Colorado Golf Trip, Day One (Jefe 5, Jim 2. Not that anybody's counting)

6/28/2008 1 comments
Greetings from Colorado, site of a somewhat impromptu long golf-weekend with Jefe and I. This whole thing kinda just came together in the last two weeks and all the stars aligned for what promises to be a wonderful (blog-worthy) weekend. Since I'm in semi-golf retirement, Jefe and I have only had the chance to play one round together this year. Since we have nothing in common other than golf and would likely not even be friends if it weren't for the game, my semi-retirement has put some serious strain on our friendship. I think we may need counseling down the road. Call this weekend a much-needed bonding experience in a last-ditch effort to save our golfing marriage.

We left my house at 4:30 am for our 6:55 am Southwest flight out of Midway to Denver. Jefe had sent an e-mail the previous day wondering about how much cash he needed to bring on the trip. Eventually he concluded that $570 was the right number, because that's how much he brought. While on the plane, I counted up my bankroll. $480. D'oh. To which Jefe replied, 'Jeff 1, Jim 0'. The game is on. If only I hadn't put $100 on the counter for my wife (her weekly salary) before I left.

Last week, we played Orchard Valley back in Chicago, a Ken Kavanaugh design that is one of the best values in Chicagoland. Today, we played Murphy Creek outside of Denver, another Ken Kavanaugh design. Not only that, but Jefe noted the strange coincidence that Orchard Valley is in North Aurora, IL, and Murphy Creek is in Aurora, CO. Kenny K. seems to have cornered the market on Aurora muni courses. The good news for Ken is that there are at least 15 other states with towns of that name, enough to keep him busy for the next 20 years.

In about two weeks, Murphy Creek is hosting the USGA Amateur Pub Links championship (which was won last year by Colt Knost at Cantigny in my hometown of Wheaton...the only other course I've played this year.) The stiffs at the USGA were already setting up shop in preparation for the event...setting up trailers, laying down wires, growing rough to absurd lengths and killing greens so good shots won't hold them (oh, wait...that was Shinnecock. Strike that last one. All the others still apply.) It's no secret that the USGA enjoys big, mean courses. And Murphy Creek fits the bill nicely, tipping out at 7,590 yards (at 5,700 feet elevation). It's the longest course that we've ever played, with the longest par 4 we've ever played (hole 12, 506 yards), plus one of the longest par 3's we've ever played (#17, 248 yards). As far as we can tell, there's no truth to the rumor that the USGA selected Murphy Creek just by looking at the scorecard.

On the way to the airport, I mentioned to Jefe that Murphy Creek was hosting this prestigious USGA championship. To which he replied, "Really? I thought theire website said it was just a qualifier out there." Challenge extended. A couple of iPhone clicks later, it was confirmed that Murphy Creek was indeed the host of the actual event. Touche. Jefe 1, Jim 1. Not that anybody's counting.

It's worth noting that I hadn't flown Southwest Airlines in 8-9 years, and apparently the have this numbered boarding system where you stand it a certain spot in groups of five and they board you in groups of 15 or 30. Then it's a mad dash to find whatever seat you want. A very convenient and streamlined system (in related news, Southwest Airlines is the only one that ever makes any money.) Well, convenient and streamlined if you happen to be in one of the first groups. Jim: A41. Jeff: A42. Cha-Ching! Jim 2, Jeff 1. Not that anybody's counting.

The flight was uneventful and on-time (Jefe's not quite as scared at flying as he was last year in New Mexico, so there was no handholding necessary. Just optional this time.) The moment of truth came when our bags and, more importantly, our golf clubs came out of the baggage claim chute. Unfortunately, Jeff's came out before mine. It's all tied up. Jefe 2, Jim 2.

[By the way, I recently had the following conversation with my wife one night when we're talking about my level of involvement and intensity when it comes to my son's t-ball games.

Jim: Yeah, I never really thought about it, but I guess I'm pretty competitive.
Sue: Ya think?

I can't help it. That's why you're reading about who's golf bag came out first.

We had an 11:00 tee time at Murphy Creek, but got to the course a good 90 minutes early. Way too much time for us...we're used to rolling up to the lot 26 seconds before our scheduled time and swinging away on the first tee mid-sprint. There was little hope of getting out early, and it was the dreaded C.P.O. due to the upcoming tournament. A 5+ hour round was definitely in the cards. We had to do something, as we wanted desperately to leave for our next destination by 4:00 pm.

Now, Jack may have his 18 majors, and Tiger may ended up getting 25 or more if his knee holds up, but I assure you no one has ever jedi-mind tricked the starter more times in one lifetime that Jeff Tang and Jim Colton. We can work over a starter like a murder suspect in an interrogation room. At about 10:40, we noticed the a twosome was teeing off from the white tees. Jefe had already been down to the starter's podium and assessed the situation. It wasn't entirely clear whether they had a third guy or not. Jefe went back over there. Asked around. He showed us the guys were going to play with. Meanwhile, these two guys were still teeing off by themselves. Jeff tried to ask why we couldn't just play with the guy on the tees. The starter failed to see the logic in the request. It was quickly becoming apparent that Jefe had to pull out the big guns, so he pulled up his hoodie and wave his hand in front of the guys face.

Jefe: 'You will let us join that twosome'
Starter: 'I will let you join that twosome'

Jefe 3, Jim 2. What can I say? The guy is good.

As mentioned, Murphy Creek is a big, brawny course (with random old farm equipment scattered all over). The course fits the surroundings very well. Both Jeff and I started off well. The elevation really made a huge difference. On the 2nd hole, I hit a 6-iron 215 yards. On the par 5 5th hole, both Jeff and I had about 255 to reach the green. I thought I had to step on a 3-iron to get it to the green, so overswung big time and hit a horrible shot into some real horrible rough. Jefe decided to lay-up with a 4-iron and ended up hitting the ball onto the front of the green! Two routine putts later and the Jefe notched the first birdie of the day. Jefe 4, Jim 2.

That pretty much summed up my day. Good shots followed up by poor shots that killed me. Especially on the par 5's. The final nail in the coffin was the 13th, where I hit a solid 3-iron from 240 to just off the back of the green. Normal mid-summer Jim, vintage 2007, would chip it to at least tap-in range for a routine birdie. Jim Colton 2008 flubs the chip half way to the hole and leaves the birdie putt short. Stick a fork in me...I'm done. Jefe 5, Jim 2.

Fortunately, the day got infinitely better for both of us from there. But you'll have to read tomorrow to find out more...stay tuned.

Tiger vs Colton: Uncanny

6/16/2008 1 comments
Late Saturday afternoon on a beautiful public course. Strapping golfer comes back from long lay-off, looks a little rusty but shows glimpses of that same magic. Somehow wills an eagle putt into hole, followed by numerous fist pumps.

Sound familiar? Tiger Woods at Torrey, right? Nope. Try Jim Colton at Cantigny.

The former, of course, was during the third round of the US Open. The latter was during the third annual Colton Father-Son-Grandson invitational (at the site of another USGA national championship - the 2007 US Pub Links.)

The former, of course, is yet another remarkable shot in Tiger's quest to catch Jack's 18 professional majors (it was always 20 when I was growing up...including Jack's 2 US Am's. Don't get me started). The latter is eagle #19 in the life of Jim Colton, matching arch-nemesis Jefe in Colton's quest to beat Jefe in anything and everything golf related (he still has me on number of courses).

[Note to Jack: Tiger is better than you. Deal with it. Stop carping about the lack of competition today and the golf ball.]

The former, of course, comes after a two-plus month lay-off from knee surgery. The latter comes after six months of crummy Chicago weather and two months of six-year old t-ball. (Speaking of Tiger's left knee, has their ever been more attention paid to an athlete's body part? The only things that comes close in recent memory are Chris Duhon's ribs during the 2004 NCAA tournament and Anna Kournakova's, um...Kournakovas.)

[Note to NBC: A super slo-mo close-up on Tiger's left knee while he swings looks just like every other pant leg during a golf swing I've ever seen. This segment showed and proved nothing on Saturday, yet NBC went back to the well with the same thing during the final round Sunday. Of course, I could say the same thing about the trio of Bob Costas, Curtis Strange and Peter Jacobsen. Is it just me or were those Lincoln Sports Reports incredibly awkward?]

I know what you're thinking. "Wow, I've never really thought about it that way, but the similarities between Tiger and Colton are downright uncanny. Aside from the Ashworth shirts instead of Nike, the guy is the lefty Tiger. Oh yeah, that and the 50-yards difference off the tee, the 150 pounds difference in the bench press, the 13 (let's call it 14) majors, the $80 million difference in salary and the $400 million difference in net worth. They are pratically the same dude."

Just when you were asking yourself the question, "Have I ever seen Tiger and Colton in the same room at the same time?", Tiger had to go and three-up me with that chip-in on 17, eagle putt on 18 Saturday, then the curl-in, willed-it-into-the hole putt to force the playoff on 18 Sunday. Thanks a lot, Tiger.

However, from my perspective, Tiger's heroics were just the icing on the cake to an already incredible and unbelievably memorable Father's Day weekend. Our annual Father's Day outing is the only day of the year where I can get my Dad to dust off his sticks and join me on the golf course. He plays with 25-year old clubs and a 40-year old one-iron off the tee that Tiger probably couldn't even hit off the sweet spot. I've tried to tell him that driver technology has advanced quite a bit since the days of persimmon. My old man is the most honest man I've ever met, to the point I remember being absolutely floored when I once saw him turn left at an intersection that was 'right turn only'. No matter how bad it gets, he counts all his strokes and plays every ball into the hole (Remarkably, he shot a 75. For nine holes.) My Dad taught me there's only one to play: the right way. You play by the rules and you play to win. Of course, I took this all for granted until I started to have kids of my own. Earl Woods ain't got nothing on the Big Dogg.

If you had June 14th in the 'Date of Jim Colton's First Round of the Season Office Pool', I know you're lying. Normally, I would've played dozens of rounds by now, but not this year. Due to a number of different factors, I've pretty much entered golf semi-retirement. After my Rich Harvest debacle last year, I realized that I've been beating myself up for really no apparent reason. All the practice and time spent for what? To be the 2,000,000th-ranked golfer in the world (2-handicap purgatory, as I like to call it)? How does that make any sense when you have a 6-year old, 4-year old and 11-month old at home that think you are the single coolest guy on the planet?

Essentially, I've traded quantity for quality. Quantity in terms of massive number of rounds per year in exchange of quality rounds of golf in terms of courses and the guys I'm playing with. I've decided to still go on the annual trip with the Tang Brothers, because it simply wouldn't be the same without me. Besides, what good is a golf blog if you're not playing any golf? And Jimbo isn't nearly as effective at needling Jefe as I am. We're going back to Northern Michigan this year and have some sweet courses lined up. I'm going to pick and choose where I play and where I decide to just needle Jefe.

Plus, Jefe and I somehow managed to weasel our way to one of the premiere new private clubs in the country for a weekend at the end of June. Stay tuned because it's going to be awesome. Just to give you an indication, I've already got this course penciled into my top three. We're playing with the reigning club champion and current course record holder, so I hope to get out at least one more time prior to the trip as to not completely embarass myself.

Usually, the first round of the year is an ugly affair where I top the ball for at least the first 6-7 holes before getting my rhythm and timing. Breaking 100 is a legitimate goal. But something strange happened at Cantigny. Despite nothing more than 10 minutes on the putting green as a warm-up, no range balls, no nothing, I stepped up to the first tee box on the Woodside nine at busted a sweet draw around the dogleg, hit a gap wedge onto the green and two-putted for a routine par. Second hole, 530 yard par 5 I crush a drive about 330 down the middle (wind aided), have 200 left to the flag over water and I hit a towering 7-iron perfectly to the green to about 15 feet from the pin. Then I casually roll the bad boy in, center cut, never a doubt, just like Tiger's two eagle putts where you knew they were in with about six feet left to go. Just like last season at World Woods, two holes into the season and I'm already in red numbers. This game is too easy!

Of course, I came back down to Earth later in the round, including a triple-bogey, double-bogey combo on 7 & 8 en route to a 5-over 41. But it couldn't derail what was, all-in-all, a perfect day on the golf course.

Want to grow a kid's love for the game? Just let him whack a bunch of balls into the water. Bonus points for bounces off boulders.

He's the Big Dogg and he's got the hat to prove it.

Just look at that left knee!!!
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