Monday, December 21, 2009

My Top 5 Most Memorable Golf Rounds: #4: "The Round of My Life”, August 23, 2001

No one shot stands out in my mind. There was no stunningly long drive. No dart that I threw to within inches of the cup. No long, curling putt that I made for birdie. In fact, I’m pretty certain I didn’t even make a birdie all day. And I don’t even remember what I shot, I really don’t.

What I do remember are the walks between the holes and to my shots. Which isn’t too hard to understand given that Kayak Point is a beautiful and hilly layout, surrounded by large loge pole pines, dense Douglas firs and aspens—and where eagles can be seen perched in the tree and deer and foxes routinely dart across the fairways. It’s quiet, too, with only tee shots echoing off the canyon of trees. Each hole meanders up and down—sometimes sharply up or sharply down. Heck, going up the 18th you need to be part mountain goat just to reach your tee shot. And the 10th would be an intermediate run at most ski resorts. (Shown below: the beautiful and tricky par 5, 3rd.)

Between those holes are tranquil paths, draped over by the trees with deep green underbrush and berry vines. The paths are quite long and eerily quiet and, at times, rather steep between holes. They’re the kind of paths where you can hear yourself breathe and hear your heartbeat, it’s just that quiet. So that’s what I did. I filled my lungs as deep as I could, and listened to my heart thumping away as I made my way between holes. And there were moments when I thought it was pumping too fast or I was breathing too hard.

Yet I refused to ride a cart. I refused to use a pull cart too. I was going to carry my bag no matter what. I always liked carrying my bag anyway. I think it warms up my body during the first couple of holes. Today, during this round, I wanted to carry my bag more than anything. I wanted to feel every hard heart beat as I trudged up a fairway to my ball. I wanted to take, long, deep breaths after feeling little winded. I needed to know it was okay to feel that way again. That nothing was going to happen. I needed not to worry. I needed not to fear that I was having another heart attack the way I had exactly a day to the year before.

This was my first round since the heart attack. And while I had gone skiing with friends just a few months after my “event” and was none the worse for the wear, I had not been alone on the golf course. I’ve enjoyed many wonderful and memorable rounds through the years with just me as player, caddie, gallery and rules official so I had to reaffirm that I could play alone again without fear.

My dad died doing the sport he loved, skiing. I have no such intentions of dying on a golf course. So, in a way, this round was death defying. Besides, dying on a golf course due to a heart attack is such a cliché, and I’m not one for clichés.

2009 was the first year that I haven’t taken off August 23rd to play golf, and I regret that more than a little bit. It makes me think I’m losing a sense of appreciation and gratefulness for life, and even to God—after all, He’s the one that let me keep my lease. Some might find it a bit dark or maudlin that I mark or remember the day at all. I believe they’re wrong. I don’t view the day somberly. Nothing could be more positive, more hopeful and more affirming than walking a golf course under that umbrella.

In 2010, August 23rd falls on a Monday and marks 10 years since my event. I think I’ll make it a 3-day weekend. I don’t think you need to ask where I’ll be playing. And while I always love golfing with friends, I’ll be playing this round solo, too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mr. President, Meet Merriam-Webster


1 : a very steep or overhanging place
2 : a hazardous situation; broadly :

So when President Obama says that we're "on the precipice" of enacting health care legislation he means...well, exactly that.

Finally, the truth—however accidental it may be.

While We're in the Joking Mood....

So Vladimer Putin, Queen Elizabeth and George W. Bush have all just arrived in Hell. The Devil tells them that they may have one phone call at their expense to their respective countries.

Putin goes first and speaks to his fellow Russians for 5 minutes. Putin comes back to The Devil who says, "That'll be $1,000,000." And Putin hands over the $1,000,000.

Next Queen Elizabeth calls England and speaks to her country for 5 minutes. The Queen comes back to The Devil who says, "That'll be $6,000,000." And the Queen hands over the $6,000,000.

Finally, George Bush calls the USA and speaks to his country for 4 hours. Bush comes to The Devil who says, "You don't owe me anything."

A furious Putin stomps over to The Devil and demands to know why Bush doesn't have to pay anything. "Well," replies The Devil, "seeing how America's gone to Hell since Obama took over, it's a local call so it's free."

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm a "Whole Foods Republican?"

There's an excellent article in today's Wall Street Journal on who the GOP should be courting. The author suggests that "a more enlightened approach would be to go after college-educated voters, to make the GOP safe for smarties again."

Now I'm not much for being pigeon-holed into a group, but in this instance Mr. Petrilli does an excellent (if obviously incomplete) job of describing of where I stand politically and culturally:

What's needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate "Whole Foods Republicans"—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated individuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)

What makes these voters potential Republicans is that, lifestyle choices aside, they view big government with great suspicion. There's no law that someone who enjoys organic food, rides his bike to work, or wants a diverse school for his kids must also believe that the federal government should take over the health-care system or waste money on thousands of social programs with no evidence of effectiveness. Nor do highly educated people have to agree that a strong national defense is harmful to the cause of peace and international cooperation.

He goes on to suggest that the GOP reject the anti-intellectualism of Sarah Palin and W. (I think he's a bit off on Bush. GWB was a voracious reader as evidenced by the annual reading contest between he and Karl Rove. In my opinion, W was intellectually proficient, but was terribly inarticulate when it came to stating his positions verbally to an audience.) While Palin is attractive, well meaning and principled and steadfast in her views, I just can't help but look at her and think "Why aren't you smarter?"

I blame Ronald Reagen for this. He purposefully built his "golly shucks" image for political and brand purposes, yet he was an articulate and intellectual powerhouse that defined the conservative movement as much as William F. Buckley. Since then, Republicans have tried fashion themselves in this Reagan image with lackluster results—of which Palin and Bush are prime examples. That dog doesn't hunt these days, partner.

I'm going to cut myself off at Tangent Pass here and end by saying that Mr. Petrilli is dead on with this article. The GOP has to reach out to people like myself, my wife and assorted others who are in hiding. We are smart and we don't like anti-intellectual people representing the party most in line with our ideals.

So I guess that makes me a "Whole Foods Republican." I'm good with this. Maybe even a little proud.

Now, if you're listening, Michael Steele*, give me more Bobby Jindals or Tim Pawlentys or Mitt Romneys. You can keep your Sarah Palins.

*Since I only have 3.5 readers, probably not.

My Top 5 Most Memorable Golf Rounds: #5: “One Round, Two Shots”, August 1981

In the summer of 1981 our family hosted an exchange student from Italy. His thin body, fair skin, innocent face and painfully shy demeanor belied his Sicilian Mafia-like name of Alessandro Sassi. He was 17 and would be staying with us for a month before going back east to stay with another family.

Alessandro came to America to study English and to visit some of California’s and America’s most memorable landmarks: The Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite, Lombard Street, The Lincoln Memorial, The White House and so on. Oh, and he came to buy golf clubs.

In fact, it was one of the first things he wanted to do when he arrived: buy golf clubs. In fact, he couldn’t shut up about it. In fact, he was so worried about spending what he had saved to buy a set that he gave all of it to my parents for safekeeping. The kid loved golf. And he wanted to play in America.

Me, I gave two hoots about golf. I had never picked up a club much less swung one. I liked the putt-putt course at the Montclair Driving Range (I never did get it in the clown’s mouth to win a free round), but that was about it. Golf? Meh. Wake me when ski season starts. Skiing was my true love.

With Alessandro chomping at the bit to get his clubs, my Dad took him into downtown San Francisco to let him buy his clubs. I tagged along. Despite knowing exactly what clubs he wanted, Alessandro was still hesitant to blow such a load. He also thought he had enough money to buy the clubs. Yet those pesky exchange rates and devalued lira got in his way and he had to settle for something less than what he wanted. Overall, though, he was smitten with his purchase.

Armed with his shiny new sticks, Alessandro wanted to play. And play right now. No, more like yesterday. So Dad booked a tee time at Tilden Park Golf Course.

Now my dad was a good golfer. That is, when he played. That is, if he played more than once a year. This wasn’t always the case according to my mom. He used to play, and play quite well before his best golf buddy moved away. Despite his infrequent play, dad always thought he could hit the course cold and shoot lights out. No hitting the range, except for the day of the round and he expected to burn it up. Never happened, she said, and he would come home all pissed off. No surprise there. When you have unrealistic expectations about an outcome or goal, and you don’t meet them, you’re bound to come home a little pissed off. Unjustified as it may be.

And Dad said I would get the honor of being his caddy. Oh joy. So I joined them for the round.

I remember Alessandro’s swing and it was, well, bad. But he was having fun. So was my dad who seemed to be hitting the ball well in my never-played-a-single-shot opinion. The round seemed to take forever, always waiting for someone to tee off or clear the fairway or clear the green before anything happened. But being that it was a warm, beautiful August day in the hills above Berkeley, I didn’t mind kicking back and sitting in the grass in between shots.

On the back nine with Alessandro happily doffing it around, my dad’s round came unraveled. Suddenly, he couldn’t hit a ball. The curse words were flying. He sucked and puffed on his filter less Sherman’s madly. On the 18th, he tugged his drive left. The ball hit a tree and ricocheted back about 30 yards. Dad seethed.

On his second shot, he worm raped the ball and it went skirting and scooting down the fairway maybe 75 yards. That shot was quickly followed by the whoop-whoop sound of dad’s 3-wood making its way after the ball. (Titanium just doesn’t have that great whoop-whoop sound that wood does.)

Dad snatched his pack of Sherman’s from the bag and said, “I’m fucking done. See you two in the snack shack. Go ahead and play my ball Peter.” Alessandro waited for my dad to get down the fairway before he hit.

Things were, uh, uncomfortable.

We didn’t talk until we got to my dad’s ball. I looked down at the ball, then to Alessandro with a “now what?’ face. Alessandro said to me, “You have 110 yards. Try 7 iron.” This meant squat to someone who’d never swung a golf club before. I didn’t even know how to grip it. So I figured that a baseball grip would do just fine.

I doubt my eyes were even open at impact. But they were open when I looked up. And yes, I was looking up at my ball. Way up. Not only was the ball in the air, but it was going straight. And man, that ball was a pretty sight to see flying into the backdrop of the trees. Cue the Vangelis “Chariots of Fire” music.

Thump! On the green. 12-15 feet away. Alessandro turned to me and said, “Wow! Nice shot!”

You did read the part about how I liked putt-putt golf, right? Then it should be no surprise then that I made the putt. Yup, drained the sucker.

Alessandro laughed. I laughed. What was so hard about this game?

Oh, and in case you’re not paying attention that was a par.

We walked off the green and up to the snack shop. My dad stood there and smiled, a shock considering his mood minutes earlier. I don’t recall what his exact words were to me because I was pretty beside myself with my accomplishment, but they were something along the lines that being a golfer ran in the family.

So it was half a hole and two shots, Dad was right: I was genetically hooked.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Prelude: My Top 5 Most Memorable Rounds of Golf

I’m always leery about doing lists—especially “My Top (Blank) Lists” for a couple reasons.

I find them a bit ominous. You’re looking back on your life and you shudder to think how long ago that certain event or whatever it was took place and that it was far too long ago. Then there’s the notion that the list you’ve compiled is pretty much it and can’t be cracked. That’s depressing. And finally, there was my dad's list. He had guesstimated the number of days he had been skiing in his life and recounted a couple of favorites as we drove to the ski resort. That day would be the last day of his life. A pretty sad thing to recall, I realize, but our minds remember strange small details that are beyond our understanding.

Nerts to all those ominous harbingers, though. Next year marks my 30th year of playing golf and I think that’s something to celebrate! (I think my dad was looking back on all those skiing in the same way.) And I have no intention of shuffling off this mortal coil doing playing a sport I love. Besides, most courses have defibrillators these days. (Relax, I kid.)

The rounds I remembered were diverse, to say the least.

There have been rounds where I’ve flung clubs down the fairway. (I even got my pitching wedge caught in a tree a couple of years ago.) There was the round where I snapped my 5-iron in two over my knee and flung into the bushes. There were several rounds where I walked off the course during the middle of the round in utter frustration. There was a round I played in a steady 45MPH wind; a round played in a steady, wet snowfall; and a round played in the remnants of a hurricane. There was the round where I was hit the temple of my head by an errant drive. And there was the round where I had my first case of the shanks. I remember all these rounds well. But those are only snippets from rounds.

Without sounding too much like Forrest Gump, I also don’t remember a lot of key rounds. I don’t remember the first time I broke 100, or the first time I broke or 90 or even 80. I played Spyglass Hill once, but I don’t remember any one after the 6th. I don’t remember the first round with my dad, or with my long-time golfing buddy Darren. I don’t even remember my first lesson.

What I do remember are these top 5 rounds.

Each one is unique and I think captures what has made golf so enjoyable and fulfilling to me for 30 years, and why I keep coming back to it no matter how frustrating. I remember each of these rounds in great detail—okay, as much detail as possible in #3 (you’ll see why)—and I did my best to capture them without the fog of memory creeping in and taking over. And for the record:every shot recounted happened, and every score is true. No need to lie, or write down a different score, I'd only be cheating my own memory. And heck, only two of my favorite rounds include the score anyway.

I hope you enjoy them. But probably not half as much I enjoyed recalling them.

#5 will post this Friday.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Anti-War Left is So Not Going to Be Happy About Tonight

I have zero time to address tonight's important address to the nation on Afghanistan, so I'll let today's comments in the NYT "The Caucus" section speak for their themselves.

But Rich Lowery over National Review pointed out Obama's quandary best:

Prepare for the advent of Barack Obama, neocon. On the Afghan War, he is throwing in with the lying, warmongering running dogs of neoconservatism by ordering a surge of some 30,000 troops....The responsibilities of office separate him from a political base that only sounded stalwart on the Afghan War so long as it was a handy political tool with which to beat George W. Bush about the head and shoulders.

As soon as Obama assumed office, liberals bailed from the war with an almost comical desperation. They professed to have just discovered that Hamid Karzai is corrupt. That al-Qaeda is mostly across the border in Pakistan. That waging a war of counterinsurgency in one of the poorest, most illiterate countries in the world is a trying and complex endeavor.

Consequently, he finds himself in rough alignment with all the same hated people who conceived, executed, and supported the Iraq surge, and against the people who opposed it — and elected him.

And finally:

If Obama weren’t burdened by his office, he might stand with his party’s newly minted Afghan doves and familiar purveyors of defeat. But he can’t. That makes him a conflicted commander-in-chief, ordering the surge, but loading it with conditions and “off ramps,” talking of resolve, but leaving room to maneuver. His head says “win,” his heart says “don’t commit.”

I hope this surge is as successful as the one in Iraq. We all should.

(Unfortunately, experts and analysts aren't seeing an "awakening" (ex: local militia that fought back against Al Qaedists in the Anbar providence of Iraq in 2006/7; a movement that eventually swept across Iraq and is known as the "Anbar Awakening") in Afghanistan. And the Anbar Awakening was a huge key to success in Iraq.)