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. 

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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