May 8, 2017

Our story begins more than fifteen years ago (was it that long?) back during our time in Kentucky. Our good friend Jana, who decorated her entire house in a kind of Florida beachfront kind of motif, had collected a bunch of shells and seashore kind of stuff to create a lovely sea-sculpture for us. I had a picture of it somewhere but can’t find it for the life of me. But it was lovely, becoming a mainstay decoration in my bathroom in Louisville, then our tiny bathroom for the year plus we lived in that tiny apartment in Massachusetts, and finally, in my bathroom here in Arizona.

Like just about everything here in Arizona, the dry atmosphere and the dust takes its toll. A few years ago, while gently moving it so I could clean the countertop, a couple of shells came off. I tucked them into a larger shell, but the esthetics took a bit of a hit. Then, last year, the foundation started to come loose. And there was no point trying to dust it and return it to its original glory: the whole piece was just too fragile. Finally, the foundation came off and I knew the time had come, like it comes to all of us. It was time to return it to its source.

So, accompanying me back to Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago was a plastic grocery bag filled with the pieces of the sea sculpture, now nothing but a dusty main piece and a collection of small shells.

One of the mainstays of any visit back home is to visit the seashore, and this time was no exception, albeit one with a purpose. The Sunday I headed up to the beach in Rye, New Hampshire the day had started gray and cool; by the time I hit the beach it was windy and cold. Spring comes late to the New England seacoast, and the day felt more like late March or early April than one day before the first of May. The various parking areas along the coast road where you could pull over and sit on the rocks and contemplate life, death, or whatever a vast expanse of ocean prompts one to dream of, typically filled with sightseers, were empty.

I pulled over and took off my t-shirt, pulled on a heavy sweatshirt for warmth. The sea, more often than not calm whenever I’m up there, was restless and choppy, and moody and gray as the low clouds scudding from east to west above. It would have been nice to do the deed on a bright sunny day, the sea sparkling, and the Isle of Shoals so clear in the distance that you felt you could almost touch them, but such was not to be the case. It could have been a depressing moment, I suppose, but it wasn’t: I felt good about returning Jana’s sculpture from whence it originally came. I thought about Jana and would have called her except there is zero – and I do mean zero signal at Rye Beach. I know she would have approved what I was doing. Given her view of the universe it would all make sense in a symmetrical way.

I thought about times past. I thought about our time in Kentucky – me, Tracey, Jana, and Jana’s parents. I thought the cats and all the rabbits we’d had, all of them long gone. I thought about how in just a few weeks’ time would come my first Mothers Day without a mom to send a card to and call. But then I saw how timeless the ocean is, how endless the waves are, and how nothing lasts forever. It didn’t seem to make sense to spend more than a few minutes dwelling on things one can’t change – besides, it was getting damned nippy out there. The only thing left to do was to get on with it and set the sea sculpture free.

I opened the bag just as the wind came up and a bunch of shells went flying unceremoniously onto the beach and the surrounding rocks. Didn’t even see where they all went. All that was left in the bag was the broken main piece of the sculpture itself. I took it out and gave it a simple Tom Brady fling, watched it plop into a pool of water beside one of the distant rocks…

THWAP! It wasn’t in the water more than two seconds when a seagull came swooping in over my head, plucked the sculpture out of the water before it had completely sunk, then flew it to a nearby rock where it began to systematically decapitate it, undoubtedly searching for tasty edibles.

“You son of a bitching bastard!”, I yelled at the gull, laughing at the absurdity of the whole moment. I knew Jana would have gotten a good laugh out of it as well. I stayed for another minute or two watching the gull destroy it, continued to swear at it. The gull didn’t care, and frankly, neither did I. In just a few hours the tide would come in, the rock would be immersed, and the sculpture lost to the sea. The fact that a seagull helped with the proceedings added just the right amount of joy and absurdity to the whole thing. Sorta like a reminder never to take things too seriously.

A few drops of cold rain began to fall, the waves sloshed against the rocks, the wind whipped through beach rose vines. It was time to go – a warm Mexican restaurant and a cold margarita awaited. I would drink a toast to Jana, the sea sculpture, and a memorable way to end an era. I would never look at that spot on my bathroom counter the same way again. And it would make me smile.

I took off the heavy sweatshirt, put back on my summer t-shirt, and drove away.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 20:50 | Comments (2)
May 5, 2017

..and ready for whatever the 2017 golf season might bring. Officially, I will be playing Callaway Steelhead XR irons, Cobra Fly-Z hybrids (3 & 4), Cobra King F6 driver and F6 5-wood, and my old Ping Scottsdale putter. Not to mention a well-used Callaway X Jaws Chrome 58-degree lob wedge. An eclectic assembly of clubs, fer shure, but one I’m feeling very comfortable with, and one I am confident will be up to the task as I resume my pursuit to be a somewhat bogey golfer by the end of 2017.

Yep, that’s my goal, and I’m sticking to it.

Of course, everyone knows – especially this 24-handicapper – that clubs alone aren’t going to make a six-stroke difference in and of themselves, but the player still has to be confident in his arsenal, and this is the first set of clubs I’ve ever actually spent a relatively significant amount of time testing against other manufacturers and models before buying. Meaning, if it all goes downhill from here there’s no one to blame but the person swinging the clubs. As it always has been.

After ordering my Callaway Steelhead XRs, there were a couple of absolute rules I planned to follow before going any further: 1) I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on hybrids (I use them fairly infrequently and for very specific situations), and 2) I wasn’t going to put a 3-wood in my bag. The latter decision came down to both money and rationale: I wanted to limit my entire club and bag purchase to no more than $1,500 total, and having a 3-wood made little sense. For one thing, the 3-wood has always been my least-used club: if the hole is too narrow for driver, I’m more likely to use a 3-hybrid or a 5-wood. Secondly, I could never hit a 3-wood consistently: I practiced with it the least and (to be brutally honest) never liked the club to begin with. Finally, it came down to logistics: let’s say I hit my 3-hybrid 180, 185-190 if I really catch it. I hit my 5-wood 190-200. Driver is 210-225. For a 24-handicapper, buying a club simply to cover a distance of 25 yards makes absolutely no sense. If I’m hitting the driver well it’s my preferred club even if the holes are narrow; if I’m not, I can pull 5-wood or even 3-hybrid to just get it in the fairway.

The hybrids decision came quite soon: I had thought about ordering the same Callaway Big Bertha hybrids I had played during my Las Vegas “shank and yank” visit back in January – they had actually played nice. But getting them even in good condition from Callaway Pre-Owned would cost me ~ $280 for both the 3 and 4 – not worth it. After ordering my Steelhead XRs at the PGA Tour Superstore I was moseying around the discount clubs aisle and came upon the Cobra Fly-Zs at $60 and $70 for the 3 and 4, respectively. I took them over to one of the bays and found I could hit them pretty well, and comparable to the distances I hit my old Callaways RAZR-Xs.

$130 vs. $280? It was a no-brainer. I went back the next day and grabbed them right then and there.

As far as the 5-wood went, to be honest it really didn’t matter what particular brand and model I was going to get: whatever I ended up choosing for a driver I’d get the same model in a 5-wood. If I couldn’t hit it at first? Well, I’d just have to learn how to do so in the long run. But what, pray tell, to choose for a driver? The only rule of thumb in my book (well there were actually two) was: 1) I wasn’t paying over $400 for a driver, and 2) I had to fall in love-love-love with it: hey, if you’re gonna spend that kind of dough-re-mi on a club you better freakin’ love it, right?

I had checked around the PGA Tour Superstore site and came up with four models that looked nice to the eyes: the Ping G standard driver, the TaylorMade M2 460, the Callaway XR 16, and the Cobra King F7. I had hit the Callaway in Vegas and didn’t feel the love one way or another, but the price was right and maybe I was too sick in Vegas to appreciate its charms. So I decided to keep that in my pocket with the idea that if none of the others panned out it was a club I had played and perhaps could learn to love.

Two of my best Goodboys friends “Killer” Kowalski and “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis joined me at the Golf & Ski in Hudson, NH during my trip back to Massachusetts last week and I gave the non-Callaways a whirl. The Ping distinguished itself right off the bat with the funky metallic sound it made on contact. If you caught it flush, the ball seemed to took off, but “forgiving” would hardly be the first word I would use to describe it. Still, I loved the black Nazi U-Boat color scheme; perhaps with enough practice it could be an equally trained killer. The TaylorMade M2 was cool – a mix of white and black, reminded me of a cow. And I hit some really good shots with it. Felt good, hit good. Killer especially liked the way I hit it, so after several hits I put it aside for another go-round.

The Cobra King F7 was an entirely different breed of cat: everything I hit seemed to absolutely jump off the club face. Forgiving? Tiger can only dream of Elin being half as forgiving as this club was. Of course, the downside was the ball could jump whether you came off of it with a push or slice or a pull or hook (I’m equally adept at each). Meaning – at least for this 24-handicapper, all that distance wouldn’t matter if the last 60-70 yards of it were into the woods or over a lake. But if I hit it anywhere near square, took a little off of the swing, the ball was absolutely pulverized. I can’t say at that moment I was in love-love-love; let’s just say I was very intrigued.

There really wasn’t anything more to be discovered in a second round with all the clubs – each performed pretty much like they did the first time around. No doubt the Cobra King F7 was numero uno, but I still liked the look, feel, and performance of that TaylorMade cow driver.

I’m back home in the Valley of the Sun to pick up my Steelheads, but I’ve got mighty mo in my favor following that afternoon at the Golf & Ski. I see Mark, yet another of the associates there, and ask him to set me up with the same three models from the Golf & Ski, plus the Callaway XR 16. He sets me up in the TaylorMade bay and I have at it. I take a few swings with the Ping before Mark asks me to make a subtle adjustment before I set up: he wants me to hold the driver straight out in front of me to make sure the club face is square in my hands before I take my address.

Once again, I notice the clanky sound of the Ping – according to the machine I hit it consistently at 185-197 yards, but it’s just not a forgiving club. I decide to discard the Ping; as much as I love the look it’s clearly not the club for me. I grab the TaylorMade M2 and find it once again quietly efficient, definitely more forgiving than the Ping. My drives are anywhere from 190-206 with a high of 211 – better than the Ping and definitely more enjoyable to hit. I hit a few balls with the Callaway and find it to be a near carbon copy of the TaylorMade in terms of feel and performance, but not nearly as enjoyable to hit.

I inform Mark that my choice will be between the TaylorMade and the Cobra King F7.

I grab the Cobra F7 and the difference from the TaylorMade is noticeable. Once again, I find the ball practically jumps off the club. I’m consistently 205-210, even if they’re pushes or near-banana slices or pulls. I smack several drives straight in a row that go anywhere from 215 to 218, and I’ve pretty much made the decision to go with the F7, but there’s still something holding me back: the price. After all, between the driver and the same model 5-wood, that’s gonna be a cool $650 out of my pocket – more than I care to spend. I tell Mark I’m gonna take a walk around the store and look at bags. But I really wanted to clear my head to think about options.

I’m looking at black bags that have a cool orange trim. Between my orange Wilson balls and what looks like the Cobra driver and fairway wood I’m gonna have a lot of orange working for me, so why not the bag? I find a good basic model that runs at $100 bucks, meaning that between the bag ($100), the hybrids ($130), and the irons ($740) I’m already in for $970. I’m well under my $1,500 budget, but the King F7 driver and 5-wood will blow that all to hell. I just couldn’t see doing it.

I was getting ready to leave the store when I suddenly remembered way, way, back at the start of my iron search seeing this left-handed Cobra driver in one of the demo bags. I hadn’t hit it, I had just noticed it at the time before I even started thinking about drivers. I found the club in one of the bags and saw it was a King F6 selling for $325. Much more to my liking, price-wise, fer shure. But what would it feel like? Could it come close to the F7? I go back to the TaylorMade stall and take a few swings, and all I can say is, wowee zowee! Same performance as the F7, but a slightly different but yet familiar feel to it. And the ball if anything seemed to be jumping a hair more, my drives going another 5-10 yards further when hit on the screws. Mark happened to be watching as I absolutely pulverized one a whopping (at least for me) 227 yards and said, “I guess you like that A flex (senior) shaft, huh?”

“I knew it!”, said I. My old RAZR-X driver had the same kind of shaft, no wonder it felt so familiar. I ask Mark if he had a 5-wood in the F6 line and sure enough, he did. Case closed.

I spent another half hour hitting balls with the F6 driver and 5-wood. They felt good, looked good. I was in love-love-love, and there was no stopping me. I grabbed the driver, 5-wood, and the bag and headed to the registers, credit card in tow. Standing in line, this attractive middle-aged lady compliments me on my purchases, saying, “Great colors. Hope they hit as good as they look!”

All I could was smile and think, “You and me both, sister!”

So the search is over, Tallying up the irons, the lob wedge, the driver and 5-wood and the bag, I’d come in slightly under my $1,500 target. I’ve now got a set of clubs that I took my time selecting, and frankly I’m ecstatic over it. Of course, the ecstasy might end with the very first ball I hit at the range, but that’s the chance a 24-handicapper has to take.

Let the ball-banging begin.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 00:27 | Comments (3)
May 2, 2017

A few thoughts before heading back to Arizona where a certain set of irons are waiting, as is a yet-to-be-chosen driver and 5-wood as well. Lots of final assessing to be done there.

Boy, Massachusetts truly has become the domain Tom Brady and Bill Belechick when it comes to sports! Even with the Celtics in the playoffs interest in the Pats is at an all-time high given their Super Bowl win and their off-season moves. Not surprisingly, there’s very little interest here in the Red Sox – something that has to be concerning to the brass up on Yawkey Way. While there’s some talent there without a doubt – any game Chris Sale pitches is a must-see and OF Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogearts are a joy to watch, and OF Andrew Binentendi, while still raw, looks to be yet another in a line of top-notch left-fielders the team lacks an identity following the retirement of David “Big Papi” Ortiz and there are some big holes that I don’t see getting plugged anytime soon (third base, bullpen).

Sticking with the Sox, I’m holding fast to my earlier prediction that we won’t see David Price pitch this year. He’s a Tommy John surgery waiting to happen, and he doesn’t really fit this team anyways. Those two final big moves before the Sox got GM Dave Dombrowski – Price and 3B Pablo “Fat Pig” Sandoval – are gonna haunt them for a long time. They’re woefully in need of a third baseman who can both hit and defend. 3B is an offensive position in the bigs, and with Jackie Bradley Jr. (love his defense) being as streaky as he is, between CF, 3B, and catcher that’s a lot of offense to be giving away on a nightly basis.

Lots of folks on the conservative side of the fence are pretty upset over the GOP getting nuked by the Dems on that continuing resolution (CR) funding the government through Sept. but I’m not one of them. In reality, it’s the last Obama budget, so what did they expect? Now, come September I fully expect the first Donald Trump budget to be the culmination of all the promises he made during the campaign (build the wall, infrastructure, defunding Planned Parenthood, draining the swamp, etc.) and it better happen, or the 2018 midterms are going to be bloody for the GOP. I am confident the Prez will find a way to make it happen.

I was never much of fan of Queen’s music but there was never a doubt how talented their lead singer Freddy Mercury was. Dude could sing almost anything, and he did. In that regard, I love this video and his rendition of the old Platters hit. It’s just so over the top I was laughing out loud as I watched it.

Catch y’all once I’m back in Arizona!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 06:00 | Comments (0)

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