September 2008

Welcome to my third edition of Chips Shots, a weekly piece in which I awkwardly attempt to blend grammar and golf into one bipartisan column…a column without need of a $700 billion bailout.

The Tee Box Is Your Friend

This one is really, really simple. And let’s be honest: if I’m playing with you on a casual Saturday round and you break this rule, then no big deal. But if we’re in a tournament, a qualifier, or anything that slightly resembles an official match, I will call this on you so fast you won’t be able to blink. I’ve already told you about my fierce, angry and competitive side.

Playing in a tournament? Save your fellow competitors the drama, and tee it up behind the markers.

Playing in a tournament? Save your fellow competitors the drama, and tee it up behind the markers.

Here’s the deal. Every tee box has two markers. You’ve seen them. You know them well. Place your ball behind them, please. If you tee your ball up in front of the markers, it’s a two shot penalty. If you tee your ball up over two clublengths behind the markers, it’s a two shot penalty.

Now, you know me. I’m a polite guy. So I’m going to let you know that you’re in front of the markers before you hit the ball. And if that’s the case, you’re in good shape. Just move your ball back and swing away.

But let’s say I miss it, and Johnny the A-hole golfer decides not to notify you. You knock your drive down the middle, but that hardly matters because, you guessed it, you’ll have to take a two shot penalty and hit again, this time from behind the markers.

It’s really simple. Now, like I said: if we’re playing a casual round, then no big deal. But if you’re playing in a tournament, this is Tournament Golf 101. Just tee your ball behind the markers. Read USGA golf rule 11-4b. Spare everyone the drama.

Speaking of drama, let’s discuss semicolons.

The Semicolon: He’s Your Buddy, Too

The semicolon is like the bastard child of punctuation. Nobody wants to own up to it. Nobody wants to take the time to understand it. So the semicolon pretty much lives a solitary life.

The enigmatic semicolon. It mocks you.

The enigmatic semicolon. It mocks you.

I mean, really, in everyday writing, who uses the semicolon? Not that many people…because no one knows what the crap it does.

You can use the semicolon in myriad ways. But, in reality, you really never have to use the semicolon. Just use a period instead and you’ll be fine. I’ve read many writers, who in their attempt to be fancy and sophisticated, attempt to drop the random semicolon into sentences in which it had no place. That’s just silly.

Semicolons separate independent clauses that are closely related. They are not the same thing as colons, which introduce and define something. Here’s a situation in which a semicolon would not be used.

I love playing golf in the fall; the 18th hole at East Lake is difficult.

Now those are two random and unrelated sentences, but they are both independent clauses–meaning, they could both stand alone as sentences. So instead of a semicolon, you want to place a period there to make the sentence gramatically correct and more pleasing to nerds like me.

For a semicolon to make sense, the sentence would read something like this:

I love playing golf in the fall; the chill in the air always helps me play better.

The above clauses are a little more related in meaning, right? So you can see how the semicolon would work there. The clauses are both independent; they could stand alone. But the semicolon introduces a bit of synergy (corporate speak) between the two clauses in a way that the period can’t.

To be honest, you never have to use a semicolon, ever. It’s really just punctuation for the gramatically elite; they like to use it because they realize you don’t know how. So it makes them feel better to flex their grammatical muscles.

It’s not a colon, and it’s definitely not a comma. The semicolon is closest in relation to the period. But, before you use it, you’ve got remember to examine the relationship between the two clauses–are they related?

Quite simply, when in doubt, use the period. You can replace a semicolon with a period and you’ll be okay. But don’t replace a period with a semicolon if you’re not sure it’s correct…it’ll just look stupid.

And my lame explanation above is just one of the many, many, many ways to use the semicolon. Like most punctuation and rules of grammar, there’s tons of exceptions and other suffocating rules.

But, please, do feel free to ask questions and point out any blatant inconsistencies in my explanations. I know many of the rules, but I don’t promise to do the best job of explaining them.

So I’ll let the late, great Kurt Vonnegut close out today’s discussion on semicolons. Of this enigmatic punctation mark, Vonnegut said: “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Few long irons needed here. But bring a good putter.

Few long irons needed here. But bring a good putter.

Yesterday was my first visit to McCabe Golf Course here in Nashville. Of the six municipal courses in the city, McCabe is probably the most well kept.

The fairways were well manicured and the greens rolled quick and true. At $36 for 18 holes on a weekend, you just can’t beat this course. Harpeth Hills plays longer and more difficult than McCabe, but their greens have been pretty rough this summer, hairy and spotty in many places.

Though I shot a respectable 73 on the par 70 (north and south nine), the round was nothing to write home about. McCabe is a short track, so I had a lot of wedges and short irons into the green. But I rarely capitalized on the opportunities.

Until the last three holes, my putting just sucked. I now understand why Brandt Snedeker is such an outstanding putter. Growing up playing on this course has to be a boost to the short game. What McCabe lacks in length, it makes up for in the undulation and difficulty of its greens.

It took the large majority of the round for me to figure out the speed and break on the greens. Through the 15th hole, I don’t think I sunk a putt longer than four feet. But I made a 10-footer and about a 30-footer on 16 and 17 to finish with two birdies in the last three holes.

I’ll definitely be back out to McCabe, a solid and very playable course. It’s a nice change up from my current “home course”, Harpeth Hills. Enjoyed playing with Alex, Tom, and Lewis–all very solid golfers, which always makes for an enjoyable round. And, holy crap, the weather was awesome–mid 70s. Just a beautiful day in Nashville.

Gotta take advantage of the unbelievable weather here. Perfect for golf. I plan on playing once a week well into November, getting some much needed practice before returning to amateur play next spring. I have a long way to go to get ready for that.

Georgia just got the living crap beat out of them.

Coach Richt, retire the black jerseys. It was nice last year. But, apparently the guys thought they could just throw the black jerseys on and win. UGA was not prepared for Alabama. 

Willie Martinez, the UGA defensive coordinator, got abused in the first half. Not since Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators visited Athens in 1995 have I seen such a beating in Sanford Stadium. God help us.

Don’t let the final score of 41-30 fool you. Alabama owned Georgia. Embarassing.

On the bright side, I did shoot a decent round of 73 this morning. But my 28-17 prediction was a joke. At least Florida lost to Ole Miss. That’s good news. Maybe UGA will get another shot at Bama in the SEC Championship. But after that abysmal showing, it looks like any national title hopes are done.

So much for the perfect man day.

So this week my wife began her 7 on/7 off shift at the hospital. That basically means she works 80 hours, including weekends, during one week, then has the next week off.  On the down side, the weeks she works are very long and tiring. But on the bright side, she has every other week off…not a bad deal.

Tomorrow is my first Saturday adapting to this new schedule.  So, in my wife’s absence, I’ve loaded the day with activities that only a 32-year-old golfaholic, college-football-obsessed male could appreciate.

Let’s take a look at the brilliance of September 27, 2008: the perfect man day.

6:45 a.m: Arise from slumber. Shower.

7:30 a.m: Arrive at McCabe Golf Course. Many practice swings to loosen old bones.

8:00 a.m: Tee off at McCabe, playing with Tom, Lewis, and Alex.

12:30 p.m: Putt out on 18…I’ll take a 76 since I’ve never played on this course.

1:30 p.m: Meet beautiful wife for lunch.

2:30 p.m: Return to house. Take up residence on west side of couch. Watch ESPN Gameday (recorded from this morning) at the Georgia-Alabama game. Mock Lee Corso, who inevitably will pick Bama to win.

4:00 p.m: Watch second half of Auburn-Tennessee game. Enjoy another Phil Fulmer loss and a Tennessee implosion.

6:00 p.m: Begin pacing. Determine proper angle on couch from which to watch Georgia game. East or West?

6:45 p.m: Tune to kickoff of the Georgia-Alabama game. Turn off all communication with outside world. If Bama scores first, change to another seat. Adjust lighting as needed. This is important stuff.

8:30 p.m: Welcome beautiful wife home from work. Invite her to watch game. Kiss her as she politefully declines, choosing to watch recorded season premiere of Gray’s Anatomy instead.

10:00 p.m: Celebrate 28-17 Georgia victory. High five beautiful wife, who has just finished watching Gray’s Anatomy. Yell, “Go Dawgs” and “War Eagle” as a unified family (until November 15).

11:00 p.m: Return to slumber. Dream of November 1, when Georgia will put the beatdown on Florida.

Were tomorrow a day in February, I’d be screwed. No wife around, no sports of significance on television. But the beauty of the fall will be in full force. College football and golf…two of life’s great diversions, meeting together for a perfect storm.

And to recap my predictions…a 76 on the golf course. And a 28-17 Georgia victory over Alabama. Hold me accountable, people. Hold me accountable.

Have a great weekend.

…would anyone notice?

What was the PGA Tour thinking? Following the emotion and dramatics of the Ryder Cup this week, the PGA Tour closes its season with, perhaps, the most anticlimactic golf tournament in the history of this beloved sport. Not since Old Tom Morris wiped the floor with Willie Park has a golf tournament been so decided before the first tee shot.


If Vijay can manage to not get D.Q'ed, he wins the FedEx Cup. How dramatic. (Image:Fiveholer/Flickr)

I know these guys couldn’t predict that Vijay would run away with the FedEx Cup title. But I don’t understand why the Tour took the week off before the Ryder Cup. What we have now is an already unappealing Tour Championship, with an already decided playoff champion, following three of the most incredible golf days in recent history.

Any luster the Tour Championship might have had is now lost because it was preceded by such an incredible and historical event.  This is like Pearl Jam opening up for Kenny G. Seriously, what the crap is that all about?

What the PGA Tour needs to do is two-fold:

First, on Ryder Cup years, don’t schedule the Cup before the Tour Championship. I don’t care how dramatic they believe this playoff system might be, it has no chance of holding a candle to the Ryder Cup. Casual interest in golf wanes, and wanes quickly, as soon as the Cup ends.

And, second, scrap the current Tour Championship format. Start the playoffs as normal, with the first three tournaments narrowing the field down to 32. Then take the final 32 and make it a match play tournament for all the marbles.

Does the Ryder Cup not prove the popularity of match play? Instead of this watered down, BCS-like formula, what if the FedEx Cup came down to a head-to-head match between Tiger Woods and Anthony Kim, or Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson?  How much more interesting would that be?

This playoff system is inherently uninteresting. They absolutely need to spice it up. Match play would do just that. Keep the tournament at East Lake. Add two more players to make it 32. And let ’em go at it one-on-one. That is the only way to make this playoff system interesting.

Get a clue, Commissioner Tim Finchem. Get a clue.

I’m my own worst critic.

Some might call it a strength because I always see room for improvement, regardless of what I’m doing and how adept I might be at a certain task.

Others might label it a weakness because I rarely feel confident enough to compliment my own work. I’m abnormally quick to see a negative and painfully slow to see a positive.

In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Perhaps God has blessed me with a healthy amount of cynicism. So what’s the point? Well, I mention this because it’s a trait that naturally seeps into my golf game.

I’ve never struck a perfect 7 iron. Relative to my golf swing, I’ve hit many nice shots over the years, even holing out quite a few. But, the way I see it, a flawed beginning cannot produce a perfect result.

My swing is far from perfect. And if my swing always has room to improve, then a perfectly struck 7 iron is not a perfectly struck 7 iron at all. It’s more like a series of synchronized compensations that produce an acceptable result. I’m kind of joking there. Kind of.

Part of the reason I burned out on golf was my inability to silence, or at least temper, that negative voice. But then God led me to writing, and my inner critic began to cultivate, not suffocate, my talents.

Writing as an art is inherently a process of purification–in other words, filtering the excess and muck out of the content. Any writer worth his or her salt will never publish a first draft. The writer must massage and tweak copy to better convey meaning, to produce rythym and flow, and to weed out unnecessary fluff. So writing—and especially editing—involves finding and nuking the negative stuff. It’s a process, not an event.

Though I’ve come to accept blogging as different—a more casual, less anal, style of writing—I’m still incessantly bothered every time I post. Because I know somewhere on this page there’s an errant typo, a clunky cluster of words, a sucky word choice, or just a flat-out piece of crap sentence. It happens.

But back to golf. To become a better golfer, I believe you have to be a self-critic. You have to spot the flaws, the inconsistencies, the seemingly minute details of your game. Otherwise, you’ll never get better.

You have to compete with yourself. Though I’m a pretty low-key fellow at work and at home, when I get on the golf course I transform into somewhat of a competitive, bullheaded S.O.B.

My language seems to change—not for the better, and short of 14 fairways, 18 greens, and 68 strokes, there’s always something for me to be ticked about. But if I hit 14 fairways, 18 greens, and only shoot a 68, then my putting must have sucked. You see what I’m saying about self-criticism?

Anyway, I’m no Bob Rotella or Dr. Phil. But, in my opinion, if you want to be a good golfer–or if you want to be good at anything–you have to be able to criticize yourself.

Does that mean beating yourself up at every opportunity? No, I do enough of that for both of us. But you’ve got to be introspective enough to see your flaws and address them. Denial sucks.

And one more point: You’ve got to take in stride constructive criticism from others. Now, don’t worry about Joe the Wannabe PGA Pro who, without prompting, offers needless advice at every tee box. Ignore that guy.

But talk to the golf pro, the better players at your club, guys in your foursome who can at least identify any major flaws in the swing.

You’ve got to have thick skin. This is something I learned in writing that has helped me in my return to golf. Creative writing workshops in college quickly taught me to enjoy the power of red. Though it hurt to see a professor or a fellow student mark up my paper like a bad painting, it helped me see how others viewed my writing.

Golf is the same. The golfer who never looks for feedback will rarely improve.

Not that you asked for advice, not that you want advice, but I’m offering advice. I’m so old these days that it takes four or five practice swings for all my bones to stop cracking. So if I’m old enough for that, I think I’m old enough to offer unsolicited advice on my blog. But you get what you pay for.

Now go critique yourself and get better at whatever it is you do! Until next time…

I’ve never been to a Ryder Cup. I had the opportunity to go this year, thanks to my friend Bryant (aka Boogie, one of Game Under Repair’s most consistent readers and commenters. We appreciate that.), but, because of prior commitments in Atlanta, I was unable to make the trip up the road to Louisville.

I’ve been to countless SEC football games in my life, and dozens of Atlanta Falcons games back when the Georgia Dome was packed out and Michael Vick was the superstar of the NFL. And I’m telling you, just watching the Ryder Cup on television reminds me of those football games. It’s unbelievable.

Keep in mind that Valhalla hosted 40,000 people over the weekend. And while that may not seem like many compared to a major college football game, when you get 20,000 people lining one fairway and green, then it is LOUD.

And the crazy thing about the Ryder Cup is–instead of 40,000 spread out across the course, as is the case in a major Tour stop, you have them all packed around four groups on four holes, or about eight holes or so during the Sunday matches. We’re talking twenty to thirty deep in some places.

I found this clip on YouTube that really gives me an idea of what it’s like to be there. This is raw video of Anthony Kim’s putt to defeat Sergio Garcia.  Funniest part of the Ryder Cup, Kim was so into the moment that he forgot he won the match and started to walk to the next tee.

But, really, listen to how loud that crowd is. This is really golf at its best. There’s no sporting event quite like the Ryder Cup. None.

Next Page »