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.

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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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It’s Official!

“The referee is going to be the most important person in the ring tonight besides the fighters.”

George Foreman

 

There is so much to talk about dear readers.

First and foremost, let me give some hearty congratulations to the North Carolina Tar Heels on winning the 2017 NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship. I also want to congratulate their fans, some of whom I count as friends. But they have to admit to breathing a sigh of relief after reading my previous column predicting UNC to lose. What happened last night further cemented my well-earned, self-proclaimed, title of “World’s Worst Prognosticator.” The evidence is there and it’s real.

I said Gonzaga would beat South Carolina and UNC would beat Oregon. I got those right but those two picks were just building blocks to my ultimate projection that the Tar Heels would, for the second straight year, come up short. Not because they aren’t talented, not because they weren’t the better team; simply because they would be out-coached. Well I was wrong. They won AND Mark Few turned out to be as equally inept as Roy Williams (of course having the highly overrated, surprisingly soft, Przemek Zarnowski lay a mammoth egg didn’t help).
In that same column, I opined that it wasn’t whether UConn would win the women’s NCAA title, it was by how much. 20?, 30?, 40?, I sat like a smart ass and typed. Then Mississippi State handed my ass to me.

0 FOR 2 or as my critics might say 100%.
After hoops I turned my attention to golf and went on to say that neither Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, nor Phil Mickelson will be slipping on the green jacket at “toonamint’s” end. How much money do you have? What is your house worth? How close is the nearest pawn shop? If you’re smart, you’ll take it all and divided 4 ways betting a quarter of it on each of those four guys. My track record speaks for itself.

 

Next, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to address the events of the past 48 hours in which sports fans saw one set of officials do precisely what they are supposed to do and another set achieve the opposite.
I saw a statistic today which read 44 fouls were called in the combined 74 possessions during last night’s NCAA Championship game. That’s like a billion per cent! I watched the game, TRIED to enjoy it but there were so many whistles my dog could have worn a path into the hardwood floor coming and going the room.

And now, from a number of reports,  it appears, with less than a minute left and Carolina up 1, the officials should have blown the whistle, declared the ball out of bounds, and awarded possession to Gonzaga. Instead one of them blew the whistle, declared it a held ball, and awarded possession to UNC. Watching, I was simply shocked they didn’t blow the whistle and call a foul!
A little more than 24 hours before LPGA rules officials received notice that the person leading a golf tournament had breached a rule (two actually) and was deserving of two, two-shot penalties. On live television they assessed those penalties in a timely manner and the contestants played on. Did the way both sets of officials approached doing their job affect the outcome of each competition? Most certainly. Could one of those approaches have been different? Again, most certainly (I’m looking at you zebras!).

Scores of folks are still talking about how each “score” was settled so with tongue slightly less than firmly in cheek I offer up a solution to avoid future disenchantment…
Let’s play the games without referees, rules officials or umpires! After you stop laughing, or shaking your head, indulge me. Why not? We, as kids, did it all the time. We, as adults, on the golf course, in the gym at the Y, or at the baseball diamond and soccer field at the local park, still do. You, and your friends, colleagues, partners, or teammates know if the serve is in or out; if the ball is a strike or not; if the guy driving to the hoop took an extra step; or if you happened not to put your golf ball back in the same place from which you marked it. It’s called the honor system. It’s called sportsmanship. And if one call goes against you or your team the chances are, simply because of the law of averages, the next one will go in your favor. It’s called fairness.
Producers have, in the past, televised an NFL game and a professional golf tournament using no announcers. Why don’t we try showing a game, tournament, or a match with NO officials or referees? I’m not suggesting Game 7 of the World Series, or The Super Bowl, or Wimbledon, or The United States Open Championship, or the NCAA men’s final but why not a Spring Training Game, or a soccer friendly, or a mixed doubles exhibition, or the first half of the NBA All Star Game? (some would say they play that without officials already). Heck, why not the first round of a Web.com Tour event? Many would argue, and actually this week have said, that most of the players in a golf tournament play without the benefit of the watchful eye of a rules official all the time.
Would some participants, in every sport, try and stretch the envelope? Game the system? Out and out cheat? Of course they would, I’m not naïve. But goodness gracious wouldn’t that be illuminating? Wouldn’t that give us all a glimpse into the character of the athletes we follow, like, and, in many cases, want our kids to emulate? Where’s the harm in this type of experiment? Where’s the foul? It could be a ton of fun to watch and an eye-opening social experiment.
In the end, it’s just sports… or at least it’s supposed to be.

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Pick A Winner

I am a terrible prognosticator. I realize it. I readily admit it. I know why it’s true. I bet with my heart and not with my head. All you have to do is look at my 2017 March Madness Bracket for proof.

 

I went to The University of Nevada so of course I picked my Wolf Pack to beat Iowa State. Then I added salt to that would by choosing them to advance to the Sweet 16. I surprised myself by stopping there.

 

I listened to some “friends” who convinced me that East Tennessee State University was going to be a force to be reckoned with so, of course, I dove right into the deep end of my brackets pool and penciled in the Buccaneers to beat mighty Florida. Because why wouldn’t I. What I didn’t do was pick the other team from Tennessee, that isn’t Tennessee, to win a game even though the “experts” said they would.

 

I did listen to those experts however when they told me on show after show after show that Duke was finally playing up to its potential and the Blue Devils were “the team to beat.” Plus my wife went to Duke. Plus I like Duke. So I advanced Duke all the way to Phoenix and then I decided they would ultimately cut down the nets. By the way I had them beating UCLA. Hey, I told you I wasn’t very good at this “picking a winner” stuff.

 

With all of that in mind allow me my thoughts on what lies ahead.

 

The Final Four(s)

On semi final Saturday Oregon will play North Carolina and South Carolina will take on Gonzaga. The first game is a Cinderella dream matchup between a team that nobody, save the school’s most ardent fans, saw coming against a group that has been destined to be there for years. In it, the Gamecocks will bring the same heat, the same muscle and the same energy that propelled them over Duke, then Baylor, then Florida but I believe Gonzaga is too big, too smart and too focused to lose. The Bulldogs win a close one.

 

Then Oregon goes up against North Carolina. I think Carolina prevails but it won’t be because of coach Roy Williams, it will be in spite of him. The guy could be the world’s worst “big game” coach but his team, while undisciplined, is too talented to lose to another occasionally messy, skilled squad. So Monday will give us Gonzaga against North Carolina and, the way I see it, the Tar Heels lose in the championship game for the second straight year. Whatever you do don’t  take that to the bank.

 

Things about the Final Four for which we can be thankful

  1. Baylor won’t be playing Oregon (our eyes couldn’t take it)
  2. Austin Peay won’t be playing South Carolina (saving us from hearing “Let’s go Cocks” followed by “”Let’s go Peay!”
  3. We are this close to never hearing or seeing those dreadful Direct TV (featuring the incredible creepy singer) and Amazon Alexa (featuring the incredible untalented Reggie Miller) commercials again  

 

One thing you can count on his the women’s Final Four. True to form, as women’s college hoops almost always is, both semi-final games feature a number one seed against a number two. No build up to any championship EVER features so little drama as this one (with the possible exception of last year’s women’s tournament, or the one before that, or the one before that, or the one…).  Connecticut, yawn, will win. The only question is whether they win by 20, 30 or 40.

 

The Masters

 

I want Tiger to play. In fact, I want Tiger to win. I have said previously in this space, and out loud, that I believe Tiger Woods has plenty of time to, not only contend in, but win major golf championships plenty of times. Not a United States Open Championship or even a PGA Championship but certainly a Masters or a British Open. Good grief Jack Nicklaus won at Augusta as a 46-year-old and Tom Watson should have won a British at 59. Those events, because of the course and the conditions, lend themselves to those kind of heroics.

 

Going in to this year’s Masters Tournament Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are, according to oddsmakers, the favorites. None of them will win. Neither will Phil Mickelson. I can’t tell you who will win, I just know those four won’t.

 

So Put your money where my mouth isn’t and enjoy the next couple of weeks; thankfully baseball season is right around the corner. And try to remember… April showers bring May flowers and what do May flowers bring??? Pilgrims.

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