What I Got Wrong About Professional Golf

I grew up playing golf.

My first job was parking golf carts and picking up range balls at Los Alamitos Golf Course. One benefit of that job was practicing and playing for free. The guy I played behind in high school, Mike Miles, is playing in the US Senior Open right now. Once, another teammate, who just happened to be wearing his golf shirt on an off-day, an act that required serious chutzpa in the pre-TWoods era, told our substitute teacher we had a match and had to leave our 11th grade English class early to warm up. That day we got a few extra holes of practice in on account of her naivete. Who knew at the time we’d both end up being college administrators.

Growing up I used to think that playing professionally would be la ultima. Traveling to exotic places, being on television, being pampered by tournament committees, making mad money, basically living large.

Fast forward to the US Open where I watched a new wave of rookies like Cheng Tsung Pan and Cameron Smith methodically go about their business. With their swing coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists, and fitness trainers. Pan grew up in Taiwan, spent a chunk of his youth in a Florida golf academy, and starred at the University of Washington. Smith is a 21 year-old Australian who finished fourth after nearly making a “2” on the par 5 18th. On the practice range their ball flight is so consistent it’s mesmerizing. On the greens, their strokes are so silky smooth it’s stupifying. To say these guys got game is an understatement.

The thought I couldn’t shake was that the Tour is like a life saving dinghy floating in the open ocean. For every Pan and Smith that makes it on, two other guys have to be tossed overboard, most likely journeymen in their 40’s. Approximately 500-1,000 guys around the world make a decent living playing professional golf, but at least 50,000-100,000 are seriously pursuing the dream on driving ranges, courses, and tours in Asia, Australia, Europe, South Africa, South America, and Canada. Then throw in NCAA college golf and the Tony Finau’s of the world who bypass college and learn to win on the Web.com Tour and you have a hyper-competitive field of work. Take a breather at your own and your family’s risk.

Every time a PGA journeyman goes to sleep, thousands of guys on the otherside of the world—a younger Pan in Taiwan and a younger Smith in Australia for example—are honing their craft. Professional golf is la ultima, la ultima meritocracy. Every year 90-95% of the players who don’t have any kind of cushion created by victories, have to prove themselves all over again.

The top 50 in the world get a disproportionate amount of the media’s and our attention. Thus, our perspective is grossly distorted. Imagine having a few thousand driven people from all corners of the world strategizing day and night on how to displace you. Then imagine having a family and being on the road two-thirds of the time. Then imagine losing a little confidence with the flat stick (e.g., Michael Putnam, Ernie Els).

It only took me forty years to learn that for the vast majority of journey men and women golfers, it’s an extraordinarily difficult way to make a living.

US Open Postscript

Sunday’s 6-11a shift was my favorite. Left the house at 4:52a and walked onto the grounds at 5:51a. The sunrise was spectacular and it was nice watching the course slowly come to life under overcast skies and cool temps in the mid 50’s.

A lot of disabled spectators had either tired and turned to their televisions or simply slept in so I ate my annual donut, shot the breeze with fellow volunteers, walked a bit of the course, and made occasional runs around the course.

The Cowboy will be pleased to know there was a brief Holly Saunders sighting. She sped by in the passenger seat of another cart. On a related note, her post round interviews were goofy. Sane people know Fox isn’t fair or balanced, but we have to acknowledge that they are consistent when it comes to their television “talent”. Their coverage more generally was flawed relative to the much more experienced network teams. Norman’s bromance for Day was over the top, the lack of yardage, Pavin awkwardly overreacting to a Faxon dig, “What do we want to go here, best career?”, etc. However, the microphone in the hole was genius and almost compensated for all the other shortcomings.

The highlight of the day was my penultimate trip, from Central Meadows to the top of the 18th hole grandstand. A man flagged me down and said, “I had a hip replacement, and it hurts, and I need to get up to the 18th grandstand for a picture, can you take me?” I looked at his tournament pass everyone wears around their neck and it said, “Robert Trent Jones, Jr.” The course architect and his wife hopped on and we we’re off.

“I heard you interviewed on the radio a few days ago. It was a nice interview.” Phone call with someone involved with the picture and then, “The pros are really savaging the greens aren’t they?” What do you say to that? “Yeah, but everyone has to putt the same greens.” Weak I know, but I was working with 5 hours sleep. Then I said, “You should be proud of the fact that this is a spectacular event.” He shook my hand appreciatively. And told me he had an article in the Sunday Seattle Times about his dad for whom “I wouldn’t be here personally or professionally.”

The locals are too damn defensive about all the criticism of the greens, Jones’s design, noisy trains, and the spectators’ many challenges. I don’t understand why people take it so personally. Given the leaderboard and dramatic ending*, the early word from Tim Rosaforte is that all the greens will be completely redone (much less undulation, much more consistent grass) and the “footprint” will be altered to be more fan-friendly and the USGA will return in 10+ years.

How many majors will Spieth have by then?

After finishing work at 11a, I picked up a Thai Chicken Wrap, banana, and water**, and headed to the practice range. It was strange that more people weren’t there because it was the best place to see the most players up close putting, chipping, hitting balls. I watched Rose, Kopeka, Poults, HMarayauma, Mcllroy, Na, Senden, the Duf who wins the “best shoes” and “most weight lost since divorcing” competitions. At 11:45a, Spieth walked onto the practice range a few feet in front of me and headed to the putting green, exactly three hours before teeing off.

Having gotten too much sun, I headed home at noon, tired from a long week. I’m lucky my vagabond daughters are both home. The Girls Club was wanting to hike Mount Rainier sometime this week before the Eldest returns to the shadows of Wrigley Field. I suggested we take advantage of the Summer Solstice and head to Rainier and the fam proved spontaneous enough.

A glorious hike on the Deadhorse Creek trail was cappped with a picnic dinner a mile above the Paradise Visitor’s Center. After returning home, I watched the tournament which I had recorded.

A full and fun day. I’m appreciative of my health and my daughters who gave me cards with touching messages. I’m also grateful for nature, in particular the Sound that frames Chambers Bay and Mount Rainier which frames large swaths of Western Washington.

Postscript: To the golf averse, I have one more golf post in me and then it will be on to new subjects.

* One take-away from tournament week. America is seriously overweight. One culprit has to be beer. Everyone began drinking beer at around 10a and didn’t stop.

** Would have been even more dramatic if the tournament had been decided by a made putt.

12th hole. Driveable par 4. For them, not us.

12th hole. Driveable par 4. For them, not us.

This is why they're better than me. They warmup with the same balls they play.

This is why they’re better than me. They warmup with the same balls they play.

The wildflowers are in full bloom a month earlier than normal.

The wildflowers are in full bloom a month earlier than normal.

2015 US Open. . . Halftime Report

The handful of faithful PressingPausers are wondering when, if ever again, the humble blog will refresh. I may not have factored the Handful in enough when I recently agreed to assume more responsibilities at work. On top of that I planned an intensive course last week and taught it this week and right now I’m in the middle of a four-day volunteering stint at the US Open at Chambers Bay.

Which is what my golf-addled friends are most curious about. I’m on the Disabilities Access Committee. Thursday, beside the green at the brutally tough fifth hole*, I perfected the badass Secret Service agent look with sunglasses, earpiece, and radio. I decided talking into my sleeve would be overclubbing. It was uneventful because no able-bodied person dare sit in the designated handicapped section given my intimidating presence.

Friday, I spent an hour riding shotgun in another cart, and then when I had the lay of the land, drove disabled spectators in my own cart over most of the 1,000 acres (the course is 250).

Low point. Cruising behind the scene solo, no one around, who do I see walking alone along the road? The winner of the 1995 US Open who I happened to go to school with. So I say, “Coreeeey!” DOES NOT EVEN LOOK UP. Shit Corey, I used to watch you hit balls on the intramural field on the way to class back in the day! We nearly ate breakfast together in Rieber Hall! I celebrated your 5-wood like I had hit it myself! My depression only lasted about fifteen minutes.

High point. Who is that female commentator walking from the middle of the fairway right towards me?! Closer, closer, eye contact, smile. Thank you Natalie Gulbis** for helping me completely forget what’s his name. After texting some buddies about my Natalie Gulbis encounter, one wrote back to say surely she thought I was her grandfather. Not funny.

Also fun. As I drove back and forth by the practice range sometimes security would raise the ropes so that spectators and I would have to stop for . . . Rory Mac, Adam Scott, Colin Montgomerie.

Like the winner Sunday evening, I probably deserve a very large trophy for my uncanny ability to skillfully weave through masses of humanity on densely packed sidewalks while simultaneously spying every player walking  between tees and every threesome’s scoring signboard.

It turns out that Tom Chambers Bay as some funny radio hosts are calling it is not a great course for spectators. Watch on television, the ropes are much, much further back than normal, so much so it’s as if the players are all alone. Given the length and hilly nature of the course, and the super slippery fescue, spectators are retreating to the grandstands.

Down the stretch on Sunday I hope they let people into the fairways. So much for my darkhorse, Michael Putnam. Now, I will cheer the newest Masters Champion to go back-to-back.

Well, I better get to sleep. I’m back at it in thirteen hours.

* Turns out the fifth hole is the Byrnes family hole. My oldest brother works the fifth hole at Nicklaus’s Memorial tournament every year.

** To Steve Wood, rest assured I am on the lookout for HS, but alas, cannot report a sighting YET.

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Stream of Semi-consciousness

• Skin cancer surgery last week. Fun stuff. It had been 2.5 years so I was overdo. The surgeon said I can’t swim for three weeks. I’ll give the scars two. I need a new doc, one who cares about my swim fitness.

• Olympia’s Spring Break meaning the running posse and wife have scattered to Oregon, California, and Mexico. Leaving the Labradude and me.

• Hope he likes the Masters.

• Why is the NBA obsessing about this year’s Most Valuable Player when basketball is a team sport?

• Today’s 38 mile solo training ride, 5 on, 5 off, Boston Harbor, Fishtrap, Lilly, Farmers Market, Cap Lake. 18.2mph w/ 1,400′ of el. I need more miles and more el.

• Why couldn’t baseball wait until the day after Easter to start the season?

• Why did Stacy Lewis hit such a poor chip on the 75th hole of the [Corporate Name Deleted] Major Championship? The world’s #2 player HAS to get that up and down 95% of the time.

• Take my daughter to work day. That’s the only way she can get a lift to the airport for her return flight to her college. Look for her in the PLU library. A young TSwift.

• I’m looking forward to listening to the NCAA championship game in the car to and from the airport. The more experienced Badgers wlll cut down the nets.

• Special Easter Dinner for the college sophomore, mac-n-cheese with ham in it. Peas on the side.

• To bad she won’t be on campus next Monday to heckle me when I give a lecture to students who’ve been admitted titled, “The High School to College Transition”.

• Is it hypocritical of me to a give a lecture when I don’t like lectures? The answer to that is probably. Depends how much time I use to lecture and how much for questions.

• Still missing moms.

You STILL Have a Wired Doorbell?!

A wonderfully quiet, calm, early morning. Just me and the iPad Air, on a stool, at the kitchen island. I’m George Foreman and my green tea latte, banana with peanut butter, and bowl of oatmeal are Frazier. I open ZITE and select one of my “Top Stories”, an article titled “Interior Design Tips & Furniture To Consider When Moving Into a New Home”. I want to be prepared in case I buy a new home today.

Scrolling, scrolling, some cool ideas like a pallet coffee table or a “murphy bed for the kids’ room”. Then the game changer. “Connect With Your Home Via Your Smartphone.” Here’s the paragraph. Savor. Every. Word.

These days our smartphones can do almost anything. There’s an app for everything so why not take advantage of this? In your home, you can have things like a wireless doorbell. Whenever someone’s at the door your phone will ring so, even if you’re in the garden, you’ll hear the doorbell.

Our smartphones. Never be lonely again. We’re a club and you’re in it.

There’s an app for everything. I have read there are a whole lot of apps, but I never knew there’s one for everything. Had I known about the one that heals calf muscles, I would’ve been running all January and February. And had I known about the app that enables you to peer into the near future, I would’ve avoided last weeks argument with the GalPal. And had I known about the ones that rake leaves, mow, and pick up doggie do, I would’ve spent all weekend inside learning more about interior design.

A wireless doorbell. Hot damn. Whenever someone’s at the door your phone will ring so, even if you’re in the garden, you’ll hear the doorbell. Until now, I thought my most pressing hardships in life were health related—persistent skin cancer, an enlarged prostate, worsening vision. Now that I think about it, I have long been tormented by a litany of missed house guests as a result of my feeble, wired door bell, and my gardening. Because thanks to technology, we have way more time on our hands than ever before and we’re spending a lot of that freed up time dropping in on one another.

Just the other day, three young women stopped by to give me a birthday present, an advanced copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. They emailed me later to say they rang the doorbell and waited as long as they could. I guess that’s why Marley was barking so excitedly. At the time I was knee deep in compost.

And then a few weeks ago, Jimmy Fallon stopped by to ask if I would be his first guest on the Tonight Show. He emailed me later to say he rang the doorbell and waited as long as he could. At the time I was planting seeds.

And then a few months ago, President Obama stopped by to see if I wanted to play golf and help troubleshoot the Affordable Care rollout. He emailed me later to say he rang the bell and waited as long as the Secret Service would let him. At the time I was stringing up some snap peas.

And then a year ago, Kate Middleton stopped by to ask for some parenting advice. She emailed me later to say she rang the bell and waited as long as MI6 would let her. At the time I was installing a drip water system into a raised garden bed.

And then two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI stopped by for some personal counseling. He emailed me later to say he rang the bell and waited as long as the Gendarmie Corps of Vatican City State would let him. At the time I was weeding.

Someday, I will gather my children’s children around and tell them exactly what it was like to live through the wired doorbell era. I won’t spare their feelings and I’ll use big words like “distressing”, “harrowing”, and “horrifying” because they’ll be sups smart.

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A Masterful Lesson

I watched a hell of a lot of golf this weekend. I do that one weekend in April every year. It’s a tradition like no other. If I played the same amount as I watched, I would have halved my handicap.

While watching, I marveled at my complete and utter dislike for Tiger Woods. Why do I want anyone but him to win? On Friday, why did I silently cheer when his half wedge at 13 hit the pin on a bounce and caromed back into Rae’s Creek? The Saturday morning penalty was icing on the top. Why do I root so intensely against him? Why does he bring out the worst in me?

My anti-Tiger mania is especially odd since I grew up in Cypress, California a small-medium sized suburban city six miles from Disneyland. It’s most famous for being El Tigre’s hometown. In my teens, I anonymously worked and played the same courses he did so famously in his well documented youth. And he’s a brother in a lily white sport desperately in need of diversity. And his talent is undeniable. And the way he grinds on every shot is admirable. But that’s the kindest thing you’ll ever see me write about him.

Was it the serial womanizing? No. My deep-seated antipathy precedes that downward spiral. Is it the Michael Jordan-like mix of constant commercialism and over the top materialism. In small part. Is it my nostalgia for Nicklaus and my childhood. In small part.

The much larger part came to me while watching Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole. Cabrera hit a very solid approach on the par 4 about 18 feet below the hole. Scott’s mid-iron ended up about 12-14 feet to the side of the hole. Clutch as it gets. Cabrera walked as he watched Scott’s shot in the air. When it landed, he turned and gave Scott a thumbs up sign. Class personified. Scott shot him one right back.

An epiphany exactly one week after Easter. “That’s it!” I realized. Humanity in the midst of the most intense competition imaginable. We’ll never, ever, ever see Tiger do anything like that. His intensity routinely crosses from the admirable to something that makes me root against him. We will never see Tiger applaud an opponent especially in a moment like that. Or reciprocate as Scott did. Never ever. Maybe it’s his dad’s fault, but Tiger learned to focus so intently on winning that everyone and everything else be damned.

I wish the golf press would make a pact and do us all a big favor and just stop interviewing him. He always looks so pained and he never says anything the least bit authentic. He always gives the answers he thinks will end the interview the fastest. The following dialogue bubble should be superimposed on the screen whenever he’s being interviewed, “How much longer until this god foresaken interview with this god d*mned idiot is over?!”

My position on Tiger will soften when a groundskeeper, a golf journalist, a waiter, a caddy, a Tour player, or anyone not on his payroll says something genuinely nice about him. Something that reveals his humanity.

I’m not holding my breath.

Why Obama Will Be Playing Even More Golf

I’m doing my best to block out Presidential politics, but you can’t expect me to remain completely silent.

My liberal friends roll their eyes at me when I predict this election is going to be really close and could very well go Romney’s way. They don’t appreciate the magnitude of conservatives’ dislike for President Obama (P.O.). As one of my right wing nutter friends puts it, “ABO—Anybody But Obama”.

W was a mountain biker. Obama is a golfer. My guess is he likes golf because it’s the exact opposite of Presidential politics in that you control your destiny. No person is an island. . . except for when they’re on the first tee. Roll in a 25 footer for birdie and bask in the glory. There’s no infielder you have to throw to for the relay at home, no catcher that has to hold onto the ball, no other oarsman or woman to keep rhythm with, no doubles partner to cover the alley, no teammates at all. Slice it out of bounds and accept the responsibility for the two stroke penalty. No projecting.

P.O.’s re-election hinges upon improving economics at home. And because our economy and Europe’s are increasingly interdependent, that will be determined in part by people named Angela, Francois, Mario and Wolfgang. And then there’s Congress. P.O. wants temporary tax cuts and spending initiatives to spark public sector job hiring, but Congressional Republicans have no incentive to help him.

And China is letting its currency devalue again, making its exports cheaper and those from the U.S. to China more costly. India’s economy is slowing and the phrase “financial contagion” is appearing with increasing frequency in business periodicals. Eurozone unemployment is at 11%, the highest since tracking began in 1995.

Then there’s the Supreme Court which sometime soon will decide whether P.O.’s controversial first term focus—expanded health care coverage based upon required participation—is constitutional or not.

And there’s this picture from my California cycling sojourn.

A suggestion, fill up before or after Lee Vining, CA.

Economists are quick to say a President doesn’t control the cost of gas or the nation’s growth rate, let alone the unemployment rate in Europe or at home, but perception is reality. Add up last week’s anemic job growth numbers, the tick up in unemployment, higher than average gas prices, the mess that is the Eurozone, stagnant wages, especially tough job prospects for college graduates, and any challenger would have a decent shot at defeating the incumbent.

If those variables don’t improve or get worse, an Obama loss will not surprise me. Either way, look for him to play more golf whether as a second term president or a former president because the golf course is the only place where he alone controls his destiny.