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Albuquerque Golf Trip, Day One (Live from the Pull Out Couch)

8/08/2007
Greetings from the La Quinta Inn and Suites in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico. Day One is in the books of our annual golf binge, this year were in da ABQ. One round down, four more days and at least eight rounds to go.

Surprisingly, we had to come to New Mexico to beat the sweltering heat of Chicago, where the 95 degree temps and matched by the 95% humidity. I can't imagine what it's like in Oklahoma for the PGA Championship. Let's just hope that Mickelson doesn't wear any light colored shirts this week. It was 85 and sunny here, no real humidity to speak of despite it being monsoon season.

Travel went off relatively smoothly without a hitch. The highlight of the day was when all three of our golf bags came out of the oversized baggage claim chute. Instead of my usual business travel by style (United Premier, short-term parking, Economy Plus, etc.), I was slumming it with Jefe and Jimbo in econo-parking (Lot G at O'Hare, the one that you have to take the bus that takes you to the lot that has the tram that takes you to the terminal. They spend billions to expand O'Hare, but they can't shell out to extend the tram another 500 yards? Anyways, shlepping the luggage and sticks to the American terminal was enough to work up a lather. Next year, we're taking a limo and flying United.

I've known Jefe for about half my life, yet he still never ceases to amaze me. I learned a lot about the guy today. First of all, the dude is becoming more and more afraid of flying, which adds more credence to my claim that he's a 45-year old woman trapped in a man's body. Unfortunately, I was sitting next to him, which meant I would either probably have to hold his hand or he'd vomit all over me. Then on the way to the gate, he drops this bomb on us: "I'm going to try to grow a mustache this week." Dead serious. It took every ounce of energy for Jimbo and I not to collapse on the floor in laughter, but hey, we're going to support him all the way on this one. I even committed to tracking his daily progress here on the blog. Here he is day one:



Thankfully, Jefe did okay on the flight (although he was too antsy to watch Anchorman with me). There was no hand holding or vomiting. But he did manage to spill his Diet Coke (like I said, 45 yo woman) all over the place, including my brand new Golf Magazine that he had just borrowed (btw, I walked the length of the terminal to find a Hudson News that had the brand new September issue).

Our first round of the trip was at the University of New Mexico Championship Course, which is a great course to either start or end the trip, since it's literally right next to the airport. It's probably a half-mile from the car rental place (yet it took us 20 minutes to get there...even with a GPS device. Don't ask). UNM is a quality course with an old-school feel to it. No bag drops, cart boys, annoying starters, etc (all of which we can gladly live without). UNM feels like the course that you played at growing up, but it's a stern test and a very nice course. Not blow your socks off great, but very solid. The course has character. Most holes are pretty tight off the tee with the fairways sloping to one side or other. Most of the time your hitting your drive down from an elevated tee, then your approach back up the hill to a tightly-guarded green. A lot of the holes, especially on the front nine, run back-and-forth parallel to each other, with arroyos separating the holes. The middle of the round gets a little monotonous with tough par fours, but that's only a minor complaint. The greens were very smooth and have a lot of ridges and plateaus. If you weren't on the right tier, you were probably hosed. But find the right tier, and you were rewarded with a relatively straight putt.


First hole at UNM provides a view of downtown Albuquerque

Overall, we're stepping things up this year. First off, we're all playing pretty well this year, so the golf should be pretty competitive. To that end, we decided to put a little skin in the game this year, playing high-stakes skins for a quarter each (double for birdies). Usually if we play for any money it's disastrous, so we'll see what happens. We've also got all sort of fancy new equipment between the three of us, not only a few new clubs but all sorts of gadgets, ipods, video cameras, etc. I even made a special New Mexico playlist for the ride. We don't mess around. This is just a coincidence (I swear), but we all have matching black Ping Hoofer Vantage bags (great bag, by the way. Mine is actually black and gray.) A new twist this year - we decided to keep track of our stats, and we bought some poster board to keep tabs on our progress here in the hotel room (yes, we are dorks).



Out of the three of us, Jimbo was the most ready to go on vacation, simply to get away from it all. The poor guy's been trying to sell his house for months and he just had a deal that fell through (after multiple extensions), so it's now back on the market (anybody out there want to move to Romeoville? Let me know). Anyways, thanks to the extended mortgage payments, Jimbo declared that this will be the last we'll be seeing him on the golf course until 2008. New Mexico is his curtain call.

So, it's probably no surprise that Jimbo came out of the gates with guns blazing. He was nice enough to open up the flood gates early by birdieing the first hole (that's $1 towards that mortgage), probably the easiest hole on the course. Jimbo wisely laid up on the par five to 100 yards (his strong suit), while Jefe and I went for the green in two (and missed) and failed to get up and down out of the same bunker. Jimbo followed with pars on 2 & 3 to earn skins there as well.

As for me, maybe it was the jet lag or the bag of gummy worms that I ate -- I'm not sure which -- but I started out par-double-double. Fantastic! It looked like all hope was lost, especially when I pulled my drive on the 6th hole well right and into the arroyo. From 189 yards out, I needed a miracle and somehow managed to knock a 7-iron stiff to 5 feet. The hole was worth 3 skins and I doubled it up with the birdie putt. Ch-Ching! Then on the next hole, a beastly 465 yard par four uphill achd into the wind, I rolled in a 30-footer for bird from the fringe. Ch-Ching, Ch-Ching!

The birdies were flying, because Jefe hit the best 5-wood I've ever seen him hit on the 8th, a brutally tough 240-yard par 3 that was also in the wind. How he hit that 5-wood so far, I don't know. Must be the elevation change. Anyways, Jefe rolled his in and was off the schnide. Nobody was going to go back to Chicago empty-handed.

Then to top it off, I birdied to the par 5 9th as well. If you didn't know any better, you would've thought that we were actually good golfers. Don't be fooled. Front nine: Jim 38 (10 skins), Jimbo 38 (4 skins), Jefe 40 (2 skins).

The back nine looked like it was going to be more of the same for me. I parred the tough 10th with an up and down from just off the fringe. Then I knocked it stiff on the par 3 11th for yet another birdie. I had visions of 6 birds and a 72 dancing around in my head. After 12 holes, I had a comfortable five stroke lead on both Jefe and Jimbo.

'Comfortable' is what they said about Sergio's lead at the British Open. And we all know what happened there. It's fitting that I referenced Carnoustie, because my finish was vintage VanDeVelvian.

It actually all started on 12 even though I parred the hole. I missed my drive way left, but found the ball after a lengthy search and knocked it on in regulation with lob wedge. Up until that point, I had been driving the ball well without giving it much thought. Then 12 hit and I was starting to worry about what was wrong with my swing. The natural reaction is to overcompensate, so I yanked my drive on 13, had to take penalty and made bogey. 14 was worse. Much worse. 14 is a par 5 that is definitely a birdie hole. Except when you duck hook it into the arroyo. I found my ball but only advanced it about 50 yards with a 6-iron. In the arroyo again, I hit a solid 6-iron, but not really knowing where the hole was I hit into the tall grass. Tried hacking it out with pitching wedge, but again only advanced it 30 yards or so, this time into the rough. My sand wedge shot then had the audacity to hit the one sliver of branch from this old dead tree, dropping down into the fairway. My next shot from 75 yards was just short of the green. 2 putts later and that's how you make a snowman my friends.

Two over for the first 13 holes. Three over for the one hole I just played. You gotta love this game! I was optimistic that I could bounce back like I did on the front, but the driver was still a mystery and things didn't get much better. Somehow, I went from staring 74-75 in the face to bogeying the last hole to shoot 80 (from 195 yards out laying one on a par five). Apparently the curse of Alex Coe lives on (and travels cross country).

One other twist that I failed to mention before...this year our hotel room actually has three beds. Thankfully, I don't have to share a bed with Jefe anymore. Actually, it's two beds and a pull out couch. We decided that high-man gets the pull-out. The final tally for round one: Jimbo 79 (with birdie on the last), Jefe 79, your truly: pull-out. At least, I lead the skins count with 14 (Jimbo has 8, and Jefe has 7). I think I'd gladly trade the $3.25 for a real bed, although I don't plan on staying here long.

Day two is at Paa-Ko Ridge for 36 (or more). It definitely should be one of the highlights of the trip. Look for more details, more stats and more pictures tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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