Archive for category Golf
This column runs in the Summer 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
No one saw it coming. Wednesday, March 11th, 2020. Fans at Chesapeake Arena were excitedly waiting for their Oklahoma City Thunder to tipoff against the Utah Jazz. It was an important game with playoffs just weeks away; especially for the Thunder who were on a three-game winning streak, nipping at the heels of fourth place Utah. Twenty-thousand fans in the stands watched the warmups, then the gathering of the head coaches with the referees as the pump-the-team-up music blared throughout the arena. Thunder fans had a reason to be excited. The Jazz’s weapon, center Rudy Gobert was not in the line-up due to illness. Suddenly it became evident that the nationally televised matchup was on delay. Coaches were still conferring with the referees while the players shrugged at each other and TV broadcasters tried figure out what the holdup was. Finally, the head coaches returned to their benches and herded the players off the court and back to the locker room. Fans started to boo as the head referee donned headphones at the scoring table. The announcer leaned over the microphone. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the game tonight has been postponed” followed by “You are all safe” twice.
Within minutes, breaking news came over TVs across the nation – Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19!! The NBA had already decided to start games minus fans the following night because of this strange virus which had recently surfaced in Washington state in a nursing home and was showing up in other states. But now an NBA player had tested positive and it just happened to be Gobert who just two days before had joked around with reporters touching every microphone and recorder in sight! By the end of the next day, every sport began shutting down!
Major League Baseball advised players to leave spring training facilities and return to their homes. The National Hockey League “paused” their season which was just a few weeks from the playoffs. Major League Soccer and the World Cup qualifying cancelled. The Players Championship golf tournament in Florida was stopped at the end of the first round. While college basketball’s “March Madness” was days away from their conference tournaments to be followed by the selection process, some conferences considered playing to an empty house; others cancelled theirs. The conference tourneys and selection process never happened. The Summer Olympics was postponed until 2021. Even NASCAR shut down when it was evident that support teams would be too close to each other while servicing the cars. Sports went on hiatus for sixty-six days!! Never had sports experienced such a disruption since World War II.
On Sunday May 17th, NASCAR paved the way for other sports to resume. They ran nine races in sixteen days at just two tracks in two states. Masked support crew numbers were cut in half, drivers wore masks when not in their cars, practices cancelled and the stands were empty of fans. Other sports began processing plans acceptable to states and health experts while fans crossed fingers and toes that all sports would be back soon!
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My article below appeared in the September issue of Hill Country Happenings.
My first experience with golf was at age ten at a miniature golf course in Western Massachusetts. I remember standing behind a girl watching what she did as I was next. Apparently I was too close as the next thing I remembered was a clunk to my head. It was as painful as my playing turned out to be. My next exposure to golf was in college when I had psychology classes at the University of Houston with golfing great John Mahaffey. While the football team was just OK, the golf team, all tanned and preppy-dressed, was solid, winning twelve NCAA championships between 1956 and 1970. The athletic dorm, Baldwin House, was just across the street. Did I have any desire then to learn golf with so many talented students so close? No, I was too busy in the Cougar Den playing Spades with the hippies.
A few years later I was working a DC-9 Delta flight from Augusta to Atlanta. We always enjoyed flying in there as the earlier airport, Bush Field, was formerly an old flight school barracks. Between the terminal and tarmac was an area beautifully landscaped and tables where people sat sipping iced tea (and perhaps a mint julep) while waiting on flights. Locals referred to it as “The Country Club Airport.” This day in particular was special as our load consisted of an airplane full of golfers who had just played in the Masters Golf Tournament. I was immediately cognizant of the aura in the airplane. Again, all were tanned, but this time most were decked out in plaid pants and bright-color blazers. I spent the next thirty-five minutes conversing with the likes of Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, Tom Watson and even a familiar face, U of H alum John Mahaffey. It was on that flight I learned about the celebrity of playing in the Masters.
Fast-forward to the late 80s when golf again crossed my path. It was when Rick and I were vacationing and we passed a miniature golf course. I got this brilliant idea to stop and play some holes. Considering I hadn’t held a golf club since I was ten, I thought I was doing pretty good — that is until we got to one hole where I hit the ball so hard, it soared to the next hole knocking the blade off of the windmill! Rick was speechless. There was no more miniature golfing (nor will there ever be).
For the next few years, I had the opportunity to work several charity golf tournaments. It was fun watching Texas Rangers favorites like Geno Petralli, Mike Stanley, Tom Grieve, Bobby Witt, Jeff Russell and Curtis Wilkerson knocking the ball around. We would joke with them not to quit their day jobs. My fondest memory was a tournament at a course west of Ft. Worth. Not only were Rangers players participating, but many other baseball greats. Rick was immediately envious when he heard that one of his childhood heroes, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, was playing. When I saw the list, I focused in on one name — former Baltimore Orioles third baseman, Brooks Robinson. My girlfriend Nancy and I were assigned a hole where we had to sit and witness if anyone made a hole-in-one. Behind us was parked the prize, a pick-up truck. A few hours went by — still no Brooks. By now, I was in need to get rid of all the water I was drinking. Someone told us that Brooks was two holes away. Nancy assured me if I hurried, I could make it back before he got there. As I was running back from the port-a-potty, I spotted Brooks at our hole. Breathless upon arrival, I found Brooks grinning from ear to ear. Nancy had managed to stall him and of course, she just had to share what I was doing!
My favorite golfer of all time? He’s right here in the Texas Hill Country. Frank Boynton, now a financial guru, played on the PGA Tour in the late 50s and the 60s. A couple of years ago I was visiting his wife Betty. Frank was, as usual, watching golf on TV. He raised his hand and signaled for silence. We obliged. A shot came close to the hole on the 16th at Firestone, looked like it might go in for an eagle, but that was not to be. A groan went up from the spectators. Frank grinned; he was (and is) still the last golfer since 1966 to eagle the famous 16th also known as “The Monster” – 610 yards long with a lake in front. He explained that he and Bob Rosburg are the only pro golfers to ever eagle that hole! For a brief moment, I contemplated sharing my claim to the double-bogey at the windmill, but some things are better laid to rest.