No Laying Up-Strapped (Baltimore)

Now that it’s after Labor Day, I’ve put my white suits away and the eyes of golf turns to…the US Open because  2020.  It’ll be weird with no fans, but it’s still a National Open.

I’m very late to this, but last fall I discovered the No Laying Up guys were more than just being funny on Twitter and the hosts of one of the better (if not the best) golf podcast.  I found their YouTube channel, and as they say, that was that.  They have a bunch of content on their channel, but the best of the bunch are their Tourist Sauce travelogues and their ‘Strapped’ travel series geared towards golf on a budget in areas that aren’t always in those obvious areas you look at for a golf vacation.

The concept of ‘Strapped’ (for those who haven’t watched) is that two of the guys (Randy and Neil) have to play three rounds and spend two nights in a city for $500 (not counting airfare and a rental car) or less.  As great as it would be to have the means to do some of the locations they’ve done in their ‘Tourist Sauce‘ series (Scotland, Ireland, Australia/New Zealand, Carolinas, California), ‘Strapped’ is much more budget-friendly and approachable.  The areas that they’ve done ‘Strapped’ episodes in include the following:

-Louisiana

-Iowa

-Reno

-Baltimore

-Northeast US (during the fall)

-Southern California

-Peoria, IL

Not exactly the usual golf-centric destinations, but there’s a reminder in each episode that the people who love this game aren’t always your private club types.  Watching each episode, you get the sense (intentionally or not) that they aren’t the stars, but rather, it’s the people.  The local pro at Forest Park and KVV in Baltimore being but one example.  In fact, as I’ve long argued, the soul of the game remains the people who change their shoes in the parking lot.  The Push Cart Mafia types, the folks who play a $2.00 Nassau, and tons of other regular folks (like me) who just hope for one more round with a breeze in our back on a sunny day.  People that make the game what it is, even if professional golf went away.  There would still be people at the grass roots level doing good work every day.

I found the ‘Strapped’ Baltimore episodes on YouTube around Christmas, and it was a revelation.  At first I was angry because this was the kind of production I wanted to do but don’t have the ability to do, yet it was the kind of deep dive I wanted to be able to do when I started this website, and these guys just drank my milkshake AND my bourbon.   Then I became blown away at how talented they are at doing these shows.  And they’re decent guys (I probably relate to Randy (the taller of the two) the most).  I’ve linked to all three episodes with the briefest of explanations (no spoilers).  One last thing; their use of drone video is outstanding.  The content belongs to No Laying Up.  If I have one critique, it’s that they stop using Airbnb.

Part One: They fly into Baltimore, hit Lexington Market for crab cakes, and play at Forest Park (one of five city courses).  The people who work at Forest Park are all aces in my book.

Part Two: They play at Rocky Point (Baltimore County course right on the Chesapeake Bay) with ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenberg (who lives in Baltimore), talk about The Wire, eat steamed crabs and drink Natty Boh (think Old Style in Chicago or Iron City in Pittsburgh) at KVV’s house with some Berger Cookies for dessert.  Rocky Point is everything public golf should be.  Haven’t played it in several years but it’s very much on my ‘must go play’ list to do a proper review.

 

Part Three: They play at Greystone (part of Baltimore County golf and used to be on Golfweek’s ‘Best You Can Play’ list) with Kevin Van Valkenberg, talk about The Wire some more (if you haven’t seen it and you have HBO…go do that right now) then go for barbecue pork sandwiches.  You can read my review of Greystone here.  I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t do the pit beef thing at Chaps (where every travel host seems to end up) or any of the other pit beef stands (note- pit beef is a VERY Baltimore thing; it doesn’t exist in MoCo, PG or Frederick counties).  Nothing against Chaps but Pioneer Pit Beef in Catonsville is the official pit beef stand for SGIC Enterprises.  It’s where the elite meet to eat.

No Laying Up’s website is here, and they have merchandise for sale and a fairly active online community (I’m part of it although I’m not that active lately for several reasons that aren’t important).  They have crowd-sourced suggestions on additional episodes.  If they’re asking, Detroit, Atlanta and my hometown of Toronto would all be fantastic options.  If you have Stadium on your cable system they’ve been running some of their content.

A Modest FedEx Cup Proposal

Just imagine what’s possible.

Another PGA Tour season is almost done; after 11 months, a global pandemic, a cancellation of the Open Championship and moving every major around, we’re at the FedEx Cup Tour Championship.

The format last year that’s being carried over this year is that Dustin Johnson starts the tournament with a 10 shot lead over the guy who finishes 30th.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shake my head and pretend that this isn’t really the case.  Of all of the hair-brained ideas to come from professional golf, this might be the dumbest.  Why is it that sports I love do the stupidest things on the earth (looking at you, Superleague and your “sure we’ll take free pizzas from a horrible chain as payment for sponsorship” galaxy brain idea)?

To put it as mildly as I can, this goes against everything sports are supposed to be about.  What next- give Usain Bolt a 10-meter head start because he’s the defending 100 meter champion?  Give the team with the best regular season a 7-point lead to start the Super Bowl?  The team with the most regular season points gets a 1-goal lead to start in every game of the Stanley Cup Final?  I mean, what the actual hell are we talking about?  What’s wrong with you people?

Don’t worry; your faithful scribe has a solution that would treat the FedEx Cup Tour Championship like a real championship; one that balances rewarding regular season performance and require a player to lift their game.  Reward regular season performance, and have a final one-day winner take all conclusion that a casual fan can understand.  Like any championship, the hard work is getting to that final.  So we’re going to start with the final round being it’s own entity.  Like the Super Bowl.  Simple enough?

The top 30 getting into the Tour Championship is a good number; there isn’t any need to play around with that.  I even like finishing on Labor Day weekend with the finale on Monday (when people are off work; ideally the Tour can push so that they ‘own’ Labor Day).  Ideally the Tour would look to have the final round on the West Coast for an east coast prime-time finish every other year (non-Ryder Cup years).  Courses on the West Coast?  Riviera is the obvious choice, but if Chambers Bay is in better shape that’s a second option.  I get using East Lake for Ryder Cup years (especially when the US has to fly to Europe as this will cut down on travel time).  While we’re at it, the Chicago area should have a permanent slot on the Tour.

The question becomes this- how do you reward season-long excellence while maintaining the integrity of the competition?  The same way other sports do it; by seeding and providing other advantages that maintain the integrity of the competition.

My Modest Proposal

So with that being said, let me explain how a five-round (Thursday-Monday) championship would work in a way that would provide a satisfying finale, reward year-round performance and give you a simple, easy-to-identify champion.  You start with the top 30 playing three rounds of stroke play; the top 16 get into the fourth round (if there’s a tie for 16th you have a playoff), and then you have one day of match play with the 16 going down to 8 with that final round being a one-and-done entity of itself.  In other words, getting to a championship and having one day to win or lose with everyone starting the final round at 0.

Under my Tour Championship Final proposal, the top seed gets the following advantages as a reward for his season-long excellence and being the top seed.

  1. He gets to pick his tee time for the first three rounds and who he plays with.  Maybe he likes to go out early.  Maybe he wants an early-late-late (he gets to pick).  Maybe he wants to take advantage of potential weather or play with someone he’s comfortable with.  Call it home field advantage.  He has to declare the day before each round so he can pick and choose and give himself the optimal time and opponent.  Not a bad reward.
  2. He’s guaranteed to get into the semi-final Sunday round of 16 so even if his game goes to pot during the first three qualifying rounds, he has that second chance (other playoff formats allow the top seeds a ‘double elimination’ of sorts).  There’s your tangible reward for regular season excellence; a second chance.  Those are two big carrots that don’t turn the competition into a farce but provide a tangible reward for that year-long excellence.

The round of sixteen are seeded based on their first three rounds (your top seed going in would be seeded based on his performance, but if he otherwise didn’t qualify he’d be seeded 16th).  Eight matches of match play.  Winners go to the Final.  Losers are done.  Sudden death playoffs if tied after 18 holes.  It’s something of a different strategy from stroke play, but designed to force players to think differently for one day.

The eight players who win their matches go to the Championship/Grand Final.  One round for everything.  Four twosomes; playing partners and order are drawn at random out of a hat.  Everything resets for the Championship or Grand Final round.  One round.  One day.  Low score (stroke play) is your Tour/FedEx Cup champion.  Tie?  Sudden-death playoff.  You now have a true Championship Final.  What you did before to get there matters not; it’s the player who’s the best on the day who wins.   Much like the Super Bowl, Final Four championship, and NBA/NHL/MLB Game 7’s.  It’s not what you did before, it’s what you do on the day.  Nobody starts the day having to sit on a lead or trying to come from behind.  One round.  Low score wins.  Much like other sports, you had to battle to get into the playoffs and continue to advance.  You finished in the top 15/16 of the field after three rounds and beat someone in a match play environment to get to the Championship Final.

The average sports fan couldn’t explain the FedEx Cup, nor could most golf fans.  The average sports fan can easily understand “one round, winner take all” events.  You’ve competed all year, and everything you did goes out the window.  No head start, no being able to play conservatively to protect a lead.  Under my proposal, winning the FedEx Cup Championship Final would also earn the winner a 10-year exemption (up from five), a lifetime exemption to the Players Championship, and a guaranteed spot in next year’s playoffs (the first round only).  These are all PGA Tour-controlled entities so you’re not having to ask the USGA or PGA of America to get involved.

Having eight players provides NBC or CBS plenty of coverage options so you aren’t just focused on one group and reduces the likelihood of not having any name players.  Oh, and no commercials for the last 90 minutes.

Hopefully the Tour decides to adopt this format and give fans a real Championship.

Adieu, FOX. It’s About Time

Not Coming To a Golf Tournament Near You

Late Sunday night the Associated Press reported that Fox was walking away from it’s 12 year USGA rights deal starting this year, with NBC/Golf Channel picking up the rights.  For viewers, this means that the US Open (which Fox was already advertising for this year’s event that was moved to September) will be on NBC.  It’s not clear who will pick up early-round coverage for Thursday and Fridays; Golf Channel would make a ton of sense, but they also have NBCSN as a viable alternative.

The USGA’s press release spells out the details.  Sort of.  Doesn’t really indicate how many hours will be on Golf Channel or NBC, but we digress.

I’ve been critical of Fox for a host of reasons.  I’m old enough to remember when they won US free-to-air rights for the NHL back in the mid 1990’s and gave viewers…glow pucks and animated characters.  I kid you not.  Who thought any of this made sense?

You “could” make the argument that the Fox Glowing Puck was a precursor to the ProTracer/Top-Tracer technology that should be as common as watching in HD.  I won’t.  Because the puck is black, and it’s on a white ice surface.  Not hard to follow if you have eyes.  Just watch where the players go.  Easy.

I was very critical of their 2015 and 2016 US Open coverage and deservedly so because it was terrible.  I don’t blame Fox as much as I do the USGA, who (based on multiple articles) seemed to want to go to Fox when the previous rights deal expired in 2014.  The USGA wanted this.  They wanted a broadcaster who had never covered the sport to cover the country’s national championship as their first broadcast.  It wasn’t as if Fox was covering the PGA Tour (or even a pro tour of some kind).

They brought in Joe Buck, who had never called golf before and never really improved (as I’ve said, if were doing 8-10 tournaments a year covering the PGA and/or LPGA Tour maybe it works better, but when he sees these players one week a year it’s always going to be problematic).  Greg Norman was their first analyst (smart, knows the game but couldn’t translate that into being that 18th hole analyst).  They flooded the air with people who had never worked together before on one of the two biggest viewing tournaments of the year.  They were unwilling to cover the controversy over Dustin Johnson’s ball moving in 2016 despite pros going after the USGA on social media(and were unwilling to call out the USGA’s incompetence in course setup in 2015, 2016 and 2018).  These are all self-inflicted wounds.

Sidebar: Joe Buck did several cameos on the IFC show “Brockmire” and he was outstanding and came off as a guy you’d totally want to hang out with.  If he brought that persona to his baseball and football coverage it would help a ton.  He was funny and he was able to throw a few good barbs out there.  If you’re looking for a show to binge-watch you could do worse.  Hank Azaria is hilarious.

Not to beat a dead horse, but Oakmont 2016 and Shinnecock 2018 should have been easy, but the USGA’s motto of “hold my beer while we fix that problem that didn’t exist” came into play.

Having said that, they did bring about some real change on the production side:

  1. The continuous leaderboard bug on weekend coverage or at the very least Sundays should become a permanent staple.  CBS and NBC have to make this part of their coverage on a weekly basis.
  2. Pro Tracer technology.  At first I wasn’t sure about this, but it works and doesn’t detract from the coverage.  Unlike hockey it doesn’t clutter the screen.  It adds to it.
  3. Drones.  I remember watching Fox’s initial coverage of the 2014 Franklin Templeton Shootout and being excited about the use of drones.  Full credit to the lads at No Laying Up who use drones extremely well.  Again, it very much adds to the viewing experience.
  4. Uninterrupted coverage during the last hour.  The Masters has long been the gold standard because they don’t clog up the viewing experience with an enema of commercials.  It’s a clean broadcast free of junk which serves the viewer well.

“If” I were NBC, here’s some things I’d do that would demonstrate a real understanding of how to take the good things that Fox did, and improve upon them.  Time to teach an old dog some new tricks.

  1. Use Mike Tirico as your studio host, and bring back Johnny Miller in some kind of a role for the US Open only.  He’s done this for horse racing and occasionally for their NHL coverage.
  2. Pro Tracer needs to be on every hole all four rounds.  Period.
  3. Use NBCSN for an alternate feed during weekend late day coverage.  They did this at the 2014 Ryder Cup.  Don’t need announcers.  Just show golf.  Doesn’t sound like this is the plan according to Jeremy Schilling.  If Peacock were to take this on then it could be a nice “add on” option.
  4. Adapt and use a leaderboard bug during the final round and leave it.
  5. Drones should be part of their overall coverage.  Follow the Fox blueprint on their usage.  The question everyone at NBC/Golf Channel should be asking is “how do we improve our coverage?” and ask this every day.

The only potential issue that I can see (from 2021 onward) is their Stanley Cup Final coverage running into the golf (especially for any west coast events, like in 2021 and 2023) which means that the Saturday/Sunday are going to be tricky options (even if you go to an afternoon start you have overtime as a potential issue).  Especially next year (2021 at Torrey Pines) if the NHL starts late and runs past the early June finish that they’ve had in 2018 and 2019 (finishing before June 10th) and/or if the NHL adds teams to their playoffs.

Coming Soon to Peacock (hopefully not)!

Overall I think this is a good move but we won’t know until September when it’s US Open time.

 

 

 

 

SGIC’s Guide To The Golf Digest Fathers Day Gift Guide

Ko’olau Golf Course. Not a bad place to be right now.

It’s June, which means that (hopefully) golf courses are open and operating where you live, summer is upon us (if you’re playing you should have bug spray AND sunscreen in your bag and they should be getting use- more on that later), and it also means that Father’s Day is soon upon us (it’s June 21st, which “should” have been the day of the final round of the US Open at Winged Foot).

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t spend money you don’t have on dad (confession: to the best of my knowledge I do not have any children…and while I love Linus he’s not shopping online for me…at least I hope so) this year to thank him and to celebrate his love of golf (if your father/grandfather doesn’t play that’s okay too).  (Un)fortunately, the people at Golf Digest have put together a “gift guide” for Father’s Day.

I’ll show you a few things and offer my own cheaper/better options on things any golfer that has kids would love.  These items haven’t been curated nor are they bespoke.  They’re nice ways to say Happy Fathers Day without going deep into debt.  Onward.

Seamus Sofa King Pure Set

Price: $64 (all prices in US dollars unless noted).

They Say: Seamus Golf stepped up in March to make masks for those in need. Initially shipping to frontline workers before opening up sales to the general public, the golf company has shipped over 15,000 masks. Masks can be purchased alone or in this set that includes a stainless steel ball marker and hand sanitizer locally distilled near Seamus HQ in Oregon.

SGIC says: $64 for a mask, hand sanitizer and a ball marker.  Read that back.  Are you shitting me?  Oh, but it’s locally distilled hand sanitizer! GTFO. Hand sanitizer should cost a buck or two except that Big Sanitizer is now taking over. You’re not using it to make a martini or a sidecar.

Smith & Sinclair Whiskey Club Alcoholic Gummies

Price: $25.

They say: Move over CBD gummies, whiskey gummies are here to make a splash. The package includes ten gummies of assorted cocktail flavors including old fashioned, whiskey ginger, Manhattan and whiskey sour. And with 5 percent ABV per gummy, these alcoholic candies really pack a punch.

SGIC says: Nothing says America 2020 like this product. It’s whiskey for people who don’t like whiskey, dumbed down to a kids’ candy.  Day drink for the love of everything good!  With actual whiskey!  Pour two (or three, or four) fingers in a glass.  Add an ice cube if you’re inclined.  Drink.  Repeat.  By the way, 5% ABV is beer.

Bonobos Fore Father Bundle

Price: $87 for the shorts and the shirt.

They say: Bonobos is running a Father’s Day promotion so you can set dad up with a full golf outfit, without breaking the bank. Use the code thanksdad and get 40-percent-off two items at checkout. Pair a bold golf shirt—like this turquoise floral Performance Golf Polo (normally $68)—with a simple navy short—like the upscale Highland Golf Shorts (normally $78)—for a stylish and summery look dad’ll sure to get a few compliments on.

SGIC says: Perfect for your Duffy Waldorf cosplay fantasies or sticking it to Lumberg during Hawaiian Shirt Day.  Oh never mind-we all work at home now so just wear sweatpants or a god damn onesie and show everyone you’ve given up.  The shorts aren’t bad.

G/FORE Skull & T’s Embossed Full Zip

Price: $165

They say: This midlayer is made with a technical jersey fabric and has an extra soft interior to add a bit of warmth on cooler mornings. The subtle skull pattern is on-trend, without the risk of clashing with the rest of his outfit and the mock neckline adds a touch of refinement to dress up any look.

SGIC says: If someone wearing this rolled up as your fourth it’s a guarantee that they will claim to be an 8 handicap, play like a 22, and trot out every excuse imaginable (one of which will involve “I need to consult with my mental game coach”…okay, I have one of those- his name is Johnnie Walker), and will take 3 minutes to miss a 9- footer for a triple bogey.  They will have a staff bag and likely have spent more time thinking of what they were going to wear than they ever have on practicing.

Montblanc MB01 Smart Travel Over-The-Ear Headphones

Price: $595. That’s not a typo.

They say: These luxury headphones have upscale styling with all the high-tech features dad could need. Proximity sensors automatically pause or play audio when the headphones are taken on or off, have active noise cancelling built in and can be connected to a smartwatch.

SGIC says: Steely Dan and Nickelback never sounded so good.  Rock out to some Hootie and the Blowfish while the world collapses on itself.  Go ahead, go further in debt to spend $600 on headphones.  Dad will enjoy yacht rock in these.

Public Rec All Day Every Day Jogger

Price $98. Not a typo.

They say: Dad will love these cozy joggers that are golf-appropriate. The elastic waistband has an internal drawstring to maximize comfort, while maintaining a refined look. Made with a moisture-wicking, breathable fabric, the versatile pant is a blend of stretchy spandex and durable nylon that’ll transition easily from the course to dinner.

SGIC says: They’re fucking sweatpants that cost $100.  Big Sweatpant (and his young lovely friend Big Yoga Pant) are taking over.  And of COURSE you’re going to wear sweatpants to a restaurant because screw it…just give up.  Quit trying.  No sense putting forth an effort for anything.  Is wearing pants or shorts with a belt that hard?  Still waiting to see a golf-themed Snuggie.

GLCO X Malbon Bucket Golf Hat

Price: $40 and a possible restraining order.

They say: Part of the exclusive Garrett Leight and Malbon Golf collection, this reversible bucket channels beachy vibes.

SGIC says: You should get one of these for free if you buy a FREE CANDY or FREE PUPPIES van to go along with the likely impending criminal charges.  Wear this to the beach and you might as well just get a “PERV HERE” sandwich board to wear. The official hat for people who own metal detectors and use them at the beach.  Wear this with that Hawaiian print shirt and blind people.

Puma Bomber Jacket

Price: $160.

They say: A stylish on- and off-course jacket with a retro feel. It’s a great layering piece, especially for dads who need to add a little character to their golf looks. The knit sweater sleeves are cozy and perfect for cool summer twilight rounds.

SGIC says: Perfect for when you want people to think you appeared in season 1 of The Sopranos.  Should be part of The Paulie Walnuts collection.  Wear this to Starbucks and order an espresso and ask for some locally sourced gabbagool.

Lord Jones Old Fashioned CBD Gum Drops

Price: $45.

They say: Each candy has 20 milligrams of CBD—a calming, non-psychoactive hemp extract that can provide relief from pain and anxiety. Plus, they come in fruity flavors.

SGIC says: At six dollars per gummy I should be getting baked on them and not have to worry about getting diabetes. Just buy some actual weed.  It’s legal in most jurisdictions.  Or buy a CBD supplement (the one I take has 20mg of CBD and I don’t have to worry about Wilfred Brimley showing up to lecture me about DIABEETUS).

Good, Good? Needlepoint Headcover

Price: $115 for a mallet-sized cover.

They say: For those more generous than most on the greens, protect your flatstick with this unique needlepoint headcover from the new Golf Digest SELECT collection. Hand-crafted by Needle Golf, this putter cover is available for blades and mallets. Available at  select.golfdigest.com

SGIC says: For $115 you could could add a few bucks and get him an actual new putter. Just saying.  Why promote a mediocre golf magazine?  In a couple years when these things don’t sell they’ll give ’em away with subscriptions.

Vineyard Vines Pescadero Houndstooth Performance 1/2 Zip

Price: $145

They say: In collaboration with Jim Nantz, this Vineyard Vines half zip will add a touch of sophistication to any outfit. The houndstooth pattern is refined and stylish, while the soft performance blend material has a ton of stretch for a comfortable wear.

SGIC says: Was there really some underserved segment of the population who wanted to spend $145 on something from the Jim Nantz collection?  Clearly, yes.  I want to buy a CBS blazer but ONLY if you include a flag pin AND a pocket square from the Jim Nantz collection. Burnt toast and “Sir Nick Faldo” never sounded so yummy.  Perfect for doing sponsor interviews in. Buy this, and your new safe word is “Hello Friends”.

MOVING ON

Let’s say that you don’t weekend in the Hamptons, daddy doesn’t run a hedge fund and you don’t have a 7-figure trust fund.  You actually work during the week but you’d like to do something nice for dad that’s golf related.  Here’s a few ideas that won’t break the bank:

  1. A dozen of his preferred brand of balls.  Sneak a peek in his golf bag to see what he plays.  Cost? $30-$50.
  2. Buy him a round of golf at an upscale daily fee course. You’re talking $90-$250 depending on where but it’s a nice treat for him.
  3. Tickets to a PGA/LPGA Tour event in your area (if they’re allowing fans). Seeing an event live really lets you see just how good the pros are, and most of them are actually really nice people and it’s a nice “all day” getaway.  Cost: $25-$100.  He can buy himself a tournament shirt and have a great time.
  4. If he’s walking but carrying his bag, a push cart is a FANTASTIC option.  They run $75-$250 but they fold up easily and he’ll still be able to walk but not have to carry so it will be easier on his back. Ogio, Sun Mountain and Clicgear make great products.
  5. If you’re really tight with money (and that’s okay), get him some sunscreen and bug spray.  Trader Joe’s sells a spray-on sunscreen that’s sweatproof for $6.00 (I use it and it’s great; cheaper than other brands and easier to wash off).  Off! makes a bug spray that goes on easy (aerosol can) that doesn’t reek and does a good job of keeping bugs away; it retails for $6-$9 depending on where you shop.  So for $15.00 you can hook dad up with a couple things he should be using (seriously- he needs to be using sunscreen and bug spray).

SONG OF THE DAY

Since I’m not going to be able to see New Order in concert (their tour dates all canceled due to COVID-19), enjoy one of their best known songs. An actual music video, directed by Johnathan Demme (yes, that one).

How I Fell In Love With Rugby League (and why you should as well)

Mal Meninga. Gigantic, fast and a legend.

I love playing golf, and I love watching hockey (well, the Toronto Maple Leafs).  While this would be enough sports for most people, there’s one other sport that does it for me and that’s rugby league.  So how do I, your golf blogger and high functioning alcoholic, come to love a sport whose popularity is primarily centered around two areas (Australia and the north of England)?  Perhaps you follow me on Twitter and wonder why I’m clicking ‘favorite/like’ on some odd sport and occasionally retweeting highlights?

Blind luck and an eventual bad relationship.

Flash back to June of 1994 and I’ve been seeing someone for a year or so on a long-distance basis and we (as young people often do with bad results) agreed to move in together (we would part ways after a few years).  Specifically, she decided to pack up and move into my studio apartment in San Francisco.  She found out that I don’t have cable TV (I’ve never had cable TV at this point of my life), and she was rather insistent that we have it (without sounding old, this was when MTV showed actual music videos- The Real World was a cultural touchstone but otherwise it was mostly music videos).  Being the thoughtful person that I am, I called our local cable TV provider and schedule an installation on Friday since she was moving in on the next day (Saturday).

This will work out pretty well (I thought at the time), since this Friday in question was the start of the soccer World Cup and she mentioned liking soccer (her older sister had played for her high school and college teams) and was excited at seeing games since the US was the host country.

I took the day off from work, got a haircut early and was back in my apartment during the late morning appointment window.  They showed up on time, were done within 30 minutes, and I now had the wonder that was cable television.  Being someone who likes sports, I meandered towards the sports channels.  ESPN was showing the US Open (it would be Arnold Palmer’s last round at a US Open) with cutaways for soccer and the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup parade.

Then I happened upon one of those lesser known sports channels and they were showing some weird sport I’d never seen before. It “looked” like rugby (I knew of it but hadn’t really watched much), but the playing field was laid out more like an NFL field with yardage lines and numbers.  There was a team wearing lime green shirts that said “MILK” in the front (and in the back)…okay, I thought, is that like a sponsor (I knew a lot of soccer teams had big sponsor logos in the front) or something?

The other thing was that after a player was tackled he’d get up, set the ball down and “play” it backwards to someone else while the team on defense would retreat what looked like 10 yards (found out later it was 10 meters).  The rugby I knew would have a bunch of people fighting over the ball.  This wasn’t like that.  Also you’d see a graphic pop up of “5th” tackle.  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  Didn’t know what this was.   Is this like 4th down in the NFL? Figured it out pretty quickly.

One last thing.  This team in lime green had an absolute mountain of a man on their team who could seemingly run through anyone or anything.  He wasn’t just big, he was fast.  And powerful.  His name?  Mal Meninga. He looked to be about 7’8″ tall and 350 pounds (nothing close but he looked it on TV).  He ran over people if not through them.  Later I’d learn he was a legend in the game and he’d be retiring after the season.  It was everything I loved about collision sports, without all the stoppages in play.  Simple rules and not overly complicated and played at a breathtaking pace I’d only seen in hockey.

I was hooked, but what was it?  This was before the internet had become as common as oxygen…so I had to look it up on the channel listings.  Something called “rugby league (listed as Australian Rugby League)…whatever that meant”.  It was a condensed highlights program from the games of a week prior (as I found out later).  The team in lime green were the Canberra Raiders.  They were playing a team called Eastern Suburbs or “Easts” in the score graphic. Wait, what?  I knew soccer teams had weird names, but here was an Australian sport with American style nicknames (there were teams named the Steelers, Bulldogs, Tigers to name a few).

The day this happened was June 17, 1994.  Unfortunately, June 17, 1994 took on a host of other meanings and history will show that it was the night that OJ Simpson went on his infamous Ford Bronco chase, causing the world (it seemed) to stop and watch.  And while everyone remembers the chase, I remember watching it unfold on CNN and also being excited because I had discovered this really cool sport.

The following Sunday, I drove down to the news-stand near my apartment, since they sold international newspapers (again- this was pre-Internet).  I found a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, and immediately pulled out the sports section.  I’d find out that the Raiders had lost their most recent game to the Panthers. The Panthers! Damn you Panthers! We’ll get you next time.  I was hooked. Paid six dollars for the newspaper (I wasn’t always a genius).

It pushed me into rugby and eventually gave me the idea to play (I played several years for club teams in the Bay Area and DC; I wasn’t any good but it was fun playing a team sport again with some truly great lads).  I’m better for the experience and for learning something new.

If you like the NFL but can’t stand games taking 3 1/2 hours to play and only seeing about 14-15 minutes of action in a game, consider watching. No padding except for neoprene headgear that a few players wear, and it’s pretty much non-stop action.  13 players a side, 4 substitutes (not rolling subs- teams have a limit of how many changes they can make in a game).  Try (touchdown) worth 4 points, conversions or penalty goals worth 2 points, drop goal (i.e. field goal) worth 1 point. That’s it. A video review system that, while not perfect, is better than anything in use in North America.  A national announcer as polarizing as Joe Buck, Mike Emerick or Jim Hughson….why, yes!

Celebrities?  Russell Crowe owns one of the teams.  A Tina Turner song has turned into an anthem of sorts.  Take a listen:

This is 30 years old (made in 1990).

The national broadcaster recreated it for this year.  Stick to what works.

I still watch rugby league and still support the Canberra Raiders (followed last year’s Grand Final loss on twitter on a red-eye flight back from vacation…probably for the best that I couldn’t scream during the late game controversy). The NRL season normally runs March-early October (this year it’s getting extended due to COVID-19…like a lot of sports that had to shut down in March).  I know that right now there are those that think sports are dumb and unnecessary.  Maybe.

My hometown of Toronto now has a team in the England Super League (they’re still shut down due to COVID-19); they’re in their 4th year of existence and I’m hoping their games will be televised when they return.

But I still love it. And I’ll still get up in the middle of the night to watch games and get strange looks from people when I wear my Raiders jersey.  And it started on a flash-point day in American history because I got cable installed.

Foot-Joy 2020 Pro-SL Shoe Review

2020 Foot Joy Pro SL (Spikeless) fresh out of the box

***Please note that I was not compensated in any way by Footjoy nor did they contact me to write this.  I bought the shoes through a well-known online specialty golf retailer.  This review is entirely my opinion.

After 3 years and more rounds than I can count (somewhere between 65-75), my existing ProSL’s were starting to wear out so I figured it was time to replace them.  As I have pointed out in other posts, I’m a fairly big lad and I’m aware that this means shoes break down quicker and it means they don’t last as long as would be ideal.  Because their sizing hasn’t changed I knew what size I would need.

One tip: Unless you know your size by brand/model, I strongly recommend trying shoes on in-store BEFORE you buy. Ideally, at the end of the way, wearing socks that you’d wear when playing. Shoes aren’t cheap so you want to make sure that you’re not wasting money.

Since I really liked my old pair and had good luck with them, when it came time to buy a new pair I was always likely to stick with Foot Joy.  For one, their last fits my foot very well.  I learned the hard way that every company makes a slightly different last, plus I tend to under-pronate which makes things even more difficult.  The Foot Joy shoes don’t make this worse which is more than I can say when it comes to a couple of other brands.

Other brands, you ask?  Adidas has made some changes and their current range really doesn’t fit.  Plus, they don’t make an extra-wide and they’ve narrowed their existing wide a bit.  Nike shoes have never felt good on my feet (I bought a pair of their golf shoes in the 90’s when they were just starting to get into the market; they never felt great and broke down very quickly).  I tried New Balance once but wasn’t impressed.  Made my foot sweat something terrible and waterproofing was bad (I play a lot of early morning rounds so my feet were often wet after a few holes).  I wear ASICS sneakers as they fit my foot fairly well; haven’t tried their golf range yet (been hard to find).

Comfort: Excellent. Most modern shoes “should” fit well right out of the box with synthetic materials.  Not like a shoe from 30 years ago that you’d have to break in.  These fit great the second I put them on.  They make a BOA model for $20 extra, but I prefer the regular lace-up.  The foam is highly dense but still provides plenty of cushion.  It’s not as spongy as some other models, but for me, it was very good.  One note: Foot Joy tends to run a half to one full size smaller than my regular shoes.  I wear a 10 1/2 in ASICS, New Balance and Mizuno but I wear a 10 in Foot Joy.

Removable sockliner is a great added feature if you wear inserts or orthotics. Plenty of cushion but not overly spongy.

Grip: Excellent. This was a bit of a revelation for me.  I always thought (wrongly) that spikeless shoes would have bad grip on turf.   My Pro SL’s have better grip than my old shoes with softspikes.  No slips, no issues on side hills or going up and down mounds.  During my swing, it feels like my feet are anchored down which is what I want.

LOVE how the sole flares out a bit for added stability. Channeling the old XPS-1 shoes that I used to have. Great job.

Stability: Excellent.  The soles flare out a bit from the foot, providing additional stability.  It’s one feature that my old XPS-1 shoes had that I loved.  Full swings from the tee box, shots from the fairway or rough…felt very secure.

The additional support from the synthetic strap going from the heel to the top of the lacing area is a nice touch for added stability.

Look: Average.  If I have one complaint about these shoes, it’s the look. They’re not exactly a modern looking shoe. My first thought when seeing them was that they look like bowling shoes. I do wish they’d adopt a more modern look that other brands seem to be doing.  With that being said, I’ll sacrifice looks for performance.

Overall: Excellent. Foot Joy does one thing well, and that’s golf. To their credit they don’t try to get into other sports or make some ‘training’ shoe.  Unlike companies that see golf as one line on an org chart, Foot Joy only does golf.  And they do it very well. They make widths from extra narrow to extra wide (I really wish Ecco would make wide widths but they don’t which means they’re a non-starter for me).  They don’t introduce new lines every year for every model, which is not the norm in the industry.  Overall, they’re outstanding shoes and I’m looking forward to getting plenty of rounds out of them.

Song Of The Day

Johnny Marr’s solo records have a distinctive sound their own.  Bit of social distancing here from a few years ago.

Golf Course Closures Explained

One of these things isn’t like the other one. See if you can guess.

I’m angry.  There.  I said it.  I’m angry at bullshit hucksters like Malcolm Gladwell who thinks golf should be “banned”, and Silicon Valley douchebros (I worked in Silicon Valley; there isn’t anything these morons can’t ruin with their “ideas”) who hate golf (because they’re not any good at it (unless they’re a member at one of the more exclusive private clubs in the Bay Area), and they want golf courses turfed so they can fuck the land up with their own stupidity and incompetence in the same way they’ve operated for the last 25 years).

Golf is a form of outdoor exercise and is a sport.  It can be played with social distancing and with next to zero risk to anyone playing (a number of course maintenance teams have come up with genius level ways to avoid making contact with things, including not raking bunkers).  Green fees mean revenue which means employees get paid and the money circulates within the state.  Pretty simple, really.

I’m angry that with all this (alleged) intelligence we’re staring food shortages in the face because with all of their brainpower and whatnot, and they can’t figure out how to safely process and deliver food (you have millions of pounds of potatoes left to rot and meat shortages because nobody thought to spend a few bucks on food safety or the people feeding the country).  The most basic and simple thing in the world and we’ve fucked that up in less than 2 months.  Bravo.

And I’m angry with our Governor (Larry Hogan), who seems too busy getting dolled up to go on TV and pump his own tires to see the bigger picture (the makeup and glasses show you care, I suppose).  Winning two races against poster children for “how not to run a gubernatorial campaign” shouldn’t count for much but here we are.  But this is a golf website.  Onward.

If you look at the map above, you’ll notice that 45 states currently allow golf in some form or another, and 5 that don’t.  Nevada, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and of course Maryland because reasons.

This is not a “but muh golf” complaint.  It’s pointing out that Larry’s measures are like trying to stop a train with a fishing net.  I’ll stick with facts:

  1. I “could” be wrong, but near as I can tell, there isn’t a Simpsons Movie style dome over the state which means that travel to and from other states is permitted.  Let’s go on, shall we?
  2. If I’m on the Eastern Shore, I can play at Baywood Greens but none of the Ocean City courses.  We’re talking about 15-20 minutes distance (by car).  Is the environment at Links @ Lighthouse Sound that bad by comparison?  If it is, then by all means keep it closed!
  3. Bulle Rock is closed, but all of the courses in Philly are (mostly) open.
  4. Greystone in northern Baltimore County…nope.  Keep going another 20-25 minutes up I-83 and courses are open in PA.  Does Pennsylvania have magic non-COVID air that they’re hoarding?  Damn air-hoarders.
  5. Lodestone in far western MD is closed but again, I can truck into WV, OH or PA and tee it up.  Who’s right and who’s wrong here?
  6. I could hop in my car, cross a bridge and be in Virginia where courses are open.  Some mighty good tracks in the commonwealth.
  7. Same for North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, New Jersey.
  8. I could fly out to California or Arizona where courses are, for the most part, open.  Flights are bookable as are hotels.
  9. The entire midwest and it’s vast array of really good courses.  Willing to wager places in MN, TX, IA, etc. would gladly take my money.  Assuming that I don’t decide to live there for the rest of my life, how exactly is this keeping people safe?

My point is that there’s no consistency on how things are being applied (and the devil is ALWAYS in the details).  Either golf is an outdoor activity that can take place or it’s unsafe and should be shut down.  Both arguments have validity but you can’t have both.  Just pick a lane.  That’s all I ask.

 

COVID-19 updates (what courses are and aren’t open)

My new weekend morning scripting.

Just as we were getting into the start of the season, things have taken a horrible turn with the pandemic from the Coronavirus (i.e. COVID-19).  PLEASE follow the new guidelines set in place and anything from the CDC.

So real quick, here’s what is (and isn’t) open in terms of local courses as of 3/17/2020.  Not trying to persuade or dissuade anyone from playing, but I’d suggest verifying specifics.

Waverly Woods: currently open.

Fairway Hills: closed

Hobbits Glen: closed

Timbers at Troy: currently open.

Baltimore County (Greystone, Rocky Point, Fox Hollow, etc.): open (Greystone grill may be closed)

Baltimore City (Forest Park, Mount Pleasant, Carroll Park, etc.): open for now.

Montgomery County Golf (Northwest, Little Bennett, Rattlewood, Hampshire Greens, Poolesville, Laytonsville, Sligo Creek, Hampshire Greens): Open for now (no on-course water, credit cards only, no rakes, flags stay in).

Links at Challendon: currently open

Compass Pointe: currently open.

Renditions: currently open

University of MD golf course: closed as of 3/18

Oak Creek: currently open

Lake Presidential: currently open

Blue Mash: currently open.

Worthington Manor: currently open.

Musket Ridge: currently open.

Maryland National: currently open.

Whiskey Creek: currently open.

PB Dye: currently open (aerated greens 3/2-3/4)

Hopefully you’re able to get out there and tee it up.  Stay healthy and be safe.

Hope to see you out there.  I’m not normally Mr. Grumpy Pants.

Sports Movies You Should See, Ranked

First off, to say I’m thrilled that the area will be hosting the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship in August 2021 at Caves Valley is an understatement.  Not having a regular tour stop in the area has been awful, so I’m very pleased that for at least one year we will see the best of the PGA Tour.  You know what would be even better?  A regular LPGA tour stop in the area, or even a Champions Tour slot.  As you were.

So I had this movie-themed piece in my head slated to go because I thought the Oscars would be in late February, but for some reason they were earlier.  Rather than put some half-ass effort into it, I decided to wait, and put something out that would be up to the kind of quality you’ve come to expect.

Mention sports movies and immediately people think of the tried and true.  I suppose that they’re okay, but as with most things, I find that by digging deeper you find better.  You find complexity, storytelling, and everything we love about movies.  No particular order here.  Just nine sports movies you may have not seen that you should consider watching:

  1. Fever Pitch (1997).  Take the 2005 baseball-themed remake starring Jimmy Fallon and light it on fire.  The original “should” be on any soccer fan’s ‘must watch’ especially if you’re newish.  Taken from Nick Hornby’s excellent book (with some significant departures), it details Colin Firth’s character as a schoolteacher by day/obsessed fan of Arsenal in during the 1988-89 season, which includes mentions about the Hillsborough disaster.  Great soundtrack.  Other films have done pieces about obsessed fans but they’re much darker.  This one is almost comedic.  Good enough to make you forget that they tried to make another version that was baseball centric.
  2. North Dallas Forty (1979).  Taken from Peter Gent’s excellent novel (but with one super-major part of the book deleted).  Nick Nolte plays a broken-down wide receiver on the mythical North Dallas Bulls.  First sports film to highlight rampant drug use (recreational and prescription), alcohol abuse, etc.  Not kid friendly.  The game scenes are at best not good, but it was the first film to show you how the sausage was made.  So many films owe a debt of gratitude to North Dallas Forty.
  3. The Damned United (2009).  Michael Sheen plays football manager Brian Clough; the film jumps around but centres around his 40+ day stint replacing Don Revie as Leeds United manager.   Sheen is nothing short of amazing as Clough as is Colm Meaney as Don Revie.  A great look at life in the 1970’s.  Game scenes are pretty good despite a couple minor errors.  Sheen looks, sounds and walks like Clough.  As good as Kurt Russell did playing Herb Brooks in Miracle, Sheen’s role of Clough is better.
  4. Dead Solid Perfect (1989).   Someone at Golf Channel/Comcast should acquire the rights to this.   It’s largely a mystery film at this point.  Taken from Dan Jenkins’ novel, it does a better job of storytelling than the other golf films.  Some of the production work isn’t great but it’s about 1000 miles better than a lot of golf movies.  Actually it’s the best.  Randy Quaid is outstanding, which isn’t something I would ever think I’d write.
  5. Goon (2012).  As someone who loves hockey, I admit that most hockey movies don’t do it for me.  Slap Shot’s hockey scenes are terrible and the sequels are beyond terrible.  I’d rather eat sand than watch the Mighty Ducks films (again-the hockey scenes are terrible).  Miracle was underwhelming despite having access to the actual game footage/audio.  Goon is…good.  Two scenes in particular; the bus scene after a loss hit a nerve, and the coffee shop scene (though a dead lift from the beyond outstanding ‘Heat’) was well done.  The on-ice scenes are good and the drinking/drug subculture was dealt with sufficiently well.
  6. The Final Winter (2007).  Was introduced to this film third-hand; rugby league film that deals with then-professional team Newtown Jets and how the lead character deals with his club (and the game) changing on him.  Anyone who’s felt that the changes in the game of their preferred sport will appreciate it.  Beautifully shot.  Any fan of a team that has been close to folding/moving will relate.
  7. Raging Bull (1980).  Sorry, Rocky.  This film (perfectly shot in black & white) is everything sports films aspire to.  DeNiro is outstanding.
  8. Personal Best (1982).  Deals with a track and field star (played by Muriel Hemmingway) dealing with a raft of issues as she tries to make the 1980 US Olympic team (that would end up boycotting the Moscow Olympics).  Again- not a family friendly film in any possible way (there is a ton of nudity and sexual content), but it tells stories that were previously not discussed.  Really shows the psyche of an elite athlete.  Bonus content for using Charley Jones during the Olympic Trials scenes.  The voice will be familiar to older viewers.
  9. Bang The Drum Slowly (1973).  Adapted from Mark Harris’ novel from the 1950’s.  Baseball scenes aren’t the best, but it’s terrific storytelling that is authentic and doesn’t feel contrived.

Honorable mention: The Natural (1984), The Rocket (2005), The Wrestler (2008), Any Given Sunday (1999).

The Second Annual SGIC Airing of the Grievances

Screw cookies and milk. I prefer bourbon. And a dozen ProV1’s.

What a year 2019 has been in golf.  The top story depends on where you’re from.  If you’re in the US then Tiger winning the Masters probably tops it.  European audiences may think Shane Lowry winning The Open at Portrush is the bigger deal.  Asian audiences may look towards the LPGA Tour for their bigger story.  There’s much to celebrate.

Image

And yet, a year later and boy, do I have some problems with a lot of you people.  So sit down, pour yourself a drink, and get comfortable.  Don’t even think about taking me on in feats of strength.

Patrick Reed: The dunce cap in human form.  Blatantly cheats during a limited field tournament in the Bahamas and provides the kind of bullshit story that no partially sane person with eyes would believe.  Then goes to Australia for the Presidents Cup and doubles down.  His caddie ended up shoving/pushing a fan.  Once a cheater, always a cheater.  He did this crap in college and is replicating form.  There’s no more benefit of the doubt with this clown.  Have cameras on him during every hole of every round because there’s no way you can trust him.

Bryson Dechambeau: May you lose majors after rightly getting hit with stroke play penalties.  Speed the hell up.  2 1/2 minutes for an 8 foot putt?  You should be forced to eat that stupid Hogan flat cap after it’s been dunked in Donkey Sauce.  You and JB Holmes should be forced to play together and be permanently on the clock.

USGA: Hey, you managed to not screw up the course at Pebble Beach.  Hooray!  Granted, overcast skies and cool temps with light wind helped.  Maybe take a trip to the Open Championship to see what they do.  No trickery, and no obsession over protecting a score.  Set up the course to be tough but fair, and what happens, happens.   Gary Woodland was fantastic tee to green at Pebble Beach and earned the win.  Winged Foot is similar; the less you do, the better.  Don’t overthink it.

European Tour: With Ireland picked to host the 2026 Ryder Cup the next one should go to the Old Course.  They last hosted in 1969.  This is a no-brainer.  Everyone knows the course.  17 and 18 are as great as it gets for match play.  DO IT.

R&A: You did a good thing by taking the Open to Portrush.  A rota of the Old Course, Royal Liverpool, Royal Troon, Royal St. Georges, Portrush, Carnoustie, and Muirfield (Lytham and Royal County Down as ‘secondary’ options) should do just fine.  Prestwick, Sunningdale can be added for the women’s rota.

PGA Tour: Can we talk about marijuana?  Please?  It’s time to take marijuana off the banned substance list.  Guys are using CBD, and as a former pot smoker, it’s not a stimulant.  As I’ve said before, I smoked it to help relieve stress at night so I could sleep better.  It’s legal in several states and this is all going in one direction.  Join the 21st century.

PGA Tour Rules Officials: Can we stop with the ‘won’t someone think of the children’ as an excuse to not enforce the rules?  So we give player X the benefit of the doubt who then knocks Y and Z out of the top 125 and back to the Korn Ferry Tour?  Either enforce the rules as they’re written or find people who will.  Looking at you, Slugger.

CBS: Just put Frank Nobilo into the 18th hole chair next to Nantz.  Please.  I’d take Nobilo 8 days a week over Azinger.

FOX: Just admit you’re not very good at this and move on.  You’re the drunk guy at a bar who’s pissed his pants, can’t stand up and still thinks he’s good to drive home.

NBC/Golf Channel: Quit screwing around with your LPGA coverage.  Live coverage on weekends is the absolute minimum, and this gong-show you keep doing with their Tour Championship is asinine.  On weekends, CNBC should become Golf Channel Plus (I don’t think people will mind losing a seventh rerun of some episode of Shark Tank).  You’re welcome.

NBC/Golf Channel: What part of “show live golf” is beyond you?  The Presidents Cup coverage was worse than terrible.  Showing people standing around looking at yardage books during the “playing through” bit doesn’t cut it.

New Media: There are outfits who do a great job (none of these folks I have any kind of relationship).  Looking at you, No Laying Up, Shane Bacon, Stephanie Wei and several other well-run blogs and websites that produce some truly great stuff.  Quality content is quality content.  Don’t steal content or fail to provide attribution and then get whiny when you get called on it.  You know who you are.  Also- you aren’t the story (and if you don’t get this, then get out NOW).  So don’t make yourself the story.

Time Rosaforte: Happy retirement but you’re leaving a giant hole in coverage.  One of the true “good eggs” out there who was always worth tuning in for.  You’ll be missed.  Dammit.  Rosaforte and Nobilo leaving at the same time is…not good (I’ve been a fan of Nobilo for some time).

University of Maryland: Quit screwing with the golf course.  Leave it the hell alone.  It’s a true hidden gem and a great test of golf.  Plus it’s open green space.  You can’t just pave everything over.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus, Happy Winter Celebration.  Enjoy some great holiday music.  Miss you always Kirsty.

 

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