Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Match Play Update

"It's 65 degrees in February.  How can I
squeeze in 9 holes between dropping off the
kids and taking the FGW to the doctor?"      
The Fantasy Golf Wife (the "FGW") was recently knocked-out of commission with a herniated disc so for the past week I've been Jack Butler after he got canned in Mr. Mom with a couple notable exceptions: (1) I still have a job and, (2) instead of being repeatedly propositioned by a lascivious Martin Mull, the FGW is hobbling around like Yoda and periodically cutting loose a string of f-bombs that would make Bobby Knight go "whoa people let's just take it down a notch."  So instead of growing a nasty beard, putting on twenty pounds and becoming one with a flannel shirt, I've been running around like Henry Hill right before he got pinched at the end of Goodfellas (which means I just portrayed the FGW as a mob wife strung-out on coke.  She is not having a good week).
When we were woken-up at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday by the sound of a police helicopter circling the neighborhood, I almost went outside and surrendered just so I could go to jail and get some sleep.  (I am not making-up the helicopter.  It was straight-out of Goodfellas with everything but Monkey Man playing in the background).  Turns out they were looking for a shooting suspect.  (Did I mention that I live 10 miles from the setting for The Wire?)  This is a long way of saying that I cannot vouch for the next 2,000 words because they were written by a zombie and if you think this intro has been all over the map, wait til you read the rest of it.  

Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, K-E-L-L-Y

Mmmm . . . perpetual cheese.
My salvation last week was Tivo and The Golf Channel's ("TGC") early round coverage of the Accenture Match Play Championship as I would retreat to my basement every night around 9:30 p.m. with a few beers or a bottle of wine while avoiding the temptation to sample the variety of pain medications now available in our medicine cabinet (you never want to do anything that could ultimately put you in the same sentence with Brett Favre and Rush Limbaugh).  Maybe it took me being in a slightly altered state of mind but, for the first time in all the hours I've spent watching golf, I began to appreciate the unique talent of TGC announcer Kelly Tilghman.  I spent a fair amount of time on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday watching and re-watching her over-the-top monologues trying to come up with a description of her style and I kept coming back to the image of the announcing crew as a wedding reception buffet with a raw bar (Roger Maltbie), carving station (Johnny Miller), dessert table (Dottie Pepper) and in the middle of it all, Kelly Tilghman as a giant magnificent fondue fountain just spewing an endless supply of cheese.
"You know Kelly, that's a
watercolor I bet Luke Donald
 wishes he left in his studio."*
At one point I decided that I should start writing down her one liners and then see how they stack-up against the undisputed champ, David Caruso in CSI: Miami (Caruso Lines) but that would have violated my strict "no notes" policy.  The one that stands-out went something like this:  "Sang Moon Bae told me that he looks forward to playing more golf in the United States so he can, as he said, 'learn English more quickly'.  For now, he is letting his clubs do the talking (she breaks into a fake smile and chuckles). . . and they are fluent."  That prompted a classic "you've got to be f---ing kidding me" from an ill-tempered FGW who has no patience for hack female sports announcers even on her good days.  It's as if Tilghman's training consisted of watching Dan Akyroyd in Trading Places combined with memorizing as many cliches (sports or otherwise) as possible.  When Luke Donald splashed a tee shot on Wednesday, I expected her to cut-in and say, "at this point Luke Donald would like to slip out of that water hazard (chuckle) and into a dry Martini."  That is unless Nick Faldo (a/k/a the Tango to her Cash) beat her to it.  It actually got to the point on Friday where I looked forward to her cut-ins for a dose of unintentional comedy so I decided to honor her with a love song (The Kelly Song).     

The Tournament

The Accenture Match Play exemplifies the law of diminishing returns (the first slice of pizza always tastes better than the 5th) because each day you have half as many matches as the day before; ergo, less chances for compelling match-ups and exciting finishes.  Compounding this problem from a broadcasting perspective is the fact that the first three rounds are on weekday afternoons when most of the viewers advertisers covet (a/k/a "the gainfully employed") are not available to watch.  (Surprisingly, TGC's effort to shine a light on the homeless problem in America with the show Pipe Dream** did not generate the corporate sponsorship momentum that they had anticipated).  
Go ahead Tyler, throw the left cross.
You know you want to.  Everyone will
say he fell and hit his nose on the table.
Unfortunately, golf has not reached NCAA Tournament level popularity where guys from Long Island working in Manhattan tell their secretaries that they have to go meet a client on a Thursday afternoon so they can spend the rest of the day getting bombed while watching Northern Iowa play Missouri in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  TGC and NBC also caught a bad break when Phil Mickelson bailed which would have been like North Carolina bailing on the NCAA (and if you ride this analogy to its logical conclusion, Tiger is Duke because, if you have a soul, you instinctively hate them both).

True to form, the best days of this year's Match Play were Wednesday when thirteen of thirty-two matches went at least 18 holes and Thursday when we had matches like Kuchar v. Watson, Watney v. Woods and a rematch of Stanley v. Snedeker.  (That cold front that hit the East Coast on Thursday evening was propelled by the collective sigh of the advertisers after Tiger missed his putt on 18 and lost).  You could feel the momentum waning a little bit by Friday with no Tiger or Phil (or even second tier attractions like Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley) but at least we still had Kaymer v. Kuchar, Stricker v. Mahan and The Mechanic v. a now perpetually brooding Rory McIlroy (when did he turn into Robert Pattinson?)  

"Dude.  Losing is soooo lame."

On Saturday, however, the cotter pins started coming loose thanks in part to the inexplicable decision to move the semifinals to Sunday morning and shorten the final match to 18 holes.  That left us with one interesting quarterfinal match on Saturday between Kuchar and Mahan which turned out to be a 6 & 5*** beatdown on the level of Tyson v. Spinks.  (For my readers under the age of 25, Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks were heavyweight boxers back when heavyweight boxing was one of the coolest sports around . . . and before Tyson served time for a rape conviction - Tyson v. Spinks).  There was still a marquee match between Westwood and McIlroy looming in the semifinals but some genius had the idea to rearrange the format so instead of having that match at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, they played on Sunday morning when most of us were at church.

With the FGW on the disabled
list, I decided to stay home
and brush-up on my Leviticus.
By Sunday afternoon we had what turned-out to be a pretty attractive final between Mahan and McIlroy but this is where NBC annually runs into its final hurdle.  It's impossible to maintain interest in a golf match between two players, even when they're among the best in the world.  There is simply too much downtime which results in extended camera shots of golfers walking down the fairway (golf's version of "dead air") and long gaps in the action for the announcers to fill with banter or, even worse, features like Peter Jacobson hitting shots next to a cactus wearing a bulky protective suit that made it almost impossible for him to swing.  (Unfortunately, it didn't make it impossible for him to talk.  Now I know why they picked Jacobson to win the U.S. Open in Tin Cup.  It was a non-speaking role).          

By the time they reached the 10th hole, the drama was gone as Mahan was up by 4 and on his way to a 2&1 victory.  My guess is that most people tuned-out during the back nine.  The fact that the Daytona 500 was rained-out probably didn't help because those two events would have been ideal channel surfing partners.  (Of course I have no idea what most people did and I'm just describing what I did.  It was 50 degrees outside and I had my first two hour window of freedom in a week so I went and played nine holes which, in the words of Chris Farley, "was awesome").   

So how can we fix the match play tournament to make it more watchable on the weekend?  I'd start by cutting the field to 32 players to improve the chances for better matches later in the tournament.  This year that would have meant potential final 8 matches of McIlroy v. Schwartzel, Westwood v. Quiros and Snedeker v. Dustin Johnson.  (No offense to Martin Laird, Peter Hanson and Mark Wilson but if you asked 20 people on the street who they were, 17 of them would say the original Beach Boys).  Making the field smaller and taking away one round would also mean that you could start the tournament on Thursday instead of Wednesday which would make the following plan more feasible.

Once the finalists are determined on Saturday (using the old format), have the highest ranked players who didn't make it pick two teams from the remaining 30 to play against each other Ryder Cup style on Sunday with the winning team splitting $2M and the losing team splitting $1M.  You'd have to pay them something extra to stick around for Sunday and you could generate the extra prize money by cutting the earlier round payouts and by televising the drafting of the teams on Saturday night.  It would be golf's version of an All-Star game and it would give them something to cut to in between shots of the Match Play final instead of an interview with a suit from Accenture comparing the level of excellence we've seen on the course this week to the level of service provided by Accenture employees everyday.  (And yes, he really went there).    

I'm stealing hockey's idea for the draft because I got caught-up in there's a few weeks ago and it was unexpectedly entertaining even though I hardly knew any of the players.  If the NHL found a way to get me to watch something related to hockey that didn't involve me being at a game, then they are definitely on to something.  If anything, this concept would work better for golf because the NHL guys who were picked late genuinely didn't give a crap whereas golfers are more sensitive and we'd get to see guys like Francisco Molinari and R.C. Bello get more and more agitated every time they get passed over by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.      

"Don't worry folks, the plow
will be by to take off your
rearview mirror by tomorrow."
And one more tip.  Move the tournament to Southern California and set the tee times as late as possible.  Donald Trump would probably pony up the prize money himself to get an event like this to Trump National in Los Angeles.  The 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines showed that live golf coverage spilling into primetime on the East Coast is just flat-out awesome. Wouldn't the Match Play be the perfect tournament to do that with every year?  Wouldn't it dramatically improve weeknight ratings in the Northeast where we're usually shrouded in bitter cold darkness starting at 5:00 p.m.?  And finally, why do I live in Baltimore again?        

Explanatory Endnotes

*Luke Donald is also a painter who specializes in renderings of famous courses where he has almost won majors. 

**Rather than try to describe the Golf Channel show Pipe Dream to you and try to make some sense of it, I'll just give you their description and let you try to make sense of it.  "Follow one homeless man's quest to play on the Champions Tour.  Tune in to see if Mark Burk can turn his life around and get a fresh start."  I should add that part of the reason that Burk is homeless is that he was convicted of terrorizing his ex-girlfriend, super model Beverly Johnson, who not surprisingly threw him out of her mansion.  Burk has apparently been unsuccessful in his attempts to find lodging in the mansion of another super model so now he wanders in and out of homeless shelters carrying a set of golf clubs.  You have to admire him for refusing to lower his standards by settling for a dental assistant with a two bedroom condo.       
***In match play golf, you compete to win each hole and your score is the number of holes you have won versus the number your opponent has won.  For example, if you've played nine holes and you've won 3, your opponent has won 1 and you tied the other 5, you are 2 up.  The match is over when one player is up by more holes than there are left to play and the final score is recorded as the number of holes the winner was up and the number of holes left to play.   So in the case of Mahan v. Kuchar, Mahan was 6 up when they finished the 13th hole and won the match 6 & 5 because there were only 5 holes left to play.  

"Did you just call me a 'bitch'?"
That, however, is not even close to the biggest blowout in Match Play history.  In 2006, Stephen Ames was set to face Tiger in a match and dared to say that "anything can happen, especially where he [Tiger] is hitting the ball" but what Tiger heard was apparently, "anything can happen, especially where Tiger's hitting the Perkins' waitresses."  Tiger won the first nine holes and then halved the 10th for a 9 & 8 win but those days are long gone.  Now we've got some guy named Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano telling the world that Tiger is "beatable" before their match and it takes Tiger 18 holes to prove him wrong.  The lesson as always . . . if you go to a pancake house, don't order the corned beef hash and don't order the strange because you will regret both the next morning.   


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Match Play Preview

"Y'all want to come over to
play some Pictionary and
have some Key Lime Pie"
That was a fantastic finish at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday with Mickelson and Bradley both making birdie on one of the toughest finishing holes in golf to get into a playoff won by Bill Haas who dropped a 43 foot bomb on the second hole for the win but, from a writing perspective, that about covers it right?  Phil stumbled a bit down the stretch but he didn't have anything close to a Winged Foot level implosion and he made the clutch birdie on 18.  Keegan Bradley is starting to prove that he's no fluke but there's not much else to say about him at this point other than his preshot routine makes Dr. Bob Rotella* want to find a very safe place and start chanting "serenity now, serenity now . . ."

To top it all off, the winner was Bill Haas who drained the biggest putt of 2012 and followed it up with the kind of fist pump you see from a guy who just won free fries in a McDonald's scratch-off game.  Haas is so freakin' boring that his beautiful wife hasn't even posed for any gratuitous swimsuit pictures meaning I'm going to have to insert a completely random image later to keep the ratings up.  All of this adds up to an opportunity to hit a few random non-golf topics before we circle back for an Accenture Match Play preview.

The Worldwide Leader in Stupidity

"I know twas you who stole the stapler
from my cubicle.  Prepare to die!"
ESPN employees were recently reprimanded and, in one case, fired for using a certain offensive racial term in their coverage of Jeremy Lin.  It took me a couple of tries to find out what the offensive term was, presumably because some media outlets don't want to risk offending their sponsors by publishing that type of language.   Here at the FGR, however, we are not bound by such restrictions because we're pretty sure our sponsors don't read what we write so we're free to tell you that the language used by ESPN was "chink in the armor."  I found it on the L.A. Times website where they clarified the reference with the following explanation, "'chink' is, in certain contexts, a racial slur for a Chinese person" which led me to wonder if there are any modern contexts where "chink" would not be a racial slur considering that (a) "chink in the armor" is really the only other way it is commonly used and (b) not that many people are sporting armor these days (I know it's a metaphor but work with me).  It took a while but I came up with three groups of people who can inoffensively use "chink" in 2012: (1) characters on Game of Thrones, (2) members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (a/k/a amateur medieval reenactment freaks), and (3) employees of Medieval Times (a/k/a professional medieval reenactment freaks).                   

"I think he said the
point guard is a chick."
As for the human resources department at ESPN which I'm sure is in full court press mode this week, I'd recommend the following course of action.  Go out and buy about 100 copies of Blazing Saddles and make it required viewing for all employees with the instruction that they should avoid writing or saying anything remotely similar to anything uttered by the citizens of Rock Ridge.  And when it comes to discussing race, leave it to the experts at Saturday Night Live  (SNL - Jeremy Lin).  

The Worldwide Leader in Role Models

ESPN Magazine runs a feature called The Mag Minute in which they ask an athlete a few non-provocative questions and generally get generic answers with some dubious exceptions.  As you may recall, in December, Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez responded to the question, "what do you hate most about your job?" with "we have to listen to the coaches all the time and do what they say."  The message - "Hey kids, coaches are a drag!"  Then, in the February 20th edition of the Mag, University of Miami guard, Shenise Johnson decided to one-up Hernandez when she was asked, "what's the worst advice you've ever heard?"  Her response - "I hate general statements like 'stay in school.'  That's a myth.  Who says school will help you have a better job at the end of the day?"  Well Shenise, I'm glad you asked.

According to something called the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, full time employees with a bachelor's degree make 74% more, on average over their careers, than those whose highest attainment is a high-school diploma.  When you go beyond a bachelor's degree (you know, "stay in school"), that number rises to 84%.  A quick internet search on the subject might have enlightened Shenise but apparently her interests lie elsewhere because in the same piece she was asked "what's the last thing you Googled?" and her response was, "Beyonce.  I want to dance like her - her heels are like eight inches high, and she can still move."  The "U" just can't seem to catch a break these days.        

Little League Basketball Update 

Why do I feel like this
picture is a crystal ball?
My son has his last basketball game of the season this Saturday and his team is undefeated (we're not supposed to keep score but it turns out that 8 year olds can count by two.  Who knew?)  I was all set to show him Hoosiers, Glory Road or The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh on Friday night to get him fired up but those movies are about long shots.  Turns out Hollywood doesn't make too many movies about undefeated teams that close the deal.  I thought about showing him One on One with Robby Benson because it includes some lessons on hubris but I don't want to have to explain the scene where he takes some uppers before practice, freaks-out and goes on a hyperactive acid trip before being carried off the court by one of his teammates (that scene is inexplicably not part of the classic trailer for the movie - One on One Trailer).

I need a movie that predates the era of "everybody wins" with a more direct message about doing what it takes so I'm going with The Great Santini.  If you haven't seen it, you should.  It stars Robert Duvall as an over the top marine fighter pilot and Michael O'Keefe as his high school aged son.  (If you needed a semi-athletic white actor in 1979-80, apparently O'Keefe was your guy as he parlayed his part as Ben Meacham in The Great Santini into the iconic role of Danny Noonan in Caddyshack the following year.  Let's just say his golf swing was more convincing than his jump shot and, unlike Kevin Costner and Shia LaBeouf, you could actually imagine the ball getting airborne after he hit it).  It turns out the seminal scene in The Great Santini where O'Keefe beats Duvall in a game of one on one for the first time in his life followed by Duvall throwing the ball at his wife and then repeatedly bouncing it off his son's head while saying, "I bet you're going to cry.  Come on, squirt a few" is almost a perfect dramatization of a game we played in our driveway a few weeks ago.  (I'm kidding of course.  My son's only 8 years old.  It will be years before he beats me and I alienate my entire family by going on a post game emotional killing spree like this . . . The Great Santini).            

The Match Play Preview

"Hey look at that, another
 tap-in birdie.  Want to get a
Guinness after I close you out?"
I cranked-out a match play bracket in about five minutes on Monday and, based on the theory that you go with your first instinct, I'm sticking with it (see below).  I actually attended the second round of this thing back in 2000 and watched Tiger get taken down to the wire by an obscure South African guy named something like Retlef Goosefeather before pulling out the win on 18.  (Seriously, there were about 20,000 spectators that day, 15,000 of them were following this match and the only two people who knew who Tiger was playing were Goosen and his caddie.**).  The tournament would end with one of my favorite moments in golf history.  Tiger played Darren Clarke in the final and, at the time, both were being coached by Butch Harmon which led to an awkward pre game situation where Harmon chose to work with Tiger on the range before the match instead of Clarke.  At one point, Clarke yelled down the range to Harmon, "no need to come down here Butchie, I'm hitting it perfect."  He then birdied 12 out of 33 holes and smoked Tiger 4 & 3.

How many hole in ones on the
front nine today Your Excellency?
Day 2 of the Match Play is one of the most underrated viewing opportunities in professional golf.  By the second day, we've usually weeded-out a bunch of the European and Asian players that no one recognizes like R.C. Bello, Kyung-Tae-Kim and Kim Jong un (apparently he's a better putter than his father was but not as sharp with the irons as he only averages about seven hole in ones per round).  This year that leaves us with potential second round match-ups of: Stanley v. Snedeker, Woods v. Watney, Kaymer v. Fowler and Poulter v. Schwartzel.  That's top shelf.

In the bracket I posted yesterday, I went with a final of Martin Kaymer v. Webb Simpson and had Kaymer taking the title mostly because I thought they had the easiest brackets.  In picking the final pairing, I stayed away from the Gary Player bracket which is this year's answer to the World Cup's "group of death" with Rory Mcilroy, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia, Keegan Bradley and previous winners, Ian Poulter and Geoff Ogilvy.  I avoided the Bobby Jones bracket because I couldn't convince myself that anyone was going to take down Luke Donald in this format but I also couldn't bring myself to pick Luke Donald (use this advice at your own risk).  Of course as I'm writing this, Simpson is 3 down through 6 to Matteo Manassero which makes me that much happier that he was not one of my two weekly picks (I went with Kaymer and Schwartzel).  You'll have to trust me that this was not an effort to deceive my gambling competitors (at least not primarily).***

* In the interest of widening the appeal of these articles, I'm going to start elaborating on some of the references.  Dr. Bob Rotella is a famous sports psychologist who preaches among other things, "follow a mental and physical routine on every shot."  To the extent that Keegan Bradley has a preshot routine, it seems to be constantly interrupted with thoughts like, "do I have the right club?", "did the wind just shift?", "how do I know that chick in the gallery?  Torrey Pines?  Scottsdale?"

** Goosen would win the first of his two U.S. Opens the following year.

*** I actually did pick Simpson originally but then decided that he would be better for a stroke play tournament.  By then I had already filled-out and posted my bracket on the site.  Oops.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sell Out Saturday

Let me preface this by saying that when it comes to covering golf, no one can touch CBS.  I would go so far as to say that CBS does golf better than any other network covers any other sport and that is thanks to a guy named Frank Chirkinian who revolutionized the way the game is televised by showing more actual golf shots (novel idea) and regularly hitting the mute button on his announcers.  He once told Brent Musburger prior to the Masters, "I'll kill you if you raise your voice one-half a decibel" which would have been like telling Richard Pryor "I'll kill you if you use the word 'mutherfucker' on stage tonight."  Combine Chirkinian's production skills with Jim Nantz's understated announcing style, and you get the Bill Walsh-Joe Montana of sports broadcasting.  One day a year, however, CBS abandons the Chirkinian method, allows its announcers to really explore the studio space and does everything to promote its network programming but don a pimp suit and start walking with a cane.  That day is the Saturday of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am.

"I see what you're doing CBS but you 
can't pull the wool over my eyes.
Cashmere maybe, but wool?  Never!"
Saturday at Pebble Beach used to be devoted to guys like Jack Lemmon, Clint Eastwood and Jim Backus (a/k/a Thurston Howell, III).  You know, stars.  Now we're subjected to the likes of Oliver Hudson (Rules of Engagement), Eric Close (Chaos) and Chris O'Donnell (NCIS: Los Angeles) who is apparently trying to convince everyone that he is now a tough guy even though he will never be able to undo his portrayal of a human speed bump in Scent of a Woman.  (Ok Chris, we're going to need you to look REALLY pathetic in this closing sequence to make Al's overacting pop off the screen).  At least CBS stops short of having The Amazing Race contestants climbing the cliffs next to the 8th hole but you know its been discussed.

And it's not unseemly enough for CBS to makes us watch a bunch of "C" and "D" level celebrities duff it around one of the three greatest courses in the country.  They compound it by having the announcers alternately shill for the network and try to be part of the act which leads to cringeworthy moments like Nick Faldo proving that you can be painfully unfunny with a British accent and, more specifically, when the Master Shill Ian Baker-Finch comments that Chris O'Donnell is "one of my favorite TV actors on one of my favorite TV shows, NCIS: Los Angeles, which airs on CBS."  He followed that shameless plug with, "of course my TV is always programmed to CBS" and I couldn't tell whether he was being serious or he just realized how ridiculous he sounded and tried to make light of it.  Considering that no one works the on-air pom poms for AT&T, CBS and Pebble Beach with quite the tenacity of Baker-Finch, I'm going with the former.  When they subsequently cut to a beautiful blimp shot of seagulls flying over the beach, I fully expected him to say in his happy go lucky Australian accent, "one of those seagulls shit on my head yesterday.  There's really nothing quite like having a Pebble Beach seagull shit on your head.  The smell . . . the consistency . . . ahhh just delightful."
Maybe I was a little quick
to judge Bianca Kajlich
and Rules of Engagement.
This year I thought we were going to dodge the really schlocky stuff because Tiger was in contention playing with Tony Romo and they dominated the first half of the coverage.  And then, at about the 1:47 mark on my Tivo, my hopes were dashed when George Lopez literally came flying into the shot and jumped into the crowd of 50 people standing next to the 15th tee which I think were the same 50 people who were watching his show on the night it was cancelled back in August.  Apparently there are those at CBS Sports who believe that either (a) golf fans enjoy the door to door vacuum cleaner salesman style humor of George Lopez (we don't), or (b) having a washed-up comedian try to recreate the glory days of vaudeville on a golf course will attract a non-golfing audience (it won't).  Actually Lopez did have one funny moment.  After Peter Kostis broke down his swing in slow motion, Lopez started to joke that he wasn't inspected that thoroughly when he crossed the border but then thought better of it and said something like "when I entered the country."  Why the stumble?  Probably because George was born in California.  Now that's funny.          

I'll tell you what would be entertaining.  The same event, only if it was produced by HBO and featured their stars playing Pebble Beach in character.  Tony Soprano and Avon Barksdale in the featured group with Sylvio Dante and Stringer Bell lurking behind them followed by Johnny Drama and Kenny Powers preening for the crowd.  We'd accidentally give the rest of the Entourage cast the wrong date (except for Emmanuelle Chriqui so we could have a ladies foursome of Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood), Sloan McQuewick (Entourage), Atia of the Julii (Rome) and Meadow Soprano).  In the next to last group you'd have Larry David's regular foursome including Jeff Greene, Cousin Andy and Marty Funkhouser who might be able to pick-up and run with the comedy ball that Bill Murray started fumbling about five years ago.  In the final group you would of course have Omar Little so from three holes away you'd hear "OMAR'S COMIN!!!"  We'd pair him with Bunk to keep him from jacking half of the gallery for their wallets.  (Classic Omar scene - Omar and McNulty shopping for the post round cocktail party).  Ian Baker-Finch would undoubtedly gush over him as a man of the people and an inspirational gay rights activist.  

The Final Round                       

"Oh my God!
I look ridiculous."
As usual, I've buried the lead but frankly I'm exhausted by the over analysis of what happened on Sunday.  Two of the best players of all-time teed off together.  One had his A+ game and the other had his C- game.  In golf you can't beat a guy who is your equal or better when he has his A+ game and right now Phil is better than Tiger.

During the closing holes the announcers started having a casual debate about what failed Tiger down the stretch, putting or ball striking.  The answer is both but I don't think either is the most important thing he needs to fix between now and the Masters.  In the words of Mars Blackmon, "Money it's gotta be the shoes!"  White tennis shoes?  Are you kidding me?  How does Tiger expect to compete with Mickelson, McIlroy, Day and Kaymer when he looks like he's playing in the Tuesday nine hole group at the Del Boca Vista retirement community?  I haven't seen anyone that cool look that uncool since Don Cheadle wore that ridiculous Egyptian outfit at the end of Boogie Nights.

At some point last year a swing guru said he started wearing the shoes to improve his footwork and that may be true but are you telling me that Phil Knight can't come up with a color and design that doesn't completely rob Tiger of his mojo.  I actually think Knight might be behind this.  For years Nike has been trying to break through in golf from shoes to balls to clubs with very limited success despite the fact that their pitchman was getting ten times as much airtime as anyone else.  I'm sure at some point Knight went to Tiger and asked,"what would you think about starting a trend by wearing white tennis shoes?" and Tiger laughed for a second and then got really serious and responded "are you fucking kidding me?  Have you seen my badass Sunday outfit with the black shoes, pants and red shirt?  I feel like Superman in that."

"What's the matter with you?  Is this
what you've become, a PGA Tour
Finocchio who cries like a woman?"
But leverage is a funny thing.  One Thanksgiving day you have it and the next morning you wake-up with a black eye, a bloody lip and a smashed window in your Escalade and, when you look around, you notice your leverage is gone.  A few months later, after half of your sponsors have jumped ship, you're sitting in a room at a Mississippi sex addiction clinic with Phil Knight practically begging for his support and telling him that you'll come back and make him proud and he tells you, "Tiger, you're like family and we would never think about invoking that morals clause in our contract.  But I do have just one request . . ."

The Pick of the Week

My partners and I are currently sitting 6th out of 79 teams in our one pick a week league thanks to Spencer Levin's ability to regroup after his meltdown in Scottsdale and post a tie for 9th at Pebble.  If this success continues, I'm going to have to stop handing out this information or just start lying but for now I'll keep it honest (as far as you know) and throw K.J. Choi out there.  He's never missed the cut at Riviera where consistency is key.  I'm still not ready to start using the big guns.  That, along with the real golf season, begins next week at the Match Play.  (The thought of that just got me more excited than that picture of Bianca Kajlich which is just sad).                   

Friday, February 10, 2012

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Preview

"Must be a nice change from
writing about the dreary old NFL."
With the NFL finally out of the way, we can now get back to the core business of the Fantasy Golf Report which is to relate stories of my own buffoonery interspersed with random commentary on the PGA Tour.  This week would normally be a dead spot in the schedule between the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am if not for the performance of FGR favorite Spencer Levin last Sunday.  When we last saw Spencer, he was drop kicking his hat as he exited the green during the AT&T National last year (glad to see AT&T isn't cutting back in the sponsorship department.  Besides, if you're going to sponsor one in California, you have to even it out with one on the east coast so all of the mid-level execs in New York have somewhere to get hammered for five days in the name of marketing).

This is going to end badly.
Fast forward to last Sunday when Levin started the day with a six shot lead, posted the worst score of anyone in the top 60 and lost by two strokes thanks primarily to his Van de Veldean course management of the reachable par-5 15th hole (I'm on a mission to add "Van de Veldean" to the golf vernacular).  Before we break it down, it must be noted that Levin had rinsed two balls on the same hole earlier in the week, one on a tee shot and the other on a second shot, so you would think he would have had a different game plan for it in the final round (you would think).  When he reached the 15th tee on Sunday, he was tied for the lead and was playing in the last group.  He could have hit a hybrid and then a mid-iron leaving a wedge to set up a potential birdie to take the lead outright but instead Levin decided to take one more aggressive run at his nemesis like Danny Larusso going after Johnny Lawrence on the beach . . . with similar results.

The game plan for Sunday was apparently to provide a demonstration of the definition of insanity by taking the same approach and expecting a different result.  His tee shot with the driver flew way right where it landed safely away from the water but under a cactus.  He then used his putter to rake it back about 15 yards into the first cut of rough from which he promptly hit a fat 5-iron into the water, made a double and lost by two shots.  CBS of course kept the camera on him expecting an outburst but all Spencer gave us was the standard "hold the club behind your head" in anguish pose.  I personally felt cheated.  If I had hit that shot under those circumstances, some inanimate object would have paid dearly.  Can't we please just once have a golfer go completely Lou Piniella ballistic on camera after he screws-up?  You know they want to.  Maybe they've been repressed for so long that they're not sure exactly how to express themselves (except for Tiger).  If that's the case, I'm here to help with some suggestions from my personal meltdown catalog.  In reverse order of seismic magnitude:
"Keep it together Spencer . . .

4.  I was in high school and had probably played 8 rounds of golf in my life so I shouldn't have had any expectations for my game much less high expectations but that didn't stop me from losing my mind after topping a 3-wood.  My ensuing goal was to launch the offending club down the fairway in the direction of the ball but I somehow managed to hang onto it a second too long and pulled it deep into the swamp to the left of the tee.  I never found it.  I guess I shouldn't have been surprised considering the trail of broken tennis rackets that led to that moment.  This might also explain my tendency to slash the shit out of every defensemen who took the ball from me.  What a great stress reliever it would be in golf if, after you hit a bad shot, you could walk over to your opponent and crack him in the ribs with your driver?  It would definitely spice-up the Ryder Cup.

3.  This one actually happened on a PGA course so the pros could copy it verbatim.  It was the first and last time I was invited on a client golf trip.  We were playing the 10th hole of the Blue Monster at Doral which is a 530 yard par 5 with water running all the way down the left side.  I hit a good drive and had about 265 left so I decided to lay-up with a 5 iron which I promptly pulled into the water.  This time there would be no errant throw as I took dead aim and helicoptered the 5-iron in the direction of the splash with the instruction, "you hit it in there, you fucking find it."  I think the clients were really impressed.  I've since been banned from golf trips and relegated to playing the annual company outing with the guys from the warehouse. 

"You . . . get in the goddamn game!
And you . . . get me a defibrillator!"  
2.  It was the first round of the club championship and I hit a sloppy 8-iron on a par 3.  As I walked off the tee box, I decided to take it out on the rest of my clubs by giving my bag a healthy whack (I like to call this a "Gary Williams" in honor of his tendency to scream at players on the bench for mistakes made by players on the court). When I reached for my 3-wood on the next hole, only the severed top half of it came out.  I would go on to win the match but I had to borrow a 3-wood from the pro for the next round against the defending champ.  I made it through 17 all square in part because I was killing the borrowed club down the middle all day.  Despite the fact that 18 was a dog leg right and I draw (hook) the ball, I decided to hit the new 3-wood because I had so much confidence in it.  (I never would've hit my old 3-wood there).  In front of about 50 spectators, I promptly shanked it into the hazard on the right, made bogey and lost.  That was six years ago and I still find myself going into a trance, drifting back to that moment and hitting a 4-iron off tee.  Sometimes in the dream, I shank the 4-iron too.  Brutal.          

1.  My personal favorite.  I was about 24 years old and playing enough that my game had progressed to the point where I could occasionally put together a string of about 12 holes at even par so of course I expected this to happen all the time (some things never change).  I don't know what the circumstances of the round were but I know I was walking off the green having a temper tantrum and I took a swipe at my walking bag with my putter.  For a second, the bag just stood there like a guy in a samurai movie who's just had his head cut off but doesn't realize yet.  And then, almost in slow motion, one of the legs on the bag gave way and it slowly collapsed to the ground followed shortly thereafter by my playing partners who went down in hysterics.  They then proceeded to snicker every time I went to put the bag down and the one healthy leg would stick out (it looked like one of the Rockettes) before I would have to lay it down sideways.  After about five holes of that, I ripped the other leg off and threw it in a pond. The snickering nevertheless continued.        

(Editor's note:  In case you were thinking of throwing a random golf invitation my way and the last four paragraphs have given you pause, fear not.  That type of behavior is in my past.  Now when things go wrong, I just mutter a never-ending stream of F-bombs under my breath and stop talking to everyone for 20 minutes so, while I still might not be the ideal guest, at least I won't embarrass you).    

No Spencer . . . you're the man.
Now for the preview part of The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Preview (What preview?  It started yesterday).  This tournament has a polarized history of being won by the Tour's best (Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Tiger and Davis Love, III) or a guy who sneaks into first class from coach (D. A.  Points, Aaron Oberholser, Matt Gogel).  If you were just picking a winner without restrictions, you'd have to go with D.J. but I don't have that luxury because I want to save him for later in the season so I'm looking at the second tier guys who've done well here before and are playing well now.  That pretty much narrows it down to Spencer Levin and Bryce Molder.  Molder is probably the safer pick because Levin is a head case coming off a devastating loss but if I don't pick Levin and he pulls a Kyle Stanley, then I'll spend Sunday evening muttering a never ending string of F-Bombs and stop talking to my family and I can't risk that.  So Levin is the pick, you know, for the kids.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Super Bowl Re-Blah Blah Blah

It's impossible get up for a Super Bowl between a team from New York and a team that just jumped from the third spot on your most hated list to the second (the Redskins are still the bad guys but they're too non-threatening to hate, kind of like Dr. Evil).  I'm finding it equally as hard to write about it and I'm having flashbacks to all of those times I had to do a report on a book that some over zealous teacher picked solely because there were no Cliffs Notes for it.  (You knew you had reached the pinnacle of laziness when you wouldn't even read all of the Cliffs Notes but just the 2-4 page synopsis at the beginning.  Then again, at 114 pages, War and Peace is still too damn long).  So forgive me because this post is going to read like the bitter ramblings of a disinterested Ravens fan (because that's what it is).              
I'm not exactly sure who Patrick Swayze
would represent in this picture.  Coughlin?
Doing the Rumba and Merengue?  Yikes.  

Nobody Puts Eli in a Corner

In the words of the late great Jerry Orbach, "when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong" and I was loud wrong about Eli Manning.  At this point, you have to put him on the same level with Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Roethlisberger as far as active quarterbacks go.  They were replaying parts of the Patriots' radio broadcast of the game on NFL radio on Monday and, after the second half touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez, the announcer blurted something to the effect of, "would you take Eli over Tom now?!?"  Well, considering that Eli is three and a half years younger and just beat Brady in the Super Bowl again, yes.    

Belichick is a Genius

He's sitting on something like 12 picks in the first three rounds over the next two years (I know he has four in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft) so he will have plenty of chances to find and groom the Patriots' next great wide receiver.  That way when the Patriots eventually land a franchise quarterback, they will have plenty of weapons for him to throw to.  There were probably some media types "who never played a down in their life" who suggested using one of those coveted picks to trade for a guy like 2010 Pro Bowler Brandon Lloyd during the season (especially considering the last time Tom Brady had a quality receiver in Randy Moss, he threw 36 touchdown passes to him over two seasons).  

"I got a fever, and the only
prescription is more tight ends."
Belichick, however, dismissed that nonsense and built his offense around two really good tight ends, two possession receivers and whatever you want to call Chad Ochicinco and he was vindicated when Tom Brady and company lit-up every team on the schedule except for the Steelers, Giants and Ravens (but those were the only playoff teams they played other than the lousy Broncos . . .) DON'T QUESTION THE GENIUS!!!  Yes, he puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us but, once his pants are on, he wins Lombardi Trophies (at least he does when he's playing against Jake Delhomme and Donovan McNabb).  Either Belichick doesn't recognize that the Brady window is closing or he doesn't think it matters.  Pride goeth before the fall.


Let's start with the quote in case you haven't heard it.  "I can't believe they dropped the ball so many times.  My husband cannot f--king throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time."  Apparently she got in the face of a Giants' fan and yelled this while waiting for the elevator outside her suite in response to the fan telling her, "Eli owns your husband!"  First of all, Giselle has spent enough time in New York to know that she was not going to run a gauntlet of Giants' fans without taking some fire.  It is simply in their DNA like monkeys throwing poop at each other.  Second, good for her for returning fire and including the F-bomb for emphasis.  If she had just kept walking, the rest of the hyenas would have been all over her so she couldn't project weakness.  Third, she obviously didn't play a team sport in super model school because now Tom is going to have to make the dreaded "I apologize for my wife, I can't control her" speech to the team.  There is a rather crass expression that can be refined to something like this, "show me a super model and I'll show you a guy tired of having a non-Platonic relationship with her."  That's Tom Brady this week.

Tom Brady

"Quick, find me a clear spot on the
bench with a good camera angle."   
Speaking of the golden boy, my favorite sequence of the whole game was in the 4th quarter after he had been sacked hard on his left shoulder and Giants' tight end Jake Ballard had been helped off the field with a knee injury.  On one sideline, we had Brady rubbing and shrugging his non-throwing shoulder just to make sure we all knew that it was really bothering him.  On the other sideline, we had Ballard attempting to run-off a knee injury and then going down like he'd just been shot with an elephant gun.    


She's still got the skills but has lost more than a step, kind of like the guys in my Monday night hoops game.  Probably not a good thing when you're comparing the half-time show of the Super Bowl to a bunch of middle aged men running around on knees and ankles that went out of warranty 10 years ago.

In Closing

Hey Brady, how does it feel to get
picked-off by Joe the plumber?
The fact that the Super Bowl played out so much like I (and many others) predicted definitely diminished the drama.  Nicks, Cruz and Manningham outplayed Welker, Hernandez and a gimpy Gronkowski.  The Giants out-rushed the Patriots and played better defense and the biggest play of the game was made by a guy who looks like an extra on King of Queens.  In the end, the Patriots have averaged 15.5 points in their last two Super Bowl appearances and, after his 12th season of getting pounded and another brutal loss where he failed to pull off the comeback, you have to wonder how much longer Brady's going to want to do this . . . or how much longer his wife will let him.      

Playoff Record:  7-4 . . . Regular Season Record:  88-81-3.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Super Bowl Preview

"Funny you should ask Hatch.  I really
have no idea what I'm doing in a POW
camp.  I think I'm supposed to be British."
There used to be two topics that would cause my right hand to instantly shoot to the radio dial on my car stereo.  One was "steroids in baseball" and the other was "Brett Favre." The mere mention of either would have me scrambling to Channel 23 on my satellite radio faster than you could say, "left handed monkey wrench."  You can now add "Super Bowl XLVI" to that list.  For the first time in my life, I might do what my condescending British high school history teacher used to brag about doing and go to the movies instead of watching the Super Bowl.  

The only people less interested in Sunday's game than Ravens fans and 49er fans are Jets fans who must be looking at this match-up as the 1980 Russian hockey team versus the German national soccer team from Victory.  (I'm sorry if that offends Germans but you shouldn't have paid-off the refs and you shouldn't have roughed-up PelĂ©.  That's like hiring Jeff Gillooly to take out Tim Tebow.  Uncool man).  So let's put off the Super Bowl pick for a bit and spend one more session on Dr. Melfi's couch telling her about the ducks in the pool.

Oh my God.  We're becoming the Bills!
We'll start with a quick recap of possibly the worst six day span in Maryland sports history.  On Sunday, there was "the Game that Must Not be Named."  (We've covered that).  Monday was the day after the "Game that Must Not be Named" which was particularly brutal for Ravens fans because, as one person told me, "I keep thinking that Lee Evans is going to catch that pass."  (It wasn't as bad for 49er fans because most of them woke-up in San Francisco and most of us woke-up in Baltimore.  I love Charm City but we're a 13 point underdog to San Francisco on our best day).  On Tuesday, the sun came out, the weather turned warm and we started telling ourselves that everything was going to be ok until the picture of the Jayhawk fans hit everyone's inbox.  (Real funny Kansas. I'd return fire but what can you say about Kansas?  Your main tourist attraction is the largest stand of tallgrass prairie in North America.  One madman with a lawnmower or a herd of hungry goats and you're screwed.  Hey, is that a tornado?)

On Wednesday, the Colts hired Ravens' defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano. Apparently the first five times they called, the Ravens' receptionist said, "I'm sorry he's not in the building but Cam Cameron's available and, by available, I mean REALLY available." The Ravens returned the favor by hiring Jim Caldwell as their new quarterbacks coach which will lead to the first ever coach/player relationship where the two sides communicate only by blinking Morse code at each other.          

"That's him.  That's the Terp.
He fouled Plumlee.  We saw him!"
Later that evening, Duke beat Maryland on the night they dedicated the court to Gary Williams.  In honor of the event, the refs really took their love of the Blue Devils to the next level.  At one point, two of them looked at each other trying to decide whether to call a charge on the Terps or a block on Duke before looking to Krzyzewski for guidance and then making the "right" call.  Of course instead of just getting blown out like we all expected them to, the Terps had to make a game of it and then lose because they had no answer for Mason Plumlee which would be like losing a mixed martial arts fight because you couldn't stop the other guy's titty twister. 

On Thursday, Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers instead of the Orioles which was not unexpected unless you're one of the 17 delusional O's fans who still reads the Baltimore Sun for anything more than high school scores, horse racing schedules and the lunch specials at Night Shift.  Ultimately, this was just another case of Alec Baldwin telling Baltimore, "This is the best free agent.  This is Prince Fielder and to you he is gold, and you won't get him.  Why?  Because to give him to you would be throwing him away.  He plays for winners."  The next day, Brooks Robinson fell off a stage and broke his shoulder which can't be a good omen.  (I did not make that up.  Who puts old men in chairs on a stage?  Why not just put them on giant unicycles?)
"Great.  That's all I need.  Another
year of third and long draw plays."
By the time the 8th ranked Lady Terps were upset at home by Virginia Tech on Thursday night, we had become O.J. at the end of The Naked Gun.  We'd been shot, fallen off the top of a stadium and run over by a steamroller but we hadn't been trampled by the marching band yet so, on Friday, the Ravens announced that Cam Cameron will return as offensive coordinator . . . "Louie Louie, Oh No . . . ."  I don't know about the rest of the town, but I needed a hug.

Too much?
As I wrote of the Baltimore fan base back on November 3rd (go ahead and quote yourself), "the full extent of our rooting interest goes like this: (1) our kids' little league teams, (2) the Ravens, and (3) Michael Phelps.  That's it.  That's the list."  Well, thank God for No. 1 because on Saturday the healing began for me with a dose of little league basketball.  It started with a 17-8 win in my 10 year old son's game (the score is a little deceiving because, if we counted three pointers, it would have been 18-8).  That was immediately followed by my other son's 8 year old game where they don't officially keep score (we're undefeated) but, with one minute left, I thought it was close.  Fortunately, the kids keep score so with 30 seconds left I asked the bench where we stood and I was told it was either 12-12 or 22-22.  Either way, everyone in the gym thought it was tied so when my son drained a 15 footer with 0.3 seconds left and the "crowd" went nuts, I may have lost my composure just a little bit.   The bottom line is that I wouldn't trade that moment for the chance to be in the stands this Sunday watching John Harbaugh raise the Lombardi Trophy (at least that's what I keep telling myself).  Let's move on.        

The Super Bowl Pick

I can't find any reason to pick the Patriots to win this game.  The one position where they are deemed to have the biggest advantage is quarterback and I'm not even sure that's true, especially when you factor in the Giants' advantage at receiver (and yes, I'll take Nicks, Cruz and Manningham over Hernandez, Welker and a gimpy Gronkowski).  The defenses and the running games are mismatches in favor of the Giants.  The only way the Patriots win is if Brady goes for over 300 yards and 3+ touchdowns but the problem with that recipe is that the Ravens just proved that he can be shut down and the Giants just stymied a better passing attack in Green Bay.  What am I missing?  Special teams? Belichick over Coughlin?  The revenge factor from 2007?  That's all media driven subterfuge and I'm not buying it.  I like the Giants big and in the process Eli becomes the second quarterback in two weeks to make me look like a jackass (like I need the help).    

Giants - 31, Patriots - 17          

Playoff Record:  6-4