Last night, for no
particular reason, my mind began to wander back to early August and the days
after I had returned home to recover from hip replacement surgery. Ugh.
Even with all the narcotic
painkillers, I was dopey and uncomfortable, unable to think straight.It took me 10 minutes to get up and down
the stairs, and once I got to the top or the bottom, I needed a walker get
across the room.
I was constantly worried
about falling, which would have been disastrous, potentially ripping out all
the metal staples that sutured my hip.Taking a shower was an
ordeal.Talking a walk outside was
out of the question.I was
homebound, limited to spending my days moving (slowly) from a dining room chair
to the couch.I felt like crap and
looked like crap.
Two or three times a week, a
nurse came to my house to draw blood and a rehab lady would check on me,
too.They were kind enough not to
comment on how exactly disheveled I looked.
One day, as I waited for the
nurse to arrive to draw blood, I turned on the TV and began flipping around the
channels.Wouldn’t you know, I
stumbled across an encore presentation of an episode of Inside Golf on Comcast SportsNet, where I am a frequent member of the guest panel on
the show’s weekly segment called "Teed Off."
In a bit of remarkable
timing, just as that week’s Teed Off segment began, my doorbell rang.It was the nurse.I hobbled to the front door, then
ushered her into the den.In an
even more unlikely bit of timing, as the nurse and I stood there, whose mug
should fill the big-screen, high-def TV but my very
"Look, I’m on TV," I said to
She looked at the TV, then
at a me.The me on TV was smiling
and neatly turned out, happily gabbing about golf. (The show had been taped a
few weeks earlier, after all.)The
me standing in front of her was pathetic, whimpering mess, unshaven, hair
sticking in her every direction, in cruddy gym shorts and a tee shirt.
"Hmmm," said the nurse,
which I took to mean, "Seriously, that’s the same person?"She looked skeptical and, frankly, maybe
a little creeped out.
"Should I know you?" she
"Do you play golf?" I
asked.She didn’t."Then no," I said.
Without another word, and
with my image still flickering on the TV screen, we both assumed our usual
positions for the bloodletting.
hear so much about the woes of golf – rounds are flat, many courses and
clubs are fighting for their lives – that it’s easy to forget that our
game has fared better than most.Many
recreational sports and activities are hurting worse.Tennis, camping, hiking, canoeing,
biking – they’ve all got their own battles.
is a big story in today’s (1/20/13) Travel Section of the New York Times that
says snowboarding is in steep decline.Just a few years ago, snowboarding was hip and growing, seemingly
destined to overtake skiing.It
hasn’t happened.The momentum has
shifted, reversed even.Skiing is
back; snowboarding is looking more and more like a fad that could fizzle.
put," says the Times story, "it’s cool to be on two planks again."
while facing its share of troubles, has been around for 400 years and is no
passing fad.Golf has a
history, tradition, devoted following and, dare I say, future that is the envy
of just about every sporting endeavor there is, with the possible exception of
the NFL.Of course, it remains to
be seen whether the NFL will be around in 400 years, especially now that we
know that brain damage is on the table when it comes to football.The only brain damage golf has ever
caused is from humiliation, self-loathing and torment.
golf as an industry always has and always will ebb and flow, golf as a game and
best possible way to spend four hours outdoors will enjoy an audience for another
One of the problems with golf is that it takes more than 4 hours to play on a weekend overcrowded public course. Add in travel time to and from and itís a burden on families with young children who are playing soccer, baseball, etc. Factor in the difficulty of the game and itís easy to see why the game is losing ground among young marrieds.
This has nothing to do with
golf, but when I saw today that the original "Dear Abby," Pauline
Phillips, had died at the age of 94, I had to smile.Not because she died, but because I
couldn’t help but think back to our time together.
Long, long ago, in a faraway
galaxy – specifically, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, circa 1980-- before I took to writing about golf
to put Cheerios on the table, I wrote about TV and movie stars and famous
writers and celebrities of all sorts.I interviewed hundreds of them.
I’d come up with three or
four story ideas, pitch them to my editors, then hop a flight to Hollywood or
New York for a few days of leg work and interviews.On one of those trips to Los Angeles, I
did a profile of "Dear Abby," then very much at the top of her game.Syndicated in more than 1,000
newspapers, with millions of devoted readers, Abby was quite influential and
served as a sort of moral compass for the nation, in some ways.
We had corresponded in
letters – yes, it was so long ago people wrote letters – but I had
never met her or spoken to her when she came to pick me up at my hotel, the
Century Plaza in Beverly Hills.At
the appointed hour, I stood outside the hotel, watching as Mercedes, Bentleys
and limos rolled up to the front door, picking up and dropping off.
Eventually, a long, black
limo stopped in front of me and the back window went down. "Joe?" said a female
voice from inside the car."Are you
"Yes," I said, lowering my
head to look into the backseat.
There, in the dim glow of
the backseat, swathed in a luxurious mink coat, sat the tiniest little woman I
had ever seen."Dear Abby"
couldn’t have been 5-feet tall standing on an apple crate.Her lips were bright red, her dark hair
coiffed to perfection.She was
definitely dolled up for our "date."
I climbed into the backseat,
and off we went to some very small, very swanky French restaurant in Beverly
Hills.It was an evening I will
For one thing, Dear Abby
wouldn’t let me use a tape recorder.The reason, I was left to conclude, was because she had a slight speech
impediment, a sort of lisp, that she was sensitive about.No tape recorder meant that all dinner
long, I would have to scribble notes as fast and furiously as I could.
The other thing is, like
many celebrities, Dear Abby was demur and didn’t want to talk too much about
herself – until you got her going.Which I did.Then she talked
and talked and talked – about her early life growing up in the Midwest,
about her life as a rich, powerful columnist married to a millionaire
businessman and, of course, about her millions of readers.
At one point, I had written
so many notes in my notebook, Dear Abby took pity on me and stopped talking so
I could catch my breath.She took
my cramped hand and massaged it until I was ready for Round 2.
After dinner, we hopped back
into the limo for the drive over to her home, which was not on the poor side of
town.She showed me her office,
where she, not some assistant, actually tapped out responses to readers on an
IBM Selectric typewriter.I remember wondering how a woman who
lived a life of such privilege, and who was so far removed from the troubles
and concerns of ordinary folks, could possibly dispense such sound advice.But more often than not, Dear Abby did
just that, offering 40 years of smart, sensible, sensitive replies.
Somewhere, in a box in my
basement, I still have a handful of letters from Dear Abby.I might go try to find them now.
Here it is 10 days into 2013
and I am still fooling around writing a blog about the coming year.So far, I’ve got nothing – but not
for lacking of trying.
I’ve made two or three false
starts.I’ve begun typing furiously
and with the best of intentions about what I’d like to see happen in golf in
2013.I’ve also taken a run at my
Top 10 predictions for the year.
Of course, no way I could
have predicted the first tournament of the year, in the paradise of Maui, would
get rained out and blown out for four straight days.More of my navel-gazing has been devoted
to thinking about what Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy
I’ve made lists, jotted down
witty observations and dark forecasts.And each time, afterward, I read over the blog, then hit the "spike"
key.That’s because I eventually
realized none of that stuff mattered to me this year – not like it used
If Tiger finally ends his
majors draught and wins No. 15, good for him. But whatever happens with Tiger
won’t keep me up nights.Ditto for
Phil, who seems to be at a stage in his career where he’s looking for fresh
challenges.Rory is good,
obviously, the best there is, but nothing he says or does moves my
"Excite-o-meter" very much.
What I’ve come to realize is
that for me, all that really matters in golf during 2013 are (1) the U.S. Open
at Merion and (2) my own enjoyment of the game – not necessarily in that
Who among us doesn’t want
the Open at Merion to be a huge success for Philadelphia,for Merion and for old classic golf
courses everywhere?I can’t wait.I think it will be the most memorable
Open in years.
But personally, I’m ever
more pumped about my own golf game.I want to play more this year, I want to enjoy it more and I want to get
back to golf courses I haven’t played in years, maybe ever.I want to take a
good golf trip this year.I want to
his fewer stupid shots, fewer putts that don’t even sniff the hole.I want to play rounds with friends
during which we never write down a score on a hole.
That’s another thing: I’ve
reached a point in my golfing life – perhaps inevitable with age and
perspective – when I care less and less about my score, or my
handicap.When I play a crappy
round, I don’t beat myself up like I used to.Because, let’s face it, what’s the point?
I’ve got a couple of young
friends I like to play with because they blow the ball 50 yards past me.It’s fun watching them go all Dustin
Johnson.But I also enjoy playing
with a couple of older buddies who are constantly waving me to move up to the
forward tees with them, where the golf course is so much kinder and
gentler.For a while there, I felt
guilty moving up; not any more.With age come certain entitlements, and I’ve earned them.
I’ll tell you something
else, nothing has made me appreciate good health and an active life like the
hip replacement surgery I had last summer.I hated being sidelined for three months during pre- and post-surgery.I hated missing the lazy late summer
afternoons on the golf course, sneaking in a quick nine holes before the sun
Every measure of success I
have for the coming year of golf wouldn’t have meant diddly-squat
to me a few years ago.Now they mean
Happy golfing in 2013.I hope you’ve got goals of your own.
liking this Tom Watson pick as Ryder Cup captain.
True, it’s a surprise and a
major departure from the tried and true (some would say tired) formula the PGA of America has used in the past to
pick captains.Up til now, the criteria was: a former Ryder Cup team member and major winner (preferably a PGA Championship), between the ages of
46-50, so that they were still reasonably connected to the guys most likely to
make the team.
Using that formula, all
indicators pointed toward David Toms.In some corners, there was also hope
that Larry Nelson, 65, who’d already
been passed over twice, might get the nod.
After this morning’s press
conference, we now know that neither Toms
nor Nelson ever had a shot.The new PGA of America president, Ted
Bishop, revealed that he had pretty much settled on Watson 14 months ago, even before the U.S. team took a Sunday
nosedive at Medinah earlier this year.All Bishop
had to do was sell the idea to the rest of the board, which was probably ready for
some kind of dramatic change in strategy.
The big losers, obviously,
are Toms, who did nothing wrong,
other than fail to inspire the confidence of the PGA America, and Nelson,
who conceded he was disappointed.
Let’s be honest: is either Toms or Nelson, both nice guys and fine players, the kind of
warrior-general the U.S. team needs to lead them to Scotland in 2014 to reclaim
the Cup and salvage some dignity
after the ass-whupping in Chicago?Frankly, I’ll take Watson.
The more I think about the proposal by the USGA
and the R&A to ban anchoring the putter, the more it occurs to me that
there are other issues confronting the game that need to be addressed first.
Therefore, here is my list of 10 proposed rules
If a player lies 8 and still has not reached the green, the player
shall be deemed to be "done" for that hole.Player should pick up his ball and move
Any player(s) who thinks he looks stylish or golf-y in argyle
socks, vests and hats shall be escorted from the course and banned from the
game until further notice.
If at any time during a round, a player(s) hits the 5½-hour
mark, the round is deemed to be over.Player(s) shall immediately return to the clubhouse and have a drink. Or
two.Player(s) have done enough
damage for one day.
If a player is deemed to be to blame for reaching the
aforementioned 5½-hour mark, player shall toss his bag and clubs in the
dumpster behind the clubhouse on his way out.
If a player is addressed in what he deems to be a smug and
condescending manner by a surly young assistant in the pro shop who is
attempting to charge more than $60 in green fees at a mediocre course, the
player is permitted reach across the counter and slap the assistant.
If while admiring a logoed shirt in the pro shop a player discovers
that the shirt retails for $125 or more, the player is permitted to hock a loogie onto the front of the shirt and discreetly return it
to the display table.
If a player has plunked down hard-earned cash for a round only to
discover that the pro shop has failed to inform him that the greens and/or
fairways were aerated the day before, the player is permitted to fail to inform
the pro shop that he has left a massive, coiled floater in the toilet in the
men’s locker room.
A player who has reached the age of 55 is permitted to invoke
"Senior Privilege" three times during any round, entitling him to move up one
set of tee markers (two if he feels like it) at any time, at no penalty and
without explanation or apology.
In match play, if Player A fails to concede a short putt to Player
B that everybody knows Player B will miss, and if Player A is doing so only to
demoralize and humiliate Player B, Player A shall be deemed "A prick."Any player who accumulates three "Pricks"
during a match shall be deemed an "Unmitigated Smacked Ass."
Snapper soup in the grill room shall be mandatory.
As the snow falls outside my
office window, it’s hard to believe that 24 hours ago I was playing golf
– not in Florida or Scottsdale or North Carolina, but in Philadelphia.
South Jersey, actually, since
the course I played was RiverWinds GC in West
Deptford, with its string of scenic holes running along the banks of the Delaware
To me, yesterday’s round was
"bonus golf."When you live this
far north, any round of golf after Thanksgiving qualifies as bonus golf, as far
as I’m concerned.Like most years,
I haven’t officially lugged my clubs down to the basement for the long winter’s
rest.But I have taken them out of
the trunk and leaned them against the wall at the top of the steps to the
That’s where they were
Sunday when I got all from Ed Shearon, who designed RiverWinds, Raven’s Claw and The Vineyard at the
Shore.Monday was going to be a
nice day, with the high hitting 50 degrees, and he knew (a) I’m a sucker for a
last-minute round and (b) I have a flexible schedule.Ed also wanted me to see how much
conditions have improved at RiverWinds.
He was right – RiverWinds is vastly improved since Ron Jaworski
bought the course.The fairways
were lush and green and the greens showed none of the splotches and ball mark nicks
I remembered from my last visit.
I’ve got my heart set on at
least three or four more bonus rounds in December, before winter fully sets
in.I don’t care how goofy I look
– two, three four layers , a knitted cap, hand warmers – so long as
I can get the club around.
The best part about bonus
rounds of golf is you feel like you’re stealing.The chilly air is also invigorating, not
to mention the snifter of Jameson whiskey afterward.It’s just good to be outdoors.
Several years ago, we had a
run of three or four years when it was warm enough to playon New Year’s Eve.I remember because I did.That was the ultimate bonus golf.