Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On Sergio Garcia

Last week The Asshole noticed an article previewing the Dubai Open on the Euro tour. The thrust was that a victory in the tourney would get Sergio Garcia back into the top-10 in the world ranking. Since going through some personal problems a few years ago, Garcia (now 33) has played very well the last couple of seasons, winning on both major tours and winning his singles match in the "best Ryder Cup comeback that wasn't the Americans' Ryder Cup comeback at Brookline".

I've always liked Sergio. His duel with Tiger at Medinah was awesome. He consistently played great in the Ryder Cup when I rooted exclusively for the Euros (I've since obtained my US citizenship so I can't lose, Bitches). He's starred in some pretty funny commercials (with Ernie and the hackers for TaylorMade and when he intentionally hit his ball into the hot girl's pool in an ad for...Michelob? Is that right? I don't remember) Finally, and most importantly, he got pissed off when he lost. He bitched about the golf gods when Padraig beat him at Carnoustie (in fairness his putt to win on 18 could've dropped and hitting the stick and bouncing 25 feet away in the playoff is a shit break), criticized the shape of Augusta and then his own game when playing Augusta and got so mad when Padraig beat him again at the PGA that he admitted to wanting to punch the Irishman in the head. I mean, what's not to love? He's an emotional guy. He's the rare pro who gives an honest, in-the-moment answer, yet clearly doesn't take himself too seriously off the course.

So back to that preview article: Anytime a player is featured in a preview article, he's bound to be mentioned throughout the tournament for better or worse. But last week, Sergio was neither...he was pretty good. He put himself in good shape opening with rounds of 68 and 67, but couldn't break 71 on the weekend and settled for a t-17. To go with his t-2 the week before, the Spaniard has had a VERY competent start to the season. And yet, to read the articles about the event, one would think that Sergio has basically ruined it. He hurt his shoulder in the second round and almost withdrew, but was playing so well he kept playing and was t-8 heading into the weekend. Now Sergio did say "Unfortunately we started playing well", a poor choice of words perhaps, but his point, as any non-idiot can see, is that playing well made the withdrawing decision decidedly more difficult than if he'd been playing like dog balls and that was unfortunate...for his shoulder! But the media were super-quick  to print headlines like: "Sergio Laments Good Play". It's manipulative bullshit. Other players would be called tough as nails for gutting it out, but because Sergio gives writers an honest answer (the type of answer they claim to never receive) about the complexities of playing with an injury when you're in form in a long season they do what they always do: make Sergio look like a dick. Cut to Sunday's final round when Sergio, now out of contention and probably still hurting, gets a bad lie in a bunker, hits a shit shot and then takes a few frustrated swings at the sand and turf. Golf.com presented this 5-second episode as a "meltdown". Really??? I think we've seen worse. Much worse. From Sergio.

All of this is to say that I think the golf media's treatment of Sergio is willfully stupid, unfair and kind of dumb. The guy is good for the game, but most who cover the game are desperate to find another "incident" so they can cover Sergio the same way they've always covered him. So I guess it's willfully stupid, unfair, kind of dumb and...lazy.

I think Sergio wins the Open this year.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Ian Baker-Finch

Ian Baker-Finch seems like a nice guy. He was, for a period, a very good golfer. He won the Open Championship and then lost his game (sounds like someone else this blog loves...). At one point it got so bad that he missed the opening fairway at St. Andrews. The opening fairway at St. Andrews is approximately 2 football fields wide. I mean, I could miss it, but Ian Baker-Finch is a professional golfer. A professional golfer shouldn't miss that fairway unless he gets shot on his downswing. Well after Ian hit the worst golf shot in the history of professional golf, he retired and joined the ABC broadcast team. This was way back when ABC actually covered golf and Peter Aliss (God love him) was a staple on American airwaves joining the late, great Bob Rosburg, the late great Dave Marr and the always entertaining because of his ridiculous southern accent Steve Melnyk ("DOOOO-val with a five-airon"). Anyway, when ABC gave up golf (retaining the Open Championship only), Baker-Finch was scooped up by the CBS golf team. (CBS, it seems, will give anyone an announcing contract provided they used to play and have a funny accent. At some point I will write 10,000 words about the CBS announce team.) So now Ian Baker-Finch has a job on the premier announcing squad. He handles Amen Corner at Augusta and at most other tournaments gets the 17th tower, a fairly prestigious gig. The problem is Ian Baker-Finch is a crappy announcer. He talks incessantly (I'm always waiting for a player to back off a putt, look up at the tower and tell him to shut the fuck up), says little of importance (he is the King of useless and irrelevant anecdotes...I don't care who player X's neighbor in Scotsdale is!!!), and his charming Aussie accent and Aussie-isms are...well...irritating. For example, he never uses the plural of the word foot. Now hold on, you say, that's common in golf as in "Tiger's got a 12-foot putt". True, I reply, but Baker-Finch extends his use of the singular foot to ridiculous extremes. When a ball lands on the 17th green leaving a putt of 23 feet, Baker-Finch says "Look at that, good shot there, leaves himself 23 foot up the hill...coincidentally that's also the distance between his bed and toilet at his house in Jupiter, Florida, lovely place, great big tree in the back yard, plenty of shade, you can enjoy a cocktail or soda on the back porch and just lovely." Shut up, Ian.

Yesterday, in the final round of the San Diego Open (I refuse to call these tournaments by their sponsor names) played on Monday because of the Saturday fog delay, Ian Baker-Finch joined Sir Nick Faldo in the 18th tower because Jim "Hello Friends" Nantz was already on his way to New Orleans where he is calling the Super Bowl. Well...give Ian an inch he'll take 5280 foot. Non-stop babble from start to finish. Indeed on the last green, Ian started talking when a graphic of All-time Tour Victories was put up showing Snead, Woods and Nicklaus and kept chatting through Billy Horschel's closing birdie and right through Tiger tapping in for the win and didn't shut up until Feherty had grabbed Tiger for the post-round chat. He is the 2013 Verbal Diarrhea Leader in the Clubhouse. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Birth of The Asshole

In late August of 1997, I arrived in New Haven, CT. to begin a (mostly) successful collegiate career (I say "mostly" successful, because I got good grades, but I also graduated with a degree in Theater Studies and decided to become an actor...so...MOSTLY successful). About a month later, a four-time All-American from Georgia Tech began one of the great four-year runs in the history of golf. In Williamsburg, Virginia, at the famed Kingsmill Resort, David Duval beat Grant Waite (claim to fame: being on the business end of Tiger's Canadian Open 6-iron), Duffy Waldorf and Duffy Waldorf's wardrobe in a playoff to claim his first PGA Tour title. A week later, at Disney World, the heretofore winless Duval nabbed #2, again in a playoff, this time over Dan Forsman (arguably the least renowned 5-time tour winner in history). Duval was rolling. After taking a week off, Double D returned at the Tour Championship. He beat Jim Furyk by a shot and had suddenly won 3 in a row.

Back to New Haven for a moment: I was drunk a lot (I remember waking up wearing Timberlands that didn't belong to me), had a huge crush on a diminutive lacrosse player who would make me happy for about 6 weeks though I dated her for 3 years and tended to tune out of the golf season after the Ryder Cup. Also, this was (mostly) pre-internet (I say "mostly" because I got email and had a few naughty pictures on my computer, but there was no golf.com). I got my sports news from that beautifully colorful rag known as USA Today. All this is to say that I was only vaguely aware of Duval and his three consecutive wins when my Old Man called to tell me he was off to the UK for a trip. As was our custom (and still is), he asked if he should place some bets for me on the upcoming golf season. Tiger was an obvious choice (I've never loved Tiger. It all came too easy for him...even Jordan had to lose to win), but for some reason Duval's name came to mind. My father returned with 20 pounds for me on Duval at 33-1!

Over the course of the next five months, when I wasn't acting in crappy undergraduate plays or wondering why, in the freezing New Haven winter, I, a native of Toronto, hadn't gone to fucking Stanford, I did a little research on Duval. He was dubbed a mystery by the golf press...because he wore sunglasses...oh, Bernard Darwin, where have you gone? But from what I could tell, he was a smart guy who didn't bullshit, had had a rough go early in his pro career after dominating college, and was generally misunderstood. There was also the thing about his brother dying of cancer after a blood marrow transplant from David hadn't worked out (the aforementioned asinine golf press to this day loves to psycho-analyze the shit out of that...they really burn my ass). In any event, I liked the guy. I liked that he was different from Tiger and I LOVED that he was different from Phil.

Spring in New Haven 1998 was beautiful. My life wasn't. I was homesick (I'd left for college a year early, we still had grade 13 in Canada...don't ask), and most of my friends were celebrating their last few months of high school. At college, the shit girlfriend was not popular among my peers and I felt increasingly isolated. In fact, I was strongly considering leaving New Haven after the school year and returning to Canada. But the weather changed and two things happened. First, I began to salvage my peer friendships on the college golf course. They let students on for $17 back then and we played a lot that spring. I was rocking a set of TaylorMade Burner irons that to this day are my favorite set of clubs. Those rounds, on that magnificent old track, with the three best guys I went to college with, convinced me to stick around New Haven for the duration and, in some sense, led me to where I am today...an actor in LA...fuck.

The second thing that happened was the 1998 Masters. Astute readers will recall my 33-1 odds on Double D. Before The Masters, Dave had played 8 tournaments. He'd won in Tuscon, missed one cut, WD'd another, but had two other top-10s and hadn't finished worse than t-27. He was in excellent form. We didn't have cable in our freshman dorms, so we were forced watch in the basement of Trumbull College on a projection TV that had been state-of-the-art in 1987 and now was...well...crap. The only round of the tournament I remember watching was the last one and it was fucking insane. When CBS came on the air, Jim Nantz intoned: "You are not going to believe what you are about to see!" Jack FUCKING Nicklaus had chipped in on 3, birdied 6 and 7 and was making a charge. He was 58 years old. I don't remember much from that point on until the last hour of the tournament. I have deliberately not looked it up to artificially jog/influence my memories. I know that Fred Couples hit a poor drive on 13, way left into the trees and that Jim Nantz's heart dropped. I know it picked up again when Freddie eagled 15. What I DO remember was, that playing along beautifully, one or two groups ahead of the leaders, David Duval was slowly grabbing control of The Masters. After birdieing 15, Duval stood on 16 tee at 9-under par, with a three shot lead. HOLY FUCK! I was about to win 660 pounds, whatever the hell that meant. And then it didn't happen. Dave bogeyed 16 with a three-putt, parred out and could only watch as Mark O'Meara birdied 15, 17 and 18 to beat him by one. I saw that money slip through my fingers. I was gutted, my buddies were sympathetic, but deep down I was happy because I knew I'd found my guy. Whatever happened going forward the prick who had just cost me 660 pounds was going to be my favorite golfer.

When I look at the dates, it's kind of fucked up. David Duval won his first PGA Tour event a month into my college career and won his last, the 2001 British Open, two months after I graduated. In my four years at school, Duval finished 2nd in The Masters twice, third another time, and 8th. In '99 he won four times before The Masters (first golfer since Johnny Miller to do that) and shot 59 to win The Hope by a shot. He reached number 1 in the world, was on the cover of SI (evidently he was ON FIRE), challenged for almost every major title, lost a ton of weight and got in great shape and then...screwed up his back at the 2000 Open at St. Andrews and, really, was never the same player. He won 13 times on Tour in 5 seasons. In a sport where good careers last 25 years, Duval was a flash in the pan.

And yet...I love the guy. When he won at Lytham in 2001, I was watching with the Old Man at a golf course in Prince Edward Island. The night before I'd drunkenly hooked up with a slightly heavy local girl I'd met at the hotel bar after Pops had gone to bed...fuck you, I had a shitty girlfriend in college. Few professional athletes have played as well and as poorly on the world stage as Duval. Over the past 12 years as injuries and lack of confidence have destroyed his game, I've clung to tiny flashes of brilliance. I remember racing along Mulholland Drive to get home in time to see a potential playoff between Double D and Dustin Johnson at Pebble a few years back. But DJ birdied 18 to win by one. The whole thing pisses me off. Duval in his prime was maybe not quite as good as Tiger, but he could kick the shit out of Els, Mickelson and Singh...though he didn't do that for long. He won't ever get it back.

It's done. I wish he'd won that '98 Masters...