Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What soccer might do

Scorching afternoon at the association pool, and a gaggle of boys are playing a game, down the way. Hard to say what it is, exactly. But it somehow involves geopolitics -- which is to say, they're all picking countries to represent.

"I'm North Korea!" one kid sings out.

"Russia!" pipes another.

I wait in vain for a Canada or a Mexico or a Germany, or an England. It never comes.

Democratic republics, it seems, just aren't where it's at these days. Traditional American allies, ditto.

And, yes, OK, so I am reading way too much into child's play. And probably reading it wrong,  besides.  But it is a measure of Our Only Available President's new America, and the escalating and corrupting hold of his ranting, Ugly American demagoguery, that American boys now find it cool to be murderous totalitarian regimes, even in jest. Hey, the President's tight with them, right?

Nobody wanted to be the Nazis when I was growing up. Or the Soviets. Just sayin'.

And ... yet.

And yet, the other day, I walked into a neighborhood bar and grill in Fort Wayne, a place that is not exactly a hangout for ex-pats. It's a Midwestern working-class bar in a Midwestern working-class neighborhood -- a comfortable joint that's been around for 75 years, and where you can find the Cubs game on at both ends of the bar on most summer afternoons.

But not this afternoon.

This afternoon, at both ends of the bar, the World Cup was on. Russia vs. Egypt. Soccer, for God's sake.

Which suggests to me that for all OOAP's attempts to make us regard those who are different as some hazy threat to the American Way, we remain an extraordinarily cosmopolitan nation. And so despite the vein of anti-foreigner bigotry that has always run deep in America, and that demagogues have always tried to exploit, there is a chance we may yet survive the Ugly American  and his reign of error. We may yet remake America as a symbol of hope and decency, instead of the dirty word the Ugly American seems intent on making it.

Here's the thing, see, speaking of soccer: The U.S., Canada and Mexico just got selected to co-host the World Cup in 2026.

By that time, if we are still the republic we once were, the Ugly American will be out of office. And the World Cup will provide a golden opportunity to rebuild our traditional amity with our neighbors north and south, and to prove we are again worthy of the world's respect and trust.

It will be our chance again to be a welcoming, tolerant nation, instead of this cruel place of fear and loathing we have become. It will be our chance to tell the world that, yes, we lost our minds for awhile, but we're better now. The madness has passed.  Another demagogue, another soulless gangster adept at tapping into our darkest urges, may again emerge. But for now ...

For now, we are America again.

Welcome. And sorry about all that.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Open to question, Part Deux

Congratulations to Brooks Koepka, first of all, who survived the windmills, clown mouths and other nonsense the USGA inflicted on him and his fellow PGA professionals to win the U.S. Open for the second year in a row. He's  only the seventh golfer in history to pull that off, so good on him.

Koepka finished at 2-over for the tournament, as the USGA's knuckleheaded attempt to eradicate red numbers from the leaderboard succeeded. Sunday, Koepka shot a 2-under 68 on a day when Tommy Fleetwood strapped a young 63 on Shinnecock Hills, the USGA having at last been shamed into setting it up like an actual golf course and not Pirate Mike's Goofy Golf.

Not surprisingly, that made Sunday's final round by far the best and most watchable of the tournament. Which, of course, leaves us with a question.

Actually, three:

1. Why didn't the USGA set up the course the other three days the way it did Sunday, instead of choosing to embarrass the golfers, the game and Shinnecock Hills?

2. Why was Phil Mickelson still playing in the fourth round, instead of being disqualified for that stunt he pulled Saturday? And (even more egregiously) for refusing to own it by trotting out one of the lamest excuses ever?

3. How does the same organization that, a few years back, dinged Dustin Johnson two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker that was not really a bunker (spectators were actually standing in it), not DQ Mickelson, whose transgression was far worse?

Sensible answers welcome.

The power of the World Cup

Raise a Negra Modelo now to the lads from Mexico, who gave the World Cup an iconic moment yesterday by stunning defending champion Germany 1-nil. It was the first time  El Tri had beaten Germany in 32 years, and it ignited the sort of celebration only a jaw-dropping World Cup victory could.

I mean, in the U.S. fans set cars on fire and break a few windows if their team wins the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup or an NBA title. But this?

Setting off an earthquake. Match that, all you wanna-be sports.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Still Dad

We'll go see Dad on this Father's Day, and maybe he'll be with us and maybe he won't. He is 90 years old now and lives in a memory-care unit, his life force at twilight and dimming. Dementia and accompanying Parkinson's have reduced him to a shell of the Dad we once knew, a shrunken figure scrunched down in his comfy recliner, the TV endlessly tuned to old black-and-white movies that go mostly unseen and unacknowledged.

And yet.

And yet, perhaps this will be a day like the day not long ago, when his eyes briefly focused and he pointed at the TV and said, "Humphrey Bogart." And then pointed again and said "Sidney."

Which would be "Sidney Greenstreet," the old character actor. Dad was right on both counts. It was an old Bogart flick, and Sidney Greenstreet was in it.

You live for those moments, as your father recedes toward what Abraham Lincoln called the dark indefinite shore. Most days, when he's awake, he is far away from us, his mumbled words describing things and people who lived and moved 60 or 70 years ago. One day he told me he'd been visited by an old high school basketball teammate who'd been dead for decades. Another day he might greet me with the news that he'd sold his Model T, which he kept in a barn I presumed had been gone for decades -- and, oh, by the way, did he tell me they'd cut off one of his legs?

You learn to roll with all of that. You learn even to roll with it when he asks how Mom's doing, and if she's coming to visit him anytime soon.

Mom has been gone since 2013.

Still, he is Dad, and sometimes even now you see glimpses of it. You'll catch a crooked grin or a dusty chuckle, and remember how easily he smiled, and that booming, audible-three-states-away guffaw of his. And you'll remember that this was the man who taught you a reverence for history and old things, and to do a job right or don't do it at all, and to honor your commitments.

I am not half the man my father was, but some of it took. My wife frequently notes that I go at everything -- work, exercise, sports --"like a dog killing chickens," and that is Dad's doing. Do it right or don't do it at all.

And so there came a time, not long ago, when I was walking out the door after a visit, and Dad called after me. Hollered after me, truth be told. Startled, I turned around and walked back into his room.

"What is it, Dad?"

He looked at me -- really looked at me, which doesn't happen often anymore.

"Get me out of this chair," he said.

"Dad," I said, "we've been over this. Your legs don't work anymore. You can't stand up anymore."

He kept looking at me.

"Get me out of this chair," he said again.

And then his eyes softened.

"Help me," he whispered.

Well, that did it. I should have called for the aides, who knew how to move him. But those two words -- Help me -- erased my common sense.

So I lifted him up. He weighs only 140 or so now, but he was dead weight and 140 pounds of dead weight is pretty much a bridge too far for a 63-year-old man who never had any upper body strength to begin with.

But somehow, the dog killed the chickens again. I managed to get him from his chair into his wheelchair. And when he was settled, and I was trying to catch my breath, he looked at me and said two words that seemed to reverse time.

"Thank you."

Whoa. Hold on there, Dad.

That's my line.

Windmills and clown mouths

Part of you understands it, what Phil Mickelson did. Sure, golf isn't polo, and not even the usual bunch of mutts you play with every week would think to run after a putt and give it another whack before it stopped rolling. But if you're going to do something like that?

At least man up and own it. Don't come at us with some sorry-ass excuse and then get all defiant and pissy with the media when they ask about it. That's as weak as weak gets.

On the other hand ...

I can see why Lefty might have mistaken Shinnecock Hills for a polo pitch yesterday.

The third round of the U.S. Open was the day one of America's most venerable golf courses was transformed by the USGA geniuses into Pirate Mike's Goofy Golf, complete (it seemed) with windmills and bankboards. You kept expecting guys to tee it up with blue and orange balls -- and then, when they got to 18, to chip them into the clown's mouth to return them to the front desk.

They turned a major tournament into a major joke, is what the USGA did. They so tricked up Shinnecock that Dustin Johnson, leading the tournament going in, shot a 7-over 77. Rickie Fowler, another contender, shot 84. And Mickelson himself shot an 11-over 81, which perhaps explains why he swiped at that moving golf ball on 13, as unprofessional a stunt as you'll ever see on tour.

What we're left with is four guys tied for the lead going into the final round. At 3-over for tournament.

Can't wait for the scintillating 73 that wins it today.

I also can't conceive what the USGA is thinking. Do they really think a bunch of 74s and 75s and 80s is a good show? Is the desired goal to make the U.S. Open look more like the Walnut Grove City Championship ?  (Hey, look! Doc Baker won again!) And how weird are golf fans, whom we're told enjoy watching the world's best players get embarrassed on national TV?

"(The) USGA found a way to make us look like fools on the course," Spanish golfer Rafa Cabrera-Bello said after shooting a 76. "A pity they managed to destroy a beautiful golf course."

Indeed they did. It was so bad, even the USGA itself agreed it had gone too far. In their hermetically-sealed Bizarro World, they thought the record-setting numbers put up in the Open last year were a bad thing. So they came to Shinnecock Hills determined not to see it happen again.

Well, it hasn't. Congratulations, boys. You've given America a True Test Of Golf this week. You've given us Rickie shooting 84 and Rory shooting 80 and Phil chasing after his ball on the way to an 81. You've turned grand old Shinnecock Hills into a punchline, and given us a U.S. Open with (for normal people, anyway) all the viewer appeal of the 9 a.m. pairing at Pile O' Dirt Country Club.

How's that workin' out for ya?

And why, after watching this debacle, would any course of any repute want to host a U.S. Open ever again?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ice, ice, baby, Part Deux

Remember the other day, when the Blob said if you were looking for a team to root for in the World Cup, you really ought to consider Iceland?

Well. Here is your score from Russia for today:

Argentina 1, Iceland 1.

Yes, boys and girls, in the first World Cup game ever for the Icelandics ... Icelanders ... Guys With Viking Names, they tied one of the world's premier sides. Tied a team led by one of the world's two greatest players (Lionel Messi). Which of course means they didn't actually tie at all.

No, sir. Given the circumstances, I think the headline (stolen from an old Harvard-Yale football header) should read "Iceland Beats Argentina, 1-1."

Told ya.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Shinnecock Hell

Remember yesterday, when the Blob warned you about Shinnecock Hills, saying they'd be all but sowing land mines and hiding leg-hold traps and punji sticks in the equatorial rough?

Turns out I might not have been exaggerating all that much.

This just in from Shinnecock Hell, where the first round of the U.S. Open is in the books and gave us some really thrilling golf. OK, so not.

Actually, what we really got was a bunch of muni hacks posing as professional golfers. We got four players --- four, count 'em -- breaking par. And all four shot dazzling 1-under 69s.

Some of the biggest names in golf shot, um, considerably worse than that.

Tiger Woods, the Man Who Moves The Needle, shot an 8-over 78. So did Jordan Spieth. Phil Mickelson fared much better, shooting 77. And Rory McIlroy shot a 10-over 80.

You know who shoots 80s?

Your neighbor. Or his neighbor. Or the aforementioned Joe Schmo from Kokomo, the aluminum-siding salesman with his 30-year-old sticks and cargo shorts.

That's just insane. Know what's even more insane?

That some people think this is actually intriguing golf, watching Rory McIlroy shoot 80.

Only in the world of strangeness that is golf does this sort of logic make sense. No one thinks it's a great show when Steph Curry has an off night and goes 4-for-23. No one thought it was intriguing when Goodyear brought a tire to Indy in 2008 that couldn't handle the race course, and the best drivers in NASCAR had to pit every 10 laps or so to change rubber. And if NASCAR or IndyCar so tricked up a race course that half the field crashed or suffered mechanical failures by the 50th lap, no one would declare it a grand spectacle.

Hell, no. They'd do what fans who had to sit through Tiregate did: Demand their money back.

As would I in this instance. You want to trick up your course to absurd lengths, fine. You want to make it so the players have to putt the ball through the windmill or chip it into the hippo's mouth, have at it. But I don't want to watch it. If I wanted to watch golfers shoot 80s, I'd go to my local course on Saturday morning and just follow a group around.

But Rory or Tiger or Phil or Jordan?

I want to see them have at least a chance to play like Rory or Tiger or Phil or Jordan. I want to see more than four people break par. Call me crazy.