He Shoots, He Scores

“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”

Yogi Berra

 

No matter how you slice it Golden State Warriors’ guard and two-time NBA MVP, Steph Curry, will not make the cut this week at the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic. Don’t get me wrong he’s a really good player, as Gary Koch would remind us over and over again, “Better than Most!” but, pardon the pun, this week he is way out of his league.

I salute the tournament director for extending the invitation and I applaud Curry for accepting. This tournament used to be included in the Golf Channel’s broadcast schedule; it’s not any longer. Any attempt to generate interest in the event, any reason to get folks out to Hayward and the TPC Stonebrae, is welcome. Asking a really good player, and by all accounts an even better guy to play in your event can’t ever be a bad thing. Include the fact that the same guy just might be the most popular athlete within in a thousand miles of the event and you have the ultimate no-brainer. But all those fans, all those young golfers, better get out there today, tomorrow or Friday because Steph won’t be around for the weekend.

I was at this event in 2010 when NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice did what future NBA Hall of Fame guard Stephen Curry is doing this week, playing in a PGA TOUR sanctioned event for the first time. Rice shot 83-76 and beat one guy, Brendon Todd. I should note that his first round 83 was 2 shots better than PGA TOUR veteran Brian Bateman who subsequently, because of injury or shame, withdrew. My point is Jerry Rice was a good player, not as good as he thought he was or anywhere near as good as Curry but good. He just wasn’t anywhere near good enough to compete (and by that I mean make the cut) on this stage. Neither is Steph.

Another obstacle facing Curry is the venue, the TPC Stonebrae. Designed by David McLay Kidd, it’s better suited for a billy-goat than the guy who may ended up being the GOAT of NBA guards. It plays almost 7,200 yards from the “Tour” tees and offers its fair share of uphill, downhill and side hill lies (often times on the same hole). It’s got five par 5’s and Steph is going to have to birdie at least three of them each day if he has any chance of shooting a good score. Curry has plied his trade on basketball courts all over the world but no matter where he is, the court is the same size and the hoop is 10 feet off the floor. Golf is different, professional golf is different from that. Playing with your pals, at your home course, during an off day in a playoff series is one thing. So is playing a practice round the day before a tournament. But when the figurative gun goes off and every putt matters, every stroke counts, on a golf course with teeing grounds and hole locations set up to test the game’s best? That brings it to a whole new level.

I headed up the production team that broadcast this event in 2010 (the first year Rice played), the winner was Kevin Chappell who went on to win on the PGA TOUR for the first time this year. Other TOUR winners, Tony Finau (2016 Puerto Rico Open) and Si Woo Kim (2016 Wyndham Championship, 2017 The PLAYERS) have won this tournament . Last year’s champion, Stephen Jaeger, has not won on the PGA TOUR, may never. He’ll get that chance again next year but for now he is back in Northern California defending his title and that’s another problem for Stephen Curry.

In a rare, if not unprecedented, move the Web.com Tour has inserted Sponsor Exemption Steph Curry into the group that includes Jaeger and another winner this year, Sam Ryder. Normally players are assigned tee times for the first two rounds of an event by categories. The “A” category includes, among other criteria, Tour winners. The “B” category is composed of a level of competitors just below the “A” guys. And then there is the “C” group which normally includes Monday qualifiers and sponsor’s exemptions like Steph. The “A” guys get the best tee times, “B” next, and the “C” group goes either first of last off each day. I can only surmise that the Tournament Director, with or without the urging of the title sponsor, went to the PGA TOUR official responsible for running the event and asked for the favorable grouping for Curry (even though I contend it’s not all that favorable for Steph). The TOUR acquiesced after (I am hopeful this is the case) asking both Jaeger and Ryder if it was okay with them. So now, instead of going off in relative anonymity as part of one of the first three groups on either Thursday or Friday (he’d be in one of the last three groupings the other day), Stephen Curry has to play in the heart of the draw BOTH days with two of the Web.com Tour’s best players. As if he needed that added pressure.

I’ve read Curry plays to a +.7 handicap. That’s amazing. That’s really, really good. But it’s chump change compared to Jaeger, Ryder (currently ranked 3rd and 2nd on that Tour’s $ list) or even Justin Shin who’s ranked 202nd after making just $3,254 in 15 events this year. My point is not to belittle Curry’s golf accomplishments but to highlight the great play of the best players in the world, including Justin Shin. Stephan Curry, I bet, was nervous at some point during every single one of the games he played during all of his NBA Finals appearances but those nerves will pale in comparison to the one’s he’ll feel on the tenth tee at around 9 AM PT on Thursday (his tee time is 8:55 AM but he’s slated to tee of third in the group).

Stephen Curry won’t break 80 on Thursday, My bet is he does on Friday but he’ll miss the cut by a mile; probably finish last among the players that complete 36 holes. But that won’t change the fact that, as an NBA superstar, he’s a really good golfer. And it won’t, at least in my eyes, diminish the positive impact he has made on both this tournament and that tour. He should hold his head high as he deposits his clubs into, and gently closes the trunk of, his car late Friday afternoon. I just hope he’s signed every autograph request and showered his fans with smiles on the way to the parking lot.

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you liked this, and are interested, please check out my two books. Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat) is a memoir about my career in broadcasting that includes stories from my time at both ESPN and The Golf Channel. Big Flies, is a mystery that incorporates  four real-life, still unsolved, robberies to tell the story of a father and a son. Both are available at Amazon.

 

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An Evening With Chris Stapleton

“I love music, any kind of music”

The O’Jays

 

I don’t know about you but I sing in the shower, I sing in the car, in fact part of my brain is singing right now. I love music. It’s been my experience that there are two types of music lovers; the one who listens to the lyrics, another who enjoys the melody. Personally I am a lyrics guy. The songs that mean the most to me personally are the ones with great words. It might be for this reason that I enjoy listening to my favorite artists on the radio, from my playlist, or spinning on my turntable as much, or more, than live on stage. That doesn’t mean I don’t like concerts, I do, and I have been to my fair share.

My earliest memories of live performances is jumping in the car and heading to Reno, Nevada casino showrooms with my Dad, Mom and two brothers to see Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr. We sat in cushy booths, ate and drank (Roy Rogers for the three boys) then watched Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr. We were entertained by Jimmy Durante, Red Skelton and Alan Sherman (Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder) always preceded by “The Performing Pachyderms Bertha and Tina!”. At the time I couldn’t have realized how lucky we all had it.

The concert I remember as my first was when I was in junior high school. The Chicago Transit Authority was coming to the Centennial Coliseum and I was going to go. I had purchased their recently released, self-titled, debut double album and had memorized the words to Beginnings, Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is? and 25 or 6 to 4. Over the course of the next decade or so I saw Yes, Deep Purple, Renaissance, Jefferson Starship, Steely Dan, Loggins and Messina, Dan Fogelberg and Bruce Springsteen (for the first of 5 times). I never saw The Beatles live but I was fortunate to see The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. Thanks to work, I’ve been both backstage and in the audience for Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, America and Paul Revere and the Raiders. I was lucky enough to become friends with The Mission Mountain Wood Band who would become The Montana Band and Texas singing/songwriting legend Pat Green.

More recently I have seen Billy Joel, The Eagles (luckily before Glenn Frey passed away), Kenny Chesney, Mat Kearney and Train. My second-to-last live music experience was an intensely personal one as my wife and I went in to New York City and saw our son perform at the Bowery Ballroom with his band, Post Animal. Don’t get me wrong, I am not positioning myself as a “Master Concert Goer”. While I’ve seen some amazing acts, the number of shows I’ve attended pales in comparison to millions of people. I know folks who have seen one band as many, or more, times than I have seen all of my concerts. More power to them.

Last night, for her birthday, I took my wife to the PNC Bank Arts Center to see Chris Stapleton. We were joined by more than 10,000 other folks, including my in-laws, hungry for an entertaining evening out and Stapleton did not disappoint. The venue was built in the late 1960’s and opened in 1968. It’s an amphitheater with open sides and a roof that covers about 7,000 seats. An uncovered grassy area has room for about 10,000 more butts. I’m sure when pianist Van Cliburn opened the joint on June 12 and Judy Garland sang Over the Rainbow there two weeks later in 1968, it was an amazing place. It’s still a nice venue, if a little beat. We were happy for the covered roof when a thunderstorm ripped through the area, turning the grassy area into one huge wet t-shirt contest, minutes before Chris Stapleton took the stage. When he did come on stage he was accompanied by a drummer, a bassist, and his wife (who joined him on most vocals and  occasionally struck a tambourine). That was it, four of them, it was more than enough.

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Like a lot of folks we became acquainted with the Kentuckian’s music thanks to the 2015 breakout hit, Tennessee Whisky. We learned that he had been a successful songwriter for years penning number one hits for Kenney Chesney, George Straight, and Darius Rucker. He was responsible for more than 150 songs that appeared on records released by Tim McGraw, Adele, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley and others. He was a household name in Nashville long before Tennessee Whiskey made him a name in our, and maybe your, household. So we knew going in that he knew how to write a great song, we learned he plays a mean guitar.

The first half of the show featured songs from his hit record Traveler as Stapleton crooned and growled into the microphone and railed on one of his well-worn Fender six strings. He never played the same guitar two songs in a row until he sent the band off for a “smoke break” and he commanded the stage alone playing an acoustic guitar. He serenaded us with the first song from his new record, Broken Halos, and backed that up with Whiskey and You, a song he wrote for McGraw. We knew almost all of the songs but hardly any of the words and if I had one criticism of the show it would be that if you didn’t know the words you weren’t going to get them from this concert. At times the artist was incomprehensible, but man could he play and sing.

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Finally he played and sang the title track from Traveler and then struck the first few notes of Fire Away. Before he could go any further the New Jersey crowd erupted into thunderous applause. The bearded troubadour on stage stopped, taken completely by surprise, and announced his appreciation to the assembled masses. That was one of the beautiful things about this show. You watched an artist who, though famous in a relatively small circle because of his songwriting, was still finding his footing as a performer. And we appreciated him all the more because of it. It was genuine appreciation for us as we were showering him with praise through our applause. Fire Away was the highlight of the night. But Chris Stapleton wasn’t finished.

The first chords of Tennessee Whisky sang from his guitar strings and he introduced us to his fellow musicians, singing about each one, to the melody of his most famous song. And then he sang it for us, and we sang right along with him. The band left the stage, with Stapleton this time, returning after a few minutes, to play and sing Either Way as an encore. It was a great concert experience and I strongly recommend seeing Chris Stapleton if he makes an appearance on a concert stage near you. I have a colleague, who’s a friend, that proclaims artists, athletes, and others as “Big Time” when they meet with his approval. Chris Stapleton is “Big Time”.

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you liked this please check out other entries here. You can also get information about my two books, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat) a memoir about my nearly four decades in broadcast television and Big Flies, my new mystery.

 

 

 

 

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A Most Memorable Week at the U.S. Women’s Open

“I can pull a rabbit out of a hat

I can pull it out but I can’t put it back

I can make love dissapear

For my next trick I’ll need a volunteer”

Warren Zevon

 

I used to go to golf tournaments for work. Now I go to golf tournaments for fun. This past week I went to a golf tournament for both. The United States Golf Association decided to play one of golf’s major championships, the U.S. Women’s Open, less than 10 minutes from my front door. My calendar just happened to be clear that week so I decided to offer up my services as a volunteer. “Do it,” my wife said, “it’ll be fun.”

I have been around the great game almost all of my life and worked on the broadcast television side of it for a quarter of a century. I was well aware of the important role the thousands of men and women, who graciously and gleefully give up their time, play in the success of an event. Our ESPN and Golf Channel production teams were constantly grateful for their service. I know how hard they work, I realize how much they do. I made it a point, every day before a broadcast, to thank they assembled group.

“We really appreciate you helping us out,” I’d say honestly. “We couldn’t do it without you.”

I meant it because we couldn’t. I walked back to the TV truck knowing my co-producer Karel Schilksbier would get them prepared for the telecast. I counted on him to do just that. I counted on them and so did the tournament. Now I was about to be one of the ones being counted on. I signed up, paid the fare, and received two logoed golf shirts, a light rain jacket, a ball cap and a reusable water bottle in the mail.

There was one “all volunteers meeting” held weeks before the championship. It was a chance for the USGA to go through the basic ground rules of what was to be expected of us during the week. It was also a chance for the volunteers in each area to meet their volunteer chairman. I had signed up for and received the assignment to be what’s called a “walking scorer”. If you’ve been to a golf tournament you’ve seen that person walking purposefully up the fairway, clipboard in hand, behind the players. He or she is almost always accompanied by another volunteer holding a standard with the name and score of each player in the grouping or pairing. They work as a team; the numbers on the walking scorer’s score sheet should match the red or green digits on the standard. That way everyone in the gallery knows how each player in that particular group stands in relation to par.

The man who would be in charge of all the walking scorers for the week was a friendly, outgoing, clearly knowledgeable, guy named Mike Walsh. He was a walking scorer veteran having volunteered at many major events including the U.S. Open (he walked, on Sunday, with eventual champion Dustin Johnson’s pairing in 2016 and was with the last group during the historic Olympics golf competition). I hung back and watched and listened as several of my contemporaries said hello and recited their own resumes to Mike.

“I’ve scored dozens of PGA events,” said one.

“This isn’t my first rodeo,” bragged another.

“I’m usually with one of the last couple groups,” said a third expectantly.

He nodded, smiled and offered no promises. Then it was my turn.

“Hi Mike, I’m Keith Hirshland,” I said extending my hand. “I’ve never done this before so put me with whichever group you want. I’m just here to help.” He smiled and shook my hand.

“I appreciate that,” he said, “but you’re not getting off that easily. I read your book.” He was speaking of Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat) my 2013 memoir in which I tell stories of my time producing live golf events for both ESPN and The Golf Channel. As I said I was the guy, in the truck, occasionally yelling at the guy, out on the golf course, that I was about to become for the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I mean it,” I reiterated, “I have absolutely no expectations, and you shouldn’t either.” He laughed at that.

As the days until the event got closer I received an email from Mike telling me that I was expected for a mandatory meeting on Tuesday of championship week to familiarize myself with the computer system. There was also a list of times to report for Wednesday’s practice round as well as the championship itself. I would be working the afternoon shift on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. I had morning times on Friday and Sunday.

volunteer1

Wednesday afternoon I had the pleasure of practicing with the scoring system inputting strokes and scores for the defending United States Women’s Open Champion, Brittany Lang, Ryann O’Toole and amateur Virginia Elena Carter. It went off without a hitch. It was also Wednesday. There was no pressure and absolutely nobody was affected if I made a mistake. Still I must admit I was a little nervous. I knew the next day my counting started counting. Because I was working Thursday afternoon there was a chance that I would be with a grouping that was also accompanied by a FOX Sports camera crew (probably someone with whom I had worked during my time at ESPN and Golf Channel). I could have been with Cristie Kerr or Michelle Wie or Seo Yeon Ryu. They all were going to tee off around the time I was scheduled to assist.

I arrived for my shift on Thursday and headed for the volunteer tent, the place where we all would hang out waiting for our name to be called so we could grab our equipment, meet the standard-bearer, and head out to the first or tenth tee. When I arrived Mike was surrounded by folks checking in, chatting, or hoping to convince him they belonged with a “better” grouping. I’d say Mike’s job is like the expression “herding cats” but with less cuddly creatures. I waited my turn, said hello, and then parked my tush on a plastic chair and waited. It turned out the group for me was Mo Martin, Carlotta Ciganda and Jin Young Ko; 1:36 PM off the first tee. I gathered up my gear (hand-held sized computer attached to a clipboard with a score sheet to pencil in what is called a “shot trail” for each player on every hole, a couple of small pencils, and a radio to communicate with “scoring central”). There was also a plastic bag attached to the back of the clipboard to protect my equipment, and pieces of paper, from inclement weather. Did I mention it was supposed to rain that afternoon? It was. I walked the handful of steps to meet the person who would walk with me, the one carrying the standard that would bear the score, in relation to par, of the three professionals. Her name was Chie, she might have been 12, and she didn’t play golf. She was there because her friend asked her to volunteer so she did. Chie said she was a little nervous and I told her not to worry, I’d take care of her and off we went to the first tee.

Once there we met the three players and their caddies (Ciganda’s was a veteran named Terry McNamara who, for years, worked with/for the great Annika Sorenstam). I told the computer , and thus central scoring, that I was “in position” and entered the required “player clothing” (hat color, shirt color, pants color) into the machine so the volunteers operating laser devices on the course could more easily identify which player was hitting. Each player was announced on the tee, struck their first shots of the 2017 championship and then, as a group, headed down the fairway. Chie and I were right behind them.

I asked Chie if she liked math and she said she did.

“Good,” I said “because your job is simple math.” She smiled and I could tell she was a little relieved. “Each hole has what is called a par,” I continued, “either 3, 4 or 5.” Chie nodded. “You count the number of times each player hits the ball on the hole,” more nods, “and if that number matches the par on the hole you don’t change a thing on your standard.” She looked at her standard which read even, even, even across from each name. “This is a par 5 so if a player hits it less than 5 times that “even” gets replaced by a red number.”

“Okay,” she spoke.

“And if the player hits it more than 5 times you are going to replace “even” with a green number.”

“Got it,” she said. And she did.

Out of our group Jin Young Ko kept me and Chie the busiest over the first 9 holes. She made four birdies, two bogies and three pars and turned at minus 2. The Spaniard, Carlotta Ciganda, was also 2 under but with seven pars and two birdies. Mo Martin was minus 1. Martin and Ciganda started the second nine holes with pars but Ko made a 6 so Chie went back to work. The skies had been threatening and as the players approached the 11th tee word came over my scoring radio that play was about to be suspended. Before Mo Martin teed off 11 (she had the honor) officials blew the air horn stopping the championship in its tracks. The players headed for the clubhouse while Chie and I went back to the volunteer tent.

After a couple of hours of a rain delay we were set to go back out for the resumption of play. I reunited with Chie who had a slightly worried look on her face.

“You ready?” I asked. She nodded, then she spoke.

“Um, how much longer do you think we’ll be here?”

“Well,” I said, “probably 2 maybe 2 and a half hours.”

“Oh,” she replied.

“Can you stay that long or do you have to go?” I asked. She didn’t answer. “It’s okay if you have to go, nobody will get upset,” I assured her.

“I think I have to go,” she answered.

“No problem,” I said and I told her she did a great job. Chie said “thanks” and walked out the door. I did too and headed for the eleventh tee. It was still raining but the dangerous conditions had passed. My clipboard was sheathed in its plastic bag so it stayed dry. I didn’t. I ducked inside the scaffolding that supported the camera at the tenth green and waited for the players to reemerge. Eventually they did, the officials hit two blasts on the air horn, and off we went again; sans Chie.

Rain came and went for several holes but stopped for good as the group played the 15th hole. Ciganda had birdied 11 and 13 to get to minus 4 (best round of the afternoon wave) while Ko had backed up her double bogey at 10 with bogeys at 11 and 12 to fall to plus 2 for the day and Martin birdied the par 3 14th to get it back to even par. But those scores were our little secret because there was no standard-bearer with our group. The clouds tried to break up and there were patches of blue which helped illuminate a setting sun. The last four holes (two par 5’s, a par 3 and a par 4) would take a little more than an hour to play so we were racing the setting sun.

As we walked up the hill to the 17th green I was side by side with Terry McNamara.

“Is your name Terry?” I asked, “did you use to work with Annika?” I added.

“It is and I did,” he answered looking at me.

“I’m Keith Hirshland,” I held out my hand and he shook it, “I worked for The Golf Channel for almost 20 years.”

“I thought I recognized you,” he smiled. “Good to see you.”

“You too,” I replied and peeled off.

On the green Mo Martin’s caddie asked a USGA official if suspension of play for the day due to darkness was imminent. He assured him it was not so under ever darkening skies the group putted out there and walked to the tee at the final hole. Ciganda (still -4 for the day) had the honor and she teed off. Right down the middle ( or so we thought because it was difficult to see) and then they blew the horn for, stopping play for the second time that day. Because this suspension was for “non dangerous conditions” and since Ciganda had already hit her tee shot, the group had the option to continue playing and they did. All three hit seconds into the fairway at the par 5 18th and we walked toward the green. As Carlotta and Terry surveyed the situation she decided it was too dark to see the flag and announced her intention to stop for the day. Martin and Ko, as was their option decided to keep going so both hit thirds. Ciganda marked her ball in the fairway, thanked her fellow competitors and walked toward the clubhouse. Up at the green both Ko and Martin agreed it was now too dark to finish so they marked their golf balls and that was it. What it meant was we would all be back Friday morning (me at 6 AM, them at 6:45) to hit somewhere between 3 and 7 shots to complete round one. It was past 8:30 PM.

I got up at 4:30, showered, put on my volunteer uniform and drove to Starbucks where I waited for them to open at 5:30. Got a latte and headed for the volunteer parking lot to catch a bus back to Trump National Bedminster. After checking in I went to the 18th green and watched Carlotta, Mo and Jin finish round one on day two. As it turned out Ciganda may have been better off finishing the night before because she took three shots to end her round with a bogey and a 3 under 69 (5 off of Shenshen Feng’s lead). Martin and Ko both made pars and we all went inside to get ready for round two.

I was assigned a new grouping (Karine Icher, Hanuel Kim and Ai Suzuki) and a different standard-bearer ( a delightful young lady named Emily who plays golf on her PGA Junior League team) but we started on the first tee again, so off we trudged. We got there a little early and watched 7-time major champion, Hall of Fame member and pal, Karrie Webb tee off in the group in front of ours. The Webb/Annika Sorenstam rivalry of the late 1990’s, early 2000’s was one of professional golf’s great match ups and thanks to my spot in the Golf Channel production trucks I had a front row seat for all of it.

Several minutes later Icher, Kim and Suzuki arrived. As I was inputting clothing colors into my device I heard Karine ask if, because of the wet conditions, they were playing the second round using “preferred lies”. That means “lift, clean and place” to you and me and while other governing bodies running different championships have employed this practice; the United States Golf Association never has and never will play any of its championships that way. A simple shake of the head from the official started was the only answer Icher got. I knew then and there that this was most likely going to be a long morning. It was. None of the three broke par (Suzuki shot 76, Icher 77, and Kim 78) and all of them missed the halfway cut. I turned in my sheet, gave back the equipment and said goodbye to Emily and headed home. Thankfully I was comfortably on my couch, petting my dog, when the President of the United States showed up at the golf course later that day.

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The schedule originally had me coming in late on Saturday, not last pairing late but close, and I had apparently done a good enough job that it didn’t change. When I arrived I again greeted Mike who admitted that while he enjoyed supervising the lot of us he would have much preferred being out among us scoring himself. I didn’t offer to switch places. He gave me my assignment which meant I would be scoring and walking with the third to the last pairing which included my old friends Carlotta Ciganda and her caddie, Terry McNamara. Carlotta would be paired with a South Korean golfer named Seon Woo Bae.

This time my standard-bearer was a freshman to be at Iona named Carl who, he said, played golf on his high school team and had teed it up at Trump Bedminster with a friend on several occasions. Carl knew what he was doing. As we waited for the players to arrive Carl asked if I “knew” the players with whom we’d be all afternoon. I said I had scored for Ciganda’s group on Thursday.

“Her caddie is a really good guy named Terry,” I told him. “He used to work for Annika.”

“Annika who?” asked Carl. Kids these days I thought.

As the players arrived to the tee Carlotta smiled and said it was nice to see me again. Ms. Bae smiled, shook my hand and bowed.

“I hope you bring us luck today, Keith.” It was McNamara. “We didn’t play as well without you yesterday.” They had shot 1 under par on Friday and sat 4 shots back of second round leader Shenshen Feng.

It looked like I might when Ciganda hit Driver, 3 wood just short of the par 5 first green but then she three-putted for par. Five more pars followed. She was stuck in neutral. Luckily so were the leaders so Carlotta hadn’t lost any ground until the par 3 7th where a pulled tee shot missed the green left and she failed to get up and down. For the first time that day Carl had to change Ciganda’s score. Bae, on the other hand, stumbled out of the gate and made three bogeys in her first six holes. Ciganda rolled in a long birdie putt on the 9th and she headed to the second nine at even par for the day and 4 under for the championship.

Momentum seemed to be a difficult thing to find all week at Trump Bedminster and Ciganda followed her birdie at nine with four consecutive pars. The par 3 14th was a 196 yard, par 3 on Saturday; Bae who had bogeyed 11 but birdied 12 had the honor and hit a fairway wood onto the green. Ciganda chose 5 iron and miss hit it slightly. It carried the hazard in front of the green but not by much so she pitched out of the gnarly rough then missed the putt for par. A bounce back birdie at the next hole got her back to even and -4 and I thought one more birdie coming in will put her in great shape; two would be even better. She and Terry were probably thinking the same thing but she missed makeable putts on 16 and 17 then a pulled wedge for her third at the 18th led to a finishing par. Two bogeys, two birdies, 72. I hadn’t necessarily brought her luck but I certainly wasn’t a “black cat” either. Bae, on the other hand finished with back-to-back birdies and shot 74. Both would tee it up Sunday with an outside chance to win the championship, Carlotta’s better than Seon Woo.

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Off the back of the green both players and their caddies thanked Carl and me. Bae handed us signed golf balls (the fourth I had received that week) and I told it was a pleasure to have scored for them and I hoped they both played well on Sunday. Then I did what I had done for the previous three days; I handed the score sheets to a USGA official and returned the gear to the volunteer tent. I was scheduled to be “morning relief” on Sunday but couldn’t imagine anybody NOT showing up, and I was right. I did my duty and hung out just in case I was needed but it was apparent early on that my volunteer experience was at an end.

I had a blast. The players were great, the experience was everything hoped it would be and the event was amazing. Special thanks to Mike Walsh, Ross Galenault and all the volunteers who made the 72nd United States Women’s Open such a special championship. I also want to thank Mo Martin, Seon Woo Bae, Jin Young Ko and my new favorite player, Carlotta Ciganda.

If a USGA Championship or any professional event comes your way and you have the time, I highly encourage you to volunteer. You won’t regret it.

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you’re interested I’ve written 2 books; one a memoir about my career in television and the other is a mystery. Both can be found at http://www.keithhirshland.com

 

 

 

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Stroke Play Has No Match

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

T. Bert Lance

 

I’ll admit right off the bat that I may be in the minority on this one. I am not a fan of the NCAA golf championships match play format. There, I said it.

 

Believe it or don’t, with the exception of WWI, schools have been competing for an NCAA title in men’s golf since 1897 (Yale won 13 of the first 20) using the time-honored, team stroke play format. After more than 100 years somebody decided that format was broken and needed fixing. So in 2009 a championship long decided by shooting, then adding up, scores changed to “all I need to do is be better than you for one hole.” The event went from stroke play to match play. It was such a good idea that the NCAA didn’t adopt this fix for women’s teams (competing since 1982) until 2015. The championship wasn’t broken but they decided to fix it anyway.

 

No other NCAA championship, played as a team sport all season long, is suddenly decided in such individualistic fashion. Tennis? Nope; Track and Field? Sorry. Those sports crown national champions after having schools compete in the same format over which they competed to qualify for a great big trophy. Not golf. Not anymore. In fact, from what I could deduce from the websites of the two schools that faced off in the National Championship final match yesterday, Arizona State didn’t play in any match play tournaments all year. And while Northwestern competed in a few “one offs” neither team’s conference championship was decided in that fashion. Nor should they have been, and neither should the National Championship.

 

North Carolina’s NCAA basketball title wasn’t decided by a one on one dunk contest followed by a point guard “dribble off”. The Clemson football team did not take home the championship because Deshaun Watson beat Jalen Hurts in a 40 yard dash. Or the Tiger’s right tackle held his block one second longer than his Crimson Tide counterpart. Each team won a team title by playing together as a team. The same way they had done it all year long. Neither sport changed the rules of the competition because CBS or ESPN made them. And that’s what this fix actually comes down to… TV and, of course, greed.

 

The NCAA wanted its golf championships back on television (they were televised, playing the traditional team stroke play format; men playing on one golf course, women on a different one, years ago) and the only way any TV network would agree to do it was if they changed the format to one more simple and easier to broadcast (match play) and made the women as well as the men compete on the same venue. “Done,” said the governing body selling its soul and selling out the student athletes. So for the last three years what was an exciting team event that saw athletes compete over 72 holes, hitting shots, counting strokes, all with the hope of helping a team win a championship has become a slog fest where 17, 18 and 19 year olds take forever to hit shots that may or may not matter and fail to show enough common courtesy to concede 10 inch putts. To make it all even more absurd the individual title is still decided by stroke play and so are the insignificant, match play seedings. Teams were ranked 1 through 8 based on stroke play scores over three days at Rich Harvest farms; not by how a team competed and fared over the course of an entire season. So while Northwestern claimed the top spot they could have just as easily been number 4 or 8, or not even in the match play portion at all.

 

Thanks to Mother Nature this year even that was rendered even more meaningless because an entire round was lost to weather even though plenty of golf could have been played the day play was cancelled. Plenty, but not enough. Not enough to avoid extending the championship an extra day thus upsetting a television schedule that has the men competing the day after the women finish. Heaven forbid they actually crown a national champion after a full 72 holes of competition. Remember that great Notre Dame football team that was crowned after 3 quarters? Neither do I. Not to mention this new world order put the women at a distinct disadvantage by making them play a golf course, under weather conditions, that was too big, too brutish, too unconducive to produce consistently good golf. Like many things; this thing has been compromised by television. The athletes and the viewers are not better off because of it.

 

But many will say all that’s worth it because of the excitement this format generates. Not me. And no matter how many times you replay a handful of screeching teammates you won’t get me to change my mind.

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Rock and Roll is Here to Stay

“It’s all about the music.”

Bill Herbstman

 

 

My wife and I are the proud parents of three incredible children. They are intelligent, accomplished and, most of all, thoughtful human beings. Our oldest is a recording engineer who has been, on multiple occasions, recognized for his work by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Our daughter, the middle one of the three, is a WNBF award-winning fitness professional who is fluent in multiple languages including Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. She is currently living in Japan working for that country’s government. But with all love and respect to our two oldest, this particular piece is about our youngest son; the rock star. I don’t offer up that term as a superlative like many parents do when referring to their offspring. You see our son, Jake, is actually a rock star.

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Post Animal is a 5, sometimes 6 person, band of musicians from Chicago, Illinois. As a write this they are crisscrossing the country, crammed into a Dodge minivan they christened Shannon. The first leg of their tour, headlined by Twin Peaks, took them to, among other places, Tucson, Austin, New Orleans, Oxford MS, Washington D.C., and Chapel Hill NC. Then they teamed up with the indie rock, pop punk, San Diego-based band WAVVES for more than a dozen shows. The first one was at the historic Bowery Ballroom in New York City and that’s where we got the chance to see our son and his friends take the stage.

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I already mentioned that Jake, like his two siblings, is thoughtful and intelligent. He is also caring, compassionate, faithful and talented. As a kid he sang in the school choir and acted on stage in various plays and performances. Influenced, no doubt, by family members and friends the desire to learn and play musical instruments seemed natural. He gravitated to the guitar and keyboards and now plays both in the band. Post Animal is Jake, Dalton (bass guitar and lead vocals), Javi (lead guitar and vocals), Matt (lead guitar and vocals), and Wes (drums). Sometimes they are joined by a sixth member, Joe Keery (guitar) but he is also an actor who is currently shooting the second season of the Netflix hit Stranger Things (he plays Steve). They write their own songs and play their own brand of classic, pysch rock, music. And they Rock! The 40 minutes we watched was filled with inventive riffs, hard pounding chords, soulful vocals and Wes’ “keep up the pace” beat. Some of the songs bring to mind the Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles while others conjured up an Iron Butterfly vibe (at least for me). I had heard Post Animal’s music before but never live and never completely bursting with parental pride.

 

They were really good and my wife and I weren’t the only ones who thought so. They commanded the stage that, over the years, has served as support for thousands of acts including Maroon 5, Metallica, Coldplay, Counting Crows and Rickie Lee Jones. Most of the capacity crowd was there to see the headliner, WAVVES, who’s 2010 single, King of the Beach, landed at number 36 on Rolling Stone magazines list of Best Summer Songs of All Time. But the crowd clearly enjoyed the Post Animal set; dancing, bobbing, and applauding every solo, hair flip, and song. The boys are clearly still learning and Jake admitted to feeling more than a normal amount of nerves during the performance. Who could blame him, or any of them, for that. After all your first time on the stage of an historic New York City music venue is heady stuff.

 

Life is just a great unravelling ribbon and none of us; even, or maybe especially psychics from Nostradamus to Dionne Warwick, know what the future has in store. But for right now our son Jake and his 4 (sometimes 5) band mates, business partners and, most importantly, friends are spending the summer seeing the country. Performing on stages in front of hundreds of people every night and living their mid-20’s version of the rock and roll dream. The whole time they’re being respectful to and of each other, their fans (new and old) and their music. How in the world could any parent NOT be proud of that.

 

check out Post Animal this summer in a city near you. Follow them on Facebook, on Twitter @postanimalmusic and listen to their songs http://www.postanimal.bandcamp.com

 

If you enjoyed this, or any of my other blog posts, I would encourage you to visit http://www.keithhirshland.com and explore my two books. Thanks for your support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A “Can’t Miss Kid” Hits The Mark

On Sunday Kevin Chappell won for the first time on the PGA TOUR. I was shocked; not because Chappell won but because it took him so long to do it. We (our Golf Channel production team) met Chappell for the first time in 2010. He was a little more than a year out of UCLA where he was honored as the Collegiate Player of the Year and part of a National Championship team. He was teeing it up in the first of 15 Nationwide Tour events we would televise in 2010; something called The Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae, just outside San Francisco.

 

Kevin Chappell was a 23 year-old cocky kid, with a flat billed cap and a ton of talent, who survived a windy, wacky golf course to collect his first win as a pro. He birdied the 17th then made a great par at 18 to shoot a final round 65 and beat David Hearn by a shot. Chappell was a “can’t-miss kid” who, by all accounts, was now on his way to fame, fortune and a boatload of trophies. He beat a host of other “can’t miss kids” that week including Bubba Dickerson, Jason Gore, Chris Nallen, Nick Flanagan, Casey Wittenberg, Brad Elder, Colt Knost, Luke List and Jamie Lovemark. Then, as now, that professional golf tour was full of tremendously talented young players. Picking the ones that would go on to have long and successful careers on the PGA TOUR was like shooting fish in a barrel.

 

Lovemark, for instance, was two years younger than Chappell, attended rival USC, and was an acclaimed collegiate player too. During his sophomore season as a Trojan he won an NCAA individual championship and every award under the sun. In October of 2009 he ended regulation at the PGA TOUR’s FRYS.com Open in Scottsdale tied for first with Rickie Fowler and Troy Matteson; eventually losing to Matteson in a playoff. On the Nationwide Tour the following year (the year Chappell won) he also collected a victory, though not on TV, and went on to be that tour’s leading money winner and Player of the Year. Jamie Lovemark is currently a member of the PGA TOUR and he is still waiting for his first win on golf’s top stage.

 

Chappell’s win in San Antonio prompted me to go back in time and remember who else won, on The Golf Channel’s Nationwide Tour air, and off it that same year; 2010. The results might surprise you. Tournaments not televised that year were won by Jim Herman, Steve Pate, Martin Piller, Chris Kirk (he actually won twice), Jhonattan Vegas, Hunter Haas and Scott Gardiner. All but Gardiner are still playing the game professionally on one tour or another. The trophy takers ON TV was another amazing group.

 

After Chappell won in Northern California we took our cameras to Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, Canada, Ohio, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, California, and Florida. We watched Ewan Porter, Justin Hicks, Peter Tomasulo, D.J. Brigman, Michael Putnam and David Mathis win. We also witnessed and celebrated victories by Jason Gore, Brendan Steele, Steven Bowditch, and Kevin Kisner. We watched Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey grab winner’s checks for each glove.

 

Surprising all of us, Steele, Bowditch, Kisner and Gainey all went on to win on the PGA TOUR before Chappell. Hicks, Tomasulo, Brigman, Putnam and Gore (who won his only PGA TOUR title in 2005) are still chasing the dream. Ewan Porter is now an adventurer, entrepreneur and author. I don’t know what happened to David Mathis.

 

It never ceases to amaze me how good each of these guys had to be to win even one tournament on the Hogan/Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide/Web.com Tour; let alone take it to the next level and win on the PGA TOUR. Some of those guys (Chappell, Gore, Kisner, Steele) are millionaires many times over and you’d be crazy to think that they are done winning at the game’s highest level. But heck, back in 2010 we all thought Kevin Chappell would win again in a matter of months, not EIGHT years! We must have been crazy then too.

 

I was in the car, coming home from hitting balls, listening to the PGA TOUR radio coverage of the Valero Texas Open. I heard the analyst ( a multiple time PGA TOUR winner himself) say as the extremely talented Tony Finau finished off another great tournament without a win, “Tony didn’t get it done this week but there will no doubt be many weeks in his future that he does get it done!” Really!? Why!? Because he hits it a mile? Because he’s a decent iron player? Because when he gets on a roll, he can “roll his golf ball”!? So can every other guy out there and hundreds more who are headed out there. It’s a better bet that Tony Finau, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open Champion, never wins again on the PGA TOUR or that Kevin Chappell wins another one, two or three before he does.

 

The bottom line is nobody knows, especially not the “experts” on TV and radio. Ask Colt Knost, Ryo Ishikawa, Bud Cauley, Jeff Overton or Briny Baird if any of them thought their PGA TOUR trophy cases would still be empty. Then go shoot Mark Wilson or Ben Crane full of truth serum and ask if they thought they’d each win five.

 

I’m just glad Kevin Chappell finally won his first

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Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

“Put it back.”

My Mom (about a gazillion times)

 

I’m a huge fan of The Masters. I have been for as long as I can remember. I have been fortunate to attend several tournaments, actually work a couple (thank you Karel Schliksbier, Mark Dibbs and CBS) and look forward to the next time I’m able to go. Augusta National is a beautiful, remarkable, place and you can bet your bottom dollar it will be different next year than it was this year (hey, was that Azalea, Dogwood, bunker, tee box, there before?). Change is constant at Augusta and whether it’s a new crop of trees, a teeing ground shifted a handful of yards, a corporate castle or a brand new media manor, it’s happening as we speak.

Smart people, motivational people, people who can handle it seem to always say, “change is good” and occasionally I’m inclined to agree. I’m also, sometimes, inclined to disagree. One of those times is when it comes to White Dogwood, the 11th hole at Augusta National. In my opinion they’ve transformed a good, tough, test into what might be the worst hole in major championship golf.

It’s not a golf hole anymore, it’s a root canal. It’s a 7 hour Fellini movie. It’s a Los Angeles to Tokyo flight, in a coach middle seat, one row in front of the shitter. Tuning in to Grant Boone and Billy Ray Brown, as they called the action this week, I was struck by the fact that there is little, actually no, room for error on 11 anymore. As a viewer it’s hard to watch; I can’t imagine what it’s like as a competitor.

The 11th at Augusta begins what is famously referred to as Amen Corner (11,12 and 13). The esteemed golf scribe Herbert Warren Wind first called it that in a Sports Illustrated article he wrote after the 1958 tournament won by Arnold Palmer. The original description referred only to the approach shot into the par 4, 11th, the entire par 3, 12th hole, and the tee shot on the par 5, 13th. He borrowed the phrase from the title of an old jazz song titled, Shoutin’ in that Amen Corner. It used to be an incredible stretch of holes. Two thirds of it still is.

Two of my most vivid Masters memories happened at 11. In 1990 Raymond Floyd was trying to become, at 48, the oldest Masters Champion. But Nick Faldo, in the quest for his second straight green jacket, came from 4 shots back with six holes left to force a playoff. In that playoff, from the left side of the 11th fairway, Floyd hit a mid iron (6?, 7?) into the pond that sits menacingly at the front left of the green.

Two years before, the front right of the 11th green was where Larry Mize’s approach ended up in his playoff with Greg Norman. We all know what happened then.

Those are just 2 recollections of the 11th hole when it was playable. If I had to guess, I’d say there won’t be many more memories there in the future. I remember when players could bail a little to the right off the tee and still have a go at the green. Then they added a small forest golfer’s right and moved the tees back. Over time the trees have grown (trees tend to do that) and 65 yards, in total, has been added by a number of teeing ground moves. So now there is no safe space right; hit it there, punch it out. Because the hole is so long now (505 yards) a player has to thread the needle with a 320 yard tee shot or he’s begging, praying, for par (see Sergio Garcia on Sunday). I wish I had a nickel for every ball I saw that bounded 10, 20 or 30 yards to the right of the green because that was the only realistic place to hit it. Conversely if I had a dollar for every pelota that found the pond I probably wouldn’t have enough to by a Masters logoed golf shirt. 

For the entire week there was one fewer double bogey or “worse” than there was birdies (11 of one, 12 of the other). On the weekend, when we were down to the 53 best, there were 11 birdies and 30 bogeys. THIRTY. Historically the 11th is the hardest hole of the tournament, playing to a stroke average of 4.35. This year, only the first hole played harder, primarily because of Friday which saw an incredible 54 bogeys, double bogeys or others compared to 39 birdies (2) or pars. Coincidentally, or not, they’ve also added 45 yards to the opening hole, “Fore please…”. The only other place that’s added as much turf is the finishing hole, which has also seen more trees and the teeing ground moved ever so slightly to the right. Remember when players could actually hit a tee shot into the fairway bunkers on the left side of the 18th fairway? I do too.

Look, as I said, I love The Masters and Augusta national changes every year in some way, shape, or form. Even the par 3, 16th is different (it actually was 20 yards shorter than the 190 it played when Greg Norman splashed his tee ball more than two decades ago. For the most part no one notices and I’m pretty sure fewer than that (is that possible?) care. But I do.

Admittedly, I never loved 11 (White Dogwood “for those of you scoring at home or even if you’re alone” as SportsCenter not MSNBC Keith Olbermann once said) but I liked it. It was problematic but not preposterous. It was exacting but not exasperating. It was watchable but not, not.

Just put it back.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you liked it, head over to my website http://www.keithhirshland.com and check out my books. I’ve written two. One is about my four decades career in broadcast television, the other is a mystery. I’m currently working on number three.

 

 

 

 

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