NFL Picks, Plays, and Daily Fantasy: Sept. 20, 2020 (Week Two)

Last week was a pretty big one for me against the spread. I got off to a 4-0 start to the season, no thanks to Stephen Gostkowski, who blew several kicks against the Broncos before putting the game-winner through the uprights.

Week two is now upon us, and in several of these games, I’m going against one of my bigger gambling axioms. I usually don’t like betting teams from the west in games that begin at 1 pm Eastern time. While 10 am Pacific time is a good starting time for games for viewers, it’s often not the case for players, as those teams can often come out sluggish. Still, there are a few games where the spreads are too appetizing to pass up.

As usual, spreads are courtesy of America’s Line. I’m switching it up for daily fantasy, though, and moving to DraftKings. Why? Well, I made some money there in week one after being given $10 in their season-opening promotion, so it makes sense to churn there.

Enough small talk; let’s get down to it!

PICKS/PLAYS

49ers -7 over Jets

Yeah, there’s no sugar-coating this one: The Jets are rotten. Their offense looked positively inept in a season-opening loss to the Bills, and their defense looked outgunned by an offense that’s far from bad, but isn’t a top-tier unit. Add in that San Francisco will likely be playing angry after blowing a lead against Arizona, and I can’t go anywhere else.

If you’re a Jets fan, the one saving grace is that San Francisco will likely lean on the running game heavily, which will keep the total points down. I contemplated playing the under for that reason, but the total drifted down a few points late in the week, so I’m staying away from that. Still, the 49ers should roll here.

Rams +1.5 over Eagles

In my weekly spot on Gino Buccola’s podcast, Darin Zoccali asked me where I’d go in a survivor pool this week. I probably should’ve said San Francisco, but I went with the Rams against the Eagles. Even with the home-field advantage, I’m stunned the Eagles are favored in this spot.

Philadelphia’s offensive line was manhandled by Washington last week. Carson Wentz had very little time to throw, and I can’t see those circumstances getting better with Aaron Donald lining up on the other side on Sunday. Add in that the Rams went on the road to defeat a talented Dallas team last week, and my confidence gets even higher.

I’d consider a money-line play here as well, and I’d likely back the Rams if they were giving this spread instead of getting it. Until the Eagles have something resembling a healthy offensive line, I can’t endorse them against a talented defense.

Carolina/Tampa Bay: OVER 47.5

I liked Carolina’s offense and detested Carolina’s defense even before last week’s shootout against Las Vegas, which soared over the total. This week, they face off with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, who lost a shootout in New Orleans but return home here.

This may not be the most fun game to watch. Tampa Bay is favored by 8.5 points, and that’s a legitimate spread. Still, 31-17 puts a game over the total, and I think this game could be a shootout. Perhaps Tampa Bay’s defense is better than they showed in the opener, but I doubt the same can be said for Carolina. I think at least one side has no trouble putting up points, so this is a fairly easy call for me.

Chiefs -8.5 over Chargers

There’s a sizable gap in confidence between my first three picks and this one, which closes out my action for the weekend. I would’ve loved Kansas City giving 5.5, as they were to start the week, but the number has moved up considerably, and for good reason.

The Chargers survived a season opener with Cincinnati. Joe Burrow did everything he could despite his offensive line being horribly overmatched, only to see Randy Bullock push a potential game-tying field goal. LA’s offense, meanwhile, didn’t exactly set the world on fire behind new quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and I just can’t see how they’ll keep up with the high-flying Chiefs in this one.

Kansas City just seems to have too many weapons, even for a competent defense like the Chargers have. I don’t think this is a blowout, but it seems like a game the reigning Super Bowl champions win by two touchdowns or so.

DAILY FANTASY PLAYERS TO WATCH

QB Dak Prescott, DAL ($6,800)
WR Amari Cooper, DAL ($6,300)
WR Michael Gallup, DAL ($5,600)

I love when I can lump multiple players into one entry for the same reason. In this case, that reason is simple: The Falcons defense showed in week one that they still have significant issues.

I want as many Cowboys as I can afford this week, and the above three are all reasonably-priced. If you want to put Ezekiel Elliot in here as well, you can do that, but he doesn’t come cheap ($8,200). My guess is the Cowboys are in line to put up a lot of points this week, so I’m maximizing my chances at a big total if they see fit to throw the ball up and down the field at will.

RB J.K. Dobbins, BAL ($5,100)

Dobbins found the end zone twice in his NFL debut and certainly seems to have earned a role in Baltimore’s backfield. This week, the Ravens get the Texans, and this hits me as another game where a lot of points will be scored.

It’s tough to have too much confidence in a running back that hasn’t shown he can catch the ball, so there’s some risk here. Still, if Dobbins is the goal-line back, he’s going to get some opportunities to punch it in.

TE Logan Thomas, WAS ($3,600)

The Washington tight end with two first names saw eight targets in week one and turned one of them into a touchdown. He’s a fascinating story as a former Virginia Tech quarterback finding professional success at a different position, and I think he draws a solid matchup against Arizona.

The Cardinals have plenty of offensive firepower, and if the Washington that fell behind 17-0 early against Philadelphia shows up, they’ll likely have to throw a lot from a very early juncture. Terry McLaurin will see plenty of targets outside, but Thomas has gotten the attention of Dwayne Haskins as well. At his price tag, he hits me as one of the biggest bargains of the week.

NFL Picks, Plays, and Daily Fantasy: Sept. 13, 2020 (Week One)

Many years ago, college-aged Andrew huddled over a keyboard while following an ESPN.com live chat with fantasy analyst Matthew Berry. As a TV/Radio major in college with a heavy emphasis on sports media production, I eagerly asked (probably more than once) what advice he would give aspiring people looking to go down this road as a career path.

Proof that this happened (Willie Garson also verified the second story).

His response: “Circle me like a vulture and wait for me to die.”

In a lot of ways, I’ve kind of done that. I went to college in central New York (Ithaca College, though, not Syracuse). I moved to California to work in television, and have kept my hands in a lot of projects over the years in an attempt to keep myself busy and “build a brand,” as the cool kids say.

Last year, I tried something new on my Twitter account. I set about picking four games a week against NFL point spreads. I posted a solid 33-23 record, good for just shy of 59%. This came while also winning my main fantasy football league (thank you, fellow GM’s in this keeper league, for allowing me to take Patrick Mahomes and Saquon Barkley in the same draft).

I thought to myself, “maybe I know a little something here.” I’ve got a website, I’ve got a bit of a following, and with the 2020 Saratoga season in the books, I’ve made like Styx, have too much (clap clap) time on my hands, and it’s ticking away at my sanity (good luck getting that out of your heads, everybody).

With that in mind, I’m going deeper into NFL football coverage this year, from both a betting and fantasy standpoint. In short, I’ll be writing more stuff, and I’ll be doing more videos. My goal with this is the same as it is with my horse racing content. I want to create content that appeals to a wide variety of fans and players, with the goal of giving that audience something they’ll enjoy and maybe even learn from.

I’ll dip my toe into the water with plays on four NFL games this weekend, plus a few players to watch if you’re diving into daily fantasy action during the first week of the season. Note that all odds, spreads, and player costs are as of Saturday afternoon, courtesy of America’s Line and Fanduel. Also, my plays go in chronological order, not in order of confidence.

If you’ve got something you want to see, or if you’re from a company and looking to work with a handicapper, I’m an easy guy to find. You can tweet me at @AndrewChampagne or use this site’s “contact” page. That’s connected to my email address, and I read everything that comes in.

Enough exposition; on with the show!

PICKS/PLAYS

Packers +3.5 over Vikings

In this case, the half-point is key. I like the Vikings as a team, even after the loss of Stefon Diggs. They’re balanced on offense, and they’ve got legitimate playmakers on defense. However, Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers, and with the Packers seeming to send a very clear message to him in the offseason, I’m banking on him playing with a chip on his shoulder.

With very little in the way of time to prepare for the season, I’m going with experience under center. The Vikings might win, but the Packers getting more than a field goal here makes them the play.

Seattle/Atlanta: OVER 49

This is one of two games that hits me as a track meet waiting to happen. Both teams have explosive offenses, and the dome setting means there won’t be any weather interference. I think Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan will both have big days, and this total just seems too low. 28-21 is a push, and I think that’s a worst-case scenario.

This is one of two games in the early window that hits me as a shootout. Give me lots of points in the Peach State, and I’ll be a happy bettor.

Las Vegas/Carolina: OVER 46.5

This is the other potential shootout, and in this case, I think the total is way too low. Both offenses have surprising firepower and motivated quarterbacks, and both defenses have major question marks. While I’m not sure how “good” these teams are, I think this might be the most entertaining game to watch on the first Sunday of the season.

Not only do I think you want the “over” here, I also think you want a few players in daily fantasy lineups, as they’ll be relative bargains. For now, though, just give me points, regardless of where they’re coming from.

Titans +3 over Broncos

This line seems wrong to me. Tennessee is coming off a season in which they found their quarterback (the revitalized Ryan Tannehill) and advanced to the AFC Championship game. Their 2020 campaign starts with a trip to Denver, where they’ll face a Broncos squad that just lost Von Miller for the year and may be without Courtland Sutton after a mid-week injury.

I love the Titans getting three points here, and I’d also consider a money-line play as well. I believe they’re better than most people think, and I’m going to keep a close eye on their point spreads in the early part of the season in hopes of a few cheap scores before lines adjust accordingly.

DAILY FANTASY PLAYERS TO WATCH

QB Teddy Bridgewater, CAR ($6,800)
WR Hunter Renfrow, LV ($5,200)

Remember what I said about how I see the Las Vegas/Carolina game? I think you want to load up on Raiders and Panthers, and not just Christian McCaffery, either.

Teddy Bridgewater will have McCaffery, DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson at his disposal this year, and Carolina’s porous defense will ensure he gets the green light to take shots downfield with surprising regularity. He’s one of the cheapest quarterbacks available this week, and buying low on Bridgewater allows you to spend elsewhere.

Renfrow, meanwhile, worked his way into a slot receiver role with the Raiders as a rookie and saw 18 targets in the last two games of the 2019 season. His figure hits me as a steal, and I think he’ll see plenty of looks against a suspect secondary.

WR Terry McLaurin, WAS ($6,500)

At this point, who else does Washington have? I think McLaurin will be peppered by targets in a game where his team could be playing from behind early. I had figured his asking price would be far greater than this number, one that could allow you to also pick up a legitimate stud (someone like Michael Thomas at $8,800) or a playmaker in a situation to do damage (perhaps Chris Godwin at $7,700).

McLaurin’s floor is high, and his ceiling is as lofty as almost anyone else at the position. He may see some double-teams, but I simply think his likely volume makes him too attractive to ignore.

RB Raheem Mostert, SF ($6,200)

San Francisco does have options at running back, but Mostert should get the lion’s share of the carries in a run-friendly offense. He flashed plenty of talent last season when rushing for nearly six yards per carry, and second-leading rusher Matt Brieda is now in Miami. Jerick McKinnon will take some of those carries, but questions remain about how healthy he is after missing the last two seasons due to injuries.

Mostert should be in line for a big year, and that starts with a friendly matchup against Arizona. I’m banking on the Niner defense giving Kyler Murray and company major problems while the offense runs the ball early and often. This is another case where a talented player has a high floor and a favorable situation, and I need to buy as much Mostert stock as I can.

Detroit DEF ($3,700)

In general, betting against Mitchell Trubisky seems like a smart strategy. The Lions have done significant work to overhaul their defense, and they’ll be at home for the 2020 opener. Will home-field advantage matter as much during the COVID-19 pandemic? We don’t know that yet, but we do know Detroit’s asking price is in the lower half of the league. That seems way too low, and I think they’ll outperform that figure.

Pebble Beach Tore My Face Off, And I Don’t Care

MONDAY, JULY 6
11:45 am-ish

I sauntered off the sixth green at Pebble Beach Golf Links on a beautiful summer day several steps ahead of the rest of my group. This twist on social distancing was by design, because I needed a minute.

I stood on the seventh tee box after filling our caddy in on what I was feeling and why I needed some time. Looking down on the green from about 100 yards away, preparing to play one of the most picturesque par-3 holes in golf, my eyes started welling up.

I waited as my dad, he of numerous club championships in upstate New York and a 4.8 handicap index to match, hit a wedge about 30 feet past the hole.

“I’d buy that right now if I could,” I thought to myself as I put my yellow Callaway, colored to make life easier for my caddy when shots inevitably went askew, down behind the tee markers.

I took a deep breath as I addressed the ball, hunched over due to the whole “I’m 6’5” and golf isn’t a sport for giant people” thing. I bent my knees, brought a three-quarter swing back, and came through the ball.

We’ll leave that shot in the air for a little while. In this case, the journey to Pebble Beach and the emotions it brought out, rather than scores written on a card, is what mattered more than anything else.

– – – – –

My dad was supposed to go to Scotland in May on a journey that would include 18 holes at St. Andrew’s. He was pumped to cross several things off of his bucket list…and then the coronavirus screwed everything up.

After planning a journey to Northern California, Dad did some digging. The research led to a shocking discovery: Pebble Beach was not requiring its traditional two-night hotel stay in order for guests to play one of the most famous courses in all of golf.

Following a few phone calls, Dad and I had a 10 am tee time for his trip out here. I was excited, but also scared out of my mind. As I’ve written, I enjoy playing golf, but I’ve never been anywhere near good at it. Occasionally, I’ll slap a few good holes together, but between my busy schedule and the whole “I’m way up here and the ball’s way down there” thing, it’s just never been something I’ve been able to improve at.

Before his arrival in the Bay Area, I took my clubs out for a spin and tried to work out the kinks. I was encouraged by my first outing, when I shot 44 on a par-34 course near my apartment, but visits to several 18-hole layouts varied from “humbling” to “where is my face and why did this force-carry decide to rip it off?”

When Dad got here, we played Hiddenbrooke, a public course in Vallejo (about an hour north of Oakland). It’s a beautiful Arnold Palmer design that has hosted several LPGA Tour events, and my banana-like tee shot was in no way prepared for it. After recording an 18-hole score of 108 (and a liberal 108 at that), plans were made to hit the driving range on Sunday.

Due to either uncommon foresight or common hoarding (both frequent behaviors within the Champagne family), we had several drivers laying around. One of them, a Taylor-Made, had an adjustable clubhead, and one of the employees at the range had a screwdriver. After moving the setting very far to “draw,” with a clubhead that may as well have been at a right angle, I at least had some general idea where the ball was going.

That enthusiasm waned when Dad decided we needed to be awake at 5:30 am for the drive to Monterey the next morning. How am I suppose to apply what I learned and swing a golf club correctly, I thought, if my consciousness was still laying on my couch? Alas, that was a battle I was never going to win. The alarm, predictably, came early, and off we went to Pebble Beach.

– – – – –

We left my apartment at 6:23 (I know because Dad complained we were eight minutes late). The first win of the day came when Bay Area highways, known for being some of the worst in the country, were miraculously mostly empty save for a trouble spot near San Jose caused by debris in the road. We got from parking spot to parking spot in almost exactly two hours, which allowed for plenty of wandering around before our tee time.

As Dad went into the shops, I found myself looking at the wall of plaques honoring winners of professional and amateur events held on the course. I couldn’t help but wonder, “what the heck am I DOING here?,” as I read about the exploits of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Gary Woodland, and a host of other golf legends.

Before going to the putting green, Dad and I watched a foursome tee off. The last player was a kid, maybe 10 or 12 years old, and Dad remarked how the kid may not be old enough to appreciate Pebble Beach. I countered by saying, “you watch, the kid probably has a better swing than I do.” I was proven correct when he hit a decent little drive about 180 yards down the right side of the fairway, one I’d have gladly bought from him had he been willing to sell.

I deliberately kept my goals low. In summary, there were only a few benchmarks I wanted to hit.

– Don’t be the worst player our caddy had ever worked with (mission accomplished).

– Take two shots to get out of as few bunkers as possible (this happened twice, but it could’ve been worse).

– Don’t leave the ball on the hill separating the fairways on the sixth hole (I hit one of my best shots of the day to get a hybrid over the hill and near the green).

– Par the seventh hole (we’ll get to that).

We met our caddy, Mike Z., and our playing partners on the first tee. I warned him, “you won’t need to help my dad much, but I STINK.” He laughed, and he would wind up doing an amazing job for us. Pro tip: If you play Pebble Beach, spend the money for a caddy. They’ll help you around, provide a wealth of knowledge (especially around the greens), and can even act as photojournalists taking photos and videos throughout your round. I can’t possibly recommend Mike Z. any higher, either. He added to the experience in a way we’ll always rave about.

Dad striped his tee shot down the first fairway, and then it was my turn. Somehow, I put together a controlled series of motions resembling an OK golf swing. While the yellow Callaway had left-to-right spin on it and found the right rough, it gave me a clear second shot into the green and was far from the worst tee shot the starter would see that day.

In an odd, welcome plot twist, I actually scored pretty well early. I bogeyed the first three holes, but made several 15-foot putts to do so, including one on the third hole that took one or two trips around the cup before falling in.

I made the turn in 53, with only three lost balls (coming on the fourth, eighth, and ninth holes). Despite wasting a great opportunity by dumping a wedge into the hazard after my best drive of the day on the ninth hole (a low stinger that caught a downslope and kept rolling), I considered the front nine a complete and total success. This continued when I made par on the 11th hole (albeit on a first-tee mulligan when I grounded one just barely off the tee box; I then hit a decent drive up the fairway, a good 7-iron to within about 25 feet, and two-putted). At that point, visions of a 99 danced in my head.

And then the back nine at Pebble Beach ate my lunch.

The 14th hole is when the day took a turn for the worse. After a drive into the right rough off the tee, I hit two solid hybrids to within about 60 yards of the hole. Unfortunately, that left me with one of the most daunting shots on the golf course: An uphill half-wedge, with no green to work with and a bunker staring at me with a menacing, “COME AT ME BRO” look.

I attempted to hit a half-wedge, but was intimidated enough to hit a three-quarter wedge that went long-left and flew the green. Several chunks and bad putts later, I slinkered off to the 15th tee box, where I hit one of my few push-slices of the day. Somehow, it stayed in bounds, and I wound up with a punch shot that I’d hoped to send between two trees and out to the front part of the green. I made great contact and missed one with ease, but the ball clipped an extending branch of the second one and went straight down into the ground.

“Five feet left and it’s perfect,” I grumbled on my way to making 7.

Still, I had a chance at a decent score (by my subterranean standards) as we headed to the 17th hole. I wound up playing most of the long par 3, as I grounded the tee shot short, put a second shot into the bunker short of the green, took two to get out, hit out of the bunker LONG of the green, and made a less-than-graceful quadruple bogey.

After taking a few pictures on the 18th tee box, though, I exorcised the demons with a beautiful drive up the right side of the 18th fairway. I hit a decent second shot, too, but chunked my third and wound up directly behind a tree adjacent to the green. Once again, I made 7, and I wound up signing for a 111 while Dad found ways to grumble about turning a 77 into an 84 (I hate him sometimes).

I did, however, say that scores didn’t matter as much as other things. This is where we teleport back to the seventh hole.

IMG_7935

– – – – –

As you may know, my grandmother, Carolyn Hake, passed away earlier this year after contracting the coronavirus. Between being 3,000 miles away and the pandemic not allowing for funerals or memorial gatherings of any kind, I never really got a chance to say goodbye to her, and it’s eaten at me for a while.

Many years ago, she got to play Pebble Beach with my grandfather (my mom’s dad), who at his peak was a scratch golfer. The story I was told went like this: They got put with two guys who wanted no part of playing with a woman. Nana countered as only she could, kicking their butts all the way around the golf course. The highlight came on the seventh hole, when she hit a wedge in and made par.

This is why keeping myself composed on the seventh tee box was hard. It’s why I wouldn’t have been surprised if the ball went anywhere between 10 feet off the tee box or halfway to Oahu, and why I needed to be careful in ensuring the golf club wasn’t shaking in my hands as I took it back.

I can only speculate, but chances are the wedge she hit was probably far more graceful than mine. While I hit it somewhat fat, though, the ball came off the center of the clubface and went to the right of the flagstick, where I had aimed in hopes of accommodating an ocean breeze that naturally subsided when I made contact.

“GO!,” I yelled, hoping it wouldn’t land in a bunker shy of the green.

The yellow Callaway obliged. It hit the green and rolled just off the back fringe, and golfers all over the course probably heard me yell, “FINE!,” from under the golf-themed mask my girlfriend bought me.

We got down to the green, and I was the first to putt from my lie in the rough. I had the speed perfect, but the ball stopped a foot or two to the right of the cup. Dad gave me the par putt and I took the ball away, pumping my fist as discreetly as I could while my eyes welled up again.

Dad lined up his birdie putt right as I’d recomposed myself. Like lots of putts at Pebble, it wasn’t easy. It went left to right, with a few feet of break and ocean waves crashing in the background.

He hit the putt.

There was no discretion necessary in the reaction.

There were a lot of special moments in that round. I’ll remember putting before the round and the practice green magically emptying for us for 10 or 15 minutes. I’ll remember the pictures we took and how lucky I felt to be with my father in those moments. I’ll remember remarking to my caddy, “these putts DO break the same as in the WGT video game!” I’ll remember going up to people working in various spots, from marshals to food and drink venders to salespeople in the shops, and saying, “you must REALLY love your job.” I’ll remember all of them saying that, yes, they did indeed love their jobs.

The seventh hole, though? That’s burned in my brain, and it’ll stay there as long as I live.

IMG_0727

I never got the chance to say goodbye to my grandmother. I suppressed the feelings from that for quite a while, simply because there’s no playbook to dealing with that stuff and there was no acceptable way to deal with the grief and frustration that I felt. Doing something she did as well as she did it isn’t going to heal everything, but it’s as good as I was going to do. Sometimes, that has to be enough.

I debated throwing my ball into the ocean after the hole was over, but I decided against it. After all, the ocean would have many more chances to deliver a souvenir to her, and that’s what it did on the next hole. After hitting a really nice 4-iron to just shy of the cliff’s edge, I took a 5-wood, attempted what Jack Nicklaus calls the greatest second shot in all of golf…and pushed that yellow Callaway dead right into the Pacific Ocean.

“Close enough,” I though to myself as I put another ball down.

The score really didn’t matter. Everything else did.

Thanks, Dad.

Andrew Plays Golf: Prepping for Pebble Beach

My dad’s coming to the Bay Area in a few short weeks. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, many of our usual father-son activities are off the table. For instance, in-restaurant dining is out of the question (even if it was allowed, we almost certainly wouldn’t do it, for understandable reasons), and while horse races will be run at the Alameda County Fair in nearby Pleasanton, fans will not be allowed on the grounds.

One thing we can do, however, is play golf. My dad is a lifelong player, a multiple-time club champion at various courses in upstate New York, and a single-digit handicap who often finds ways to grumble about scores in the high-70’s. I know this because he usually calls me on his way home after posting said scores.

In my case, though, “play golf” is a relative term. Perhaps the more appropriate description of my activity would be “attempt to not awaken the ghost of Old Tom Morris by partaking in the biggest earth-moving project in the history of Contra Costa County.” My all-time best round was a 96 at Rancho Park in Los Angeles, the former site of the LA Open before it moved to Riviera. I finished par-par-par, including a 5 on a finishing hole that once induced a 12 from Arnold Palmer, and I felt like turning my driver into a bull, a la Adam Sandler in “Happy Gilmore.”

I’ve never been a consistently active golfer, even after moving to California, where the golf season doubles in length from where I grew up. I enjoy the game, but between working on weekends for most of my career and having a lot of other stuff going on, I’ve never had the time to devote to being good at it. Add in that they don’t really make golf clubs for people who stand 6’5” and that most golfing activities involve bending something that usually doesn’t bend much for people my height, and you wind up with an awkward marriage of hobbyist and hobby.

This may seem verbose, but you need to have a clear picture of all of it, as everything you’ve just read leads to a two-part declaration.

Part one: My father and I will be playing Pebble Beach.

Part two: I am mortified.

This is the most renowned public golf course in the country. It’s hosted six U.S. Opens. Nicklaus hit one of the best shots of his career with a 1-iron here. Watson holed the ultimate “you could put a bucket of balls out there and never do that again” chip here. Tiger could’ve won the 2000 U.S. Open here playing on his knees.

And they’re letting ME play there?

I sweat over the pick box in Saratoga’s Pink Sheet every day of every meet. I hurl my phone into the couch when horses I bet lose photo finishes (my phone and couch can attest this happens often). I rage-quit video games, and I full-heartedly fling myself into things where nothing more than bragging rights are on the line (if you’re in Group Four in the contest being put on by the fine folks at The Daily Gallop, you know this already). Put that together with a tee shot that naturally veers further to the right than Mitch McConnell, and you have a recipe for disaster.

EafS2CIU8AAjpw1I need help, and lots of it, so I’m trying to work my way into something resembling decent form ahead of my father’s visit. Step one came Sunday with a trip to Diablo Hills, a nine-hole, par-34 course a few miles from my apartment. I got thrown into a foursome with three nice, outgoing people who were kind enough to laugh at my usual pre-round proclamation, “I suck, but I suck quickly.”

Early returns were not promising. After teeing up the first of three Titleist golf balls marked, “I’M NOT LOST, I’M HIDING FROM ANDREW CHAMPAGNE,” I took a deep breath through my mask, pulled, my driver back, and gave it a big move through the ball. True to form, the drive looked great for about 75 yards before making a hard right turn and ignoring my pained cries of, “hold, ball!” When the ball stopped 200 yards from the tee, it did so thanks to a conveniently-placed fence that trapped it in its wiring.

EagTZUBUwAACFutAfter thanking the fence profusely for its service and giving myself a drop that was questionable in legality (basically, I treated the fence as though it was a hazard and used the foolproof, “I’m not walking all the way back there to hit another tee shot,” defense), I pulled out a wedge, and all of a sudden, things got weird, as my body was momentarily possessed by a golfing spirit that knew what it was doing. My uphill shot dodged a nearby tree, floated through the air, and came to rest on the front part of the green about 40 feet from the cup. I salvaged a two-putt bogey, and with that, we were off and running.

Diablo Hills is built around several apartment complexes, several of which must feel like war zones in the summer with golf balls bombarding roofs, walls, windows, and parked cars from dawn to dusk. The fourth hole is a 90-yard par 3 down a hill near a major road in town. My playing partners confirmed moving cars had been hit by errant tee shots in the past, so I had plenty of apprehension as I stood over my ball (especially since said ball had my full name on it and could be used against me in traffic court).

I gave it my best three-quarter wedge swing, and it looked good off the clubhead.

“Be right,” I pleaded as it approached the green and a bunker guarding it.

It was, but barely. It missed the side of the bunker by about three feet, bounced once, and skidded to a stop about 10 feet past the hole.

Fear not, though, as I remembered my lack of skill on the green and squirted the birdie putt a foot or two past the cup on the right side. Crap.

Still, I wound up playing like I actually had some sort of clue, which shocked me. Despite a three-putt double-bogey on the course’s lone par-5 (a devilish, 500-yard uphill hole that points and laughs at walkers too brave/cheap to rent a cart), I signed for a respectable 44, and it could’ve been two or three shots lower with better putting and/or drives kept on the planet.

IMG_8239I felt strangely optimistic as I took my golfer’s mask off in the car. Diablo Hills is no Pebble Beach, but if I can straighten out the big stick and start making some putts, perhaps I won’t totally embarrass myself on a big stage.

Then again, if I do, it’ll make for a pretty funny column.

Andrew’s Play of the Day: 2/11/20

RECORD: 25-10

Happy news is always appreciated around here, so it’s with great delight that I use this space to wish my big sister, Alex, a happy birthday. As I said in a toast at her wedding several years ago, she’s a tough act to follow. She got her J.D. from NYU, made partner at a high-powered law firm in New York City, and has two beautiful daughters…while her goofball brother made a living writing and reporting about horses turning left.

My sister’s always encouraged me to be me. She’s one of my biggest fans, and I hope she knows I’m one of hers, too. Love you, Alex! Go play “Chutes and Ladders” with the kids.

MONDAY’S RESULTS: The return to this space was a good one. Underdog Colgate won outright over BU, Baylor covered by a half-point at Texas, and both plays wound up in the left-hand column.

TUESDAY’S PLAY: I’ve only got one play for Tuesday’s college basketball slate, and it comes in the Big 10. Red-hot Penn State travels to Purdue in a game that could have big bubble implications for the Boilermakers. The number that intrigues me here isn’t the spread, but the total. Both teams can score, so the 134.5-point total seems a bit low to me. I’m taking the over and rooting for lots of offense.