Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Tour Championship Update

"But this IS my
funny face."
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem was recently quoted as saying, “we’re at a point of total parity.  Anybody out here can win any given time.  So far the fans seem to really like it, and it’ll be interesting to see what develops in that regard going forward.”  Allow me to translate.  “We’re at a point of total desperation.  Chez Reavie or Jason Duffner could win the FedEx Cup.  So far the fans we still have are tuning in because, as the existence of the Golf Channel proves, there are enough diehards out there to keep us in the conversation with NASCAR and hockey as the Zeppo Marx of American sports.  (Now that’s old school, even for this blog).  Thank God CBS just renewed our deal so I don’t have to sell my boat.”

Parity doesn’t work for golf and tennis for the same reason it doesn’t work for the NBA.  People watch those sports to (a) see the superstars win, and (b) OCCASIONALLY see the superstars get upset by a likeable underdog.  We would’ve been ok with Rocco Mediate beating Tiger at the U.S. Open but, if Bob May had pulled-off the upset at the PGA, it would have been a disappointment because we’d never met Bob before and frankly his story wasn’t that interesting.  The fact that he looked like an Easy Method driving instructor didn’t help. 

"Mmmm doughnuts.  Is
there anything they can't do?"
That parity was on full display at the Tour Championship as six players finished within two shots of the lead and at least that many had a shot at the FedEx Cup if they could have made one or two more putts after Webb Simpson essentially walked into a crowded bar, set the bag of money on the table and asked everyone to watch it while he went to take a leak.  You know he’s replayed every one of his 282 shots in his head and figured out which two most cost him the $7M difference between first and second place.  I do that when I lose $50.  I wish someone would invent one of those memory erasing devices from Men in Black.  That and a healthy doughnut.  If you eat two doughnuts and two fish oil pills, would that be the same as eating a salmon sandwich?  I wish someone had brought doughnuts in today.      

OK I’m back.  The designers of the FedEx Cup did everything right.  They manufactured a dramatic finish that hinged on the outcome of the Tour Championship with multiple outcomes in play right down to Baddeley’s birdie putt on 18.  The problem is that there are two kinds of drama.  You have the kind I care about like the showdown between Omar Little, Brother Mouzone and Stringer Bell (don’t watch this until you’ve completed your required viewing of the full run of The Wire http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqbxZG6FMeI) and then you have a playoff between Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan who are the embodiment of parity.  They are both swell fellows but the over/under on majors they will combine to win is 2 and I’m not sure you’d want either one of them playing in the last match with the Ryder Cup on the line. 

"Any of you guys step in
my line....and I'll kill you."
There was a big group of players in contention down the stretch for whom this would have been a signature win but they couldn’t close the deal.  Luke Donald could have justified his #1 world ranking but he did what he always seems to do which is lip out a couple of key putts on Sunday and finish between 3rd and 5th.  K.J. Choi would have been player of the year if he had added the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup to his win at the Players but he came up a stroke short.  Adam Scott blew it with a 74 on Saturday and is now back to not quite playing-up to his ability status.  (The positive byproduct of this development is that Steve Williams is back to just being a guy who carries a golf bag).  Jason Day huffed and stamped his feet around the back nine Sunday like a kid trying to get out of going to church and ended-up with another near miss.  (Jason Day wins the “Lighten-up Francis Award” for 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrllCZw8jiM).

So who is the player of the year?  Bill Haas had a solid season and then won the 5th or 6th most important tournament of the year.  Keegan Bradley had two wins including a major.  Luke Donald won the matchplay, the most money (so far) and is ranked #1 in the world.  Nick Watney and Webb Simpson each had two quality wins.  Steve Stricker won the Memorial and finished in the Top 20 in all four majors.  That’s six prime candidates with pretty substandard credentials.  You know the other problem?  You would gladly have any one of those guys marry your sister which is great for the image of the Tour but lousy for generating buzz.  If you’re going to have total parity, then you at least need a bad guy in the mix to polarize people.  In short, the Tour needs an Omar and as far as I can tell, Omar’s not comin’.

(No spoiler here - just a classic Omar clip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmtuRRhtGQw).                                

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Tour Championship Preview

The finial - it taint the cup
and it taint the base.
Thirty players are heading to Atlanta this week to play for a big pile of money and a “sterling silver spun cup that is 15 inches in diameter and balanced on a solid titanium finial that has been dimpled to symbolize a golf ball.” (I think the definition of “finial” is “a trophy’s taint”). But what does it all mean? Keegan Bradley is the only one of the thirty who won a major this year and he spent the last month plummeting from 5th in the standings down to 20th leaving himself almost out of contention. The only other major winner eligible to win the Titanium Taint was Charl Schwartzel and he missed the Top 30 due in no small part to the fact that he skipped the first tournament of the playoffs because he either, (a) didn’t care about winning $10M, (b) thought he was a lock for the Top 30 after winning the Masters, or (c) asked Ernie Els and Trevor Immelman if they thought it was a good idea and they said “sure mate, you’ll make it anyway.” (Do South Africans call each other mate? I checked Lethal Weapon 2 but I’m not sure that’s the most accurate portrayal of South Africans. At least I hope not).  
"Are you sure Anthony
Edwards won't even
do a cameo?"
So we’re left with Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar controlling their own destinies and guys like Brandt Snedeker, Nick Watney and Chez Reavie having an outside shot. That’s a great set of names if you’re creating frat house characters for Revenge of the Nerds V: We’re Still Two Behind Police Academy but I’m having a hard time finding a story worth rooting for in there (this may have something to do with the fact that my boys ZJ, Rickie, Ryan and Spencer combined for one Top 10 finish in the playoffs and are now all dead to me – well maybe not my man Spencer). Considering most of those guys have contended in majors on Sunday and have never been able to close the deal, it will probably come down to who can avoid throwing-up on his shoes. In a related story, the FedEx lawyer who drafted the sponsorship deal and didn’t include an out clause if Tiger doesn’t play in consecutive years is now driving a delivery truck in Kabul.

Regardless of who wins this weekend, we are likely looking at the first PGA Player of the Year without a major title on his résumé since Corey Pavin in 1991 (he won his U.S. Open in ’95) which says about all you need to know about the strength of the performance of the PGA Tour players on golf’s world stage in 2011. 1991 was actually a lot like 2011 in that is was mostly forgettable other than the PGA Championship where John Daly pumped some life into a season that featured pulse quickening multiple winners like Billy Andrade, Mark Brooks, Andrew Magee and Tom Purtzer. It was no coincidence that Tiger Woods was invited to play in the L.A. Open as a 16 year old the following year and Earl Woods mysteriously won a Cadillac Coup de Ville despite never entering a contest. 

So who’s going to win the Taint? At the start of the playoffs, I picked Adam Scott who then scuffled through the next three tournaments and dropped to 19th. Now he needs to win and have Webb Simpson finish 13th or worse and I don’t think those two things are going to happen. Let’s start with the premise that Simpson is not going to finish lower than 9th which eliminates everyone currently sitting between 16th and 30th. Now let’s take out Brandt Snedeker, Chez Reavie, John Senden, Gary Woodland and Mark Wilson because FedEx will do a live reenactment of the plane crash from Castaway on the 18th green before it hands one of those guys a check for $10M. 

Next we can eliminate Steve Stricker and Justin Rose under the theory that this event will have major tournament pressure where coffee is for closers. Mickelson checked-out after the British Open and I think this is the year of the near miss for Jason Day. Luke Donald has talked openly about wanting to win the title, the money and player of the year yet he’s only won eight times in his entire ten year career and five of those were in Europe so he’s still the Tour’s paper tiger. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar have been lousy on this course in the past so they’re out which leaves Nick Watney and Webb Simpson.

Watney would need to win the tournament and have Simpson and Johnson both finish 3rd or worse. That would actually be a fitting end to the nine months of torture I've endured since taking Zach Johnson ahead of him so he's my guy. The lesson as always, don’t pick short hitters in the first round and don’t show-up to the bar three hours before the draft.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Club Championship Update

"I'm just a caveman."
Every golfer has an Achilles heel.  Mine is fairly common – the driver.  Some days I pick it up and I feel like a caveman who has just been handed an electric guitar.  I kind of stare it wondering how it works and then I go to the range and play with it until I can get some kind of music to come out of it.  If I can get it to make at least a flat twang, I shrug my shoulders and take that swing to the first tee.  Some days it’s so bad I start laughing on my downswing as I realize, “I have no idea where this is going.”  It is one of the reasons I joined a club with no houses on it.      

With that being the case, I was justifiably trepidatious as I prepared for my rain shortened one round qualifying tournament last Sunday.  The 7,000+ yard course had been underwater for a week so the fairways were like oatmeal and the rough looked like a genetically engineered spinach farm.  It was kind of like playing on the set of Swamp Thing.  Ideal conditions for a guy who is generally satisfied with hitting about five out of fourteen fairways.  So what did I do?  I hit four of the first five.  Where did I stand after six holes (#4 is a par three)?  Six over par!  How did I accomplish this?  Thirteen putts which, for those doing the math, is 6 holes x 2 putts per hole +1 and it didn’t get any better from there as I finished with thirty-eight putts (18 x 2 + 2).  Suffice it to say I missed the cut.    

I have been walking around for four days muttering “38 putts, 38 putts….38 putts.”  When people say, “excuse me?” I respond with “never mind” but what I want to say is “38 GODDAMN MUTHERF---ING PUTTS!!!!!”  How does that happen?  I mean you’re taking a flat object and using it to roll a ball across the ground into a hole.  Sometimes the ball should just hit the hole by accident right?  RIGHT?!?!  Isn’t that some kind of combination of the laws of probability and physics?  Eventually a rolling ball will discover gravity and fall straight down?  Screw you Sir Isaac Newton.     

"I'm mind f-cking you right now."
I am actually a good putter.  At least I thought I was but now I don’t know.  In fact, I’m not sure about anything at this point.  Do I still have the basic skills to drive a car, operate a toaster or even tie my shoes?  The game is such a cruel mind f-ck.  I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns and I currently wish that I’d never picked-up a club.  That’s all I can muster this week but I'm getting back on the horse tomorrow and, whether my putting is great or lousy, I’m going to be bitter either way.  I think I need a psychiatrist.            

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Club Championship Preview

With the Tour taking a bye week, we’re going local again as I prepare to play in my club’s 36 hole championship qualifier on Saturday and Sunday.  It’s two days of stroke play played on two different courses with the low 15 scores (plus the defending champion) moving on to the match play championship the following weekend.  Of the 27 players entered in the event, I probably have the third or fourth highest handicap (5) so I am attempting to jump the fence and spend five minutes swimming in a private gene pool before I get tossed in the first round by a scratch or better the following week. 

This will be my third attempt to qualify.  To describe my first attempt as “inauspicious” would be to sell it short.  The first hole on Saturday is a relatively short par 5 with out of bounds right and trees on the left.  When I stepped to the first tee four years ago, the one thing I knew was that my first shot was not going right.  I had been a member of the club for about two months, no one knew who I was and I was not going to be hitting two balls off the first tee.  Mission accomplished.  A Tim Wakefield knuckleball into the left trees which would have looked like a terrible tee shot to anyone who didn’t know that’s where I was aiming.  I resisted the urge to pump my fist. 

Unfortunately, it had been raining for a couple of days and a steady downpour started again as we were walking down the first fairway so the rough was thick and wet.  We started looking for my ball.  And then we looked some more.  And then it became apparent that my ball had either gone underground or ricocheted to parts unknown and, when my time ran out, I turned around and started the long walk back to the tee.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of doing this and want to know what it feels like, put on a human billboard that says “I SUCK!” and then go to the mall and walk-up the down escalator.    

When I got there, the next group was under the pro’s small canopy waiting to hit so I stuck the tee in the ground and whacked it as fast as I could and SWEET JESUS THAT’S GOING RIGHT!  I turned to the pro for a look of reassurance hoping he would say “it really opens up over there, you’re fine” but instead I just got a doubtful shake of the head.  At that point, I seriously considered walking-off the course but moves like that become the stuff of legend around golf clubs (and not William Wallace legend….more like Steve Bartman legend) so I hit a third ball right down the middle.  (Can you say “same guy” on the third ball?)  I went on to lip-out my putt for an 8 on the hole, shot 90 the first day, 86 the second day and missed the cut by about 20 strokes.

I skipped the following year as the scars were still fresh but last year I decided to go back for more punishment.  I caught a break before I even teed off as we learned that one of the favorites had had his car stolen the night before and would not be playing thereby opening-up a spot for someone else.  That of course sparked an impromptu amateur comedy hour on the range about who stole the car and I sounded like a laughing hyena because I was so nervous about the opening tee shot that I would have doubled over at a knock-knock joke.      

"Here I go again..."
This time I went to the first tee with a better game plan than “drive it into the trees on purpose” (worst golf instructional video title ever).  I hit a hybrid into the left rough and, more importantly, found it.  Then I hit a 5-iron and then an 8-iron to the middle of the green about 30 feet below the hole for birdie.  Then I promptly three putted for a bogey and started hearing David Coverdale singing in my head but as I walked to the next tee, I remembered that a 6 was better than a 9 (I majored in math for one semester in college).  And then out of nowhere I started reeling off pars like Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1987.  When I stood over the ball, instead of thinking where not to hit it, I wasn’t thinking at all.  I could almost feel myself breathing through my eyelids.      

After eight straight pars, I made the turn at one over and was still cruising when I reached the 12th hole which is a very reachable par five but with Leavenworth on one side and Sing Sing on the other.  I decided to play it “smart” again and pulled a 4-iron straight into the trees on the left.  Luckily, I found it and punched it out to what I thought was the fairway but it landed on a patch of hardpan.  In hindsight, I should have whacked a putter from there but instead I tried to punch an 8-iron and never saw where the ball went.  Turns out it shot straight right into the hazard so I took a drop and still had to lay up with my 5th shot at which point David Coverdale started singing again.  I hit my 6th shot about 30 feet from the hole and then the golf Gods had mercy as I drained the putt for the sweetest double bogey of my life.  I made a couple of bogeys on the next five holes but then finished with a birdie on 18 for a 76 and 5th place after the first day.

Day 2 is contested on the championship course which, from the back tees, is a 7,037 yard par 70 Leviathan and we would be playing it in a steady rain which made it feel about 300 yards longer.  I figured I needed to shoot about 84 to keep the entire peloton from blowing by me.  The problem was that, with the rain, I would be playing about six of the holes as par 5’s (there are only two on the scorecard) and that was before my driver went AWOL on me and I had to start hitting 3-woods off the tee on 450 yard par 4’s.  It quickly became a long day livin’ in Reseda with a freeway runnin' through the yard, especially after a bogey-bogey-triple bogey start. 

To make this already too long golf story shorter, I’ll skip to the end.  After putting out on 18, I trudged to the clubhouse feeling like James Brolin looked at the end of Capricorn One.  When I got there, I had this exchange with one of my “friends” who was also in the field:
"Did I make it?"

Friend: “Did you blow-up?” 
Me:  “A little.”
Friend: “How much?”
Me: “87”
Friend: “Damn. Not enough.” 
Turns out the conditions were tough on everyone and I had avoided a playoff for the last spot by one stroke.  This earned me the right to move on as the 15th seed and play one of the best players in the club the following weekend.  I hung with him for the front nine but it turns out that +2 handicaps (a) can hit the ball really far and (b) don’t lose a lot of holes to pars.  The dream died on the 15th green but at least I was able to outrun security for one cannonball off the high dive before they escorted me off the premises.                              

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Deutsche Update

I never realized how much I truly hated school as a kid until last week when I sent my boys off for their first days of 2nd and 5th grade and I felt like I was sending them to work in a coal mine.  I find myself wondering if the same educational goals couldn’t be accomplished by reading a few books, watching the History Channel, working in retail (the most underrated learning experience in the world) and playing fantasy sports.  I know that I’ve learned more about doing research from trying to discover trends in the statistics of wide receivers in their first two years as an indicator of an impending breakout season than I ever learned following a librarian back and forth from the card stacks to the bookshelves wondering, “why in the hell didn’t they just put this stuff in alphabetical order.”  Melvil Dewey had to be one of the first guys in history to use compromising pictures of a public official to get a government contract because that "system" sucks. 

"You may putt like Crenshaw
but you drive it like sh-t."
What does this have to do with the Deutsche Bank Championship?  Nothing.  Frankly I’m in no mood to talk about it after Team Jerkstore dropped a collective turd on the final round highlighted by Rickie Fowler’s 77 which took him from 31st to 37th in the standings.  I thought we were past all that after Rickie followed-up his Sunday 74 at Aronimink with a T5 at the British and a T2 at the Bridgestone.  Since then he’s placed T51, T52 and T52.  The guy is about as consistent as a self-taught 22 year old.  (Wait a second.  He’s what?  Why in the hell did I take him in the second round ahead of Jason Day then?)  Apparently I jumped on Rickie a year too soon but he’s got one more week to prove me wrong.  “FORGET ABOUT THE CURVE BALL RICKIE….GIVE HIM THE HEATER!!!”                    

"Thanks Big Guy."
To make matters worse, Chez Reavie handed Webb Simpson the first place check after bogeying the reachable par 5 18th hole on Sunday by airmailing the green with a wedge when all he needed was a par to win.  I believe Johnny Miller’s exact quote before he hit it was “you make par from here about 49 times out of 50 right?”  By “you,” I assume he was talking to Roger Maltbie, Gary Koch or any of the other pros in the vicinity not named “Chez” who would have hit it on the front of the green and two-putted for the win.  But then I learned after the round that it wasn’t Chez’s fault because Webb Simpson told Maltbie that he had felt the Lord’s presence all day.  It’s hard to control your ball flight when God wants it to go long.  Not even Tiger Woods 2000 could have done that.  Well, maybe. 

Now we move onto Cog Hill for some last minute shuffling before the Tour Championship.  At this point, we’ve only had three players move into the Top 30 (Reavie, Y.E. Yang and Kyle Stanley) replacing D.A. Points, Tommy Gainey and Martin Laird.  They may have finally gotten this playoff formula right as every guy who deserves a look as the best player of 2011 is in the Top 20 along with some riff raff like Reavie and Vijay.  It’s really the Top 12 but I had to stretch it to 20 to include my man Keegan Bradley who has two wins including a major.  Bradley missed the cut by one this week after bogeying the 18th hole.  (There’s a joke in there somewhere about God, Webb Simpson, an Irish kid having a tough stretch and the potato famine but this is a non-denominational blog so I'm not going there).    

If Watney and Stricker can bump Kuchar and Snedeker out of the Top 5, then we’d have the five most deserving players heading to East Lake in control of their own destinies.  Kuchar hasn’t won yet this year so, unless he wins this week, he doesn’t rate with that group.  There was a great Kuch moment this weekend when his ball came to rest up against some rocks near a drain pipe and, in an effort to get a free drop, he tried to convince the official that his play would have been to bounce it backwards off the rocks (which would have been unavoidably painful) instead of just taking the unplayable lie and moving it away from the rocks (which would have been relatively pain free).  Of course the whole time he was pleading his case he had the full Kuchar smile going which made him look like a 17 year old kid lying his ass off to his parents.  “I am telling you we were playing Geometry Wars on the Wii at Eric’s house and suddenly we heard this loud crash and when we came outside the car looked like that.  Seriously.  What?  You don’t believe me.  (Pleading) I swear.  Oh come on.”  (A little advice for you kids out there in the spirit of the new school year.  The key in that situation is to never give in…not even when the insurance adjuster calls you a liar.  Don’t ask me how I know.  I just know).