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Opinion & Analysis

Holiday Reflections: My introduction to golf

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I did not receive my introduction to golf from either of my parents. I think most of you might say your first introduction to the game came from your fathers, but my introduction came from my paternal grandfather. My father and grandfather were on good terms, but my dad never showed interest in the game until after I started playing. Oddly enough, I was the one who officially introduced my father to golf as my grandfather had done for me, and my father now plays everyday in his own retirement. I thought, since the Holiday season is upon us, that we might remember those first few swings we took with a club, and the kind wishes of those who shared their joy of the game of golf with us.

My family (parents and two siblings, both younger than me) visited my grandparents one Spring at their home in Florida. Just as Northerners do when they visit Florida with young children, the rest of my family had gone off to DisneyWorld except for me (I was “too old” for Disney, after all, being 14 whole years of age). With the two of us left, my grandfather was about to step out (and I was about to walk down to the beach to admire “the view”), when he receives a phone call. After hanging up, his mood apparently having turned sour, “Gramp” turns to me and says, “Get in the car.”

The old man (meant respectfully) was quiet on the way to “wherever we were going” and I honestly thought we were just running some errands; except that we turned in to a local golf course. In a classic Judge Smails bark he informs me that, “You are playing golf today.” The problem is that I had never played golf before in my life. I didn’t even know what the numbers on the clubs meant! I knew not to mention the obvious to him, as he already knew that. I just helped out as he took two sets of clubs from the trunk and walked to the range.

What followed next had to be the most intense crash course in golf ever delivered to a single individual. “Gramp” pulled out an 8 iron, showed me a grip, and told me not to move my hands out of that position till we were driving out of the lot. If you think I am kidding – I’m not! He even made me walk to the first tee with my hands on the club after we were done practicing. To be truthful, what we did on the range could never really be described as practice; it was more like “EPIC FAIL” with a grumpy old dude watching me. Seriously, I totally missed the ball on the first three swings and barely got out of the tee box the rest of the time. Towards the end of the lesson (which might have been a half hour or an hour, I don’t remember) I was able to at least elevate the ball in some meager approximation of a golf shot.

“Okay, that is enough,” he said. I asked him, “Gramp, don’t I need to learn how to putt?” He responded with, “Anyone can figure out how to putt, including you.” Okay…off to the tee, then!

Come to find out, my grandfather had a weekly money game going with another twosome, but his partner had come down with an illness (cancer) so he couldn’t make it that week. He told me that he was confident he alone could beat them both, but they insisted that he have a partner, ”Because they don’t want to have to admit that I beat them both by myself. They get embarrassed easily.”

Our two opponents turned out to be a gentleman about my grandfather’s age, and his son, who was about my father’s age. Despite being a well rounded, fearless, and a possibly immortal 14 year old, I was a little intimidated by the situation. I was playing against some older guys (older than me, anyway), playing golf for the first time, and I didn’t want to let down my grandfather. I thought about what he said about beating them both by himself, but that didn’t take the pressure off of potentially being embarrassed in front of “Gramp.”

Unfortunately, that was not to be, because after the first six holes I only had one hole on which I broke double digits, and I had to pick up on two others, which (at that point) was fine with me! The worst part was hitting the snack cart off the tee with the (very) cute cart girl still sitting in it.

The good part was that Milton Sr. was a golfing beast that day (or at least as I recall), having beaten the other team after seven holes on his own steam. So, as the intended 9-hole match came to a close I figured I could relax a bit. However, the group decided to play on anyway and finish out the nine. As we came to the ninth tee, the elder opposing gentleman offered a new challenge to my grandfather:

“Hey Milton, double or nothing. My kid versus yours.”

This resulted in a raised eyebrow from my grandfather. Not a sight often seen, just so you know. In hindsight, (not knowing at the time) this might have simply been an off-the-cuff reference to Caddyshack. I wasn’t aware of the movie at the time, but always get a chuckle when I watch the end of it because of this situation. Anyway, I was thinking there was no way he was going to take the bet, having already won the match and having a total hack (me) as a playing partner, but… he did:

“Okay, you’re on.” he replied.

I looked at my grandfather, knowing there was no point in arguing (like I could with my father) so, with a grimace, I approached the short par 4 teebox with 8 iron in hand and managed to keep the ball in play down the right side. My opponent, being somewhat miffed that I took the honor (I didn’t know any better) gruffly approached the tee with driver in hand, and took a monstrous swipe that duck-hooked into the water on the left. Two more angry swings yielded the same result before his fourth attempt reached the fairway.

I miraculously hacked my way up to the green in four (having been gifted consecutive “flier” lies) and took three to get down; winning the hole with a triple bogey to my opponent’s quintuple. I couldn’t believe my fortune; I shouldn’t have won that little playoff hole. I couldn’t believe my grandfather even took the bet, let alone that I won it. However, I felt an immense surge of pride at my own (meager) performance. “I can do this, golf isn’t so hard,” I was thinking. I thought also that my grandfather must be some kind of sporting sage, who somehow managed to foretell my unlikely victory over our opponent.

As we were enjoying an after-round Coke, (our opponents sitting across the room, not wanting to hear my grandfather brag about how his first-timer grandson beat them in a playoff) I asked my grandfather why he took the bet. He said, “Daniel, even a blind pig finds an acorn,” and got up to use the restroom. I knew he was proud of me, but he wasn’t going to directly brag me up either. No swelled heads in the Ross family!

While he was away, I noticed the “son” (the guy I had just beaten) get up and come towards our table, still looking angry. I am thinking, “Oh crap, he was waiting till my grandfather left to get a piece of me!” Instead he handed me a dollar bill. I said, “What is this for?” He told me that it is the winnings from the match, and to keep the change. I was speechless.

I thought my grandfather had some real money on the line with that match. Turns out that he was playing a nickel per hole! Double or nothing pulled in ninety cents, and I actually owed the dime. He walked off just as my grandfather got back. Gramp says, “Oh, there it is” and picked the dollar out of my hand and plopped it down on the table as part of the tip for the waitress and turned to walk to the car. I was thinking, “You have to be kidding!” I was feeling “all-important-and-stuff” and suddenly, that disappeared.

I know now why he didn’t tell me that the stakes were pretty low; he wanted me to try my hardest even when there wasn’t much to be gained. I think he was curious to see what I could do. I played a LOT of baseball, but not much else. There actually was something to be gained, though; an appreciation for the game of golf and the desire to keep playing, the opportunity to impress gramp, and the knowledge that I could succeed even when the odds were against me.

And my family thought they had it good when they went to Disney. God, I miss my grandfather.

Happy Holidays WRX. Remember…life is short. Say what deserves to be said while you can.

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum. 

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I am a professional musician, educator and researcher, in addition to being a golf coach for Hampden Academy in Maine. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D., in curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My past academic achievements include a Bachelor's degree (in music performance) from the University of Maine, a Master's degree (in jazz performance) from Florida State University, a second Master's degree (in education) from the University of Maine, and K-12 teacher and school administrator certifications in Maine. My current research interests include overlapping content points between music and golf, as well as studying/comparing/contrasting how people learn in both endeavors. I have worked in education for 12 years, including public school education and university instruction. I have taught in the Maine public school system, and at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Florida State University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My main area of musical endeavor is drumset performance with an emphasis in jazz, where I have performed with Chuck Winfield (of Blood Sweat and Tears), Dr. Billy Taylor (of the Kennedy Center), Yusef Lateef (jazz legend), and numerous local and regional groups in the New England area.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. JesseV

    Dec 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    What a great memory. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: How Tiger Woods used to adjust his clubs based on swing changes

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Ben Giunta, a former Nike Tour Rep and now owner of the TheTourVan.com, joins host Johnny Wunder and TXG’s Ian Fraser on this episode of The Gear Dive. Ben discusses working in-depth with Nike Athletes before the company stopped producing hard goods. He has some fantastic intel on TW and the setup of his sticks (around the 14-minute mark). They also discuss Ben’s new endeavor.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

The 2018 NCAA Men’s National Championship: By the Numbers

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For the 2018 NCAA Men’s Championship, 156 participants (30 teams of five, and six individuals) will collect at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma on May 25-30 to determine the 2018 NCAA Individual Champion and the NCAA Team champion.

There will be three days of stroke play on Friday through Sunday (54 holes). From there, 15 teams and nine individuals advance to a final day of stroke play on Monday. That will determine the eight teams who will advance to match play, and the individual 72-hole stroke play champion. Match play format on Tuesday and Wednesday will then determine the national team champion.

Who will win? Well, let’s look at the numbers from the NCAA Men’s Championships in the past 9 years (when they began playing match play as part of the national title).

Average winning score for individual stroke play

  • For 3 rounds of stroke play — 832 strokes (avg. 69.3 per golfer)
  • For 4 rounds of stroke play — 1137 strokes (avg. 71.06 per golfer)

Number of No. 1 seeds to win championship: 0

Average match play seed of eventual winner: 4.5

Where the winners have come from

  • 44 percent of winners (4 out of 9) are from the SEC: Texas AM (2009), Alabama (2013, 2014) and LSU (2015)
  • 22 percent of winners (2 out of 9) are from the Big 12: Texas (2012), Oklahoma (2017)
  • 22 percent of winners (2 out of 9) are from Augusta, GA: August State (2010, 2011)
  • 11 percent of winners (1 out of 9) are from the PAC 12: Oregon (2016)
  • 11 percent of the match play field has historically come from mid-major teams

Mid-Majors that have Qualified for Match Play

  • August State (2010, 2011)
  • Kent State (2012)
  • San Diego State (2012)
  • New Mexico University (2013)
  • SMU (2014)
  • UNLV (2017)

Mid Majors with 4+ Appearances in the NCAA National Championship 

  • UCF (2009, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018)
  • Kent State (2010, 201, 2013, 2017, 2018)
  • North Florida (2010, 2012, 2013, 2018)

So with facts in hand, let’s hear your opinion GolfWRX readers… who’s going to be your team champion for 2018?

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Fantasy Preview: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational

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Under a new name, but a very familiar setting, the Fort Worth Championship gets underway this week. Colonial Country Club will host, and it’s an event that has attracted some big names to compete in the final stop of the Texas swing. The top two ranked Europeans, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose are in the field, as are Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

Colonial is a tricky course with narrow tree-lined fairways that are imperative to hit. Distance off the tee holds no real advantage this week with approach play being pivotal. Approach shots will be made more difficult this week than usual by the greens at Colonial, which are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. Last year, Kevin Kisner held off Spieth, Rahm, and O’Hair to post 10-under par and take the title by a one-stroke margin.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1
  • Jon Rahm 14/1
  • Justin Rose 18/1
  • Webb Simpson 18/1
  • Rickie Fowler 20/1
  • Jimmy Walker 28/1
  • Adam Scott 28/1

Last week, Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,700) went off at the Byron Nelson as the prohibitive 5/1 favorite. Every man and his dog seemed to be on him, and after Spieth spoke to the media about how he felt he had a distinct advantage at a course where he is a member, it was really no surprise. Comments like this from Spieth at the Byron Nelson are not new. When the event was held at TPC Four Seasons, Spieth often made similar comments. The result? He flopped, just as he did last week at Trinity Forest. Spieth’s best finish at the Byron Nelson in his career is T-16. The reason for this, I believe, is the expectations he has put on himself at this event for years.

Switch to Colonial, and the difference is considerable. Spieth’s worst finish here is T-14. In his last three visits, he has finished second, first and second. While Spieth may believe that he should win the Byron Nelson whenever he tees it up there, the evidence suggests that his love affair is with Colonial. The statistic that truly emphasizes his prowess at Colonial, though, is his Strokes Gained-Total at the course. Since 2013, Spieth has a ridiculous Strokes Gained-Total of more than +55 on the course, almost double that of Kisner in second place.

Spieth’s long game all year has been consistently good. Over his previous 24 rounds, he ranks first in this field for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Ball Striking, and first for Strokes Gained-Total. On the other hand, his putting is awful at the moment. He had yet another dreadful performance on the greens at Trinity Forest, but he was also putting nowhere near his best coming into Colonial last year. In 2017, he had dropped strokes on the greens in his previous two events, missing the cut on both occasions, yet he finished seventh in Strokes Gained-Putting at Colonial on his way to a runner-up finish. His record is too good at this course for Spieth to be 9/1, and he can ignite his 2018 season in his home state this week.

Emiliano Grillo’s (50/1, DK Price $8,600) only missed cut in 2018 came at the team event in New Orleans, and he arrives this week at a course ideally suited to the Argentine’s game. Grillo performed well here in 2017, recording a top-25 finish. His form in 2018 leads me to believe he can improve on that this year.

As a second-shot golf course, Colonial sets up beautifully for the strengths of Grillo’s game. Over his previous 12 rounds, Grillo ranks first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, second in Ball Striking, third in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and eighth in Strokes Gained-Total. The Argentine also plays short golf courses excellently. Over his last 50 rounds, Grillo is ranked ninth for Strokes Gained-Total on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Colonial is right on that number, and Grillo looks undervalued to continue his consistent season on a course that suits him very well.

Another man enjoying a consistent 2018 is Adam Hadwin (66/1, DK Price $7,600), who has yet to miss a cut this season. The Canadian is enjoying an excellent run of form with five top-25 finishes from his last six stroke-play events. Hadwin is another man whose game is tailor made for Colonial. His accurate iron play and solid putting is a recipe for success here, and he has proven that by making the cut in all three of his starts at Colonial, finishing in the top-25 twice.

Hadwin is coming off his worst performance of 2018 at The Players Championship, but it was an anomaly you can chalk up to a rare poor week around the greens (he was seventh-to-last in Strokes Gained-Around the Green for the week). In his previous seven starts, Hadwin had a positive strokes gained total in this category each time. Over his last 24 rounds, Hadwin ranks seventh in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 15th in Ball Striking, and ninth in Strokes Gained-Putting. He looks to have an excellent opportunity to improve on his solid record at Colonial this week.

Finally, as far as outsiders go, I like the look of Sean O’Hair (175/1, DK Price $7,100) at what is a juicy price. One of last year’s runners-up, his number is far too big this week. He has had some excellent performances so far in 2018. In fact, in his previous six starts, O’Hair has made five cuts and has notched three top-15 finishes, including his runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open. The Texan has made three of his last four cuts at Colonial, and he looks to be an excellent pick on DraftKings at a low price.

Recommended Plays

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,700
  • Emiliano Grillo 50/1, DK Price $8.600
  • Adam Hadwin 66/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Sean O’Hair 175/1, DK Price  $7,100
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