to sit with my two sons and watch helplessly as Shane Battier made six 3-pointers in Game 7. The FGW finally threatened to shut the whole thing down if I announced one more time that "there is no God."

"Gentlemen, I'm going to give it to
you straight . . . you're screwed."
** Unless of course it was Scotty who never left the ship because if he did, who would be back on the Enterprise not fixing the damn transporter again? If Scotty had been born in 1952 instead of 2202, he would have been an inept plumber.

*** That is obviously a joke so please let me be absolutely clear so as not to offend female golf spectators that it is not my position that women do not pay attention at golf tournaments. It is my position that women do not pay attention at sporting events in general. BOOM!

**** I couldn't explain why I liked The Happening until I read part of Robert Wilonsky's review on Rotten Tomatoes - "Effective nonsense, chilling nonsense, occasionally wrenching nonsense." That about sums it up. Ironically, Mark Wahlberg was able to survive both the killing spree in The Departed and the killing wind in The Happening. The lesson as always, don't mess with Mickey Ward.  

Email the FGR here.