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Sunday Sports On The Couch, er, From The Most Uncomfortable Chair In The World

The Wrightsville Beach house we visit a few times a year was demolished by Hurricane Hazel along with the rest of the Carolina coastline in 1954.  Each time we stay here it’s like stepping back in time as most of the furnishings remain from the 1955 rebuild. Thank God a 55″ TV joined the mix, with cable. Unfortunately, the couch, which is a sad bamboo and cushion-abomination, and two armchairs chosen from the Marques de Sade collection are my only options for watching long stretches of TV. 

I broke out the popcorn and enjoyed three movies with my wife last night – Atlantic City, Bull Durham and The Player. I’m back in the chair for today’s final round of the golf at Pebble Beach, with Phil Mickelson rather stunningly in contention at age almost 50 (June 16 this year). I can’t bring myself to call this tournament the AT&T, I still prefer calling it the ‘Bing Crosby Clambake’, which harkens back to the days of chain-smoking, hard-drinking golf pros, caddies and sportswriters (essentially drinking buddies with a pen and notepad) that covered the tour, especially the gifted Dan Jenkins.

Golfers had groupies in those days, without the glare of social media, and although they didn’t make that much money it was a lifestyle that kicked ass. That lifestyle was never more celebrated than at the yearly Clambake.  Stars like Palmer, Casper, Player, Snead and Nicklaus joined celebrities like Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Jack Lemon and Der Bingle himself along with ex-Presidents like Eisenhower- all center stage on our little black and white TV, my Dad chain-smoking right along with Arnie.

Dad and I both discussed when we could get out to Avon Fields for our first round of the year, the same as I do with my boys now. There were always new clubs and bags and balls Santa brought me! Avon Fields would also give me and my buddies fabulous sledding, fortunately, Santa delivered a new sled every year as well. All these memories stay very close today as I watch the golf, even as the memories of my wife’s departed loved ones seem to arise from the old furniture in this beach house.

CBS decided to change the coverage of their golf this year. Long time announcers Gary McCord and Peter Kostas were fired, with new talent Davis Love, Trevor Immelman and Frank Nobilo joining Nick Faldo, Jim Nance, Dottie Pepper and the gang. A lot of golf fans are scratching their heads at these moves, as McCord was the most lively of the crew (although his schtick was becoming unbearable) and Kostis’ slo-mo swing analysis was a staple of the telecast and the only real teaching pro break downs of players’ swings. I’m not a Faldo fan, although he’s improved, but CBS golf for years has been riddled with cliches, not the colorful cliches of normal rounds of golf, but the most hackneyed phrases we’ve all heard a million times.  “He’s putting the eyes out of it.”  “He’s still got work to do.” “He hit it right on the screws.” “That was well-judged.”

I mean, golf clubs haven’t had screws on the clubface for at least 20 years! My solution to stale golf telecasts? A side telecast on the Golf Channel, part of a pay per view sports package that might cost an additional $25 per month (cable companies force me to pay for unhinged fake news, at least with this concept I can pay for something I want to watch). This keeps the telecast commercial-free and opens the commentary options to how real golfers,  both men and women (and kids), talk when they’re playing or watching golf. Players and caddies can be mic’ed without worrying about their language. As we know, a round of golf could turn even a foursome of nuns into a swearing, f-bomb dropping group that could rival sailors on shore leave. Why not allow players and announcers to keep it real.

As in, “Nick, I’ve seen Mickelson play a lot of golf over the years, but I’ve never seen him totally fuck up a round of golf like what he’s doing right now.  He’s totally screwed, he just handed the tourney to Nick Taylor by playing 7, 8 and 9 like crap. He’s gotta be looking for the drunk girl right now. ”

“You’re right Jim, what a shit show! This has become really hard to watch.  Most guys would normally be going in the tank, but he just pulled an insane shot out of his ass on 10 and has a tap in for birdie! Dottie, you’re down there…”

“Nick, he almost rolled that son of a bitch in for eagle!”He stared down Taylor after the shot, giving him an evil glare, before both players started laughing. “Phil, you dick,” Taylor said. That’s not the first time Phil has heard that Nick…”

Add plenty of modern tracking technology,  Kostis-type swing analysis,  overhead shots spicing up the action.  Golfers want to know more about equipment, at least golfers who want to pay for my telecast. What driver is Mickelson using? What ball? What are the characteristics of his ball that works for him,  and would it work for me? How do guys like Justin Thomas drive the ball so far? How do you hit an 8 iron 200 yards? Just throw little tidbits of this in throughout the show,  sprinkle it in so as not to overwhelm. Oh, and fans screaming stupid stuff are warned once, then tased on wet grass and ejected from the premises. As I’m watching CBS’ Immelman just stammered through swing analysis,  declaring the swing “beautiful” two times,  as somewhere Peter Kostis is shaking his head in disbelief. In my telecast, a broadcaster could laugh that off. “Jesus Nick, I’m freezing my ass off in this tower,  I can’t even talk. Who do you gotta blow to get a hot cup of coffee around here?”

THAT is golf banter I could enjoy and would pay for.

Here on the  North Carolina coast, I’m only 100 miles or so from Tobacco Road, where basketball rivalries are second to none. Last night we’re at Jackson’s Big Oak Bar B Que, enjoying a two-piece fried chicken dinner with hush puppies,  okra and collards greens for $5.99. With sweet potato pie.  During dinner, good natured hate is in the air as Duke is playing the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. Of course, it’s on TV. Feels very similar to UC-Xavier battles. Here in North Carolina households are divided, in my wife’s aunt’s house Duke fans barely even talked to other family members who went to and root for UNC. You could throw NC State and Wake Forest into the mix as well. They all hate each other. I’m talking to Jackson’s manager, a UNC fan, who is relatively comfortable throughout the game but is suddenly getting worried as Duke is making a comeback.

NC is missing free throws, reminds me of the Bearcats. Duke misses a free throw on purpose, gets the rebound, and throws in a jump shot to take the game to overtime. My new Tar Heel friend has his head down on the table,  two of his line cooks are giving him shit as they suddenly see a chance for an impossible Duke win. It looks like they are going to double overtime when Duke throws up a final air ball, but Wendell Moore grabs the rebound and makes the layup as the buzzer sounds.  Two buzzer-beaters and Duke gets the win. UNC fans have had a tough year and this tops it all. Misery,  anger, hate.

Kind of what I’m feeling right now as UC falls in overtime today to UConn. UGH! The ups and downs of college basketball. I’m remembering that I sat in this very chair and watched UC blow a 22 point lead to Nevada in the NCAA tournament. They outscored us 32-8 as Mick Cronin froze in disbelief and was unable to coach, call timeouts, replace Cumberland with 4 fouls, or do anything to stop the onslaught. My phone was lighting up from buddies all over the country as we all struggled to comprehend. I shook hands with the manager, as he locked up the doors behind us, and neither of us could really say much. He didn’t get my sympathy, not after NC stole a final four spot from UC by fouling us 30 times without a call (unless Eric Martin and Terry Nelson deliberately went four rows out of bounds every play) in an overtime 1993 battle. In fact, now that I think about it- fuck ’em.

Mickelson’s horror show continued, although he still wound up +2 for the day in howling winds. But Canadian Nick Taylor went wire to wire to become the first Canadian born player to win at Pebble Beach. It was his first win in five years. He’s now got a wife,  a teeny little baby with the cutest fat cheeks, and a win at one of golf’s most majestic sites. As Bing said after the last round he ever played-“That was a great game of golf,  fellers.” 

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