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.

Andrew’s Play of the Day: 2/10/20

RECORD: 23-10

As some of you know, I got in a pretty bad car accident last week where I was t-boned by a pick-up truck. Before I dive into my analysis, here are some things I learned from that experience (or, in some cases, things that were reinforced).

1) Don’t get t-boned by a pick-up truck.

2) If you must get t-boned by a pick-up truck, do it in a Nissan Altima. The car’s almost certainly totaled, but I walked away from the accident with no major injuries.

3) Life’s short. I was t-boned on the passenger’s side of the car, and I was thankfully alone. If I get hit on the driver’s side, the best-case scenario is that I’m seriously hurt. The worst-case scenario, well…

4) Sports are diversions.

5) There are lots of good people in the world, as evidenced by the outpouring of well-wishes I received last week. If you sent me something, know that I appreciate it greatly.

This leads to how I’m going to approach this section for the next week or so. Because I’ve been juggling other stuff (not to mention a busy time at the real job), I haven’t offered anything since the Super Bowl. However, I decided to concentrate on a “play of the day,” rather than several plays each day, largely because I believe concentrated, focused gambling strategies are what pay off in the long run, so I can’t, in good conscience, give out seven plays and be back on track.

With that in mind, I’ll middle this a bit. I’ll be offering two plays a day until I’m caught up, barring a situation where I simply only like one game. I’ll hopefully be back on track sooner rather than later, and with a little luck, it’ll be with continued success.

MONDAY’S PLAYS: My primary action comes in the Lone Star State. #1 Baylor heads to Texas and is giving just 6.5 points. I understand that it’s a road game, but the Longhorns aren’t exactly setting the world on fire and the Bears may be the best team in the country. I’ll take the visitors to cover the spread.

In addition, there’s a fun Patriot League matchup in New England, as Colgate travels to Boston University. The visiting Raiders have quietly put up a 19-6 record to this point in the season, including a 10-2 mark in conference play, and beat the Terriers by nine earlier this year. With all that said, why are the Raiders 1.5-point underdogs? I’ll take Colgate here and hope they complete the season sweep.

Andrew’s Play of the Day: 1/30/20

RECORD: 20-9

Larry Collmus is out as the head announcer at the New York Racing Association. The change was made after Collmus served five years in that post after replacing Tom Durkin and, for my money, did as good a job as anyone on the planet could have in that capacity.

I’m not here to speculate on what happened. However, a lot of people on social media were quick to do just that, and many of those posts did something that I take plenty of exception to. If you made a post along the lines of, “I think Larry should wind up at (insert track that already has an announcer here),” pay close attention: You were wrong.

If Larry Collmus (or any other announcer, for that matter) gets a job somewhere where someone else is currently employed, it means the second person lost it and has to find an opening on a carousel that seems to have fewer and fewer spots each time it turns. Rooting for that to happen, at a time when a lot of people in racing have lost their jobs for reasons that have nothing to do with talent, stinks to high heaven. It’s one thing to wish for Larry (an excellent announcer and a really good guy) to land on his feet, but this behavior was several steps too far.

WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS: We split yesterday’s action after a too-busy Tuesday kept me off the grid. Seton Hall and DePaul went under, but Navy covered an 11-point spread against Holy Cross to salvage the day.

THURSDAY’S PLAY: I’m headed to the Big 10 for a clash in Champaign. The Illinois Fighting Illini host the Golden Gophers of Minnesota, and the spread here puzzles me. Illinois is red-hot, has home-court advantage, and yet is only a five-point favorite over a team that’s shot better than 38.3% from the floor just once over its last four games. Give me the Illini in this spot, as I think they cover pretty easily.

Andrew’s Play of the Day: 1/27/20

RECORD: 18-8 (some confusion about this lately; that’s the right record)

Above all else, sports are diversions. They act as escapes from the trials and tribulations of everyday life, and as things we can turn to for entertainment, competition, and something to talk about that doesn’t have world-changing implications (except Rocky Balboa ending the Cold War in “Rocky IV,” of course, but I digress).

You know where this is going. Kobe Bryant was one of several people who passed away in a helicopter crash Sunday near Los Angeles. Among the other fatalities was his 13-year-old daughter, and seeing videos of those two at games pop up on Twitter was gut-wrenching.

Kobe Bryant was 41 years old. His daughter was barely a teenager. There was a lot of life left to be lived by those on that helicopter, and it’s horrible that this happened and took it all away. Regardless of your personal feelings about Kobe (there are plenty, and lots of them are valid), Sunday’s tragedy, above all, acts as a reminder that life is short.

Go hug someone. Tell them you love them. Don’t take stuff personally (I know that’s something I can do better), and make sure you’re focused on the things that truly matter. In that vein, I’ll finish this up by posting a video my friend Matt Dinerman took following Sunday’s last race at Golden Gate Fields. He’s an excellent announcer, but an even better human being, and he nailed this.

 

SUNDAY’S RESULTS: After a day off due to the hysteria of the Pegasus World Cup, I swept two plays posted on Twitter. Creighton and Ohio State both won by double-digits as single-digit favorites.

MONDAY’S PLAY: The Iowa Hawkeyes are just 2-8 in their last 10 meetings with the Wisconsin Badgers, but Monday’s game hits me differently. Iowa has won four in a row and has seemed to find itself after an early-season injury to Jordan Bohannon threatened to derail the program’s season. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is on the road, where they’re 3-6 on the year, and I don’t think their offense can keep up. The homestanding Hawkeyes are favored by 5.5 points, and I’m taking them to cover that spread.