[EDs note: With the British Open teeing off Thursday, it seemed like the perfect time to talk golf. Here's golf writer Teddy Greenstein on the ultimate self-invented assignment...]
It hit Brian Kelly midway through our round, after we had chatted about his suspect course management skills (“I’d be better with a coach”), his love of Bruce Springsteen and the time he worked on Gary Hart’s presidential campaign.
“You’re pretty smart,” Kelly said. “You know, it’s not easy to get 4 ½ hours with the Notre Dame football coach.”
How true. The “18 holes with …” series also has allowed me to tee it up with the world’s No. 1-ranked player (Luke Donald), a Hall of Famer (Ryne Sandberg), a Stanley Cup victor (Joel Quenneville) and an NCAA champion (Bill Self).
I’ve played with broadcasters (Dick Stockton, Chuck Swirsky), a boxer (David Diaz), former Bulls (Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington) and two Badgers (Bret Bielema, Bo Ryan).
[You can find the "18 holes with ..." series sprinkled in among Teddy Greenstein's other golf columns here.]
Bielema and I teed it up last August. When I saw him in the spring and told him about my upcoming date with Ryan, he asked to be included. Why? Turns out Bielema is more than a little superstitious. “We played together last year,” he told me, “and look how it turned out.”
With a trip to the Rose Bowl.
I came up with the concept after being assigned the Tribune’s golf beat three years ago. Travel budgets being what they are, I figured I’d cover a modest number of PGA Tour events. So how could I produce a full slate of stories on my beat? How could I give them a local flavor and promote area events like the Western Amateur?
And I just might have asked myself: Is there some way that a 14-handicapper can get paid to play golf?
So the “18 holes with …” column was born. I jokingly refer to it as “journalism’s greatest scam,” but I think readers do get a payoff.
They say that golf does not built character, it reveals it. My goal in writing the column is to reveal what these celebrities are like on the course, away from their comfort zone.
Coach Q ripped on himself between cigar puffs. Pat Fitzgerald, asked for his handicap, replied: “What’s the highest you can have?” Ryan cracked lines such as: “That’s a son-in-law shot: Not what we had in mind.” Donald and Bielema quoted “Caddyshack.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon was friendly and kind – but got bleepin’ steamed after hitting errant shots. Architect Rees Jones, after I asked if I could have his cell number, replied: “What are you going to say I shot?”
I watched 84-year-old course architect Pete Dye walk 18 holes on the long and hilly Pete Dye Course. I saw Wennington hit sand wedge and Swirsky 5-wood into the same par-3. I witnessed an unreal shot – PGA Tour pro Bo Van Pelt fading a 208-yard 4-iron into a small green over a stream. He came up two inches shy of a double-eagle. I observed a perfect pre-shot routine from a 4-year-old, Noah van Herik of Arlington Heights.
I write about 14 of these a year, and they run from roughly May through August on Sundays that do not fall on the final round of a major. Some of them take months of planning and more than a dozen emails with public-relations officials; a few fall into my lap.
Former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer just emailed to say he’s up for playing, joking of his demands: Shoreacres in the morning, Chicago Golf Club in the afternoon. I’ll do my best, but I’m not sure if even President Obama, the nation’s First Golfer, has that much pull.
Speaking of … POTUS is front and center on my wish list, though I think I’ll wait until after he leaves the White House to email that request. Who else would I love to indoctrinate? Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Bill Murray, David Feherty, Scottie Pippen, Lou Holtz and Mike Ditka, just to name a few. Though I’ve heard that Ditka plays “polo” golf, barely getting out of his cart long enough to hit his next shot. (I need time to scribble details.)
So here’s hoping I can keep the column alive for years to come. Hey, I’m no dummy.
It’s too bad, though, that I didn’t think to call it “Playing a round with …” That's a pretty good name.
I’m definitely not as smart as Kelly suggested.
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