Except for the one time years ago I got to play the Bay Hill course, I got my first chance to be inside the ropes Wednesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Thanks to friends on committees who put the tournament on (shout-outs to Stew and Gary and, well, the rest of the Breck group at Winter Pines) I got a spot as a “standard bearer” in the pro-am portion of the event. Basically I carried a sign with the score of PGA Tour player Tyrell Hatton and his three amateur partners. Carried it for 18 holes. That’s like six miles. Fitbit said I had 19,003 steps when I got home that night. I will sleep well this weekend.
These professional golfers slay me. Hatton, for instance, is 5-9, like me. His irons are bent one degree flat, like mine (golf talk for, “I could grab his 7-iron and play it”). He’s 170 pounds; I was, once.
The similarities end right there.
His swing is slightly faster than mine but must be much more efficiently compact, because our ball flights look nothing alike. His shots hang in the air for a portion of forever, with a trajectory so true that, somewhere, violins play.
And he can effectively get out of a sand trap in one swing and fewer swears.
I hope I write a better sports column than him.
Anyway, best of luck to Hatton, who helped his amateur contingent of Japanese businessmen climb onto the leaderboard Wednesday — at least the “big board” that I didn’t carry …
… If you are a golf fan and haven’t been to Bay Hill in a while (or ever), go this year, when you can go pay homage to The King. The Arnold Palmer Experience is to the right of the 10th hole, and has exhibits where hacks like me can compare their swing side-by-side with Palmer's iconic slashing style, and see what they would have done in the biggest moments of his career.
I don’t think there will be any violin music though. Maybe some banjo or guitar riffs; I hear he was quite the country music fan. But it’s a neat new feature; expect it to be pretty crowded on the weekend of the tournament.
So are you a huge football fan experiencing withdrawls now that the season ended just over a month ago — and haven’t checked out the Alliance of American Football, or the Orlando Apollos?
If not, you have my blessing. Because it’s actually pretty good.
I say “pretty good” because I’m going to be biased about any spring or summer football league. It’s not the NFL. And we’ve had some bad products out there trying to do the same thing as the NFL without being the NFL or having NFL talent.
These guys are good players, and the AAF isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. Thousands of guys play professional football — or want to — and the people who put theis league on wanted to give them a shot.
So give them a shot. Why do we make watching football, or any sport, appointment TV? Because “my” team is playing. These teams — the Apollos, the Birmingham Iron, the Atlanta Legends, the Arizona Hotshots (OK, that’s corny, but I know there’s a story behind it — have been around a few weeks. I have Philadelphia Eagles t-shirts older than the XFL.
Buy-in comes during the second and third year of these leagues and teams. But when’s that happened lately? The XFL managed the 2001 season, then was done. If you’re a little older, you recall the World League of American Football and the lime-green Orlando Thunder — that lasted two years. If there’s grey in your beard, you know the old USFL made it a third season, competed directly with the NFL and made no bones about that, before big business ideas cost it the chance to go toe-to-toe with the shield.
As for the AAF, people are taking notice and giving it a chance. Folks I know with the Apollos tell me people from Gainesville have come to UCF’s Spectrum Stadium to see the team play mostly because of Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier. Mike Singletary. Mike Martz. Rick Neuheisel. Dennis Erickson. They coach in the AAF. You’ve heard of them. You’ll pay attention, at least for a little while, because of those names.
The folks behind the AAF put them our front, and are doing many things right, like aiming for two-and-a-half hour games (while NFL and definitely college games can take for-evvvvv-errrrrrr). They’re going to compete with NCAA basketball tournament here in a couple weeks, which will be tough, but here in Orlando, if the Apollos can keep up this 4-0 start, the league could keep it’s buzz, especially if there’s a chance of playing for a league championship here in Orlando.
So fans, Apollos vs. the Iron. Today at 2 p.m., on TNT …
… Hey! Before I forget, set your clocks ahead before you go to bed.