Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tav on the Ave, Blakeslee Field, and The Albatross...

We've been around the state of Minnesota a time or two in our day. We've lived in towns and cities big and small, but Mankato will always hold a place in our hearts because of the three things mentioned in the headline above.

And, it holds a special place because of Vikings training camp. We will never forget working the sidelines of training camp for KMSU back in 1995, rubbing shoulders with Michelle Tafoya, Randy Shaver, and some guy from the Mankato Free Press. We almost got run over by Korey Stringer as he lumbered his way toward the weight room and we were yelled at constantly for standing too close to the field. My tape recorder didn't have a tape in it, because we weren't going to play any sound from training camp on a public radio station, but I carried that thing with me everywhere. That recorder and my "press pass" was just as good as the stuff carried by the big boys in Minneapolis and I didn't have to worry about anything other than watching Denny Green in his super tight gym shorts and tucked-in Vikings polo shirt. Ah...the good old days.

Camp opens today and it couldn't come at a better time. Sure, we don't want summer to be over, but we also don't want to have to pin our sports hopes on a Twins team that won't deal for another hitter so...let's play some football.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's like having an east coast bias, but kind of different.

Josh Hamilton hits the baseball pretty well. The folks at ESPN were rooting for him to win the homerun derby last night. He didn't. Justin Morneau did. Nobody pays attention to this thing -- and they probably shouldn't. But the network pretty much ignored Morneau the entire evening while Hamilton was the subject of discussion for nearly three hours. If Brett Favre played baseball, he would be Josh Hamilton.

I can't imagine what will happen if Hamilton ends up playing for a New York team when he is a free agent in three years. ESPN might start an entire channel just for him. It is a nice story, he overcame a drug addiction and we are happy for him. But let's not make him out to be something he isn't. He's not a hero, he's a ball player who snorted $4 million worth of coke, messed up a huge opportunity, and then found a way to come back and make it right. Good for him.

Want to know how little respect Justin Morneau got last night? The Major League Baseball VP who presented him the trophy after the event called him Jason Morneau. Sounds about right.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How about a homerun hitting third baseman, is that something you might be interested in?

Back in 2004, we were spending a lot of our time in Las Vegas and Adrian Beltre was hitting homeruns like Nick Punto hits lazy pop flies to the shortstop. Now it is 2008. We haven’t been to Vegas in years, Punto is still popping out weakly (and daily) to short, and Adrian Beltre can’t allegedly take steroids anymore, so he’s not hitting homeruns at such a torrid clip. But, he’s still hitting homeruns. And, compared to the rest of the Twins regulars, he’s hitting homeruns like it is still the steroid era, banging out 26 last year and 25 in 2006.

The Twins might end up with Beltre playing third base sooner than you think. According to the Star Tribune, the Twins contacted the Mariners to see if Beltre is available. The Mariners said “of course” and now it looks like the Twins might make a deal for the decent hitting, great fielding third baseman.

We could use him on this team. We most definitely need help against left-handed pitchers and more power is always a good thing. So he doesn't hit for average and he strikes out a lot, big deal. We need more power. Get this deal done over the break. Please.

BREAKING NEWS: We were wrong about this one.

Last year Justin Morneau participated in the home run derby at the All-Star game. Here’s what we wrote last July:

“Don’t believe the baloney you hear about the home run hitting contest ruining a player’s swing and turning him into an upper-cut hitter who strikes out more than he makes contact.. “

Um…he only hit 7 homeruns after the all-star break last year, so we were probably wrong about this. Still, since he is going to be in the thing again this year, we might as well watch it.

It will be nice to watch ESPN for three hours and not have to hear about Brett Favre. Plus, watching ESPN for more than an hour will mean we get to see the “BRIAN DEEGAN” commercials 650 times – and that’s a good thing. Listen closely to the voice; doesn’t that dude all dressed in black and wearing the Darth Vader helmet sound a lot like Bill Murray’s brother, the guy from Groundhog Day?

We don't know who Brian Deegan is, but we have been saying his name pretty much non-stop for the last five days.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Not quite ready for prime time.

Playing in the Nature Valley Amateur Tournament wasn’t my idea. Well, it was my idea at first in a “there’s no way I would ever have the guts to actually do this, but it would be cool to try it” kind of way. Once I started talking about it, the gal worked hard at convincing me to play.

And, she was right – it was good for me to play in the tournament, to get out of my comfort zone and to challenge myself. I mean, at what other point in my life would I have a chance to play a championship golf course set up for a real event on the Senior PGA circuit? Long rough, Sunday pin placements, and fairways that never open up beyond 85 yards sounds great on paper, but how much fun would it be to actually play that kind of course? was fun…but it was stressful. Here’s a quick look at what happened to me when I played in my first real golf tournament in more than 20 years.

When I was a kid, I played in junior league golf tournaments every summer at the Koronis Hills Golf Club. I even won a couple of them. But other than some matches against friends and of course the battle for the Spaulding Trophy over the years, I hadn’t played true competitive golf in a long time. How was I going to react?

Warming up/getting loose.
I arrived at the TPC Twin Cities about 90 minutes before my 10:10 tee time. I wanted to hit balls and work on my putting/chipping since the greens at TPC would be two or three times faster than anything I have played this year. I checked in and a club house attendant threw my clubs on the cart. No use wasting any time, so I was off to the driving range to see if I could hit the ball while my hands were shaking from the nerves.

The warm-up went well. I was relieved to see that some of the guys on the range were duck-hooking their drivers and sculling their irons. Maybe I wasn’t the only nervous one out here today. I hit a bunch of balls and felt good about my swing. After practicing my putting stroke for a half hour and even working out of the sand trap for a few minutes, it was time to tee it up.

HOLE 1 -- 370 Par 4
I was paired with two other golfers and our threesome was the final group of the day. One of the guys (the eventual winner of my flight) was a member of the TPC and he told me that his “normal” handicap was about a 10, but he wasn’t playing well this season and it ballooned to a 16. The other guy was a 22 handicap and I am a 15. We seemed pretty evenly matched before we started, but it was clear that the guy with the "bloated" handicap was clearly better than a 16 and I would have guessed he was an 8 or so if he hadn’t told me differently.

Anyway…the first hole went well for me. Great drive, right down the middle, fantastic approach within four feet and one putt for birdie – this was going to be easy!

HOLE 2 -- 350 yard Par 4
Okay…not so easy. I hit three-wood off the tee because of the narrow fairway, and I pushed my drive into the water on the right. After taking a penalty stroke and dropping at the point of entry, I hit another ball into the water on my approach. Another stroke, another drop. I hit short of the green twice and finally got on the green in 7 – and then two-putted for a 9. Ouch. A birdie on the first hole and a 9 on the second hole! I am FUMING at this point and I can’t believe I actually put two balls in the water. Oh well…put it behind you and move on. Little did I know, things were going to get much worse.

HOLE 3 -- 501 yard Par 5
I am admittedly frustrated right now, but feel fine as I tee up for my drive. BOOM…out of bounds on the right side. Tee up my second drive and BOOM… out of bounds again to the right. This time I hit a house. Now I am screwed. I am beyond angry and am pretty close to withdrawing from the tournament. BOOM…my third attempt at hitting driver goes into the water on the left side. I actually said the words “Thank God I can drop from up there” and did just that instead of hitting another sideways drive off the tee. I finish the hole okay but end up making a 12. I was ready to quit after three holes. I was searching for the beer girl but she wasn't around. Probably for the best.

HOLE 4 – 138 yard Par 3
Finally some relief. I put my drive on the green and two-putt for a three. I have a par, a birdie, a 12, and a 9 through the first four holes. Golf is a crazy game.

HOLE 5 – 360 yard Par 4
I pulled out the driver again here. I wasn’t going to let the third hole kill my confidence, I can hit that driver, it was just one bad hole. I was right, at least this time – I made par here and was feeling pretty good about things and thought I could still break 50 on the front if I played well over the next 4 holes.

HOLE 6 -- 527 yard Par 5
Ugh. Another tee shot out of bounds. I reload the driver and actually hit it well, but the next shot goes into the water on the left. I finally finish out the hole with another…gulp…9. So to recap I have a birdie, two pars, two 9’s and a 12. If I don’t start playing better, I might seriously end up shooting in the 120’s today. My goal coming in was to break 100 and now I am seriously questioning whether or not I will finish the round.

HOLE 7 – 276 yard Par 4
I hit three-wood off the tee on this short par 4 and I ended up placing it right down the middle. The approach was great and I two-putted for a par. My total score for the front nine right now is 44. If I par out, I can shoot a 51 and all things considered, that wouldn’t be terrible.

HOLE 8 – 156 yard Par 3
A nice simple par 3, but the pin is all the way on the back, left side of the two-tiered green. You need to clear four sand traps and land the ball on a sloped green. I didn’t do that. I crushed a 7-iron, but the wind was blowing at this point and the ball came back off the front side of the green and started rolling toward the bunkers. Please don’t go in the sand. Please don’t go in the sand. Please don’t go in the sand. It didn’t. I got lucky and the ball stayed up in the rough in between two of the biggest, deepest bunkers I have ever seen. It would have taken me at least three shots to get out of there. I chip on and two-putt for the most wonderful bogey I have had in a long time.

HOLE 9 – 417 yard Par 4
Okay, I can’t shoot a 51 on the back, but if I par this hole I can shoot a 52. Had you told me this right after #6 I never would have believed it. I drilled my drive and hit the green on the approach. I missed what was a pretty simple putt for birdie, but tapped in for par. Whew. So…4 balls in the water, 3 out of bounds equaled one birdie, one bogey, 4 pars, 2 nines and a twelve on the front for a total of 52. The back should go better, right?

HOLE 10 – 321 yard Par 4
I pushed my drive into the deep rough, but it stayed in bounds! I hit my approach into another one of those giant sand traps and this time it did take me two strokes to get out of it. I limped in with a 7 to start the back nine. My goal is to break 50 on the back, but I would still love to break 100 overall. That means I need to shoot a 47 or better. Doable, but not probable.

HOLE 11 – 345 yard Par 4
I am still feeling confident in my driver even though I probably shouldn’t be at this point. I hit by far my best tee shot of the day here at 11, carrying over the right-side fairway bunker (261 on the yardage book to clear it) and end up placing my approach two feet away from the hole. A nice birdie to help make up for the 7 on number 10. Okay…things might be on track now.

HOLE 12 – 542 yard Par 5
I won’t lie, I am nervous about this par 5. I took a 12 and a 9 on the par 5’s on the front and this hole looks even more menacing than those two did. I choose to play it safe off the tee and hit 3-wood right down the middle. I was going to be okay with taking four shots to get to the green, but I end up being on in regulation and two-putt for par. I am on pace to shoot a 45 right now. Don’t think about it; just keep the ball in play!

HOLE 13 – 170 yard Par 3
I thought I had seen the deepest and largest bunkers back on the front 9, but the bunker here at 13 makes those tiny things look like a sandbox. I missed the green on my drive – I hit it as far away from the bunkers as I could while still hoping I could get up and down. I didn’t. But, I did make 4 and I will take it.

HOLE 14 – 377 yard Par 4
I am an idiot. I tried to blast my driver over the water here and really should have hit 3-wood off the tee. I end up in the water on my first try, put the driver away, and place my next drive – with a 3-wood -- in the fairway the way I should have in the first place. I make 7 here after struggling with my putter. Still…this hole easily could have been worse.

HOLE 15 – 390 yard Par 4
A relatively short par 4 should have meant 3-wood off the tee again, but I pulled out the driver and hit it well. I miss on the approach, chip on in three and two-putt again for 5. My putter is absolutely saving me on the back even though I three-putted on 14.

HOLE 16 – 337 yard Par 4
The wind is really blowing at this point and this hole looks a lot longer than 337 playing into the wind. Against my better judgment, I hit driver off the tee because I really want to get to the green in two. I placed the drive okay, hitting it in the short rough on the right side – the drive only went about 210 yards. I pushed the approach shot into the water on the right…again…and end up making 7 here. For those scoring at home, that’s 5 (6?) balls in the water and three out of bounds on the day. Not good times, bad times. But still, I only have two holes to play. If I par out, I shoot a 98 for the round. That’s respectable for a guy like me. Sure, I would have loved to break 90 and if I would have kept the ball in play, I could have, but that’s golf. You have to keep it in play. Anyway… on to 17.

HOLE 17 – 149 yard Par 3
Another hole that just looks longer than it is. The wind is really howling now. I normally hit my 8-iron 150 yards, but I hit a six iron here because of the wind. I stayed short of the bunkers on the back side of the green (barely) and chipped it within 2 feet. I tapped in for par and now all I have to do is make 6 on number 18 to break 100. I can do this.

HOLE 18 – 489 yard Par 5
Oh boy. Another par 5 with lots and lots of water. I am more nervous now than I was on the first hole. I hit driver here because it’s incredibly windy and I really can’t reach the water or the out of bounds off the tee. I hit it well and put myself in good position to play it safe and get to the green in three. My next shot is not good. I hit my 4-iron way left into the super-long, let’s grow it out for the PGA event, rough. I have no chance of placing the ball on the green from here, even though I am only 100 yards out. I crush a 5 iron and hit the ball no more than 20 yards. So…I need to get on here and two putt for a 6. I decide to not go at the pin, which is surrounded by water on the front and bunkers to the back and left. I hit the big part of the green and leave myself a 50-foot putt for par. I won’t be making this putt, but I need to get it close. And…I did. Sort of. I left myself about 7 feet short of the hole. All things considered, this next putt was as big or bigger than any other I have hit in awhile. I nailed it for a six – total score on the round = 99.

I ended up placing 3rd in my flight and had a better net score than some of the single digit handicappers. Not too shabby. After all those balls in the water and out of bounds, after having to go back and hit shots instead of dropping where I went out of play, I am absolutely thrilled with breaking 100 at the TPC.

And, while I know for a fact I could score better out there if I could play it again, I am happy with how things went. Playing tournament golf is tough and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. Now that I know I can, I am looking forward to trying it again someday.

Hopefully someday soon.