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.

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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Sports Report with a Touch of Mad Men

• Yes, I wrongly predicted a Wisconsin victory a few weeks back. Duke is the most Republican and Conservative of the ACC schools. Which may mean the political pendulum has swung which bodes poorly for HClinton.

• Last week my eldest daughter, in a temporary lapse of sanity, said she could “cream” me in the 500 freestyle. Both of us are traveling to Pensacola FL shortly, where competition pools are aplenty. Her personal record is 5:59, mine 6:18, but right now I’d be lucky to go 7 flat. However, since she puts the “dent” in sedentary these days, I like my chances. I’ve been out of the water for almost three weeks due to an overly ambitious surgeon, so I think I deserve a 50 yard head start. Only fair, right? Am I Wisconsin or Duke in this tilt?

• The two best teams in basketball are both in the Western Conference—the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Last night, instead of turning on the television, I sporadically checked the Clippers-Spurs boxscore. Am I the only one who does this, relies on internet updates because the t.v., at 15 feet away, is too far? It was Clips 30-Spurs 18 at the end of 1. (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess a few of the Clippers use marijuana on occasion, making Clips a most excellent nickname.) Then suddenly it was Spurs 37-Clips 35. Here’s the remarkable thing. The leading scorer for the Clippers had 11, but one Spur had 6, three had 5, and ELEVEN had scored. 12 assists to 8. For most teams, eleven guys don’t score all night. Pop and Kerr have the most diversified portfolios. The Spurs and Warriors move the ball better than any other team. And they keep their egos in check better than everyone else. Could be a great conference final. 12 on 12. I’m rooting for NoCal.

• Jordan Spieth won the Masters on Thursday, thereby challenging my entire competitive philosophy which is based on finishing stronger than your competitors. Turns out you don’t have to finish stronger than your competitors if you create enough separation in the early miles, rounds, innings, quarters.

• My US Open Golf tourney orientation is scheduled for a month from now when I’ll be kicking my daughters ass in a Pensacola FL pool. I’m on the Disability Access Volunteer Committee meaning I’ll be driving differently abled patrons out to designated places on the course in a golf cart. Turns out I can pick up my credentials after returning from the Peninsula. I still need to devise a plan to make it onto television. Thinking about a John 3:16 multicolored afro or an “accidental” cart accident where I somehow end up in the Sound. Or a combo. Let me know if you have a better idea. (Dear Disability Access Committee Chair, just kidding.)

• Saturday’s For the Heck of It impromptu half marathon, 1:42 which included a few walking breaks. There are two types of runners, Travis, DByrnes, and everyone besides me who religiously stop their watches whenever they stop, and me who programs it to pause after stopping for a few seconds, and doesn’t bother with it until finishing. Let’s call it 1:40 net. Kept a little in reserve meaning I’m in 1:36-37 shape.

• All eyes on Boston today and the 119th running of the marathon. Beautiful tradition. Props to the enlightened people of Mass for their resiliency and refusal to execute people.

• Mariners down 10-5, win 11-10. This isn’t your mother’s Mariners. If NCruz stays en fuego, there’s going to be a lot of little Nelsons running around the PNW.

• Mad Men. Megan’s sideways over the dissolution of the marriage. Don wants to make it right so he cooly writes her a check. For $1m. Remember it’s 1970. The vast majority of his net worth. Great scene that begs a question, has there ever been a less materialistic dude on television? He’s Ghandi if Ghandi was a Madison Avenue Ad man.

Serena Williams, Teachers’ Strikes, Personal Experience

Midway during her US Open Final match against Sam Stosur, Serena yelled “Come on!” while hitting a blistering forehand winner. Points are supposed to be replayed following accidental yelps, but since this one was clearly intentional, the line judge followed the rules and awarded the point to Stosur. Stosur went on to upset Williams who unraveled and yelled “You’re out of control,” and “Really, don’t even look at me,” and my personal favorite, “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” Williams was fined $2k on Monday which I’m sure will inspire her to take a long hard look at her insides (sarcasm).

On Monday on ESPN2 two analysts debated the line judge’s decision—Jemelle Hill, a youngish, always thoughtful African-American female sportwriter, and Skip Bayless, a pasty white*, cocksure, middle aged male who is almost always the debate aggressor. The exchange was interesting viewing because Hill focused exclusively on William’s gender, never referencing her ethnicity. In essence, she argued that since MacEnroe’s epic outbursts (hilarious picturing Mac wrapping up one of those with “and you’re just unattractive inside”) men have gotten away with far, far worse on court behavior. She added that Andy Roddick’s US Open outbursts were at least as bad as Williams. Bayless wasn’t buying it insisting it was a pattern with Williams and that she got what she deserved and should be banned from next year’s Open. What? Hill kept coming back to the obvious double standard, and surprisingly, to Bayless’s credit, he conceded the point at the end of the segment.

Hill was far more insightful and persuasive than Bayless, because, I’m assuming, she has direct, first-hand experience with gender and race-based double standards in her professional life. She knows it as soon as she sees it. I wish the moderator had asked Jemelle if she thought Serena’s race also impacted the public’s (and Bayless’s) stronger negative reaction to her outburst. But I digress.

Tacoma, Washington teachers are on strike. Among the issues, the district wants greater flexibility in moving teachers from program to program and school to school to better meet the needs of struggling students. Teachers want continuity and are fearful of one superintendent or one principal arbitrarily moving them from year to year. I hope I’m wrong, but given the stagnant economy, high unemployment rate, and growing antipathy for public unions, I predict the teachers will struggle to win the community’s support.

Also, only a very small percentage of the public has direct, first-hand experience with the challenges of public school teaching. Just as Bayless struggled to see a gender double standard in professional tennis, the public can’t see things from the teachers’ vantage point. I empathize with the teachers. Few people, even if they freely chose to enter the profession, would passively and indefinitely accept their modest (and reduced) pay, their increasing class sizes, and their district and schools’ top-down management.

I hope the public union vitriol is tempered, the conflicts can be resolved, and the strike is short for the students and families it will definitely inconvenience.

* Just as African-Americans are able to use the “N” word, I can use the “PW” phrase because I am PW.

Weekend Notes

U.S. OPEN

• I was off Friday and spent some of the day prepping for 17’s Graduation Open House and some fantasizing about being at Pebble Beach. As great as the visuals were, listening to Chris Berman do the U.S. Open is excruciating. I’m sure he’d be a fun guy to play poker or watch football with, but he obviously did not grow up playing golf. I can take “We’re all just Dustin’ in the Wind Johnson” but I can’t take the “He shot a 9” and “That’s the second snowman there of the day!” and the “back, back, back” urging of a short putt. No one shoots anything on an individual hole. One MAKES a nine. And pros occasionally make eights, not snowmen. This is a MAJOR, not the Bristol Municipal Club Championship. Listening to Dick Vitale is soothing by comparison.

• Also on Friday, very interesting ruling involving Paul Casey’s chip on 14. Brutal uphill chip with zero margin of error. Casey hits it a tad chubby and in frustration hits/repairs the divot a few times. In the ensuing ten-fifteen seconds, the ball backs all the way off the green, eventually to almost the exact spot. Viewers alert the rules officials that Casey has improved his lie. Penalty? Rules officials huddle with Casey after the round, review the particulars of the two shots, and ask him whether he hit/repaired the divot in order to improve his lie in case the ball returned to the exact same spot. Based upon his body language they didn’t think so, and so they weren’t surprised when Casey confirmed that. There really was no way Casey could have known the ball would return to exact same spot. The rule is it’s a penalty if there’s intent is to improve one’s lie. I hereby declare that before wives rip husbands and daughters ban fathers from speaking in public that they adjust for intent.

WORLD CUP

• After reading the comments about my “it’s poor form to complain about officiating” post, I’ve changed my mind. Merty’s comment in particular reminded me of the NBA/FBI/Tim Donaghy fiasco. I’m sure there’s far more $ coursing through World Cup matches than NBA games. Maybe the Malian ref who blew the call at the end of US/Slovenia is cut from Donaghy cloth. So here’s my revised axiom. Whenever athletes are amateurs, it’s poor form to complain about officiating. The corollary is “The younger the athletes, the poorer the form.”

SCHOOLING

• I understand it’s sociocultural/historical roots, but I’m still amazed at how prevalent individualism is in our schools especially when future success will inevitably hinge on interpersonal intelligence. The OHS awards assembly and graduation (where the same award winners were feted a second time) reminded me of that. Why is it that teamwork and groups are only emphasized in extracurricular activities? Our success in solving pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges hinge mostly on team/group work. Sarason’s concept of the “regularities of schooling” comes to mind. A “regularity of schooling” is some feature of teaching and learning that we no longer question, it’s just accepted as the natural order. For example, we always assign grades to each individual student and we only award individual student achievement. This also calls to mind Sarason’s “ocean storm” metaphor in the Predictable Failure of Education Reform. Lots of wind, waves, tumult on the surface during an ocean storm, but no change in water chemistry, temperature, etc, on the ocean floor. The ocean floor is the teacher-student relationship. How would teaching and learning change if we tempered our individualism and focused at least some of our assessment efforts on small group academic achievement?

• During his grad speech, the OHS principal honored the top ten students. A slide of the students flashed above. He said, “good job girls” with no sense of irony or urgency. I’m in the middle of a related article in the most recent Atlantic magazine titled “The End of Men”. Highly recommended.

• Byrnes Postulate (be sure to credit me). The more meaningful the curricular objective and related classroom activity, the more difficult to assess the associated student learning. Granted seems obvious, but I suggest that postulate informs more of what’s wrong with the “standards movement” than is first apparent.

WORLD POLITICS

• Heard an interview with the author of this book. He persuasively argued that no single nation can singlehandedly solve the immigration challenge. Made perfect sense, but it doesn’t seem as if anyone is acknowledging that. In fact, it’s true of most global issues today, but there are at least two serious impediments to thinking more globally and acting more in concert with other people in other nations to address pressing global issues like global poverty, environmental crises, and terrorism/war. First, the U.N. has a lot of negative baggage associated with it and there are wonderful NGOs, but few truly global alternatives. And secondly, no country/region (in the case of the EU) really wants to be take the lead in compromising their relative sovereignty.

FITNESS MALISE

• It’s 12:56p Sunday, we’re on the cusp of the summer equinox, and I’m sitting at my desk in half a cycling kit, staring at a cold, wet, dark gray landscape with 57 miles on the odometer for the week. Pathetic. I started down the street at 9:50a only to turn around when it started to rain. Mother Nature is testing all cyclists’ mental health this June. Look for some to start snapping. I was supposed to be Lance’s domestique on Mount Saint Helens today and then opted for a 10a club ride. Now I’ve performed the rare “double wuss”. My problem is I have nothing I HAVE to train for, not a single event on the calendar. I don’t even think I’ll do our local Oly triathlon in September. I’m 280th on the RAMROD waiting list. This is a desperate cry for help. Someone tell me what event should I do next and why? To add insult to injury, 14 informed me that if I had stayed in bed, her sister and her would have made me a “Dad’s Day” breakfast.