Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bias

Bias


Dictionary.com defines bias as:

a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.

I’ve started a new blog post about a half dozen times in the past two months. I’ve been struggling with deciding what to write about since the election; it’s been one of the main sources of conversation for so many that I felt like I had to jump in. But I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say. I’ve finally decided to talk about bias because I think it’s what caused the election to turn out as it did. I also think it tends to drive most of what we think and do. I’m concerned that if we, as a society, don’t get a handle on us, it may lead to our ultimate destruction.

During conversations with some of my friends over the past few weeks, I’ve been attempting to understand how people that I would normally describe as intelligent are losing their minds, spewing “news stories” that are anything but, and trashing the constitutional tenets that guide our republic. All in an effort to get me to agree that their selection for President (Trump) was the correct one. Or to get me to agree that Clinton was the correct choice and the election had been stolen from her.

The act of being in these conversations has led me to begin forming opinions about personal bias. (Forgive me if this covers ground you already know, yourself. I’m just becoming aware of these things. At least this election accomplished something!)

Race

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that he thought that President Obama had done more to increase racism in this country than any individual in history. His statement was, “Obama said that he doesn’t believe that police are doing their jobs, that they’re targeting black men, and that he doesn’t support their behavior.”

We did a quick google search on our phones (my bride calls smart phones “pocket BS detectors”) and were unable to come up with a quote that was anywhere close to what my friend had just said. Most quotes were around how difficult the job of a police officer is and we can’t undermine that by painting them all with a broad brush.

The fact that we couldn’t find the quote my friend claimed to have heard was disturbing to him. I pointed out that it was possible that the liberal media had removed the story in order to keep Obama’s legacy intact. When he vehemently agreed, I pointed out that I’d been kidding. (Hmmmm. Bias.)

I suggested something else.

“Let’s pretend, for a moment, that instead of Obama saying that, it was George W. Bush when he was president. So, President Bush at a press conference says, ‘I believe that there is a group of police officers who are not doing their jobs, that are targeting black males and I want this to stop because I don’t support that kind of behavior.’ How does that change it for you?”

My friend couldn’t really come up with an answer.

So I said, “Wouldn’t you think that President Bush was trying to ensure that police were doing their jobs properly?” He replied in the affirmative.

“Would you say that he was reaching out to the black community in an effort to get them to see that he was trying to help them?” Again, he agreed with that.

“So when a white president says it, he’s doing the right thing. But when a black president says it, he’s what? Getting uppity? Not knowing his place? Rabble rousing?”

My friend, who I truly don’t believe is a racist, couldn’t answer the question.

I suggest that his “personal bias” made him look at the words, hear the words, even understand the words, differently. Perhaps even make up new words to match his bias.

Religion

I’m a member of a Unitarian Universalist church. I consider myself to be agnostic only because I can’t imagine an actual god but I also can’t imagine there not being a higher power. In other words, I need some proof. The closest thing I can align to is Buddhism and, quite frankly, I describe myself as a “flailing Buddhist” as I’m not very good at living in the moment or at accepting things.

My church describes itself as a liberal church and welcomes all who choose to worship with us. UUism doesn’t have a dogma but, instead, draws on many different faiths and teachings for inspiration. We are a welcoming congregation, meaning that we want all who come to join us to feel welcome.

In the fifteen or so years that I’ve been a member, we’ve done all sort of things that could be considered welcoming. At one point, we had a group of Amadiyah Muslims meeting in our church building before they were able to build their own mosque. This offshoot of Islam is among the most peaceful and focus their entire worth on love. The members that I met were incredibly kind and compassionate. (At the same time, women in their group were not given a seat in leadership; they were subservient to the men at all times. Interesting bias.)

A couple of years ago, we had a person come to our church for a period of time. Several people reached out to learn more about him and his family. They began to take an active role in the church and then, one day, they stopped coming. Why? Turned out that he was a Republican and was taken aback with so much anti-GOP talk that he heard among the members and from the pulpit.

I guess, to some degree, we are welcoming but especially to those who think as we do. Once again, bias comes into play.

Conservative vs Liberal

This one plays out every day, on every channel that broadcasts news stories (or what passes for news) by anyone who watches. Same with newspapers, news magazines, and even news websites.

The New York Times is a very old newspaper that prides itself on reporting the news as accurately and fairly as it can. It has won many awards for doing just that, including multiple Pulitzer prizes.

Here’s a test for you. What’s your opinion of the New York Times? Before you continue reading, take a moment and decide your answer. I’ll wait.

Okay, you may continue.

Some people think that the NYT is a “liberal rag” and not worth the paper it’s printed on. Others think it’s the last bastion of good reporting in the nation. Still others, think it’s a puppet of the right wingers.

How could all of those opinions differ so widely? Bias, pure and simple. (Your answer above is, of course, based on your personal bias.)

(Side note: The Richmond Times-Dispatch, my local newspaper, has a long history of being conservative, having endorsed the GOP candidate almost exclusively for decades. When they endorsed Gary Johnson this past October, a large number of people lost their minds. The letters to the editors almost never fail to elicit a chuckle from me. They’re almost better than the comics! Bias examples abound just about daily.)

So what?

Here’s the deal. I remember a time when most of us were taught to listen politely to what someone else had to say about a topic. I remember it as a time that was more thoughtful, respectful, and when we were able to accomplish more. (Remember when Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon? It took 9 years. Think that could happen today? Not a chance. Too many people arguing about it.)

Want to think more clearly about things and help break the cycle? Do this.

Take the time to consider the other person’s point of view, even if it directly opposes what you believe. (The operative word is consider here. Don’t discard what they say out of hand. Just consider it. What if they were right? What if you were wrong? What if both of you were wrong?)

If asked, give your own opinion, politely, about the same topic. Provide the other person with your reasons for the opinion. (Bear in mind, facts should have more value than opinions or feelings.) Ask the other person to consider your point of view, too.

Above all else, listen to understand don’t listen to reply! Life isn’t a debate. We’re all in this together and, in the final analysis, we all want what’s best for the country, our lives, our families, and ourselves.

In the end, if your opinions haven’t changed, agree to disagree and thank the other person for sharing their thoughts with you. Both parties will be changed by this, whether or not they believe that.

Final thoughts

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m not sure I even have half of the questions! I only know that we, as a society, are at a very strange place in our journey. We have the capability to end it ourselves and, frankly, I’m worried that’s going to happen if we don’t change the ways we interact.

We also have the wherewithal to be better than we are, as a country, and as a world. I intend to do my share.


I hope you intend to do yours.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Electing a President




Note: I started this post back in February and dropped it as it was too depressing and painful to talk about. Now that the national party conventions are about to take place, I thought it might be interesting to dust this off and post a little something on the national election. Comments are always welcome but civil discourse is the only thing that is tolerated by me. Name calling and bombastic platitudes will not be tolerated and since I have to approve all comments first, won’t show up. Thanks in advance!

So, it’s an election year.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed. 2016 is an election year. Most years are election years but this one is a biggie, it’s a Presidential election year. The other ones are just election years, where minor officials are elected; Representatives to the US House, Senators (sometimes but at least every 3rd election), and of course all your local representatives.

Presidential Election years are so damn big, they last longer than a year. Really. This one started at least one or two years ago when people (usually those in the media – TV hosts, newspaper reporters, and the like) began to discuss the upcoming Presidential Election.

Why did they start so soon?

Ratings. Well, actually, money.  The ratings are really only a TV thing but the higher the ratings, the more advertising revenue can be brought in. For newspapers and magazines, it’s all about selling more of them. For online media, it’s all about the clicks.

(Can you imagine trying to explain some of this to one of the founding fathers? How bizarre would it sound to Thomas Jefferson if you told him that there were entire entities focused, not on electing a new president, but on speculating who the potential candidates might be in the next couple of years? And that performing this “service” produces billions of dollars of business? It also causes billions more to be spent in a number of different businesses. As forward thinking as he was, his brain might explode. Frankly, mine swells up thinking about it.)

As of this writing, February 2016, there are 2 Democrats and 9 Republicans running for President down from an initial high water mark of 3 and 17(!) respectively. I don’t know what the historical numbers look like for potential candidates but I have to think that GOP number is pretty close to a record.

Can there really be as many as 20 people at one time, willing to declare in public, that they think they’re qualified to be President of the US? Or that they even want to be? I’m amazed at that.

And it’s not as if they didn’t already have a job. We have current legislators; at the National level they make over $180,000 a year. At the state level (governors) they probably make low six figures. Then we have TV commentators, making around a quarter of million a year. And then there’s The Hair (I can’t bear to put his name on here) who makes seven figures, acting in the role of knowing what it’s like to be an average guy. (Sure, an average guy making seven figures. WTF does that feel like?)

Present Tense

It’s July, about five months after I wrote that. National conventions begin next week with the GOP in Cleveland followed by the Democrats in Philadelphia a couple of weeks later. Then the fun really begins! Four solid months of TV ads, social media posts ad nauseum from all of our friends on both sides of the aisle and, of course, televised debates between the candidates and at least one between their running mates.

(Kind of makes me wish we had taken the British method; they just changed their Prime Minister over the course of a week’s worth of discussions. How terrifically civil!)

Concerns – Yep, I’ve got a few

How did we get here?

This is the eleventh presidential election in which I’ve had a chance to vote. I can’t remember two candidates that have me scratching my head like these two. They both have horrible ratings when it comes to people thinking they’re qualified for the role of POTUS and their perceived trustworthiness is dreadful, as well. Seriously, WTF?
In no particular order……

Hilary Rodham Clinton has the pedigree to be President having served for eight years as Senator, four years as Secretary of State and having been First Lady for eight years. She has a law degree and a ton of experience in the public sector. She knows the Constitution, how Congress is supposed to work, and has served up plans to move forward.

Image result for hillary rodham clinton
Hilary Rodham Clinton
On the other hand, she has a reputation of acting as if the rules don’t apply to her (see email issues) and has been lambasted by her detractors for not playing “by the rules” and failing to act responsibly in her role as Secretary of State (see Benghazi). There is also a well held belief that Wall Street “owns” her and “big money” will sway her plans and decisions. (This is America – we do have the best politicians money can buy.)

At the same time, Congressional committees, chaired by the opposition, have spent in excess of $8 million investigating allegations of misconduct in both instances and coming up empty. (FBI director Comey did say that their investigation didn’t come up with enough evidence to pursue and indictment. Not that she was innocent but that there wasn’t enough evidence. It’s a point of law that I can’t argue as I’m not a lawyer but at a base level it means to me “There’s nothing to see here, folks, move along.” Others would say, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!”)



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Donald Trump
Donald J. Trump has the pedigree to be President based on his 40 year career as a business person and executive. He has begun, run, and sold a number of successful companies and turned the Trump brand into a highly respected name, typically associated with high quality and commensurately high price. He would be the first business person to be elected to the office in a long time. (Harry Truman was a haberdasher just prior to entering politics and was the last one. He was also the last one without a college education and he served two terms as POTUS with some distinction.)

On the other hand, he has a reputation as a serial philanderer (divorced twice and one of his books talks about how he wooed another woman while he was married to the first one). He, too, acts as if the rules don’t apply to him (see tax returns and marriage) and he has a track record of starting litigation when things don’t go his way (see Trump Golf Club in Scotland).

He also has a pending criminal investigation for one of his defunct businesses, Trump University; it’s the subject of numerous lawsuits by former students. (Investigators say they aren’t going to pursue until after the election. Huh. Must not be the opposition party.)

He claims to be unable to be influenced by “big money” because he has so much of it (Billions!) but is unwilling to provide his income tax returns that would show his actual worth and income. (He claims he is under an audit and it would be bad to show it.) A number of financial pundits claim that they don’t see any way he could be worth as much as $1 billion; Trump has threatened to sue for defamation.

With no law degree, Trump seems to struggle a bit with the Constitution and its value. He has made a number of changes that we intends to institute in his first 100 days in office if elected, most of which would be against the current laws of the land. Undeterred by this fact, he continues to spout these ideas and is frequently pugnacious when it’s called to his attention. (Politifact recently published findings on everything he’s said in the year he’s been a candidate and determined that 93% of the time, his claims have been false. I don’t think he responded.)

Wow, that’s Some Choice

Yeah, I know. And we all face it.

I love to read and I’ve done a lot of reading in the past year about our candidates and what the next president will be facing after taking office. I’m really struggling with my choices and may not make it until I make it to the voting booth. (There are some other candidates that may be on the ballot in this state and I won’t know until I get in there. One of those may get my vote.)

Don’t rely on one source for your reading, either. I read a couple of different newspapers and a couple of different websites, some that represent the “other side” of the political spectrum from my own. If watching TV news, I work to get equal time on those, as well. (Seriously, if you only watch FOX News or MSNBC, you’re part of the problem. Go see what the other side is saying! None of them are in the news business anymore, they’re in the ratings business so you need to see more than one or two.)

Social Media won’t help, either

This may be the thing that worries me the most. I have friends in both sides of the debate. Some are raging right wingers and some are raging left wingers. All of them enjoy using social media (Facebook) to express their opinions. A tiny fraction actually form the opinions for themselves, however. The rest really seem to enjoy posting memes that they see other friends from their side, post. Unfortunately, very few bother to determine the veracity of the information contained therein.

Say what?!

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Honest Abe
Despite Americans’ disbelief in facts (see global warming, GMO foods, flat earth society, etc) we seem to have no problem agreeing with something that is completely made up as long as 1) we agree with it and 2) we read it someplace. 


The result is that we end of up talking to ourselves and there is no transfer or expansion of knowledge or information.

Coincidentally, any conversation we may have with someone outside our own belief circle, we only listen in order to respond to the argument instead of listen for understanding of the other person’s position. In which we might learn something.

What’s the answer?

42! (See Hitchhiker’s guide to the Universe. Sorry, that was just for me and a few insiders.)

Only you can determine your answer to the question, who will be our next President? And that one is only your choice, not necessarily the choice of the nation; that’s why we vote and it’s important that we all exercise the right to do so. Don’t wait until the day after the election and start googling the person that wins. (See Brexit vote.)

My answer.

I truly don’t have one, yet. I have issues with both major candidates.
I was not a fan of the Clintons prior to the family’s first presidency and wasn’t a fan of it. I felt that WJC demeaned the office by his poor behavior (see Monica Lewinsky) and some of his policies were misaligned with my values. (And he still doesn’t get the notion that his actions have consequences, otherwise why would he visit Loretta Lynch for a private meeting just before announcements about his wife’s email. I mean damn, talk about dumb!)  While HRC has a solid resume, my gut doesn’t completely trust her. I don’t have facts, only feelings. While that may go away, right now I’m struggling.

Donald Trump frightens me. He always seems to shoot from the hip and appears to be uncoachable, preferring his own counsel rather than having trusted advisers. His lack of awareness to anything outside of his own interests, do not align with the job he seeks. He is a narcissist and a demagogue. His “policy” positions appear to be made up on the spot and are very short on details and, frequently, understanding. 

I’ve been managing, coaching, and training sales people for a long time; he sounds like the worst of people I’ve known in that role. His pugnacity tells me his ego would get in his way very quickly. He claims that he’s going to negotiate with the world and win but when he gets a hard question from a reporter, he whines that they aren’t treating him fairly. I find no redeeming qualities in his candidacy, except that he’s big on “rallying” people.

We don’t need a bullshit-artist-in-chief.  We also don’t need someone that thinks they are above the rules. I hate to vote for the least undesirable candidate but it may come down to that. The next 4 months will be critical in learning all I can to make the best decision.

I hope all of America will join me in doing the same. After all, we deserve the best.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Masters and an old golf tale

Before today’s post, a quick plea for donations to my annual Tour de Cure Bike ride up in Northern VA. I’m riding a metric century, about 65 miles, to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for that horrible disease, Diabetes.

Diabetes touches every family in the US these days and a cure is imminent but we need to put some money behind the effort. Please click the link below to donate to my ride! If you ride yourself, consider joining me or at a ride near you. Much obliged!


Now, on with today's post!

Watching the Masters golf tournament this past weekend reminded me why I’ve loved the game for over 50 years. People who don’t even play the game watch this event and with very good reason.

Augusta National, where The Masters is played, is one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. It’s also one of the most difficult courses to play although I’m told, by amateurs that have played it, that it’s much easier for higher handicaps to play than they expect; most will typically shoot a better than their average score on it.

But, wow, do the pros have a hard time with it! If you don’t play golf it’s hard to understand, but the game is one that humbles everyone that plays at some point. Even the best in the world are made to look stupid on occasion.

At “The National,” as it’s called by the locals, the wind swirls around, the greens are severely sloped and ridiculously slick. If the player doesn’t place his ball in a particular spot on each hole, he typically has a difficult shot to execute all while handling the pressure of a major championship.  (The pros call this getting out of line; interestingly, it’s the same description that pool players talk about which also makes for a more difficult shot – yet another similarity between the two.)

When it’s your turn to play at Augusta, you have to be fully committed to making the shot you’ve planned. Failure to do so, causes problems. Big problems.

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2015 Master Champ
Such was the problem for young Jordan Spieth on Sunday, the defending champion. He was cruising along having birdied the last 4 holes on the outward nine, assuming a five shot lead. Wayward drives at the tenth and eleventh holes resulted in bogies which shrunk his lead to three.

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# 12
The twelfth hole is short par 3 that terrorizes the pros. The green is shallow with a bunker in front and back and Rae’s Creek running in front of it all. The only play, according to 80 years of wisdom that make up The Masters, is to play to the fat of the green and escape with a par.


Jordan, in the middle of his swing, decided to hit a slight fade directly toward the hole. Changing your mind like this happen to all golfers (pool players, too!) and it almost never causes good things to happen. 

This time was no different.

When I heard the sound the shot made, while watching the telecast, I knew it was in the water. I said, “Oh no, he hit it fat!” This means he struck slightly behind the ball causing it to not go as far as planned. 

Since he was aiming slightly to the right side of the hole, that meant it would hit the bank in front of the green and spin back into the water. That’s exactly what happened.

Jordan had the pained look on his face that we all get when caught speeding. “Okay. You got me. Shouldn’t have been doing that. How much is this going to cost me?” In this case, a one stroke penalty and hit another ball from his choice of locations.

His next play had him going to the drop zone where preceded to hit his next shot (his third) even fatter. The ball flew directly into the creek. He hit it so badly, he was holding his hand out to his caddie for another ball before the first one even landed.

He dropped again and hit his fifth shot with a little extra energy. That caused it to fly over the green and into the back bunker. It was probably good at this point that he got to walk for a couple of minutes because he needed to burn off some energy.

From the bunker, he blasted out to about five feet and holed the putt for a 7. Those last two shots were incredibly clutch, frankly, to stop the bleeding. He was now in third place having spent 6 shots to par over the last 3 holes while his opponents up ahead had made some birdies of their own.

Tighten Up

Here’s what I love about the game, though. It wasn’t this meltdown that we’d just witnessed it was the mettle and strength of character he showed from there back to the clubhouse. (Don’t misunderstand, the meltdown was entertaining. Hackers love to see pros doing what we do, from time to time, just so we know their actually human. But Spieth is such a good guy, I’m not sure anyone enjoyed watching it. He’s that well liked!)

From there, he immediately pulled himself together and birdied the next hole. He added one more at the fifteenth, too, and managed his game beautifully over the remaining difficult stretch although he did suffer a bogey at seventeen while trying to make up ground. In any case, he ended up tied for second.

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Annual jacket ceremony
He also suffered the ignominy of having to place the winner’s green jacket on Englishman Danny Willett, the golfer who played his ass off with a bogey free round to win only a week after becoming a father for the first time. (Augusta is full of these “storylines” that the announcers are constantly talking about. It’s nice and all but it’s just a little too smarmy for MB who goes shopping whenever she hears the Masters 
Music play on the TV.)

In any case, chapeau to Danny Willett for his first Masters title. Huge  props to Jordan Spieth who is destined to win many more major titles in his career. He has the mental toughness of Tiger Woods in his heyday and I was sure I’d never say that about anybody else, ever.

Golf Story with a little bit of gambling

I was having a discussion at pool league Monday night about the Masters and we got on the topic of gambling at golf, something I did a bit of many years ago. It took me back to my high school golf team days and one of the craziest people I’ve ever known, Curt Hetterman.

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Forearms, matey!
Curt was a year older than the rest of the seniors and as a result he was able to buy beer because the drinking age was 18 back then. Curt was also about five foot seven with Popeye forearms and liked to wager on golf games. Proposition bets were his specialty and these are plentiful on a golf course with targets galore.

We had just finished a school match and three of us were sitting outside the clubhouse, discussing our respective matches. About 20 yards away was the twelfth tee, a par 3 of about 165 yards.

Curt had just finished saying he’d parred the hole during his match, and then dismissed it by saying he could, “par it without a club” if he wanted. I stopped him and asked him to repeat that.

“I said I can par that sumbitch without a club if I want to.” He repeated. 
“Want to put some money on it?”

I said, “I’ve got $5 that says you can’t, Curt.” (This was 40+ years ago and I was making $1.75 an hour at a part time job. That bet represented 3 hours of work so it wasn’t the insignificant wager it seems, today.)

Grantham, my co-captain, agreed and said he had another $5 for that bet, too.

Curt said, “Let’s go!” and we all stood up and walked to the tee box.

When we got there I asked how he planned to do it and he told us he would only throw or roll the ball, and that he’d stand wherever the ball came to rest for the next throw. We agreed to those rules and the game was on.

Curt took a running start and launched a throw towards the green. The ball bounced and rolled, coming to a stop about 35 yards short of the green. We followed it and watched carefully as Curt stooped down, picked up the ball, keeping his feet behind where the ball came to rest, and then tossed it towards the green. It rolled up about twelve feet above the hole, leaving a downhill putt that would break about a foot from left to right. I figured his odds of rolling it into the hole were near zero and Grantham and I grinned at each other. 

Image result for tossing a golf ball like a basketball
Shaq demonstrates the proper method
Curt walked up to the ball, set his feet behind it, picked it up and held it up like he was going to shoot a free throw with it. He sighted and tossed the ball into the hole on the fly.

Grantham and I just gaped in awe at it and then started howling about what a lucky toss that was. Curt grinned.

“Tell you what guys. I’ll give you a chance to win your money back. Double or nothing I can do it 5 in a row from a step closer.”

Grantham and I couldn’t say “You’re on!” fast enough.

Curt took a step closer so that he was 9 or 10 feet away. I tossed the ball back to him and he proceeded to throw it in the hole, on the fly, 5 times in a row. Grinning all the while.

I’d never seen anything like it. I reached into my pocket, peeled a ten dollar bill off, and handed it to him with a rather gruff, “I’m done.”

Curt grinned at Grantham and said, “Want to another chance?”

Grantham said, “Damn right, but not that throw-it-in-the-hole shit!”

Curt pointed to the bunker next to the green and said, “Put a ball in there, anywhere you want, and I’ll go double or nothing I can get it up and down from there.”

Up and down means that Curt would be required to go from the bunker to the hole in only 2 shots, hence, up and down.

Grantham grinned and said, “Go get your sand wedge, Ace!” He marched into the bunker, stood in the middle of it, pushed aside a pile of sand with his foot, dropped the ball into the gap he’d created, and pushed the sand back over the ball.

Curt said, “Hold on, I have to be able to see it at least!”

Grantham agreed, bent down and hunted around with his fingers until he had uncovered about a dime-sized area of the ball. It was at least a couple of inches below the level of the surrounding sand; it was absolutely the worst buried lie I’d ever seen.

Curt grabbed his sand wedge, walked into the bunker and took a stance, wiggling his feet back and forth to get a good grip with his spikes. Once he was set, he looked up at Grantham and grinned, waggled a couple of times, and then took a huge swing at the sand covering the ball. Honestly, if I ever swung that hard, even in my youth, parts of my body would have sheared off.

There was an enormous explosion of sand from the fury of Curt’s swing. 

Out of the middle of it, a golf ball sailed up in the air, falling gently to the ground. It began rolling towards the hole, coming to rest about 18 inches away. 

This shot remains to this day, the greatest golf shot I’ve ever seen, live.

Grantham shook his head, reached into his pocket and peeled off a twenty. He crumpled it up into a ball and threw it at Curt who was calmly raking the bunker, fixing the excavation he'd just managed. He turned around when it hit him and said with a grin, “Let’s go get a beer.”

Grantham said, “You’re buying, you sonofabitch.”

I said, “Yeah. With our money.”

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Time for a beer