Shipnuck: Blogging the Open Championship

Shipnuck Alan Shipnuck, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, blogged the afternoon shift of the first round after Gary Van Sickle took the morning shift. Shipnuck is blogging the second round here.

11:58 a.m. PT It's not exactly the governor ringing a death row inmate, but I just got a momentous phone call from the NYC office, telling me to shut down the blog as the live TV has gone kaput, even with a number of golfers still on the course. It's been real, it's been fun, it's been real fun. A few parting thoughts on the day:

* No surprise, but it's all about ball control. Mediate, McDowell, Allenby, Bryant, Weir, Furyk...the guys at the top of the leaderboard are all medium length hitters who plod from point A to B and generally avoid big mistakes. (As opposed to long-knockers like Mickelson or Els, each of whom made a triple bogey during their disastrous rounds.) The weather is supposed to be equally miserable over the next two days so expect the grinders to continue to dominate.
* The cut line could be 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 over par, so no one has shot themselves out of the tournament. Yet.  Even before the tournament began there were predictions that over par would be the winning score and that looks like a certainty now, so this thing is as wide open as could be.
* There's three players I'm going to be watching carefully tomorrow: Goosen, Furyk and Choi. Each has a lot to prove, for different reasons. Goosen has never been the same since his self-immolation during the final round of the 2005 U.S. Open. Had he held on that Sunday at Pinehurst he would have punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Now he's as big an enigma as his countryman Ernie Els. This is Goose's first opportunity in ages to contend in a major and he needs to play hard. Furyk presents a different problem - he's there every time yet never closes the deal. Winless on the season he needs to get going. Everyone has annointed Sergio as the best player without a major but I'm not sure that Choi shouldn't own that good news/bad news honorific. He's been very quiet since his win at the start of the year but his pre-eminent ball-striking is a huge advantage in the wind.
* Lastly, I'm expecting a stronger showing from you, the readers. There were a few flashes of spunk today but if I'm gonna set my alarm for 3:50 a.m. I need you people to come a little stronger. Deal?

11:41 a.m. PT To stave off boredom I've decided to glorify some recent reader comments. Dan, I agree with your general premise ("pimpin' ain't easy") but don't under-estimate how mcuh game Tom Watson has, with or without hair dye. At a long-ago Mercedes Championship I watched him swing dance to the Brian Setzer Orchestra with said bride, and Watson cut some serious rug. As for Gary's comment about Ray Floyd, I once came across Raymundo at the most unlikely setting imaginable: Bloomingdale's in NYC. He was giving the stare to a pile of cashmere sweaters. Imagine one of the baddest golfers ever to strut down a fairway being emasculated by a pushy salesperson. He didn't exactly run out of the store but it was a brisk retreat.

11:34 a.m. PT Is it me or has this tournament suddenly gotten very boring? I haven't seen a great shot (or memorable trainwreck) in at last 45 minutes. I do enjoy watching guys hit lumber into the 439 yard par-4 16th - T. Lehman just knocked one to within 15 feet with what looked like a 3-wood - but otherwise I'm having trouble staying focused on golf, and not my impending lunch.

11:21 a.m. PT Update from Milwaukee: While his colleagues suffer at the Open, Kenny Perry shot 67 and is in position to win another tournament or, at the very least, collect another huge check. Dude is crazy like a fox. Click here if you're dying to follow the exploits of the fabulous Pappas boys.

11:16 a.m. PT Yo, Dan, your XM idea is genius. (See comments below.) Next year I'm covering the Open Championship from Turks and Caicos!

11:10 a.m. PT One supplicant has asked me to help him make sense of the time changes for American fans trying to follow the action in England. Over four rounds all the televised golf is live, until it isn't. (UPDATE: TNT is on the hook for for 12 hours of coverage but it appears to be a five-hour broadcast that is going to be recycled a few times.) I can't vouch for the commentary; I fear that Peter Alliss actually died a few years ago and that TNT is playing pre-recorded snippets, much like L. Ron Hubbard kept writing books long after his death. Anyway, those of us on the West Coast have it the worst, clearly payback from the golf gods for enjoying year-round golf weather. Tomorrow I have volunteered to get up at 4 a.m. local time offer commentary on the opening hours of the telecast. My only goal is to be slightly more coherent than Bobby Clampett, which is aiming low, I know.

11:02 a.m. PT The hoodlums in the comments section are clamoring for me to provide "useful information" about the weather. Well, as I look outside it's nice blue skies, about 70 degrees with  a light breeze. Of course, that's here in NorCal. Birkdale appears to be crappy with a chance of further crappiness, but since I'm 6,000 miles away I can't really comment beyond that...

10:49 a.m. PT Robert Allenby just tidied up his 69 to tie for the lead, but he will not win the Open. I know this because I lunched with his "lifestyle coach" Peter Crone at the U.S. Open. It was a chance encounter on the swank veranda at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. I was seated with the owner of the Lodge, Bill Evans, and Crone joined us. Crone is a very nice guy, despite his Eurotrash stylings, but  as he talked all I could think of was Mike Myers in 'The Love Guru.' The torrent of New Agey aphorisms was so baffling to me I didn't contribute anything to the conversation besides,"Please pass the ketchup." Crone is, apparently, quite successful, but any golfer who needs this kind of touchy-feely hand-holding does not, in my opinion, have the mettle to win the Open.

10:28 a.m. PT Reader Nick writes,"Jesus Shipnuck, the least you could do is go down to Bayonet, have a Boddingtons, and Blog from there. Put a little effort into this." If all y'all have not seen the redo at Bayonet, check out the website. The toughest course on the Monterey Peninsula just got tougher. But Nick's lack of a comma has me thinking: in all future correspondence from readers, I expect to be referred to as Jesus Shipnuck. Has a nice ring to it, even for a member of the tribe. Also, please capitalize 'Blog'. Lends a certain credibility to these proceedings.

10:23 a.m. PT Norman is walking up 18 and the TV announcers are getting misty:
"There's nothing else like it golf."
"He's getting a standing ovation from quite a few of the fans."
One problem: When the camera panned the grandstands they were mostly empty, because this is miserable spectating weather, even for the English. Consider this example 1A of the tendency to over-romanticize the the ambiance of the Open.

10:12 a.m. PT We have our first comment about Tom Watson's hair (below), courtesy of reader Gary. Ol' Tom is such a traditionalist I can't imagine he'd dye it, but I'm gonna reach out to our resident Watson expert, John Garrity, for elaboration. Stay tuned. By the way, I've lately been reading "Tiger 2.0", the fantastic new anthology of John's golf writing, and he has a very revealing portrait of Watson in there that first appeared in SI in '95. If the drivel here has you pining for something more elegant and substinative, this is my gift to you.

10:08 a.m. PT I like that Rocco hasn't shaved. Neither have I. In fact, I'm still in my pajamas, and a t-shirt caked with drool. (My baby boy's, not mine.) Back to Rocco: it will be a big deal for his career if he can contend this week and back-up his breakthrough at Torrey Pines. And maybe it's a good thing I'm not over there to cover it because I think he's mad at me. In my U.S. Open cover story I described Mediate as a "likable 45-year-old veteran with a bad back and loose lips and not the foggiest idea of what he had gotten himself into." I mean, has any player in golf history ever wanted to win a tournament as much as Tiger wanted that U.S. Open? Mediate was whistling down the fairway while Woods was pulling a Willis Reed. He sure seemed out of his depth. Anyway, Rocco keeps making reference to that throwaway line in my story, though, to my knowledge, he has never mentioned me by name. In his first press conference after the U.S. Open he said,"A couple articles made me angry, because they were like I didn't know what I was going to get myself into. Like I've been playing this game probably longer than you've been writing…I was supposed to get killed and be a joke and all that other stuff that these idiots wrote, and I don't buy it. I know you can't write nice things about everybody, but I've been doing this for half of my life, and I know what I'm doing and knew how tough it was going to be. It's like hitting a tennis ball against a wall; it's going to come back at you, and he's going to come back at you….But the way they have put it, like he doesn't know what he's getting into and doesn't understand what he's done -- well, really? Of course I understand what I did." A caddie traditionally gets 10% of the victory check. If Rocco wins this week I'm thinking I deserve a cut, too.

9:46 a.m. PT Tom Watson just said he likes the 17th green! He must have left his meds back in Kansas City...

9:33 a.m. PT OK, I'm gonna say it: I miss Eldrick. And not because of the purple prose in Jim Huber's hagiography, currently airing on TNT. Like every other sportswriter, I have a love-hate professional relationship with Tiger. It can be tedious to have to write about him over and over, especially because his inner self is such a well-guarded fortress. But he does bring so much juice to an event. You might not want him to win but it's always exciting to have him in the mix. To not have to scan the agate for Tiger's scores just feels weird. Presumably I'll get over it, but today I'm still in a minor state of mourning. Sorry.

9:17 a.m. PT Yo, Rosco, I love your snark, posted below. I basically agree with you. Slashed travel budgets is a distressing trend in journalism these days, and no doubt we all suffer when tremendously talented writers pontificate from their couch, not the epicenter of a story. But for the record, me and/or Vans would have journeyed to England if we had been needed but there were relatively few stories to be written, as this week's SI is our Olympics preview issue and everything else is getting squeezed. Rest assured, I will be at Turnberry next year, and St. Andrews in 2010. The readers have a right to know, and I have a right to play copious amounts of golf in the kingdom.

9:14 a.m. PT If I hear IBF say "That was special" one more time I'm gonna puke up my Coco Puffs.

8:59 a.m. PT Great shot out of the sand on the 13th by our leader, Adam Scott. I did a long profile on Scott for our Masters preview, for which I spent a day trailing him around Southern California, including a trip to the Titleist Test Center and a long afternoon of surfing. He's a good dude - totally unaffected by his success and possessing a sharp wit that doesn't always come out in impersonal press conference settings. One of the themes of the piece was Scott's continued efforts to upgrade his short game. His recent hand injury has only accelerated this. To baby his hand - a bone near his pinkie was fractured when a horrified friend slammed a car door on the appendage - Scott has cut back his tournament schedule and curtailed his time pounding balls on the range, forcing him to spend long hours chipping and putting. If Scott's short game stays this sharp over the next three and a half days he is definitely the player to beat.

8:51 a.m. PT So, the macro-story of the day so far is the choke-a-thon among the would-be favorites who went out early: Ernie and Vijay with 80s and Phil hanging up a smooth 79. The star of the telecast this minute is another guy who knows of major disappointments, the Shark himself, Greg Norman. I hate to admit it, but I'm enjoying watching Norman out there. Until last month's U.S. Open, the '96 Masters was the most memorable golf tournament I had ever covered. I'll never forget the sickening feeling among the dogwoods as it became clear that he was in fact going to lose that Masters in historic fashion. The press conference that followed was just as riveting. Understandably, Norman was never the same player again, but he has never lost his monumental ego, and I think that largely explains his surprisingly spirited play so far. Rarely motivated on the golf course anymore, the guy is, quite simply, showing off for his new bride. It's a dangerous game, and I know from experience. On my honeymoon, in Kauai, I talked my woman into joining me on the links. Trying too hard to impress, I played miserably, and at the turn Frances wisely slipped away for the spa. She's never joined me on the course again, and I can't really blame her. Chrissy may be more loyal, but we'll get the chance to find out. Norman will inevitably tumble off the leaderboard, and then we'll see if his tennis babe is still stomping around in rain gear...

8:45 a.m. PT I love reader Jeff Neuman's post: "Two Senior writers from SI and neither actually at The Open. Is the US economic recession that bad???" Yes, it's that bad. 8:19 a.m. PT I guess I should offer a brief introduction: I’m the late shift on this Open blog, taking over for Van Cynical. Tough act to follow, but I’ll try to bring my C-game. I’m typing from the home office here in Salinas, Cal. We’re a one TV household, so I’m parked on my couch in the living room, where various critters can roam unfettered. My daughter Michayla, 22 months, just sauntered by, redolent of a poopy diaper. Usually I would spring into action but just now I’ve had the immense satisfaction of yelling to my wife,”Honey, I can’t change her because I’m blogging!” Maybe I can keep this gig going for the rest of my lifetime! So, given that these are my people, I’m gonna need some interaction with you dimpleheads out there. If I have only Ernie Johnson to keep me company and may go bloody mad. So, post away, and feel free to be rude, grouchy, snarky, pithy, or just plain mean. Just don’t be boring.

8:05 Is there anything in sports more fun than watching professional golfers suffer? I mean, seriously, this is fantastic. No Tiger, no Kenny, the best chance any of these yahoos will have in this lifetime to win a major....and nobody can break 80! I love it. You mean I get to watch four more hours of this carnage? Bring it on!

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by Kevin Cunningham