Monday, March 28, 2011

Arizona Diamondbacks Spring Training Facility - Salt River Fields

Last weekend was a non-golf weekend. On Saturday, the Fennemore Craig Foundation sponsored a volunteer activity for the firm's employees, families and friends at the new Arizona Diamondbacks Spring Training facility at Salt River Fields to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale. Employees, friends and family members, including me and SO, volunteered as ushers, ticket takers and customer service representatives at a spring training game.

We arrived at 10 a.m. for our team meeting and to don our black Diamondback shirts and straw hats (actually they were out of straw hats so we wore baseball caps instead) and then it was out to our stations. The information provided was a little thin and we were kind of on our own winging it. I worked the entry to the party decks putting on different color wristbands depending on each attendees' particular party group. Luckily for me, I worked with a very nice lady who volunteered frequently and was a pro at manning the party deck entrance. She was volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club because the organization was a major supporter of her event, "step N out" for pancreatic cancer research at TGen. The gates opened at 10:30 and there was a trickle of people until the hour before game time. I hate to admit it, but of the 5 questions I was asked by fans at the game (where are the bathrooms?; where is the ATM machine?; who hit that home run?, etc.), I got 4 of them wrong! I also fumbled putting on the wristbands and probably angered a lot of men with hairy arms.

SO was placed as an usher. Clearly, the volunteer coordinator did not know that litigators do not play well with others. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when an octogenarian fan asked SO for the fourth time, "Honey, where is my seat?". The game started at 1 p.m. and did not end until after 4 p.m. SO and I met for our 15minute lunch break at about 2 p.m. to get our free hot dog and drink. We waited in line for well over 30 minutes and gobbled our food in about 5 minutes.

Although we were not supposed to be watching the game, the Diamondbacks fell behind the Cincinnati Redstockings 10-0 after 4 innings, but stormed back to win the game 13-10 with 8 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning. Hopefully, that is a good omen for the baseball season.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Red-Headed Stepchild

I have not played at Camelback Golf Club since last summer when the Indian Bend Course was not in very good shape so we decided to check it out in high season. The Indian Bend Course is the red-headed stepchild at Camelback Country Club. The Padre Course is considered the premier course and is well-maintained.

I actually like the Indian Bend Course better because it is a little longer and less tricked-out. It plays over 7,000 yards, but the balls runs on the fairway so it seems to play shorter than its actual length. It is an old-fashioned Midwestern style course with generous fairways and trees bordering the fairways. If you miss the fairway by 5 or 10 yards, you oftentimes have tree trouble. If you miss the fairway by 25 to 30 yards you have a clear shot to the green. The Indian Bend Course encircles the Padre Course and is partially within the Indian Bend Wash. There are some long cart drives between greens and the next tee boxes. It seems like the architect could have built another 5 or 6 holes with all of the wasted land, but the design was probably impacted by the wash and the architect's ability to channel waters through the course. Because of the long distances between holes, you have to use a cart and cannot walk, which is a disadvantage.

The Gardener, Chad Feldheimer and I teed off in the mid-morning and the weather was gorgeous. Randall from the Panhandle in Florida was our fourth. Randy was a good guy and a good golfer. He is a medical salesperson and met his wife, an obstetrician/gynecologist, while he was selling gynecological medical equipment. That seems a little weird.

The first hole on the Indian Bend Course is the No. 1 handicap hole, a 432-yard, par-4. It is unusual to start off with the toughest hole on the course. I drove my ball into the right rough and had tree trouble. I pulled my second shot left of the green, hit a bad wedge and made double-bogey. Not the start I was hoping for! My front 9 included 4 double-bogeys, 3 pars and one birdie and one bogey for a 44. With my flatter swing plane I was making better contact with my driver and irons and hitting it longer than normal. However, my short game, including my putting, was terrible. On the back 9 I continued to hit my driver and irons well and improved my short game and putting. I only had one double-bogey to go with my 4 bogeys, 3 pars and 1 birdie for a 41. I had two other legitimate birdie putts from inside 10 feet, but missed both. Overall, I was very pleased with my 85, although with a course rating of only 122, my handicap index for the round was not as low as I hoped.

The Gardener shot a 44 on the front 9 and got hot on the back and was even par through 6 holes before he double bogeyed the 16th hole and finished with two pars for a 38 on the back 9 and a total score of 82. Chad Feldheimer shot an 80 and had some of the worst luck you can imagine on the course. As I mentioned earlier, if you missed the fairway by 20 or 25 yards, you had an open shot to the green. Chad was bombing his driver and hit it through the fairway on a number of occasions, generally putting himself right behind a tree. On one hole he hooked his drive down into the dry wash and had to hit from the wash over trees to the green. He hit a beautiful shot that clipped the branch at the very top of the tree and dropped straight down. On No. 14, a par-5, 570 yard hole, Chad drive the ball about 310 yards down the middle of the fairway and had 260 yards to the center of the green. He hit a screaming 3 wood that was rolling toward the green when it hit the sign in the middle of the fairway directing carts to the side. The ball ended up about 30 yards from the green. Rather than putting for eagle, Chad settled for a par. It was just one of those days for Chad.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bondurant - Afternoon

When we got back from lunch we were chomping at the bit to get onto the race course. First, we did time trials through a road course in a large open lot marked with cones so we did not do any damage to the cars. The road course included straight-aways, hairpin turns, S-turns and two or three different types of curves. Once we got into third gear, we kept the car in third and did not downshift. The course took about 60 seconds to complete. We ran the course once or twice slowly to get a feel for the turns and then started the time trials. My three times were in the high 59 seconds, low 59 seconds and high 58 seconds, but each time I lost time either because I was too tentative, took a bad racing line, or was too fast through a turn and almost lost the back end of the car. SO started out with a first run of 68 seconds, but by the third run she was keeping up with the boys and was in the mid 59 second range.

Next, we went on the Firebird main oval track to practice finding the racing line and hitting the apex of the curve. Of course, the oval is not a perfect oval (see link above); on the east end of the oval you take a high line coming into the curve and smoothly turn through the center of the curve and hit the apex on the inside of the curve and accelerate when you are parallel to the apex. At the west end, you accelerate straight into the curve, brake hard (and you should downshift but we were novices), take a sharper angle into the curve and hit the apex and accelerate. Cones are set up and there are markings on the curves to show you the racing line but it is still hard to hit the apex on each turn. Also, my left shoulder was slamming into the side of the car on each turn so by the time I got out of the car my shoulder was killing me!

Finally, we got onto the Bondurant Road Course and tried to assimilate all of the information that we learned over the course of the day. Our instructor led the way and we tried to follow him maintaining the same racing line. Although we never got out of third gear, we were going well over 100 m.p.h. on the straight-aways and through the S-turns and over the blind hills. We were hitting all of our racing lines and accelerating out of the apex of the curves like professional race car drivers (sort of). It was really exhilarating! When we pulled into the pit area ending our driving school adventure, we were disappointed that the day went by so quickly.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bondurant School of High Performance Driving - Morning

About a year ago, the Curmudgeon invited SO and me to attend the Liberty Wildlife Annual Charity Fundraiser, "Wishes for Wildlife". The Curmudgeon's wife is very involved in Liberty Wildlife. Liberty Wildlife rehabilitates Arizona native birds and similar wildlife that are injured or become ill and it provides educational training throughout the state to school children. Check out the video releasing a bald eagle into the wild on the "About Us" page.

I am not quite so eleemosynary, but I know a good deal when I see it. At the silent auction, we bid on a one-day Bondurant School of High Performance Driving program for two people and got it for a steal. SO and I decided to go to the school as my birthday present last week. At the school, each student drives his or her own 6 speed manual Chevrolet Corvette Z06. I had not driven a stick shift in 20 years and SO, suffice it to say admitted than even when she drove a stick shift, did not do so very well. We tried to rent a stick shift car the weekend before school to practice, but could not find any car rental company that still rents stick shift cars. We even tried U-Haul and it did not have any stick shifts for rent. I think you can rent high-end cars like Corvettes with manual transmissions but they are very expensive. So we just winged it!

The class runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a 90 minute break for lunch. The classroom is the Firebird International Raceway in Chandler. The first half hour or so is in the classroom talking about cars in general, downshifting, front wheel/rear wheel traction, geometry and the apex of a curve, trail braking and proper race lines and something about rolling back and forth between the brake and the throttle. SO and I were still trying to figure out whether the throttle was the brake, the accelerator or the clutch. And of course, we cannot forget the mandatory sales pitch by the photographer, which was pretty pricey, but what the heck, it was my birthday.

Then it is outside to pick your car. I chose the No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette (Mark Martin's number for all you NASCAR fans) and SO chose the No. 1 car (surprise!). There was only one other person in our group. We got into the cars and revved the engines and tried to figure out all of the electronics and headed out for our first training exercise of the day, manual shifting. The course was like barrel racing for all of you rodeo fans. We revved the engine, burned rubber and shifted from first to second to third gears on the straight-away, then we braked and downshifted into second gear as we were coming into the turn and when we reached the apex of the curve we accelerated from second gear into third gear and then did it again and again until we were comfortable using the clutch and shifting gears. SO did great and by the end she was shifting like a pro!

Next was accident avoidance training. We drove down the straight-away in second or third gear and there were three lanes ahead with a green light for each. About 80 feet before the road splits, the instructor would either leave one, two or all three lights green or turn all three lights red and you had to make a split-second decision into the correct lane. The red light signified an accident in front of you. We only had one death in our group where our third driver slammed into the back of the accident, although I do not think the instructor was overly impressed with our reaction time when all three lights were red. Interestingly, the hardest situation was when you had two green lights and could go in either direction. The moral of this exercise was that it is oftentimes better to maneuver to avoid an accident rather than stamping your brake and trying to stop before rear-ending the car in front of you. But if there is no way to avoid the accident and you need to stop quickly, stand on the brake and do not worry about stalling out the car or burning out the brakes.

Before lunch, we changed cars and all got into a car with training wheels for skid control training. You try to drive inside the larger circle and find the apex of the curve without going into the smaller circle in the middle and without losing the back-end of the car and spinning in circles. It is a lot like driving on ice or hydroplaning on water. Also, the instructor has a hydraulic lift that lifts the back-end of the car so you lose traction while turning. Each of us spun out the car and burned rubber at least once. It was like Kyle Busch after winning a NASCAR race. The lessons were: look where you want to go, not where you are going; do not jam the brakes because that shifts the weight of the car to the front wheels when you need more weight on the back wheels, and steer into the spin (i.e., toward your back-end) but do not over-steer or you will spin like a top.

Then it was off to lunch to talk about how much fun we were having!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Haney Project - Jay Kramer

I was going stir crazy the last couple of weeks! The last two weekends were miserable -- cold and overcast -- so I did not play any golf. This past week was beautiful so Chad Feldheimer and I snuck out of the office on Thursday afternoon to play some golf at Papago Golf Course. We shut off the blackberries and enjoyed the afternoon. We were paired with Cheryl and Bev from Calgary. Cheryl was buying a patio home at McCormick Ranch for the winter and her friend Bev came for the trip and to escape the Canadian winter. Luckily, Chad and I were walking and Cheryl and Bev rode a cart so they were generally able to keep up, especially given how long I stand over the ball.

I shot a 43 on the front 9 but tired on the back 9 and shot a 47 for a 90. I was unhappy about my golf game, but as they say (whoever "they" is) "the worst day on the golf course is better than the best day in the office." Holes 16 through 18 at Papago are similar to the the Bear Trap (Nos. 15-17) at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where this week's PGA Honda Classic was played. The 16th hole is a 416 yard uphill par 4, followed by a 232-yard par-3 and the 441-yard par-4 finishing hole. Chad Feldheimer played this stretch in one-over par and finished with a 78 after shooting a 40 on the front 9. I played the last 3 holes in 5 over par on my way to the back 9 score of 47.

Saturday afternoon I had an epiphany (another one) about my golf game. I was flipping channels and came to the final episode of the Hank Haney Project with Rush Limbaugh. I have not watched any of the prior episodes because I am not a Rush Limbaugh fan or a Hank Haney fan. I think a golf pro is a lot like a psychiatrist and should not talk about his clients or former clients. While Hank Haney was probably a well-known golf professional among professional golfers before Tiger Woods, he became a celebrity and has made a boat load of money due to his relationship with Tiger. When asked about Tiger, Haney should have the good sense to simply keep his mouth shut and invoke the golf teacher - student privilege. Rush is the epitome of talk radio. Loud and obnoxious. It does not matter whether the talking head is on the right or the left. In the half hour that I watched (with flashbacks), Rush was much more likeable than I thought. He truly loves golf and was a good student and hard worker (after blustering at first). But I digress. Back to my epiphany!

Even though I am not thrilled with Hank Haney's antics regarding Tiger Woods, he clearly knows his stuff. Rush is an 18 handicap golfer and his technical problems were that he was hitting a lot of balls on the toe of the club and hitting a lot of fat shots or thin shots because his swing plane was too upright. Haney worked with Rush to flatten his swing. It sounded like Hank Haney was talking directly to me because my problems are thin shots and toe shots. Upon hearing Haney's advice, I immediately headed to the Giant to work on my swing. I am not sure why flattening the swing plane solves the "toe problem", but I immediately starting hitting the ball closer to the middle of the club and one or two grooves higher on the club. My swing and swing thoughts seem to change weekly, but I think this is the one (again)!

Through we were able to reserve a tee time on Sunday afternoon at Moon Valley Country Club for $35! I called Digger to join the Gardener and me for the round. The sun is setting at about 6:30 at this time of year so we teed off at about 1:45 and finished at about 6:00 with some daylight to spare. Digger and his son played the first 9 holes with us. With all due respect to the original Cameo, I think that I am going to change Digger's moniker to Cameo West given his propensity for disappearing at the turn. Using my new swing, I played really well for the first 8 holes with 3 pars and 5 bogeys. Number 9 used to be one of my favorite holes at Moon Valley. It is only 383 yards, but there is water on the left that you can reach off the tee that goes all the way to the green and a stream that crosses right in front of the green. I overcompensated and pushed my drive way right. I tried to hit my second shot over the trees and hit some tree limbs and then pull-hooked my third shot into the water and made a 7 for a 44. On the back 9 I had another triple-bogey and a double-bogey but still shot a 44 for an 88. Although I had a few big hooks with my new swing plane, I was really happy with the way I played.

The Gardener was having a miserable front 9, but hit one of the great shots of all time. On the par-5 4th hole, the Gardener was in the greenside bunker in 3 shots. He skulled his explosion shot out of the bunker and the ball was heading right for the window of a house or possibly over the roof top when the ball hit a palm tree square on and bounced back onto the green about 15 feet from the pin. The Gardener made the putt for one of the great up-and-downs of all time (I made up that last part to embellish the story, but it was still an unbelievable shot!). The Gardener shot a 49 on the front 9 but somehow figured out his swing problems and played beautifully on the back 9, shooting a 39 for a total of 88.