St Andrews Club Championship

I had the pleasure of watching my best friend Jefe compete in the championship flight of the St. Andrews Club Championship earlier today. Not the Old Course at St. Andrews, a.k.a. the Home of Golf, but the Lakewood Course at St. Andrews in West Chicago, IL, what we affectionately call the Other Home of Golf. We're still not exactly sure what possessed Jefe to enter the tournament, perhaps he was looking for another piece of hardware to balance out the Ballynizzle Cup that's currently sitting on his mantle. Or maybe he's trying to get tournament tested because he knows I'm gunning for him in 2011.

The prestigious Club Championship is a two-day, 36-hole event played on both courses at the Jemsek-owned (the family behind Cog Hill) facility. Back when Jefe used to work at a thing called an office building, he played this course many, many times on his way home from work. The course is pretty pedestrian but is priced right, has the two courses so you can usually get out and has one of the best practice centers in the area.

I originally planned to loop for Jefe, but for reasons that remain a mystery, the club didn't allow caddies for the tournament. So much for the St. Andrews lineage. You could take a cart, no problem. But caddies were a no go. So instead of lugging Jefe's bag around for 4 1/2 hours, I did the next best thing by following him around with my new camcorder for 4 1/2 hours. Big brother Jimbo also showed up to provide support, which strangely manifested itself in snarky commentary. Jefe had two more spectators following him than all other competitors combined. Eventually, the Bears game won out over brotherly love as Jimbo left after the 11th hole. And then there was one.

Even without the bag on my shoulders, I tried to do my best to help. When Jefe started to convert the pin sheet's green depth and yards from the front to the pin into a +/- from center, he could see my eyes light up at the opportunity to solve some math problems. 'You want to do this for me, don't you?' he asked. I can't help myself. And after whizzing through the numbers, Jimbo and I took the opportunity to leave some inspirational messages on the pin sheet for Jefe to find later:

'Go Get 'em'
'Take a Dead Aim'
'Win One for Bernie'
'Try not to 4-Whack'

Jefe shot 83 in the first round on Saturday and stood ninth out of 15 contestants. The leader was at 74. We conferred Saturday afternoon over the phone and decided that 66 was 'the number' he'd need to shoot on Sunday to have a chance to win. Never mind the fact that Jefe has never shot better than 72 in his life; we were both supremely confident that there was a 66 out there with his name on it.

After it became crystal clear that Jefe had not suddenly morphed into Camilo Villegas, we had to resort to the next best thing: Addition by Subtraction. The idea came after one of his playing partners (a dead ringer for PGA Tour pro Jerry Kelly) sprayed the ball all over the place for the first seven holes, blamed a recent ACL injury and ended up going in on the 8th tee. Then one of his other playing partners played from the wrong spot after his ball stopped against a rake in the bunker. If Jimbo and I could help get him DQ'd, that would be two down, only 12 opponents left to go. A couple phantom lost balls from the leaders and suddenly Jefe would be back in the thick of things. 'It's like I tell my daughter,' I explained to Jefe. 'It's not how you win. It's that you win.' An important lesson for all the kids out there.

Check out part one of the two-part video. No, I didn't purposely edit out all his made putts. It's not that I'm above doing that, it's just because he didn't make anything on Sunday. But even with no contribution from his short game, he still shot 39 on the front and put himself in good position to move up the leaderboard.

[Note: Because the golf action was less than non-stop excitement, Jimbo and I took the opportunity to catch up, plan our 2010 golf trip, make fun of Jefe and his playing partners and save the FedEx Cup all in one morning. You might think that we have no lives, but that's a jam-packed schedule. I had to take a nap when I got home.

So here's the plan to save the FedEx Cup. Play the Tour Championship with the Top 30 as normal, but instead of playing for points to crown the winner, play to determine the 'Final Four' that goes into two rounds of match play (still at East Lake). Make the points such that the winner of the stroke play portion and the playoff leader going into the event (Tiger) both can finish no worse than 4th, so they are in the Final Four. This year's Final Four would've been: Tiger, Phil, Stricker, Furyk. You're telling me you wouldn't watch that?

A couple key advantages:

- Like playoffs in all other sports, it's survive and advance. Play your way in, win your head-to-head matches and you rightfully win the Cup.
- No silly points manipulation and updated standings and scenario. Much simpler and more compelling for the casual golf fan. No 'Phil wins the battle, Tiger wins the war.'
- Cool 'Final Four' moniker that would obviously stick and would give Dan Hicks plenty of ammunition leading up to the matches.
- Perfect balance between season, playoffs and championship. The automatic 'top 5 win the Cup with a victory' rule is a step in the right direction, but why should somebody like Sean O'Hair sneak into a FedEx Cup win just by winning the last stroke-play event? Just like March Madness, Cinderella stories are great, but it's much more compelling if Cinderella stares down Tiger in match play head-to-head and takes him down.
- The argument against a match play finale is that WGC Match Play event usually leads to some non exciting finales, but that's all but eliminated with sticking with the Final Four. Plus wouldn't it be cool to see guys playing match play with $7 million riding on the match)? You don't really get this when Tiger has to finish tied for third or better to guarantee the Cup.
- There's never been a real good Tiger vs. Phil match-up in any significant event. That could've happened this year under the match play scenario, and it would've been enough to elevate the FedEx Cup's status along the lines of the Players Championship (instead of an end-of-the-year money grab).

Of course, this all makes too much sense so given the PGA Tour's track record, it'll probably never happen.]

Part Two

The video really speaks for itself. Jimbo took off after the 11th hole, so Jefe would have to do without big brother's snappy commentary. Filling in was Jefe's playing partner Ron, who felt the need to comment on Jefe's shot from the second it left the club until it finally stopped. After years of playing with Jefe, I know the quickest way to get under his skin is to Mouth on Ball him. "Get your mouth off my ball," Jefe muttered under his breath after multiple MOB violations.

Going into the day, Jimbo and I half-jokingly stated that the primary motivation for Jefe signing up for the tournament was not the hardware or the $300 prize money, but the opportunity to make some new friends and potential golf buddies. With partners like Jimbo and I, can you really blame him? Most of the guys in the tournament were guys who all knew each other, having played together as part of the early morning permanent tee time set. Based on Ron's cheerleading skills, he'd likely welcome Jefe into his regular Saturday morning foursome with open arms.

But poor Ron was trying a little too hard. Turn up the volume on the Part 2 video and you can hear him talking to Jefe's ball constantly. The best example was on the 18th green, when Jefe hit his chip through the green. "Turn right. Turn right. Turn right. Turn right. Hit that piece of wood..."

I was only mildly threatened by Ron's presence (although I did feel the need to put him in his place by informing him that he had taken an illegal drop back on the front nine. He was forced to take a 2-stoked penalty, although he still won low-net with an impressive 78.) Jefe's frustration with Ron on the back only added more fuel to his lackluster play. Jefe limped home down the stretch and double bogeyed three of the last five holes to finish with a 86 and a 9th place finish.

And that's the key difference between golf partners and golf buddies. After years of playing with Jefe, I know when to needle and when to comfort, when to root and when to just shut up. Golf buddyship is very similar to marriage, you have your ups and down but eventually you find that rhythm. And when you find a good one, you do everything in your power to hold on to it. Jimbo is a great golf partner but he was born without a filter. And he's got the older brother thing going on so he's a little more brazen in his commentary. Case in point...after Jimbo left to watch the Bears game, I kept him updated with constant text messages. On the 17th hole, Jefe bounced his approch shot off a slanted cart path about 30 feet in the air and over the out-of-bounds fence. This led to the following text exchange with Jimbo:

Jimbo: Make sure you remind Jefe I birdied 17 when we played a couple years ago
Jim: Cart path O.B. on 17; do you still want me to remind him of your birdie now?
Jimbo: Since I am not there...yes
Jim: r u sure?
Jimbo: On 2nd thought, maybe not

Despite the disappointing finish, Jefe left St. Andrews saying he would definitely play in it again next year. You can bet the same two spectators will out be there again, assuming Jefe actually tells us when it is.


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