Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Memorial Preview

"You call that T-Ball
you f--king twerps?!?" 
We're going to break things up this week because I want to get the Memorial picks on the board and I haven't written a damn thing yet thanks to a perfect storm of factors ranging from (1) last weekend's three day member-guest and it's lingering effects, (2) my decision to spend Monday like a normal person (in a pool instead of hunched over a keyboard) and (3) the fact that my four year old daughter just had one of those nights* that people who are on the fence about having children should be forced to experience before making their decision.** (It's right up there with the first time you have to take one of your kids to the emergency room and anytime you have to watch them be coached by someone who thought A Season on the Brink was a "how to" manual).

But enough about that. Let's see if we can keep last week's momentum rolling at one of the best tournaments of the year.

The Memorial Top 5

If I was going to add another tournament to the FGR World Rankings formula, this would be it. It's played at one of the tour's best venues and it almost always delivers a first class winner (Bart Bryant in 2005 notwithstanding). The problem with all of this quality is that it's like trying to pick a major because the field is so loaded. Luke Donald, Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson and Bo Van Pelt are just few of the guys who didn't make the FGR Top 5 this week. (Congratulations to Luke Donald for taking over the No. 1 spot in the other World Golf Rankings by winning another tournament that's not a major).

1. Jim Furyk: If I wasn't holding him out for the U.S. Open, I'd use him here.

2. Rickie Fowler: It's been a season of streaks by guys like Dufner and Mahan and no one is hotter than Rickie right now.

3. Justin Rose: He's been on a roll again lately and plays Muirfield well. A good showing here probably gets him promoted to the majors list.

4. Ernie Els: Ernie took a couple weeks off after bumps in the road at the Players and the Byron Nelson. Hopefully he spent that time off on the putting green . . . with a sports psychologist.

5. Ben Curtis: Even those years when he's played lousy, he's done well at The Memorial and he's not playing lousy this year.

Because it was pointed out to me
that a couple of the recent FGR's
were missing an essential element.
The Majors Reserved List

Tiger Woods
Rory McIlroy
Phil Mickelson
Hunter Mahan
Lee Westwood
Matt Kuchar
Jason Dufner
Rickie Fowler

I've cooled on Keegan Bradley because his game has fallen on hard times since the Masters and he's not a really solid fit for any of the majors courses. Jason Dufner is a no brainer for the U.S. Open if you haven't used him already (DOH!). Rickie Fowler has been on a roll and, after what he showed us at the British Open last year, we know that he can handle the elements which could make him a threat at Royal Lytham and Kiawah. Who knew Bieber would turn out to be such a good grinder?

Last Week's Report Card: A-

1. Zach Johnson - 1st
2. Rickie Fowler - T5th
3. Bo Van Pelt - T19th
4. Jim Furyk - 4th
5. Spencer Levin - M/C

I walked off the course on Sunday in a bit of a foul humor*** but my mood was brightened slightly when Jason Dufner went from a fairway bunker into the drink on the 15th hole essentially handing Zach Johnson the title. (I was all-in on Z.J. last week). Or so we thought. Johnson almost let Dufner back into the game by moving his mark on the 18th green and then failing to replace it before he putted out. The two stroke penalty that accompanied that gaff almost cost him the tournament but, fortunately for him, he had a three stroke cushion walking to the scorer's table.**** If Bo Van Pelt doesn't inexplicably shoot 75 on Sunday to drop from 4th to 19th, that's a pretty strong top 4 (and if I don't inexplicably keep thinking that Spencer Levin is going to exceed expectations, it would be even stronger . . . come on Spencer, what happened to the passion that used to burn inside one of the original inspirations for the FGR?!? . . . Levin Kicks Hat).


* I will not provide details because it is my position that references to that particular bodily function, whether they be in film or print, are unfunny. Can't you achieve the same effect by having a character just convulse once, cover his mouth and run out of the room? You know when Monty Python tries it and produces a C+ effort at best, it's probably not worth doing (The Meaning of Life).

Feeling your pain
this morning Ed.
** To those parents who have only had to deal with this once and then spent the next day wondering "what in the hell have we gotten ourselves into?", I will tell you that it gets easier and, each time you have to deal with it, you look a little less like Ed Rooney and Grace scrambling around the office after being duped by the dead grandmother bit ("Pardon my French, but you're an asshole").

*** More on this later.

**** That blunder is absolutely on Johnson and his caddie (who was apparently raking the bunker when it happened) but I want to know why neither Dufner nor his caddie said anything. Part of the quid pro quo of asking someone to move their ball mark is that you remind them to put it back. (At least it is if you're not an a-hole). If Johnson had missed the five foot putt he thought was for par and then been assessed the two stroke penalty, he and Dufner would have gone to a playoff. I'm frankly surprised a bigger deal hasn't been made out of this. (And yes I hope this finds its way to Dufner because I need to figure out some way to rattle that guy before he singlehandedly wrecks my whole fantasy golf season).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Colonial Preview

Would it shock you to know that this
is my favorite athlete of all time?
Last week's Peter King rip-off was so much fun that we're going to run it back but it needs its own name so I can call it my own. Maybe the FGR Jump Around because, as a huge fan of tennis in the 80's, I'd love to pay tribute to a violence inspiring rap song that finds a way to incorporate the following lyrics: "I'll serve your ass like John McEnroe, if your b--ch steps up, I'm smacking the ho."* We'll go with that as a working title.

The NBA Playoffs

To those who dismiss the NBA because they say the style of play lacks the passing, defense and teamwork that they've convinced themselves is so much better at the college level, I give you the San Antonio Spurs who are on an 18 game winning streak and just dismantled the team with the best point guard in the league. The Spurs may be playing unselfish team basketball at the highest level we've ever seen. Just look at the box score from their game 4 win over the Clippers. Ten guys played and everyone one of them scored but, more importantly than that, nine of them had assists and seven of those nine had multiple assists.

It appears that every single player on their roster has the two things that can make a basketball team unstoppable on offense (a) an understanding of the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, and (b) not just the willingness to make the extra pass to a teammate who has a better shot, but the understanding of why that is important and the desire to do it. In other words, they have an entire roster of players not named Nick Young. Do yourself a favor and tune in for the Spurs-Thunder series. If you still don't like the NBA after that, then it's just not meant to be.

Meta World Cuckoo for Coco Puffs
I'm not sure I'd be that honest 
with him. He's nuts and you're 
not Lisbeth Salander yet.

I was listening to Bob Ryan on the radio and he was commenting that Ron Artest** seems miffed as to why everyone is so angered when he does things like intentionally throttling the Thunder's James Harden with an elbow nearly knocking him unconscious. This led me to wonder whether he was ever told the following by one of his college girlfriends, "you are probably going to be a very successful basketball person but you're going to go through life thinking that other players don't like you because you're misunderstood. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you are a psychopath."

Dem O's Hon

I've been taking some heat for not giving props to the Orioles who currently have the second best record in baseball and a 2 game lead in the brutal American League East. In short, I have stayed silent for their own good. The last time the Orioles got off to a start like this was in 2005 when they led the division for 62 days and were 42-30 before finishing 32-58 and dropping to 4th. I remember sitting in the bar after playing golf in June of that year and openly discussing the idea of buying season tickets before the market caught-up with the team's success. (Fortunately, I reconsidered before the crash).

I think this team is head and shoulders above that 2005 squad and, more importantly, the Yankees and the Red Sox are struggling but the fact is that they are currently the equivalent of a football team that starts 3-1 like last season's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills who combined to win 4 games the rest of the season. Not to be a downer, but my current outlook is "cautiously optimistic for next season." If for no other reason than the always lurking Peter Angelos factor.

Fifty Shades of Grey

The FGW's book club is discussing Fifty Shades of Grey tonight which is a significant step in this country's march toward total gender equality. Consider the progress that will have been achieved if, in the same year, Augusta admits its first female member*** AND women finally find a way to gather and talk about pornography. Now if only they could figure-out how to play a round of golf in under five hours. (BOOM!)

Tweet of the Week

"I'm usually the smartest person in the room. Granted I'm usually alone when I think that but it still feels good though." - Jim Gaffigan

The Colonial Preview

I need to blow through this because, after losing a match last Saturday 9 & 8, I have a lesson at 1:00, therapy at 2:00 and then, just to be sure, I'm going to have the the portion of my brain that currently houses the memory of that experience surgically removed. I currently have Jim Furyk in my top five for the week and on my list of players reserved for the majors because I'm still torn on where to place him. Part of me thinks he's a great fit for the U.S. Open this year but when I envision making that pick, I don't see his name rising to the top of the list. Part of that comes from the fact that if I could use Jason Dufner there I would, but I burned him at the Heritage. I wouldn't pick either of them this week but hopefully that helps.****

The Colonial Top Five

1. Zach Johnson
2. Rickie Fowler
3. Bo Van Pelt
4. Jim Furyk
5. Spencer Levin
"OK mom, we're going to need you to take the
death grip off the trophy so we can get a
couple with just Rickie and Alexandra."

The Majors Reserved List

Tiger Woods (Masters)
Rory McIlroy (Masters)
Lee Westwood
Phil Mickelson
Matt Kuchar
Hunter Mahan
Jim Furyk
Keegan Bradley
Jason Dufner (first alternate)

Last Week's Report Card: C

1. Jason Day - T9th
2. Adam Scott - M/C
3. John Rollins - T24th
4. Ernie Els - T41st
5. Brian Gay - T56th

Not much to add but this exchange from a classic episode of Cheers does seem appropriate in light of Jason Day's final round 72 which (a) was the highest score of any player who finished in the Top 20, (b) included his second double bogey on the 18th hole for the week, and (c) dropped him from 2nd to 9th:

Sam: Carla's trying to become the kind of waitress you would enjoy being waited on by. 

Diane: "Being waited on by"? You just ended that sentence with two propositions. 

Sam: Haven't you got customers to be waiting on? 

Diane: You ended that sentence with a proposition. 

Sam: Haven't you got customers to be waiting on, MULLET-HEAD!


* I don't remember this video being so disturbing - House of Pain. So much for the image portrayed by the Irish Spring commercials.

** I can't call him Meta World Peace and it's got nothing to do with the inherent irony of his new name. I just think people sound stupid when those words come out of their mouth.

*** My theory is that this has already happened and Augusta didn't tell anyone so that when the first question at next year's Masters is asked about it, Billy Payne can say,  "we did that last year some time. Did we forget to issue a press release? Whoops."

**** Worst gambling advice column ever.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Member-Guest Preview

Are those pants Vittorio
Ricci or Ralph Lauren?
This is my favorite time of year and it has nothing to do with the NBA Playoffs, the Triple Crown or the fact that I am less than a week away from busting-out all of the white pants I accumulated back when my friends were getting married in the late 90's. (It's a fine line between country club casual and 80's South Beach cheesy). No, this is all about that time of year when I get to compete for a variety of crystal nut dishes, silver plated ice buckets and my favorite form of currency, pro shop credit, in what I like to call "Member-Guest Season" (pretty clever eh?). A series of events where you and a partner essentially check into a country club for three days of golf, spirits and more grab ass* than you can possibly imagine.

In a perfect world, I would play in four or five of these every year but my day job, the relative stability of my marriage and my desire not to have my children appear on an episode of Dr. Phil entitled Country Clubs Killed My Father dictate that I limit my participation to two.** The first is a local event this weekend and it might be my favorite because it's a two man stroke play format that really tests the foundation of your relationship with your partner.*** Kind of like asking your wife if she minds you going out to dinner with your old girlfriend.

The next one is three weeks later at Greenville Country Club in South Carolina. If you define north/south by the Mason-Dixon Line, then I'm technically southern, especially when you factor in my dad being from Richmond but I've learned the hard way that there is a difference between being technically southern and genuinely southern. It seems like every trip I make to the south ends with someone telling me that I have a "smart mouth" at which point I have to play the Richmond card to avoid getting my ass kicked. (I don't have the same problem up north because I saw what happened to Billy Batts when he refused to back-off Tommy DeVito and I'm not making the same mistake. It's just too easy to envision myself getting my brains kicked-in while Donovan croons Way dooowwwwnnnn below the ocean . . .Billy Batts Beatdown).

"Allow me to reconstruct this
story as I've heard it a number
of times." (The Magic Loogie)
But before we look forward, let's take a look back at some experiences from tournaments past. I figure I've played a little over twenty of these things on six different courses and I never stop looking forward to the next one like it's my first. The competition, camaraderie and total isolation from the outside world never gets old. The only problems anyone talks about have to do with pull hooks and putting and, the moment someone starts complaining about his job or his family, you know it's time to put him in a cab.

My top three member-guest experiences in reverse order:

3. "The Celebrity"

It's only fitting that we start with this one because it was at the home club of my two college roommates where I played my first member-guest and where I was essentially introduced to the country club atmosphere. It must also be noted that this club was (and still is) in eastern Long Island so the level of swagger amongst its members cannot be understated. Ball busting was the rule not the exception and the boundaries were wide with very few topics off limits. I was in heaven.        

The standard member-guest format divides the field into flights by handicap with six teams in each flight. You then play a series of nine hole matches over two days usually starting at the civilized hour of 9:00 a.m. The Long Island tournament is unique in that it is comprised of 8 team flights and you play full 18 hole matches in a survive and advance format. A byproduct of this format is that, to get all of the first round matches in on one day, the first tee time is literally the moment the sun clears the tree line when the starter says "you're setting the pace boys," with the clear implication being, "don't be reading your putts from the other side of the hole." Couple that 5:50 a.m. tee time with the fact that (a) you're coming off one hour of sleep because the New York bars don't close until 4:00 a.m. and (b) you had to warm-up in the dark, and you have the recipe for a very dicey two-putt on the first hole (or in my case that morning, a three putt).

"How in the hell am I supposed to
know where he is? It's 1995, no
one has their own cell phone yet."
The setting for this story, however, was the 6:00 a.m. tee time on the 10th tee (I still want to know who we pissed-off to keep drawing the early shift). We were squaring-off against a friend of ours who's partner was the guy who played Mikey in the classic Life cereal commercials (I'm not making that up and for those too young to remember, here you go - Hey Mikey!).  Mikey's partner didn't arrive for our 6:00 a.m. match until about 6:08 a.m. at which point he emerged from the bushes, walked to the halfway house without saying a word, grabbed a Budweiser, stuck a tee in the ground and hit his shot. It was on like Donkey Kong.

Fortunately it was more on for us than it was for them as we won the match on the 13th hole and then headed in for the traditional post-round cocktail. Of course due to the early tee time and the quick closeout, it was 9:00 a.m. but that didn't stop us from redlining it for about three hours as all of the other groups finished their rounds, each with a story to tell and, after our successful morning and a steady stream of rum cocktails, I was in the mood to listen to every one of them. We left around 1:00 p.m. and I remember going back to the house and passing-out for five hours before rebooting and ramping it up for a full night out in advance of another early morning tee time. (It would take a week to recalibrate my body clock). Suffice it to say that our dream died the next morning on the 17th hole where I gained a whole new respect for Roger Maltbie and his legendary ability to play hurt. 

2. "The Wager"

"I'm going to %*#& J.S. Elliott up the #@& for $1,000 tomorrow morning!" That's how I was greeted by my opponent at dinner the evening before the first round of a tournament last year. (I'm greeted like that more than you might think . . . or not). Once we figured out what the hell he was talking about (a $1,000 wager), we all laughed it off until he repeated it (17 times with an ever increasing decibel level) at which time I grew weary and took a tour through the bar and assembled a group of investors to take on half the bet. I knew we were going to win the match but that size wager is frankly out of my league and I didn't want to be distracted by it.****

I was my typically
 humble self in victory.
The format was a nine hole match with a point being awarded to the team that won the hole, a half point for each team if you tie the hole and no points if you lose the hole. When we arrived at the first tee the next morning, we confirmed the bet and I'll be honest, I was nervous as hell due mostly to the fact that this was one of the last people on Earth I wanted to lose a match like that to (the sting of losing the bet fades but, as evidenced by my re-telling of this story, the legend of the loss lives on forever). Fortunately, my partner got us off to a good start, narrowly missing a 12 foot birdie putt to win the hole so we headed for the second tee all square. He parred that one for the win and did the same thing on No. 3. On the par-3 4th, I finally traded my pom poms for an 8-iron that stopped an inch from the hole for another win. My partner birdied No. 5 for a win, parred No. 6 with a stroke for a win and birdied No. 7 for another win. With the pressure long gone, I joined the party with birdies on 8 and 9.

By the time the dust settled, we had shot a 30 which was 3 better than any other team in the tournament. We did not get credit for our full 8 and 1/2 points because there was a blowout rule in place to protect the field that capped us at 7. This did, however, provide one more moment of satisfaction as the scorekeeper initially credited our opponents with 2 points assuming a final score of 7-2. I of course corrected him so, for the rest of the tournament, they had a slash through their score ("2") with a "1/2" next to it which made it really pop off the scoreboard . . . not that we were looking to rub it in.       

1. "The Hole in One"

"Geez, what's this guy's problem?"
This one happened on the first day of the stroke play event that I'm playing this weekend. My partner was the same guy from "The Wager". We teed off on No. 10 and had a solid back nine shooting 1 under gross with two birdies and a bogey. My partner birdied No. 1 and we played the next three holes even so that we were 2 under standing on the tee of the par 3 5th. I hit a dead straight six iron at the pin but you couldn't see the surface of the green so we didn't know that I had aced it until I checked the hole and, in a lame attempt to keep my composure, excitedly said, "my, my, my, my ball's in the hole." At that moment, I learned what an antelope feels like when his buddy says "hey, is that a cheetah?"

I think I drank two Budweisers on the way to the next tee in an effort to calm myself down as the hole in one had me completely rattled. The next hole was a short par 5 but there was out of bounds left and thick trees on the right. I made the mistake of telling my partner, "you better keep this in bounds because I'm not sure I can hit it" to which he replied, "thanks a lot" and then proceeded to spite me by hooking it right at the out of bounds stakes. We were sure it was dead so I went back for a 4-iron to lay-up and immediately blew it the other way towards the trees as someone said, "that's not the hole in one ball is it?" Of course it was.

"Anyone seen a bar around here?"
On rare occasions the golf gods look down and say, "he's suffered enough" and this was either one of those times or they just didn't give a crap because my ball ricocheted off a tree and my partner's ball stayed in bounds. We capitalized on those breaks by alternating horrendous shots which left us each 30 feet for par. (I don't know what my partner's excuse was but I was playing not to lose my ball). Fortunately, he buried his par putt and followed that up with two more pars and a bogey to get us safely back to the flight deck.

Lost in the drama of the first round was the fact that we had also shot 10 under net and were two shots out of the lead heading into the second day. That's when our luck ran out and I do mean "luck" because, despite shooting a respectable 65 the second day and posting 16 under which would have won the tournament any other year, we lost by an unbelievable 7 strokes. (I don't want to come across as a sore loser so that's all I'm going to say about that . . . but see below). We did, however, hold on to win the low gross trophy by a stroke which was pretty cool for a 6 and 7 handicap but hey, who's counting?  


Wait, who is this supposed
to represent again?
* The Urban Dictionary defines "grab ass" as "basically dicking around."

** It was really more like three if you count the Member-Member tournament I played last weekend but that was the golfing equivalent of a runaway train loaded with fireworks crashing into a chemical plant so we're going to pretend it never happened.

*** The difference between stroke play and match play is that in stroke play, you keep going until someone on your team puts the ball in the hole whereas in match play, you can pick-up your ball amidst a meltdown and you will only lose that hole. To put that into context for non-golfers, losing the 4th hole in matchplay is like giving-up a 32 yard field goal at the end of the first quarter while making a triple bogey in stroke play is like throwing a pick six when you were on the other teams 2 yard line.

**** The most reprintable definition of "F-ck You Money" from the Urban Dictionary goes like this: "Any amount of money allowing infinite perpetuation of wealth necessary to maintain a desired lifestyle without needing employment or assistance from anyone." ("F--- You Money"). I have what I like to call "F-ck Me Money" which I define as: "Just enough money to allow you to go broke hanging-out with people who have F-ck You Money."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Players Championship Update

We've got a lot of topics to cover this week so I'm going to flat-out swipe the variety format from one of my favorite columns, Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, right down to the "Tweet of the Week." I'm not going to write about coffee or beer unless you want me to opine on the killer machine at my office with its nine different flavors and cappachino capability or how I sometimes sacrifice the calorie savings and go with the full bodied flavor of a Budweiser over Miller Lite. Assuming you don't need me to elaborate on those, we'll leave the beverage nerdness to Mr. King.


This is what life before Xbox looked
like kids. And yes, those red dots
on the screen were the players.
When I was listing all of the problems with the Players last week, I may have left out the biggest one which is that they play the final round on freakin' Mothers' Day. From a ratings standpoint, I can only think of two worse times for the PGA Tour to air the final round of its marquee event:* (1) during the Super Bowl and (2) during the broadcast of footage from the Seal Team 6 raid. Like most golf fans who have a wife who is also a mother, I watched the start of the back nine while cooking dinner and then the last five holes working the DVR like a Coleco football game while awkwardly repeating, "this will be over in a minute if you want to watch something else."

I probably should have stopped watching but I was on the verge of fantasy sports greatness, the likes of which I hadn't experienced since one of my 2011 football teams went undefeated (speaking of nerdness - The Dream Season). With Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Bo Van Pelt and Kevin Na all in the hunt down the stretch, I had the chance to hit the kind of fantasy golf superfecta that people (me) would be talking about for years.  I just needed one of my guys to keep it together down the stretch along with a lack of heroics from the likes of Martin Laird, Ben Curtis and Rickie Fowler, all of whom scared the crap out of me because they are all lights-out putters when they're on (which they were on Sunday). It's amazing what a clutch playoff win will do for you. In the space of one week, Fowler has gone from a novelty item to one of the last guys you want to see in your rearview mirror.**

"We're waiting for this guy?
Hey baldy, where's your hat?"
Fortunately, Kuchar closed the deal, Z.J. managed a piece of second and Kevin Na hung-on to 7th without one of the aforementioned players hip checking him into the water on the way to the 17th green. I actually find Na's ability to intentionally redirect his swing when he's not mentally ready to hit extremely impressive. Then again, if I could whiff shots on purpose when I knew I had a bad swing thought instead of just saying "screw it" and pulling the trigger, you could listen to the live version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida twice just while waiting for me to get off the first tee.***  


The Players provides our latest opportunity to update the FGR's World Golf Rankings. (For a reminder on how the FGR Rankings are calculated, go here - More Nerdness). Matt Kuchar moves up two spots in the FGR and ten spots in the World Golf Rankings. Meanwhile, the FGR Rankings get a major personality infusion as Rickie Fowler bumps Jason Dufner from the 20th spot. (Dufner reportedly responded to the news the same way he would respond to lipping-out a 40 foot eagle putt, with no discernible change of expression).

FGR Top 20

WGR Top 20

Watson, B.
Watson, B.
Scott, A.
Johnson, D.
Simpson, W.
Day, J.
Hanson, P.
Bradley, K.
Day, J.
Johnson, D.
Haas, B.


2nd Runner-up: "Siri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?'' - Oakland A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy. 

1st Runner-up: "If Obama's the first gay president, then I'm the first gay late night host! Oh, he's not gay? Then I was being sarcastic." - Conan O'Brien

Winner: "My son is a coach's dream, if you're coaching the other team." - Jared Wyllys as tweeted to Adam Carolla.


1. Jason Day - It's about time my preseason pick for best player of the year shifted out of neutral. (Seriously, this is getting embarrassing). 

2. Adam Scott - Same thing for this guy. Stevie Williams is on the verge of biting a flagstick in half and mauling a spectator.

3. John Rollins - Random gut pick for a historically random tournament.

4. Ernie Els - He's due for someone else to botch the 18th hole and hand him a win.

5. Brian Gay - Because he plays this course well . . . not because his last name has been the lead story for over a week.

60. Brian Ricketts - Club pro in Dallas who got into the field by winning the 2011 North Texas PGA Championship. The FGR is a big fan of club pros cashing checks at tour events because, for the other 51 weeks of the year, they are just slightly less underpaid than mob informants.

That's great guys, now how about a
few shots of just Ellie kissing the trophy?

1. Luke Donald - 6th
2. Sergio Garcia - T56th
3. Jason Dufner - T68th
4. Ernie Els - M/C
5. Nick Watney - T56th
6. Justin Rose - T51st
7. Henrik Stenson - T15th
8. Spencer Levin - T15th
9. Jason Day - M/C
10. Ben Crane - M/C

A solid No. 1 pick but you didn't have to be Nostradamus to figure Luke Donald was going to have a good finish. Not to continue piling on Donald, but aside from not winning majors, he also seems to have the bad habit of starting slowly, sliding safely off the radar and then making a late charge that comes up short. (He had the third best round on Sunday but started the day 9 shots back so never really had a chance). I'm kicking myself for not putting Ben Curtis somewhere on the list because, if we know one thing about Ben, it's that he's like the hot chick you meet while at the beach for a long weekend in high school who digs you for some unknown reason. You do not over think it, try to explain it or ask any questions. You just go with it and, when it's over, be thankful that it happened.****


* The PGA Tour does not own the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship or the Ryder Cup which explains why it continues to hawk the Players Championship like a rug salesman at a Turkish market.
"Has anyone seen
my retainer?"

** If Tony Stewart had stuck with his signature orange Home Depot ride, I'd have a ready made analogy here and a shot at a few random hits from NASCAR nation. Alas, Joey Logano doesn't quite inspire the same sense of dread in his fellow drivers.

*** I'll spare you the 17 minute version and give you this one by I. Ron Butterfly - In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Simpsons Version).

**** That never actually happened to me but I bet it would have been pretty magical.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Players Championship Preview

"When I was insolent, I was placed
in a burlap bag and beaten with
reeds . . . pretty standard really."
Every time I hear someone call the Players Championship the 5th major, I think of Al Haig and the time he announced, "I am in control here" after President Reagan was shot and Vice President Bush was en route to Washington (presumably having just vomited on a high ranking member of the Japanese government). Haig was clearly suggesting that he, as Secretary of State, was third in line for the presidency.* I probably link the two claims because they are as outrageous as the one Dr. Evil's father made about being the man who "invented the question mark."

I've been railing against the over hyped importance of the Players for years, pretty much to myself and to strangers at bars who would inevitably look at their watch, ask for their check and leave. ("Where you going buddy? I haven't even gotten to the World Golf Rankings yet.") My traditional argument is that if Tiger has only won your tournament once, then your course stinks. Regardless of how you feel about Tiger now, you can't deny that, before he lost his fastball, he was the best or second best big game player ever. He won every major and WGC event at least three times and the Tour Championship twice but he is so polarizing now that you can't use him to make a point.** So let's attack it from a different angle and figure out what it takes to be a major and see if the Players qualifies.

The Field

If you're going to call yourself the 5th major, then clearly you need the top 30-40 players in golf which the Players has but all of the WGC events have them too so it can't be the distinguishing characteristic. In fact, the field at the Players is so big, you could argue that it is diluted which allows for guys like Craig Perks and Stephen Ames to come out of nowhere and take the title every few years. To be fair, the PGA Championship, the British Open and, to a lesser extent, the U.S. Open all have the same problem. If Todd Hamilton doesn't win a British game show to get into the 2004 Open, the top three finishers would have been (1) Ernie Els, (2) Phil Mickelson and (3) Lee Westwood. (This is one of the characteristics that separates the Masters from the rest). So in the end the Players has the major caliber field that it claims but that doesn't make it a major caliber tournament.

The Course

"Very good Ben. You may
now go have cake and pie."
Here are some early reviews of the TPC at Sawgrass from players before Deane Beman threatened to tell their sponsors that they were Communists: "It's Star Wars golf designed by Darth Vader" - Ben Crenshaw; "I've never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car" - Jack Nicklaus; and my favorite "90 percent horse manure and 10 percent luck" - J.C. Snead. Pete Dye subsequently tweaked the course after which Ben Crenshaw (who has never been prone to hyperbole) said, "now it's a darn good golf course."

Maybe it is but not compared to the courses on which majors are traditionally played and, for that matter, not compared to some of the better tour courses like Muirfield, Riviera and Firestone. It's a fun course to watch professionals play once a year but it seems to penalize poor shots to a far greater degree than it rewards good shots. You could say the U.S. Open does the same thing but it doesn't do it artificially like the Players does. At the U.S. Open, you can at least see the fairways from the tee and if you hit them, you can play a reasonable shot to the green. The announcers at the Players are always saying things like "this could be a really good shot if it just catches the slope . . . awwww . . . too bad, it's in the water." You can have one hole like that on a course but not 18 of them.    

The Buzz

You can feel the difference between a major and a regular tour event as soon as you walk onto the property. When you arrive at a major, it feels like you walked into a medieval jousting tournament.*** Everything is just bigger from the size of the crowd to the corporate tents to the number of T.V. towers. When you walk onto the grounds of a regular tour event, it kind of feels like you're at a really rich kid's birthday party where they tried to recreate an amusement park in a giant backyard. The Players feels more like the kid's birthday party because none of the buzz surrounding it is organic, it's all media generated.  If you're telling me that the Players is the 5th major, then I should be so fired-up that I'm setting my DVR on Monday to record it and loosely planning my weekend around watching it like I do for the real majors. I should be getting emails for Players pools and they should be having Calcuttas for it at the local clubs yet there is none of this. There is just Dan Hicks and everyone on The Golf Channel telling me over and over what a huge tournament it is. It kind of reminds of going to see Avatar.

The Past Champions 

Where you really lose me on the 5th major thing is the list of recent winners. If you're a tournament bucking for that promotion, you better produce a winner two out of every three years who people can look at and say, "yeah, I can buy that guy as the best player in the world this week." Take a look at the last ten winners of the Players and tell me how many you could say that about:

Craziest part about this shot?
Henrik's ball was in the fairway
when he took his pants off.
K.J. Choi                    
Tim Clark                  
Henrik Stenson          
Sergio Garcia              
Phil Mickelson            
Stephen Ames          
Fred Funk                  
Adam Scott                
Davis Love, III          
Craig Perks      

Mickelson is a given and I would even stretch it to Garcia, Scott and Love, III but you're not selling me on the rest of that riffraff. I mean Fred Funk was freakin' forty-eight when he won it. Six of the last ten winners fall somewhere between "he's a solid player" (Choi) and "who in the hell is that guy?" (Perks). That's a worse track record than the British Open which gets to be a major forever the same way the 75 year old senior partner is pitcher for life on the law firm softball team.

So that's my case against the Players Championship being the 5th major. Feel free to use it the next time the topic comes up at a cocktail party. (You're welcome). I will admit it is a highly entertaining tournament to watch and I'm looking forward to it (that reminds me . . . I need to set my DVR) but the 5th major?  Stop it.

Now let's get onto the business of spinning around twenty times drunk and blindfolded and then throwing a dart to picking the winner.

The Players Top Ten

We're going ten deep this week because my league allows for two picks. I hope that by now I've established that handicapping this thing is a total crapshoot based on the nature of the course and the fact that Davis Love, III is the only player to win it more than once in the last twenty years. (I asked the pro at my club who he would pick and he said "Kevin Stadler." Kevin Stadler?!?).  I still believe that familiarity with the course and past success has to count for something so we'll throw a little of that in the mixing bowl, combine it with some consideration for guys currently playing well and then add a couple of semi-random picks for good measure. With that in mind, here goes nothing:
"You're right Henrik.
Nothing in the rules
about wearing pants."

1. Luke Donald
2. Sergio Garcia
3. Jason Dufner
4. Ernie Els
5. Nick Watney
6. Justin Rose
7. Henrik Stenson
8. Spencer Levin
9. Jason Day
10. Ben Crane  

Let's face it. No one is suited to win something called the 5th major more than Luke Donald . . . except for maybe Sergio.

The Updated Majors Reserved List

I scratched Jim Furyk from the starting line-up last week and added him to this list and bumped Luke Donald off in the process. I wouldn't use Tiger or Rory at the Players even if they were still available to me. Rory has already made it known that he doesn't like the course (and we know how well he handles adversity like rain at the British Open). Meanwhile, I can't imagine a worse place for Tiger to take his unpredictable swing. He's currently 9/4 to finish in the top 10 and I'd love to take the opposite side of that action. Here are the eight players I currently have saved for the majors (in no particular order except for the two clowns who screwed me at the Masters).

Hey look, I found a word that rhymes with "Furyk".
Tiger Woods - Masters
Rory McIlroy - Masters  
Matt Kuchar
Lee Westwood
Keegan Bradley
Hunter Mahan
Jim Furyk
Phil Mickelson

Last Week's Report Card: C-

1. Jim Furyk - T26
2. Kevin Na - MC
3. Webb Simpson - 4th
4. Zach Johnson - T69
5. Bo Van Pelt - MC

I could probably go as low as a D+ on this but I at least picked a guy who finished in the top 5. The last minute switch from Furyk to Simpson was a good one for me but it could have been a whole lot better if Webb could have gone just a shot lower than 73 on his home freakin' course. I guess I should be thankful that I was saved from watching it by the 17 inning Oriole game . . . but I'm not.


* Haig would later explain that that is not what he was trying to say despite the fact that everyone who watched that press conference live heard it that way (and believe me, on March 30, 1981, the last time a president was shot, everyone was watching that press conference live).

** Lest we forget Tiger's resume: Masters (4), PGA Championships (4), U.S. Opens (3), British Opens (3), plus fifteen other Top 5's in majors. WGC wins: Bridgestone Invitational (7), Cadillac Championship (6), Accenture Match Play (3). That's 30 wins in the 91 biggest tournaments from 1997-2009. To put that into perspective, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh have each won 4 of those events in their career.  

*** Before I worked in the golf store, I was the second string squire for a Bavarian knight. The pay was lousy but the horny handmaidens . . . whoa nelly!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Wells Fargo Update

Regular readers of the FGR know that I live in Baltimore a/k/a "Charm City", "The City that Reads" and "The Greatest City in America" (that one always draws a condescending snort from my New York friends). Actually, about nine years ago the FGW and I fled moved out of downtown Baltimore to one of its many bordering suburbs where people can watch the local news with less fear of being on the local news. Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of truth in the way Baltimore is portrayed in shows and movies like The Corner (drugs), Homicide: Life on the Street (murder), The Wire (drugs, murder, corruption and a lack of journalistic integrity) and of course the most extreme example, The Sum of All Fears (nuclear winter though, that hasn't actually happened . . . yet).* But I can handle all of that with the help of a high end home security system and enough city experience to know that you walk fast, don't make eye contact, avoid dark alleys and never flip-off the guy in the Lexus with the gold trim.

I'd like to think they didn't design
it that way but you never know.
What I can't handle is living in a town where the only sports topics that generate any interest whatsoever are (in order), (1) the Ravens, (2) the Orioles, (3) lacrosse, (4) Preakness and (5) Michael Phelps. Notice I didn't list football and baseball first and second because, as I have noted in the past, most Ravens' fans couldn't name the starting quarterbacks of seven other NFL teams. (Oh come on, you've got Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, The Other Manning, Tim Tebow and then those two guys who just got drafted, Sid Luckman and Reggie Jackson's grandson. There, that's seven). You may find this hard to believe unless you live here, but you could actually make a strong case that the Orioles should be No. 1 on that list despite their recent history of ineptitude. We're not even 1/5th of the way through the season and the fact that the Orioles have the best record in baseball has fans acting like a bunch of guys who were just rescued by a cruise ship full of porn stars after 14 years on a desert island.

Careful hon. Sometimes the desert
island is safer than the cruise ship.
What does all of this have to do with the Wells Fargo Championship? Well, as luck would have it, the Orioles are broadcast on Sundays by the local CBS affiliate, WJZ, so even though there are probably 50+ channels airing sports, we don't see any golf until the final out of the O's game is recorded. This often means that the golf coverage that starts at 3:00 for everyone else isn't scheduled to start until 4:30 for us which allows three interminable hours for the completion of a baseball game. If I ever get to the point where I have nothing better to do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May (when the games are almost meaningless) than watch three hours of baseball on T.V., you have my permission to reenact this scene in my living room - "The Untouchables". (By the way, if you were seated at that table and, at 1:18 of that clip, you didn't see the expression on Capone's face change and realize it was time to fake a heart attack, then you deserved what was coming).

"Two things. You take out the
trash and empty the dishwasher."
So there I was on Sunday at 4:30, cold beer in hand and ready to watch what was setting-up to be one of the best finishes of the PGA season featuring a couple of its most compelling players (Fowler and McIlroy) on one of its best courses (Quail Hollow). Making this moment even more savorous for me was the fact that I had just been home alone with the kids for two days AND spent the previous hour and a half driving around neighborhoods trying to pick a paint color for our house.** By the time I sat down, all of my debts had been paid and it was one of those rare moments of adulthood when you feel like Marsellus Wallace just looked at you and said, "yeah . . . we cool."

"So here we go, two outs in the top of the 7th and the Orioles have the go ahead run on 3rd base." NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! Three hours to play less than six and half innings?!? Even though the O's scored the go ahead run on a Mark Reynolds' double (which I was actually more excited about than I would have anticipated), I knew the game was going extra innings . . . which it did. Seventeen of them to be exact. By the time they were done, the playoff at Quail Hollow was over, my beer was warm and I was hot. The only time I can remember being more irate in this situation was when they preempted the golf for snow storm coverage so, instead of getting a brief reprieve from feeling snowbound in Baltimore by watching Phil Mickelson at Pebble Beach, we were treated to Rob Roblin sitting in a f---ing lawn chair in the snow . . . are you f---ing kidding me!?!?! (Local News at its Finest). So there's your Wells Fargo Update. I hope you enjoyed reading it more than I enjoyed not watching the goddamn tournament.      


* The Sum of All Fears is based on a book by Tom Clancy*** in which terrorists unsuccessfully try to blow-up the Super Bowl in Denver with a nuclear bomb that malfunctions. When the book was made into a movie, however, the writer and director decided they needed to go all the way and actually detonate the bomb at a game which led to the following discussion:

Producer: "We can't blow-up Denver, everyone loves Denver. Is there a city with a football stadium we can use that no one would mind seeing blown off the map?"

"It's not as bad as we originally thought.
It turns out the target is Baltimore."
Director: "Hmmm . . . Detroit?"

Producer:  "No, they've got the car thing and Motown."

Director: "Oakland?"

Producer: "Better . . . but San Francisco would take some collateral damage so that won't work. Remember, they only threatened to gas San Francisco in The Rock. You knew they were never going to do it."

Director:  "I know. Baltimore!"

Producer: "They have a football stadium?"

** If you've never done this, it's just like trying to pick paint colors for rooms in your house but while standing in rooms of other people's houses. Only you're not standing, you're driving so it's really like trying to pick paint colors for rooms in your house while running through other people's houses. We added to the enjoyment factor by doing it with three kids in the backseat propelling the experience to the top of the list of times we should've ponied-up for a babysitter but didn't. After an hour of agreeing to almost every color combination I saw and the FGW saying "I don't know, maybe", I finally took a stand against the color green at which point she said "I think green could be really nice, you just have to picture it, we could have a different shade of green trim and we could do the shutters in . . . " That's when I blacked-out and drifted into a telephone pole.

*** (You're damn right I'm going to endnote an endnote). I used to occupy the endless customer-free hours at the golf store where I worked**** by reading Tom Clancy books. One day I was reading The Sum of All Fears when a guy walked-in looking for some birthday gifts for his wife. I spent a few minutes peddling the useless golf gadgets that non-golfers like to buy for golfers (raise your hand if you have not received a ball retriever) and then went back to the counter to read my book. When he came up to pay, we had the following exchange:

"Hey dumbass, my picture
is on the back cover."
Customer: "How do you like that book?"

Me: "It's OK. Kind of slow. Definitely not as good as his other ones."

Customer: "Don't worry, it picks-up towards the end. Let me borrow your pen . . . what's your name?"

And with that, Tom Clancy signed my book, thanked me for my help and walked out of the store. The moral of this true story is, as always, that I am an idiot.

**** An endnote for an endnote in an endnote . . . for more about the golf store, here you go - The Masters Preview.