And On the 2nd Week of April, Bobby Jones Said,

"Let There Be The Masters."

“Let There Be The Masters.”

Obligatory link to the greatest website in sports.  Masters.com.

Happy Masters week, everyone.  The shining beacon that is The Masters holds an especially dear place in my heart this year after enduring MEGA-WINTER.  I haven’t had a chance to play golf yet this year–possibly a new all-time low for me, and I don’t think many people around here have gotten their proper fix.  The few warm days we’ve had, you’ve probably needed a canoe to navigate most local dog tracks.  I see the hunger for golf in people’s eyes, I hear it in their wavering voices as they gently cradle their new $400 drivers.  The Masters is going to take care of that for you, because the Masters always delivers.  Even when it’s bad–it’s good.

I don’t know many sporting events that could live up to that billing.  The NCAA tournament coming to a conclusion tonight, might work for some people.  Perhaps the NHL playoffs?  But other big-time events stand out to me for how utterly terrible they can be–The Super Bowl? During my formative years, the Pro Bowl was more competitive.  The Masters though is almost guaranteed to deliver some excitement.  Now that we’re safely out of the, “Tiger could win by 11 era,” things have been quite good lately…

2013: Adam Scott’s playoff win.  After Snedeker, Day and some others fell off the pace Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera exchanged blows on the 18th.  Cabrera’s 2nd shot when he needed a birdie to tie was electrifying and a great moment with his son on the bag.  Scott’s putt in the playoff erased decades of Australian demons.

2012: Bubba’s Hook.  Another playoff, one remembered for Watson’s brilliant recovery from the woods on the 10th hole, but earlier in the day, playoff loser Louis Oosthuizen made a two on the par-5 second hole and vaulted into contention with just the 4th double eagle in the tournament’s history.

2011:  The Rory Buckle.  After McIlroy started (hilariously?) leaking oil on the back nine, this thing was wide open. We even had a hint of a Tiger Woods charge before he started missing putts and ran out of holes.  A two-man battle between Jason Day and Adam Scott was interrupted by Charl Schwartzel who decided to birdie the last four holes and win by two.

2010:  Mickelson’s Pine Straw Shot.  The least dramatic of the last four tournaments had the most lasting shot, with Mickelson dodging a tree on 13 to set up a birdie that kept a flawless final round going.  Mickelson pulled away from a field that included Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods and Fred Couples for a relatively comfortable win.

***

As you can see, we are on a hell of a run of events and I hardly even mentioned Tiger Woods, so while his absence will certainly be noted, it’s not a reason to tune out.  If you think you’re going to miss Tiger, just get up every couple of hours and lip out a 4-footer on your carpet.  That should fill the void.

No Tiger, Phil may be still hurting and so we’re left with what many people are calling a changing of the guard type of Major.  A new, fresh era.  Non-Tiger and Phil contenders can be broken down into a few categories:

Next Dominant Player:

  1. Rory McIlroy.  As much I dislike Rory as a fan, he’s in this category by himself, because he’s still younger than most of his peers, and he’s won two majors in dominant fashion.  You can’t disrespect Rory by listing him with Adam Scott, even if Scott has had a better last 12 months.

Major Validators:  This is a long list and could be longer.  There are a lot of guys out there toward the top of the Official World Golf Rankings who have one major.  None of these guys is likely to have even Mickelson, or Ernie Els’ career, but with every major victory you validate the one prior and separate yourself more from the field.

  1. Adam Scott
  2. Jason Dufner
  3. Keegan Bradley
  4. Justin Rose
  5. Bubba Watson
  6. Charl Schwartzel
  7. Louis Oosthuizen

Career Cappers:  Some guys, despite their talent are likely to never get to the heights of the multiple major winners. They are looking for a signature win and still have the game to get it done.

  1. Sergio Garcia
  2. Matt Kuchar
  3. Brandt Snedeker
  4. Ian Poulter
  5. Henrik Stenson

Next Generation:  Very fresh faces who could use a major win to challenge the like of Rory and could become the game’s next great player–in time.

  1. Jordan Spieth
  2. Patrick Reed
  3. Hideki Matsuyama
  4. Jason Day

You could certainly add names to most of these lists, but I feel like this will be story that the press gravitates toward depending on which players are in contention.  For me, I’d like to see someone very old, or very young win this year. Or Dufner, I kind of like Dufner.  But, give me a playoff between Craig and Kevin Stadler and I’d be pretty riveted.

***

Five Thoughts Presented As Facts:

1. Someone is going to butcher the 1st hole on Sunday and vanish from contention.  The first hole at Augusta National is so, so hard.  One bad drive and you’re hacking out, skanking up, two chip and three putting your way to triple or worse.  Leading Candidate: Matt Every.

2. Sergio Garcia’s going to contend.  No one should ever pick Sergio to win any event, especially a major, but I think Sergio has 4-6 serious flirtations with a major left in his career.  I think he’s more likely to break through at an Open Championship where putting has been mostly neutralized, but he’s close to top form and has a decent Augusta track record.

3. We Won’t Hear Much About Slow Play.  There’s the small field for one, but I have a feeling that if the final twosome six hours on Sunday, we’d all be happy to watch.  Plus, after the blowback from giving a 14-year old a slow play penalty last year, I think the tournament committee will go back to being content making this issue someone’s else’s problem.

4. We’ll Hear ALL ABOUT the Eisenhower Tree.  For those living in a dark hole, we lost the Eisenhower Tree to this winter’s ferocious ice storm.  The tree, named after that guy who was you know, like a General and President and stuff, was a major hazard on the 17th hole.  For those expecting the tree to be replaced like nothing happened, that apparently is not the case as Augusta is moving on without its signature piece of foliage.  I expect 11-17 minutes from Nantzy on the history of the tree.

5. You’ll Root For Someone To Hit in the Water on 15.  Let’s be honest here.  Things are going to be tight.  You’ll end up on one side of the coin.  Maybe it’s someone you really dislike, maybe it’s someone you just can’t justify as a Masters champion.  They’re going to come to 15, probably needing a birdie to keep pace, they’re going to take out their hybrid (this player will almost always be hitting a hybrid and not a 3-iron) and you’re going to say, “Get in the f*cking drink.”  That’s sports.

The Top-10–In Exact Order:  

In case you forgot, I put on one of the great golf handicapping clinics of all-time last year, nailing the PGA, the Open Championship and having Justin Rose finishing 2nd at the US Open.  I’m not entirely sure I got enough credit for this, which is a shame, because it’s very unlikely to ever happen again.

  1. Matt Kuchar
  2. Zach Johnson
  3. Rory McIlroy
  4. Jason Dufner
  5. Hideki Matsuyama
  6. Sergio Garcia
  7. Jason Day
  8. Angel Cabrera
  9. Adam Scott
  10. Keegan Bradley

 

A Sweet Sixteen For Baseball Season.

Enjoy Your Last 18 Cliff Lee Starts.

Enjoy Your Last 18 Cliff Lee Starts.

Baseball season has started.  The Dodgers have a jumpstart on the NL West that could be insurmountable.  But, for the other 28 teams in the league, we’re getting in those last reps and roster trimmings before the big day.  For traditionalists like myself, Opening Day will always be Monday.  Anything less is uncivilized.

To get the season underway, while the Phillies are still in a virtual tie for 1st place, I thought I’d do a Sweet 16 for the baseball season.  A melding of what would have been about 20 posts back in the Glory Days:

Bryce Harper Region:  Phenom Obsessions…

Baseball is brutal on prospects.  Back in the 90s when I was an unofficial scout in the Eastern League I saw a bunch of guys who looked like they were going to be great MLB players.  I had Todd Walker pegged for Chase Utley’s offensive career about 8 years before anyone had ever heard of Chase.  Guy hit .340 in AAA.  Ranked the 7th best prospect in baseball.  Ended up with a “nice” career, but never hit more than 17 homers in the majors.  Anyway, here are four guys to save your fantasy season in the middle of the summer:

1.  Archie Bradley–SP, Arizona Diamondbacks.  With Patrick Corbin out for the year the back of the Diamondbacks’ rotation is a bit up in the air.  Bradley isn’t on the Major League roster yet, so he’s not the short-term solution, but if the rotation is lacking come summer, Bradley could provide a big boost ala Gerrit Cole to the Pirates in 2013.  A traditional right-handed power arm without the questions and quirks of Trevor Bauer.

2.  George Springer–OF, Houston Astros.  Shouldn’t the Astros have some prospects by now?  After years of trading away players and winning 58 games?  The answer is yes!  They do have some.  Springer should be the first to arrive, a beast who almost went 40/40 in the minors last year.  Also watch out for top pick from 2013, Mark Appel.  Should quickly move into Houston’s rotation once he’s fully healthy and gets a bit of seasoning.

3.  Gregory Polanco (no relation to Placido)–OF, Pittsburgh Pirates.  Let’s keep this rolling, Pittsburgh.  They’ll have a lot to live up to after last season and if they find themselves struggling to score runs again, a mid-season promotion of Polanco could provide a needed spark.  He’s the RF of the future, it’s just a question of when he arrives.

4. Noah Syndergaard–SP, New York Mets.  The last of the Big-3 (Harvey, Wheeler) to arrive should live up to those high standards.  Another huge arm, Syndergaard could get off to a strong start with his fastball alone.  Expect a Wheeler-like timeline for Syndergaard as the Mets likely won’t be in serious contention in the NL East.

Phillies Region–How Bad is it Going to Be?

1. Maybe not QUITE as bad as some people think.  Trashing the Phillies has become so chic that if you listen to the national media and the “rival scouts’ you’d probably think they’re going to win 60 games.  So, based on that, it might be a little better than you’re expecting.  Assuming Hamels does come back by May, the starting pitching should have them in enough games to linger around .500.  The offense will be terrible, though,  and in a tough division they’ll steadily lose ground.  Enough that…

2. Cliff Lee will be traded.  Lee, unlike Jimmy Rollins, is pure mercenary.  Anyone who would come back to Philly the way he did is clearly pitching just for a ring.  There’s no shame in that, just don’t be surprised when Lee is ALL ABOARD for a trade to a contender come summer.  And, really, the Phillies owe him that much after jerking him around and then letting the team fall apart around him.  Enjoy his last starts, when he’s on the guy is truly a master and probably will always be better liked in Philadelphia than Cole Hamels, because you know, Californians just don’t get it like Cliff.

3. The Biggest Offensive Problems Will Be:  Rollins, Howard, Brown.  On the flip side of this coin, I’d expect decent seasons out of Revere, Marlon Byrd and a freshly medicated Carlos Ruiz.  But, Howard has not fixed any of his bad habits, Rollins will show only flashes and play to stay off the DL (so his option vests) and Brown’s freezing cold spring is one of the biggest red flags I’ve seen in a while.

4. Cross Your Fingers for Maikel Franco.  The Phillies big power prospect didn’t amaze anyone this spring, but the fan base is going to need someone to believe in for the future.  Franco is the best bet, despite everyone wishing Jessie Biddle into a front-end starter.  And, if he can play 3rd all the better, because Cody Asche isn’t happening.  Sorry.

The Awards Region: 

1. AL MVP: Mike Trout.  For several years I picked Miguel Cabrera, backing him until he won and now that he’s taken back-t0-back MVPs, it’s time for Trout to leave him behind.  There is absolutely no innovation in this pick, but sometimes things are inevitable.  Trout dominated this spring, showing more power and plate discipline.  He’s just better than everyone else right now.  Picking anyone else would be uninformed.

2. NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki.  The NL race is wide-open.  Bryce Harper is a popular pick, but still could be a year away from fully reaching his potential.  It’ll be tough for Andrew McCutchen to repeat and guys like Goldschmidt and Votto are held back by playing 1st base.  Maybe this is the year Tulo stays healthy for 155 games.

3. AL Cy Young: Chris Sale.  I was set to pick Yu Darvish, but picking a guy who starts the year on the DL feels a bit dicey.  If the White Sox can play a bit better as a team, Sale should move to the front of the discussion for the Cy Young.  He’s a legitimate lefty ace and finished 5th in the voting last season.

4. NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee.  It’s tough to go against Clayton Kershaw, who is clearly the best pitcher in baseball, but the NL has a lot of top candidates.  Strasburg, Zimmerman, Greinke, hell I’d watch out for Michael Wacha.  But, for some reason I’m picking Lee who I think will carry the Phillies and then could possibly be moved to a contender to put them over the top.  That contender would have to be in the NL, but I’ll take my chances to look like a genius when it happens.

The Playoffs Region:  

1. Surprise Playoff Team: Seattle.  I was tempted to pick Kansas City, because I’ve gotten 1,000 words into this without mentioning my beloved Royals, but I don’t want to put that on them.  Seattle has enough pitching that a little offensive boost could go a long way.  No pressure, Cano, but seriously, this is on you–turn the whole lineup around.

2. Biggest Flop: Oakland.  Things always feel tenuous for the A’s.  Everything has to go right.  The young pitchers have to stay healthy.  I think this is a year they face some challenges and can’t overcome the odds–again.

3. Your World Series Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers.

***

My 16th Nugget is obviously going to be Sweet 16 LOCKS.  Because even if I can’t fill out a pool for horsebleep, those 1st round pick were kinda nice, no?

Tennessee (+2.5) over Michigan.  Line seems a bit low.  What happened to that big, dopey white guy that was finishing in transition for Michigan in the tourney last year?  Mitch McGary or something?  Is he hurt? Alive?  Playing in Greece?  Vols outright.

Baylor (+3.5) over Wisconsin.  It’s the year of the damn dog.  Haven’t you been listening?  Outright again.  Wisconsin scores MAYBE 43 points.

Arizona (-8) over San Diego St.  All I heard about SD State was how tough they were on D, and how they gave Arizona a game last time.  That had me expecting 4.5 points or thereabouts.  This makes it feel like a Wildcats blowout.

A Mail Clutch.

In Honor of the Tournament.

In Honor of the Tournament.

So I recently got an iPhone.  To anyone who knows me that may come as a bit of a shock.  Never has a device had such a fierce opponent.  The iPhone rates as only slightly less sinister than a Kindle.  I’ve been using a Blackberry for a long time.  This has given off a different impression at different times.  There was about forty seconds there, don’t pin me down on a year, where it was OK to have a Blackberry.  Blackberry messenger was kind of cool, wasn’t it? WASN’T IT?  And free.  You could carry a Blackberry and not be a total tech-idiot.  I think.  Of course, those days are long gone and now if you have a Blackberry you are old, or it was issued to you by your employer.  I came very, very close to getting the Blackberry Q10.  Great price point, familiar look, but I figured if Blackberry still exists as a company in a couple of years maybe I can switch back.  For now, I’ll put in some work on my selfie game.  As soon as someone teaches me how to use the phone.

I know one thing.  When I go in for my next phone I won’t get treated like a prehistoric species.  Hopefully the employee won’t look at me like my cellphone has a rotary dial.  I wanted to stand there and defend my Blackberry, but it’s failure was the only reason I was in the store.  Or was it my failure?  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

On the eve of the NCAA Basketball tournament, a raucous cultural event, I thought I’d empty out the mailbag.  You know how these messages pile up…

Q: Can you explain to me why some people get so excited to see what I’d call pretty common birds? I know people who spot a cardinal and start dancing around like a flamingo has just swooped onto their deck.  Robin Crow, Exton, PA.  

A:  I’m not what you would call a bird guy.  Any bird with size, or thick legs will send me heading for the hills.  If you want me to stay off your property, lose the Beware of Dog sign and install a turkey.  You’ll never see me again.  That said, I do KIND OF know what you are talking about.  When I was a youth I would occasionally see a hummingbird at my Grandmother’s house.  Now, hummingbirds are probably a bit more intriguing than your basic cardinal, but we’d completely SH*T OUR PANTS over these hummingbirds.  I also remember occasionally getting out the binoculars at home to try to spot something exotic like an oriole in a tree 80 yards across the yard.  I don’t think I’d do that now, but I probably have pointed out a cardinal to someone in the last 12 months.  What can I say? It’s a conversation starter.  You say cardinal, they say where…and things just go from there.  People also feel a sense of importance from things that take up residence in their yard.  Squirrels?  VILE RODENTS.  But, a nest of cardinals?  Noble bird in a noble yard.  

Q:  On a scale of 0 to Brian Urlacher, how poorly is this Jimmy Rollins thing going to end in Philadelphia, and are the Phillies as bad as they look in Spring Training?  

A: The Phillies are the popular pick among “Unnamed MLB Scouts” to be the biggest disappointment in the league.  The two main refrains from Spring Training are always, “best shape of his career,” and “has completely lost it.”  The Phillies have a lot of guys in that second category starting with Rollins and including Howard, Papelbon and possibly even Chase Utley.  Considering the Phillies weren’t good last year, that Cole Hamels will be the DL, and there is still a roster spot for John Mayberry Jr., I’d prepare myself for a very long summer.  The best-case scenario the front office has been blowing smoke about isn’t going to happen.  They’ll struggle to hit, the starting pitching is thin and the bullpen remains a question mark.  Seventy-five wins feels like a ceiling.  As for Rollins, he simply doesn’t mesh with Ryne Sandberg’s vision of what a veteran leader should be.  Sandberg is not a players manager, to a possible extreme that looks like it might alienate him with veterans.  Remember, this is a Hall of Famer who spent 6 years managing (successfully) in the Minors and couldn’t get a big league job.  There had to be some kind of red flag, and I think that red flag was, “The players are going to hate this guy.”  The thing is, it doesn’t matter who wins the stare down, Rollins or Sandberg, the team is going to be bad either way.  It’s just a matter of who stays, and for how long.  

Q: How do you pack your toothbrush?  Do you have a little case for it, or are you like me and just assume your toothbrush is protected against all and any germs and just throw that thing wherever in the suitcase?  Whitey Chicklets, Harrisburg, PA.

A: Tough one.  Sometimes we think things just don’t get dirty.  If I only use my towel to dry off when I’m clean….NO. Or, that sponge is in soapy water several times a week…I’d eat off that SUMBITCH.  Probably not.  Does toothpaste serve as some type of Purell?  Or boiling water?  Probably not.  When I was a kid I’d wrap my toothbrush in tissues and pack it that way.  I assume I was told to do this by my mother, and it sounds dumb, but you keep your toothbrush away from your dirty undies and you also don’t have to use one of those cases.  The cases by the way can become cesspools in their own right.  You have to be diligent about cleaning the case, and really who has the time for that?  Anyone who has ever opened up a kid’s retainer case knows what I’m talking about here.  Maybe the answer is just buying a new toothbrush every time you go away, or bumming one from the hotel.  Cost you a few bucks, but think about the load off your mind.  

Q: Despite the fact that you’ve watched 0 college basketball games this year, I still respect you as one of the top-10,000 sports handicappers in Chester County.  Where are my first round winners? 

A:  I thought you’d never ask!  I’m doing dogs this year for Round one  TWO.  Bet early and heavy….

University Milwaukee Wisconsin (+16.5) over Villanova.  I’ve got a real bad feeling about this Villanova team. Anecdotally, I’ve heard about their balance.  To me this means they don’t have any really good players, which is what the tournament is all about–along with draining tons of threes.  I also, never, ever trust Jay Wright or a Jay Wright team with a big spread.  I’ll take Jay’s suit (-$3,500) over the coach of  UMW, but on the court, take the points.

Harvard (+3) over Cincinnati.  Harvard being a 12 seed means they must actually be decent and not just the token Ivy team.  I think the lines in these 12/5 matchups are starting to reflect the perceived trend of upsets, but this seems especially low.  If Nick Van Exel’s shot is off, the Bearcats will struggle.  Let’s go nerds.

Providence (+4) over North Carolina.  I assume that UNC is still a massive public team, and Providence has never been anything close, not even when Rick Pitino was running down the housewives the Rhode Island.  If I were a UNC fan, which I’m not (Rule of Rick Fox), I’d be kinda, sorta worried the Tar Heels might go ahead and lose this game outright.  Roy does not have enough All-Americans this year.

North Dakota State (+3.5) over Oklahoma.  Is this a hockey game?  Where did this line come from.  ND State might blow the Sooners out.

Ok, I lied, One Favorite: Oregon (-5) over BYU.  I’ve got a little Oregon sleeper vibe going and BYU stinks.  I promise.

***

NCAA POOL INFO:

If anyone is looking for a last second pool entry, the stragglers and downtrodden among you–feel free to join the 3 Putt Territory Group at ESPN.  The name of the group is 3 Putt Territory and the password is danish–all lowercase. There are no prizes, but that only increases your chances to WIN.  That, and the fact that there are about 10 people playing.  ENJOY THE TOURNAMENT.

The Chico’s Bail Bonds Bracket Challenge.

Nice Bracket.

Nice Bracket.

Unfortunately, I was runner-up to Quicken Loans when Warren Buffett was choosing a partner for his Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, so I can’t offer up 10 figures to anyone, but if you want to sign up for a bunch of spam from the asshat who owns the Cavs–go ahead.  No one is stopping you.  I’m sure you’ll still be alive for that billion well into Thrusday afternoon.  At least.

It is amazing how much people love games of chance, and don’t kid yourself–that is what the NCAA pool is regardless of how much college basketball you know or watch.  We’re talking about a month long scratch ticket here. Speaking of which, I have now on multiple occasions seen a group of guys hanging around the scratch ticket machine at a grocery store during the lunch hour.  They appear to be employed, otherwise mostly functional members of society, and yet there they are standing around watching each other do scratch-offs.  Is this a social activity now?  I need to know if anyone else has witnessed something like this.

Back to the bracket.  My darkest confession:  I haven’t watched a college basketball game all year.  What can I tell you?  When you go to a school with a storied basketball tradition like F&M, and you are used to sellout crowds at the G*Rob Center, sitting on your couch watching Michigan (yawn) play Wisconsin (puke) doesn’t get your blood pumping.  You haven’t experienced basketball pandemonium until you’ve seen a white guy throw down a delicate dunk on a breakaway against Swarthmore.  That will send the student section into hysterics.  I once lost a flip-flop during such a scrum.

So, if I haven’t watched a single game all year, how am I going to fill out my bracket?  How will I guarantee I get upwards of 20 of the first 32 games correct?  I spent most of the day trying to figure that out myself and I came up with the following list of guidelines.  Rules for the uneducated…

1.  Protect Your References.  Even if you haven’t watched a minute of basketball, you can distract people with random knowledge.  For example, in those dreaded 8/9 matchups you must play to your strength.  I will take #8 Colorado over #9 Pitt, because if someone asks me about Colorado, I can say, “How many did Chauncey Billups have?” At which point hopefully the person moves onto another topic without me looking like a fool.  The only person I know who went to Pitt is Dan Marino.

Beautiful Hair.

Beautiful Hair.

2.  Be Aware of Zealots.  At this point in my life I just want to watch the games, maybe see a couple of buzzer beaters–the usual.  I don’t need any added stress.  So, if I live with a die-hard fan of some school, or the guy next to me at work has shaved Arizona’s logo into the back of his head, I’m going to pick that team to win a few games.  Path of least resistance.  You’re cheering for your own well-being.

3.  Ask the Biggest College Basketball Fan You Know Who They Have–Then Eliminate That Team.  I guarantee you that every serious fan out there has already filled out at least eleven versions of their bracket.  Sh*t is crossed out.  They hear a podcast from the equipment manager at VCU and suddenly that CHANGES EVERYTHING.  It’s not that they don’t know what they are talking about, it’s that no one is good at doing this.  NO ONE.

4. Hard No to Wichita State.  In 1976, Bobby Knight browbeat his Hoosiers to a perfect 32-0 record and won the national championship.  Quinn Buckner was on that team.  Yes, that odd man you see on television actually played basketball.  But, in the almost four decades since, no other team has pulled off this feat.  And, if UNLV couldn’t do it, I’ll be god-damned if I watch Wichita State go undefeated.  I’ll take Louisville in a laugher.

5. Be Provincial.  It’s far more acceptable to adopt college basketball teams than say an NFL team.  You probably don’t see many Browns fans racehorse down to Cincy to bask in the glow of a Bengals playoff weekend, but I think you can pull this off for the NCAA tournament.  If you can get to a bar that will be packed with a certain team’s fans you should go ahead and get in the mix.  Then someone says, “Oh, did you go to _____?”  No, but I have them in my pool!  If you don’t live near any team that is in the dance, I suggest heading to Omaha.  Might as well get that trip to Nebraska off the bucket list during Doug McDermott’s swan song.

So, there you have it.  Please let me know how well this works for you and kindly pass along a 10% “tribute” from your winnings.

***

Now, in regard to the annual Three Putt Territory Pool, which always crowns a worthy winner and then pays them out a heaping helping of pride, as I said:  No Warren Buffett–Yahoo! (Warren’s other partner) has really got me sour this year, because they required a phone number to reactivate the Three Putt Territory Pool.  If you think I’m going to allow Yahoo! to start sending me text messages, you are SORELY mistaken.  I’ll go completely off the grid before that happens.

So, this year, I’ll be using ESPN to score the pool.  If you played before, I will try to remember this in my brain device and send you an invitation.  If you did not, or you stumbled across this post by accident, feel free to use the following information to join my ESPN group.

Tournament Challenge Home Page.

Group Name: Three Putt Territory

Password: danish

*Use the Edit Bracket Function to Give Your Pool A Name That Will Make Me Chortle.

Good Luck.

What if We Did Away With Endings?

True Backlash.

True Backlash.

What’s the ending?  This has to be up there among the most terrifying puzzles for any writer.  You can create great characters, great suspense, themes, imagery, and comedy, but you’ve still got to put a bow on the damn thing.  The better the build, the better people expect the ending to be.  And yet, how many endings do we actually enjoy?  From TV shows, to books, to movies, how often do you really say, “That ending blew me away.”  

The first time I remember ending backlash was with the Sopranos.  I didn’t watch the Sopranos while it was actually on, and am still not anything close to a superfan, but I watched that finale while it unfolded, because it was a cultural phenomenon.  Like I said, I’m not a big enough fan to critique the ending, but when millions of people think their cable went out–you’re probably going to have a problem.  We live in a world where people get angry about these things.  Maybe only virtually, and on superficial levels, but the angst is palpable.  

The latest reviled ending came from HBO’s True Detective.  True Detective started as a show without much buzz, gained some steam when a very good-looking woman chose to remove her shirt and then rode the Matthew McConaughey Oscar train to the front of the public conscience.  As it turned out, True Detective was the worst kind of show for ending haters, because it was analyzed into dust.  Obsessives with time on their hands and bones to make, expounded theories, found connections and symbols a casual viewer would overlook and created a list of questions the show never had any hope of answering.  

So, when the show ended last night with Hart and Cohle getting a man, not necessarily THE MAN, and then kind of stumbling into the darkness as each other’s crutch, it set off waves of internet anger.  WHO IS THE YELLOW KING? What about Maggie’s parents?  WHERE WAS THE TWIST?  The ending, especially the last 15 minutes was anti-climatic, but I don’t know how it wouldn’t have been.  The show was called True Detective, not Choose Your Own Voodoo Adventure.  

This isn’t to say I loved the ending, or that I felt especially sated with how things played out.  In truth I was a bit underwhelmed, underwhelmed with the boat interrogation right up through the climax at “Carcosa.”  I saw it coming, though.  The greatness, if you want to call it that, of this show was in the buildup.  It was the dialog, the interplay between Harrelson and McConaughey.  The best part of this show was always going to be the pursuit, not the collar. And, that’s why I think I would have been better off not watching the final episode, or at least turning it off after that bullet connected with Errol’s dome.  

In contrast to True Detective the recent end of another rabidly followed show, Breaking Bad, was much more well-received.  Unlike True Detective, Breaking Bad didn’t have a lot of open questions left at the end.  It was a final season that spent a lot of time answering the question, “Who is going to survive this?”  By the finale, not many characters were left standing, a real twist seemed impossible.  And, Breaking Bad did us the favor of tying up many of the loose ends, if not all of them.  So, it was a good finale in the sense it didn’t leave unanswered questions, but is that how we really rate things?  

There seems to have been a movement toward the open-ended ending.  Years back, I don’t remember watching many movies and thinking, “wait that’s it?”  Now, every third movie I watch I’m a little surprised to see the credits roll. And, with books it’s even worse.  I expect newer books I read now to just gently fade into the middle.  No big lesson, surprise or twist.  A lot of books are glimpses into a world and then suddenly someone turns the lights off.  

At first I thought this was terrible.  I want my neat ending.  But, I’m thinking that neat might actually be boring and not that satisfying anyway.  Has any comedy movie ever been made where the final twenty minutes are the funniest? Think of your favorite comedy and then ask yourself whether you liked the first half or the second half better.  I think we have been conditioned to want the great ending.  Many movies I’d list among my favorites have very satisfying endings.  Shawshank Redemption.  Scent of a Woman.  An array of sports movies, but maybe we should look at these as the exception.  

I say all this knowing that I’d never skip out on the finale of a show I actively watch.  Mad Men is eventually going to end and that ending will be a cloudy mess of innuendo at best and I’ll probably hate it, but I’m going to watch.  What I really want is to watch the first few seasons in perpetuity.  That’s the world I want to peek in on.  I’d rather watch 75 episodes from the 60s than watch someone try to piece together what SHOULD happen with Don Draper and Company in the 70s.  

It makes me think a bit of The Simpsons, because even though that show has been running for decades now and I don’t know a soul that has watched it in ten years, part of the reason why it was so good in the beginning was because it wasn’t going anywhere.  The characters were static and each episode was just a look into their world.  It definitely has kept the show going as well, because I don’t think Bart at 35 years old holds an audience, but even on an animated series that’s been running for twenty-five seasons, I’m sure there are still a FEW people out there who are expecting a certain ending for The Simpsons when it finally ends, if it ever ends.  

I just wonder if they shouldn’t be, or if we shouldn’t be so demanding of our endings.

Reinventing Fast Food Breakfast.

If You Have the Stones To Order This, It Should be Available 24/7.

If You Have the Stones To Order This, It Should be Available 24/7.

On a scale of zero to Dunkin Donuts serving tuna sandwiches where would you rate the Taco Bell Waffle Taco?  For me, it’s a bit hard to determine, because this really isn’t a taco.  It appears to be a waffle sandwich, which while equally troubling, might be a bit less disgusting?  Does the sausage have Tex/Mex flavoring, because that would be a tremendous red flag.  Is that a pitcher of “dipping syrup” next to the taco?  I assume Taco Bell’s syrup comes from Not-Vermont?  What I don’t understand is why T-Bell thinks it can penetrate the breakfast market.  Are there people out there who think, “If I could only eat Taco Bell a fourth time a day…”

Anyway, the Taco Bell Waffle Taco is a part of a number of food innovations I’ve seen lately.  Some, like the cookie dough flavored Oreos appear to be inspired.  Others seem a bit haphazardly thrown together.  Is working in new product development for a fast food chain the easiest job in America?  Do they have a fat checker?  Just a guy at the top of the chain who is paid the big bucks to say, gut reaction–is this chubby enough?

I’ve actually had the opportunity to peruse some confidential fast food files and believe it or not, other fast food chains are not taking the Waffle Taco sitting down.  There will be a response.  A preview…

KFC:  Potato Oatmeal.

Not a new dish as much as a re-branding POWER MOVE.  The KFC potato oatmeal will be a bowl of mashed potatoes. They are focusing more on the “meal” than the “oat” in this effort and it’s expected to be a monster success.  Mix in chunks of your favorite breakfast meat for an additional $.49.

Wendy’s: SAC O’ BACON.

Wendy’s is on the leading of the bacon movement.  They will not be out-baconed and if you want 8 slices of bacon your burger, just walk into Wendy’s and tell them you got 7 slices at Burger King and they will give you the 8th ON PRINCIPLE.  The Sac o’ Bacon is essentially what it sounds like– 8oz of crisp bacon in a bag.  Complimentary bacon flavored mayo for dipping.

Pizza Hut: Pizzomelet.  

Are you familiar with the P’Zone?  This is a product that I was surprised to find still on the Pizza Hut menu.  It’s what the person who invented the stromboli feared might happen to the stromboli.  BUT, the Pizzomelet is a whole other animal.  It answers one of life’s greatest questions, “why can’t I eat this omelet with my hands?”  A buttery dough shell around that bad boy will solve all your problems.  Like everything else at Pizza Hut, a 3 lb side of penne alfredo will cost you only an additional $3.99.

Dairy Queen: Breakfast Blizzard.  

The Ice Cream for breakfast market is WIDE OPEN.  Dairy Queen is going to charge through the door with the breakfast blizzard.  Maple flavored soft-serve loaded with chunks of bacon.  Substitute scrapple for bacon in PA locations only.

Roy Rogers: Waffle Fixin’ Bar

The inventors of the Fixings Bar find a new muse.  The Belgian waffle.  The Belgian waffle crosses socio-economic lines.  It makes ANYONE feel like they are getting a classy breakfast.  You combine that with your choice of an array of syrups, sweet toppings, ice cream, and you have turned around an entire company–maybe.  Now just hop on a random turnpike and hope to find a location.

Burger King: Butter Nuggets

Is Burger King the most decadent of the fast food chains?  Has any other chain embraced what they are as much as Burger King?  Do we want to try to expand to a market that eats healthier, or do we want to continue to throw our loyal customers fastballs RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE?  I think Burger King leans toward that second philosophy and this breakfast trend has them ready to take the next step.  Much like the great French cooks, Burger King knows the value of butter.  What makes this taste good?  Butter.  So, lets cut to the chase.  Burger king is now proud to serve up butter nuggets (salted or unsalted) in 3, 5, 7 or 20 pieces.  ENJOY.

Golf Equipment Guide.

For Those With Cabin Fever.

For Those With Cabin Fever.

I’m not sure when the tees are going to go back in the ground in Pennsylvania.  It’s going to be a while.  I’ve never been one to play golf through the winter, but by Mid-February you start to think about possibly stealing a round. Not this year.  So to pass the time a bit, quench the thirst, I thought I’d offer up a little equipment guide for those with the itch.  I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m nothing if not opinionated.  Find the key to shaving zero shots off your game….

Drivers:

It's Callaway's Year.

It’s Callaway’s Year.

It seems like TaylorMade is finally suffering some backlash from consumers who don’t appreciate their short product cycle.  If you ever really want a T-MAG driver, be patient, it’ll save you a bunch of money.  Along with killing the value of their clubs in trade, TaylorMade is now well into the life of its “speed pocket” technology.  What felt like a revolution with the original RBZ woods barely moves the needle in the Jetspeed driver.  On the other hand, Callaway is making a huge push with its Big Bertha marketing campaign and has a piece of real innovation with the gravity core in the Big Bertha Alpha.  Unfortunately, that driver will cost you half a stack ($499 retail).  

Best New Driver:  Callaway Big Bertha.  

The Big Bertha, just released on Valentine’s Day, is creating more buzz than any driver I’ve seen in past two years.  For most consumers, they’re simply looking for yardage, and for an average player that means more distance from all spots on the face.  Spoiler, if you are a 18-handicap you probably don’t center it up THAT often.  The Big Bertha accomplishes this forgiveness and still gives the player several adjustability options with a sliding weight on the back of the club and two adjustable weights for the heel and toe. 

Best Drivers for Better Players:  

*The Titleist 913 series remains a standard in this category, but since it’s been over a year since its launch, I’m not going to include it on this list.  

For a lot of good players the quest for a driver involves reducing carry-robbing spin.  If you’re on the PGA Tour and have this problem you can get hooked up with a $500 shaft and all is well, but we’re starting to see some lower spinning clubheads that allow high-speed players to use a bit more loft and start maxing out their carry potential. There are two leaders in this category…

Big Bertha Alpha: The Alpha’s gravity core can lower spin by several hundred RPMs without any other adjustment to the golf club.  This is a huge technological advancement.  But, since the Alpha is $499, and the lower spin won’t benefit the average player, beware buying this driver just because it is the latest and greatest.  Most players will be better off with the regular Bertha, or even the X2Hot.  

TaylorMade SLDR TP/SLDR 430:  The SLDR is TaylorMade’s best advancement in a while and the driver has been incredibly popular with their Tour Staff.  The issue with the low-spinning SLDR is that it is not for every player and you need an experienced fitter to set you up with the correct loft, etc.  Again, most players will be better off with T-Mag’s Jetspeed line, but these clubs aren’t a huge departure from other recent releases.  

Sleeper Driver: Cobra Bio Cell/Bio Cell+

You may have not given a second thought to Cobra since you saw your grandfather playing the original King Cobra Offset woods in the nineties, but with an increasing presence on Tour, Cobra is responding with some serious clubs. They may look awful, and you may not be craving an orange driver in your bag, but if you are looking for pure distance, the Bio Cell is a must try.  Solid stock shaft option as well.  

***

Fairway Woods: 

I Like My Fairway Woods Like I Like My...Nevermind.

I Like My Fairway Woods Like I Like My…Nevermind.

My general advice on fairway woods is that you should never, EVER, abandon a fairway wood like you like and consistently get in play in pursuit of a few extra yards.  Does it matter if you hit your 3-wood 235 or 241?  Not really. And that is true regardless of the wood and how far you hit them.  However, if you are in the market for a new fairway wood…

Best (Newish) Fairway Wood:  Adams Tight Lies

As I said, most of this is personal preference.  Size of head, depth of face.  I actually prefer the look of a little bit deeper faced fairway wood.  I like the XHot Deep Series (X2Hot Deep Coming Soon) and the 913 FD, but I found it tough to argue with the performance of the Tight Lies.  It has velocity slots on the top and the bottom of the club, making it not the most beautiful club at address, but this thing is a rocket.  And, it launches surprisingly high and offers forgiveness as well.  Great all-around club.  And, this is coming from someone who equated the original Tight Lies club with the Alien wedge.  

Longest Fairway Woods (In Addition to the Tight Lies): 

  1. TaylorMade Jetspeed
  2. Callaway Big Bertha
  3. Cobra Bio Cell
  4. Callaway X2Hot

The TaylorMade Jetspeed is undoubtedly a monster.  It carries forever.  The Callaway Big Bertha is also a very long club as is the X2Hot, but I don’t see the technological advancement in comparison to the original XHot to make the upgrade.  And again, the Cobra is a sneaky long and quality option.  

***

Hybrids:

Touch 'Em All, You Just Went Yard.

Touch ‘Em All, You Just Went Yard.

My advice for fairway woods holds true here as well, though I would encourage seeking out more carry distance in your hybrids.  These are some of the most important clubs in the bag as executing from 175-230 can drastically improve your game.  If you can suddenly get to a 210 yard par-3 instead of hoping to get somewhere around the surface, that can be a big help.  

*Much like the 913 Drivers, I must mention the Ping G25 Hybrids.  These are probably my favorite hybrids on the market right now and the whole G25 line, while not brand new is great equipment.  Unfortunately Ping has a long product cycle and it can sometimes feel like you aren’t getting great value paying full retail for a club more than a year after its release.  

Best New Hybrid:  Callaway x2Hot.

If you are starting to think I’m a paid advertiser for Callaway, I’ll just mention that I thought the original Xhot hybrids were mostly garbage.  I didn’t like the shape (I prefer  my hybrids to look like mini-fairway woods as opposed to driving irons) and I didn’t see anything noteworthy in the performance.  The X2HOT changes that.  Callaway has put their cup face fairway technology into the hybrids and the result is more distance.  A LOT more distance.  

Best of the Rest: 

  1. Adams XTD
  2. Taylormade Jetspeed
  3. Nike VRS Covert 2.0

Adams makes a really good hybrid and I’ll be anxious to see the new Pro Series that will launch later this year.  For now, the XTD is a monster but probably only for better players with some wallet ($300 for a hybrid).  TaylorMade has always done well in this category, and don’t be afraid to try an original RBZ if you are new to this market.  The performance will be comparable for half the price.  I have vowed in the past to never say a positive thing about a Nike club, this came on the release of their fabled Slingshot irons years ago, but they’ve come a long way and the Covert 2.0 hybrid is a solid option and the 2.0 Driver isn’t terrible either.  Won’t be in my bag, but trying to be fair here.  Also, for the average and recreational player, don’t be afraid to re-explore the Cobra Baffler or Adams New Idea.

***

Iron Sets:  

If You Ever Wanted to Try Mizuno...

If You Ever Wanted to Try Mizuno…

Iron technology moves faster than you might think.  Thin faces and strong lofts have created a boom in iron distance.  If you are at home swinging a set of 10-year old irons, I promise you will gain at least a club in distance just by going to the new technology.  You can put your same horsebleep swing on it–promise.  Part of this is what used to be a 5-iron is now almost a 7-iron, but also the equipment companies are making thinner iron faces while not sacrificing the solid feel that most golfers crave.  

*Note on Blade Irons:  If you play blade irons, you probably don’t need any advice from me.  On the other end of the spectrum I wouldn’t encourage anyone to get into blade irons from a CB model just feel like a player, or in pursuit of “feedback.”  If you want blades, the same companies have been making the best for a while.  Mizuno, Miura, Titleist…

My Favorite Irons Across A Few Categories:

(Mostly) Players Iron: TaylorMade TP CB.  One of my favorite iron sets ever was the Taylor Made 300 Forged. If someone ever wants to get me a present, you can track down a set of these for me.  I could probably no longer hit the 3-iron, but they were gorgeous.  And the feel was incredible.  I don’t know if TaylorMade has reached that height since, but the most forgiving of their new TP line is my favorite.  Unfortunately, these are not forged, but still offer pretty solid feel.  

Forged Forgiveness: Mizuno EZ Forged.  Mizuno with their forging and weak lofts isn’t for everyone, but you aren’t going to find many better or consistently made forged clubs out in the market–especially from a major manufacturer.  The new EZ line opens up Mizuno to a new cast of players.  Longer than previous iterations of their game improvement irons, the EZ line reminds you of some of Ping’s best work.  The EZ Forged doesn’t look like a traditional Mizuno forged club, but the feel is there and they are surprisingly easy to hit.  

Runnner Up: Callaway Apex–Long and Forgiving for an iron of their shape and construction.  

Players Cavity Backs: Titleist 714 AP2.  I’ve heard some lament the new AP2 saying it’s not forgiving, doesn’t go anywhere, among other things.  Personally, I think the club looks great and feels great–when you flush it.  I am probably looking for a bit more forgiveness at this point and maybe trying to squeeze a few yards as well, but there is nothing wrong with this club.  Beautiful package.  

Worth Noting: Callaway X2Hot Pro:  A much more forgiving and longer iron in a pretty compact package.  

New Irons to Buy if You Aren’t Good:

  1. Ping Karsten
  2. Taylormade Speedblade
  3. Adams Idea Hybrid Iron Set
  4. Cobra Baffler XL

The majority of these clubs will look hideous at address, but if you don’t know any better–who cares?  They’ll get it in the air, they’ll correct your mishits, and make the game more fun.  The Ping Karsten is one to watch, the first iron Ping has made where they are focusing on distance.  Could be a winner for them.  The Speedblade is not a super game-improvement iron, but is the most forgiving club currently in T-Mag’s lineup.  Always a contender when seeking distance in this category.  

***

Wedges:

The World Eagerly Awaits.

The World Eagerly Awaits.

There isn’t much to say on wedges.  Instead of recommendations, I’ll offer a few tips for getting your wedges:

1.  If you have custom specs, or are a low-handicap player, do not buy wedges off the rack.  If you have a Dynamic Gold x100 in your pitching wedge, you probably shouldn’t have a basic wedge flex shaft in your sand wedge.  Also, if your other clubs are long/short or have a lie angle adjustment, it makes sense to do this to your wedge also.  

2. Don’t get too bogged down in sole grind.  Different grind options on the sole are the newest things we’re seeing in wedges, but this matters more to very good players, or players who can afford to switch out their wedges based on conditions.  You probably want the wedge that is most versatile for the conditions you usually play in, not a wedge that Phil had specifically designed for Augusta.  The grinds that offer a variable bounce angle are worth looking into. 

3. Mid-Bounce is almost always the way to go.

4. Check your spin.  For most players the spin of a wedge is the most important factor.  Don’t just buy a Cleveland or Vokey because you think you are supposed to, go somewhere you can see how they perform for you.  

***

Putters: 

You've Seen These Heads Before.

You’ve Seen These Heads Before.

Not a soul out there should be taking putting advice from me, not only am I a very average putter I don’t really feel the difference between a lot of the available options.  There are certain putters that could better fit your stroke, but other than that I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending one putter over another.  Of what’s out there right now, I like the feel (I think) of the TR line from Ping, the newest of which can be found in the Karstens you see above. Also the first putter I’ve seen available in that old copper finish in a long time.  I also reluctantly like some of the putters in the Nike MOD line, and new Scotty Camerons will be available this spring including the return of one of my favorite heads–the Squareback.  

Thoughts on Counter-Balanced Putters:  In response to the ban on long and anchored putters, a lot of manufacturers are offering counter-balanced options.  This is a putter in the 36-39 inch range with a heavy head and a heavy grip.  They are designed to be choked-up on, and the argument is they greatly stabilize the face.  I find these putters roll out very well, and do swing nicely, but whether or not they are here to stay remains to be seen.  

***

Golf Balls:

How's 38 Compression Sound?

How’s 38 Compression Sound?

Things have changed a lot since my days on the college golf team when I would proudly tee it up with a Titleist Professional 100 every time out.  Back in the day MEN used 100 compression.  Of course the golf balls had rubber bands in them…

Personally, I cannot tell the difference between most tour balls.  It is important to know however that if you want the performance of a tour ball there are now more options than there used to be.  Most players would benefit from exploring the Bridgestone B330 RX line, Callaway’s Speed Regime 1/2, and other balls that are designed for less than tour clubhead speeds.  

If you are an average player, who is looking for distance, doesn’t spend a lot of time on fast/penal greens and doesn’t want to spend a fortune, please buy the following:

  1. Callaway Supersoft (38 compression–goes forever)
  2. Wilson Staff Duo
  3. Titleist Velocity
  4. Maxfli Noodle
  5. Bridgestone E-Series

***

Shoes:

Footjoy Steps Up.

Footjoy Steps Up.

When I was in high school there was little I wanted more than a pair of Footjoy Classics.  This is what the guys on tour wore, they were leather soled, probably uncomfortable for the first 20 wears and the opposite of light.  But, they were also a status symbol.  I never got a pair.  They were QUITE expensive.  By the time I could afford a pair, the Classics were replaced by the ICON–Footjoy no longer making a leather soled shoe.  Even though I never got the Classics, my taste in shoes has remained traditional.  I still wear spiked shoes and play most of my rounds in Dryjoy Tours.  But, I’m starting to come around a bit on the weight factor as companies combine lightness with a look that doesn’t scream soccer or sweet, sweet skating…

My Top-5 Shoes:

1.  Footjoy DNA.  I wish I could still wear “nails” as they were called so I could dig in and take a pass at the ball.  This is why I try to get as much spike as I can for my money.  The DNA has serious traction, but is far lighter and more comfortable than the Dryjoy Tour.  

2.  Nike Lunar Control.  Rory’s shoe.  Very light and tons of cushion, but still feels substantial and stabilizing.  

3. Footjoy Dryjoy Casual.  Kind of like the old “shop shoes” which I also always wanted, but a bit more stylish and very lightweight.  

4. Ecco Biom Hybid.  I prefer the look of the Tour Hybrid (a dress shoe look), but the other style currently worn by Fred Couples/Graeme McDowell etc., are much more popular.  

5.  Adidas Adipure.  I’m pretty sure these are out of the line for 2014, and that’s a shame.  Adidas’s best shoe by a mile.  

***

That’s it…feel free to ask questions, I’ve hit them all (badly).