Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

What’s the Difference?

And in other sports news of this past weekend…

(Other than the US/Portugal version of the Beautiful Game, of course…)

Michelle Wie won a golf tournament.

This is not such an amazing and unlikely statement as it was, once. Just since April, the TV sports tickers have been compelled to say so twice now.

This morning, Ms. Wie made a tour of the New York City-based media outlets. The Today Show, Fox and Friends, and four other destinations before she got to grab lunch, apparently. This is what happens when you do what Ms. Wie did, on Sunday.

Winning the US Women’s Open is a fairly big deal, no matter who wins it. It’s one of the “majors”, one of the tournaments whose appearance on your resume increases your name’s font size, everywhere you go in the golf world. The first time you win one of those … you’ve arrived.

Although it’s fair to say that Michelle Wie has arrived after having already arrived once, and kinda departed, and then knocked on the door and asked to come in again.

Ten years ago, she won an award that is annually given to the most promising up-and-coming pro golfer in the women’s game. She was in junior high school.

Previously, here, I have gone on a bit about people with exceptional or exceptionally-remarked-upon talents, and the people that surround them as they Burst Onto The Scene. I’m always worried about the child stars, the prodigies, the Young Sensations, because frankly, ladies and gentlemen, before you graduate from high school you don’t have nearly the life experience that you need in order to survive this brand of Fame and Attention.

Michelle Wie, before she set foot in high school, was referred to by at least one breathless sports journalist as the Tiger Woods of the women’s game.

No pressure.

She was good, all right. In 2003, at age 13, she became the youngest player ever to make the cut in an LPGA tournament. Not long after that, she won the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. Not long after that, someone in her circle of helpers convinced her that she ought to compete in a men’s tournament event, something the great Annika Sorenstam thought long and hard about before trying … and Ms. Sorenstam was established.

Wie went out and posted a 68 in the second round of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open, and all bets were off. Since then, she has competed in eleven other men’s events. Okay, well, maybe let’s talk about Tiger, then …

And then, maybe not predictably, but firmly … it all came crashing down.

Over the next seven years, Wie won but two LPGA tournaments; and between her Sony Open performance and last year, she was 0-for-31 in the “majors”. She went to Stanford University and didn’t play much golf while she was at it. As Ms. Sorenstam suggested in an interview last year, “I think she jumped in way too deep, and I think it had some tough consequences for her.” In 2012, Wie missed the cut in ten of the 23 LPGA events she entered. In the first half of 2013, she didn’t finish any higher than 45th place.

And it could be tough to watch.

The body language was not confident. Watching Wie after she would miss a relatively short putt, or park a tee shot into a bunker, or chip a ball off a fairway and clean over a green, could be an exercise in pity. Poor kid, she looks miserable.

So, Sunday morning, Wie teed off at the US Women’s Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina, carrying a three-stroke lead after three rounds. Her nearest competitor was Stacy Lewis. This is not insignificant.

Three strokes is a lead that is not a lock to hang onto over 18 holes. Bogey just three of them and we’re all square. Wie had been playing very well; but the final round of a tournament is a killer. Golf commentators have remarked that pro golfers are always very relaxed, very friendly to members of the gallery, very loose … until Sunday. Then they’re all business, because for most of them it is their business. It’s their livelihood. It’s a game they love, until stuff goes wrong, and then there is literally nowhere to hide, either from the galleries or their mortgages.

After a decade in golf, Michelle Wie is still only 24. (When I think of what I knew and what I was like and how I dealt with pressure at age 24 … and I wasn’t in the national spotlight when I was in the seventh grade … well, I watched that final round on Sunday with great interest.)

And bearing down on her, admittedly having teed off much earlier in the day and already sitting in the clubhouse with a round of 66, was Stacy Lewis. Only the number-one-ranked player in the world at that moment.

And … action.

Wie maintained that three-stroke lead through fifteen holes. She did so by onlying putt once or twice per green, never more than that … which she’d done consistently since teeing off on Thursday. She strode up to the 16th tee with body language that said, “I got this.”

She parked her tee shot into a fairway bunker.

Her second shot lodged in a scrubby bush at the edge of another bunker near the green. It took a while for tournament officials to find the ball and declare it unplayable.

After Wie accepted a penalty stroke, her fourth shot landed twenty-five feet from the hole. Her putt for bogey overshot the hole by a couple of yards. A six at the par-four 16th hole left her with a single-stroke lead over Lewis, who was on the course’s driving range, getting warmed up in case there needed to be a playoff.

At which point, I watched the body language carefully. I wondered which Michelle Wie I was going to see next – the 2012 disaster zone, or the golfer that won the LGPA Lotte Championship in April and looked entirely at home doing it (beyond the fact that it was held in her home state of Hawaii)?

In 2012, the final two holes might have ended up as bogeys, and a shaken Wie might have watched Stacy Lewis hoist the trophy. Or worse … a bogey and a par (or even worse, a par and then a bogey), and then the aforementioned playoff.

This Sunday?

Birdie, par. Two-stroke win. And a golfer who has ten more years of life, ten more years of experience, and one more major.

Here’s what I still would love to know, though:

Between the end of the 16th hole and the tee shot on 17 … what was Michelle Wie’s internal monologue like?

What was the difference between Sunday and, say, the aftermath of an especially tough tee shot at a tournament in Singapore, when Wie had chucked her club away and cussed in four-letter fashion in front of a gallery containing many small children?

Every summer I get to participate in the instruction of high school band student leaders, not just in the physical how-to-do it of conducting and marching, but in the techniques and psychology of teaching; and then, we have remarkable speakers come and talk to the kids about ephemeral concepts like leadership and motivation. We traffic in Starred Thoughts™ like “Believe in yourself, or IT IS OVER.” … “Don’t project your own failure.” “The only way to lose is to quit.” “A good leader is one that can adapt and overcome in the face of adversity.” “Don’t use ANYTHING as an excuse.” “If you don’t plant positive thoughts, negative thoughts will come.” “You will move in the direction of your attitude.” “Successful people learn from every situation.” “Lead with a heart of fire and a head of ice!”

In 2012, would Michelle Wie have been muttering any of those things to herself?

This past Sunday, was Michelle Wie thinking any of these things?

Did she even need to?

Maybe she was humming a silly little song?

Whatever was going on inside her head … it worked.

Whatever it was … I wouldn’t mind picking up a box of that stuff, if it could be packaged.

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Famous Persons, golf, sports, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Super-Size Me?

I am not an impulse buyer.

More than once, I have half-joked that just about the only purchases I make that aren’t subject to either comparison shopping or “let me go home and sleep on it for a night” are the half-gallons of milk I pick up at the local market. (And only because I’ve done my comparison shopping already, so, no need now.)

During the trips I’ve made to my favorite driving range this month, I’ve kept an eye on a little grove of golf clubs near the cashier’s window. The clubs’ grip ends are stuck into a wooden box with appropriate-sized holes drilled in it. Their club-head ends reach eagerly toward the people handing over bucks in exchange for buckets of practice golf balls. Their price tags flap in the breeze.

Over the course of the last year, since the first day I dragged my new bag full of discount golf clubs to that driving range, set myself up as far as geographically possible from any other human, certainly including the gentleman who ran the joint, and attempted to make the club face meet the ball, I have undergone an relatively minor-league transformation. I have gone from zero to something.

I began with no discernible long-distance hitting ability. Through a summer of self-diagnosis (and three actual formal lessons with a Golf Pro), I acquired the capacity to actually strike golf balls on purpose. I do sometimes hit a hot grounder to shortstop, but for the most part the missiles go up and out. It’s now rare that I can’t at least keep the ball inside the foul lines.

I can now reliably hit a golf ball from one end zone to, and over, the far end zone. Conveniently, that driving range of mine features a bunker which Google Maps tells me is 100 meters from my favorite tee. It’s a fine way to judge that at least I can get that far. There’s another bunker 150 meters out, and I’ve hit that one on occasion, though certainly not with consistency.

The cut-rate driver that I acquired at what I’ve come to call the Annual Mad Scramble For Loot golf equipment sale seemed to me, at the time, a formidable instrument. The club head was nicely threatening-looking, I thought, at least if you were a golf ball – probably because I’d only ever owned a putter and a scrubby little iron, so it was the only club head in my bag that didn’t look like it could double as a butter knife. But I took a few swings with this thing and it made a satisfying noise: mostly “thwack”, with a nice aftertaste of “pang”. Unless I made incomplete contact, in which case the whole range heard more of a “tunk”, followed by two gentle hissings. One hiss was made by the ball cutting the tops off the nearby blades of grass. The other came from betwixt my teeth; a four-letter word with the last two letters similarly excised.

This morning, I paid my standard pittance and collected my golf ball bucket from the driving range general manager, who today smiled and said, “ah! One of my regulars.” Yep, I’m your five-bucks-every-third-day guy. I set my bag down at my usual faraway tee. Stretched a bit. Tried to hit proper iron shots off an artificial turf mat. (That nearly never works; you can’t make a divot. The iron bounces off the deck and the ball goes bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy for about three car lengths.) Tried to tee off using my hybrid, which did work, to the tune of a hundred yards and a splat of bunker sand, or ninety yards and a slow roll. Nothing unexpected, at least given my current swing.

A little while later, it was my driver, a number-one wood. I have a number-five wood, too, which has, to my eye, a really steep club face angle. No matter what I do, that five sends golf balls more Up than Out. The number-one makes that nice noise, and gets me usually to between 120 and 150 yards. I’m no PGA tour candidate, but when the ball comes to rest, I can’t read its “Calloway” logo, so I’m okay.

Today, though, I got thinking about that little grotto of clubs for sale by the cashier window.

One driver, right in the middle of the group of a dozen or so clubs, looked a bit like a crime boss amidst his minions. It reminded me very strongly of the drivers that Christy Kerr and Keegan Bradley had wielded as they teed off during televised tournaments I’ve watched recently. Which is to say, at first glance the club head looked like it was the size of my head.

This thing was Chewbacca to my number-one driver’s Lassie.

When baseball players choose bats, they have to choose based on criteria that do not include size. Hockey players, and tennis players as well. There are rules. You can’t use a tennis racket that is twice the diameter of your opponent’s; you can’t change the content or the dimensions of your Louisville Slugger; and you can’t even have a hockey stick that is excessively curved, never mind of a different size.

Golfers, apparently, have options.

But in my professional life, I have come to know that a more expensive trumpet won’t make a rank amateur sound like Satchmo. (For that matter, if you buy a bigger trumpet, it’s a marching baritone horn.) So why was I looking longingly at this club? If you have a more menacing-looking driver and you swing badly, the ball still goes astray. A mis-hit is a mis-hit is a mis-hit. Conversely, I would hate to be forced to ascribe a sudden improvement in my game to the addition of different equipment. Somewhere in my psyche, like anyone else’s, there is the need to take at least a little credit. I made this!

I tried to get the owner of the range to let me take that beast out for a test drive. He was reticent, but at least I wasn’t just coming in off the street for the first time. So he put up a slight sales pitch – “that’s a good used club, especially the shaft … pretty new … for seventy-five bucks, a decent deal. No sense paying what you could pay for it new, probably three or four hundred dollars.”

Having done my comparison shopping, my Internet and sporting-goods store homework, and my protracted reconnaissance, I knew all that.

I guess I gave him just enough of a sense that I was genuinely interested in buying it that he relented. He masking-taped the underside of the club, accepted my credit card as collateral (“you break it, you buy it”, after all), and gave me another bucket of projectiles. At his recommendation, I went to find a taller tee to hit off of (“the club face is big enough that if you hit off your usual tee, you’ll hit over the top,” he said). As I set up, I tried to look nonchalant, as if I had done just as much hitting with this size club as had the fella at a nearby tee. Don’t know whether I succeeded, but at least I tried not to think too hard about my swing. Set feet, check shoulders, head down, hit through …


Up and over that first bunker … and the second one.

I don’t have one of those high-tech rangefinding devices that get sneakily advertised during the Golf Channel’s “tips from a pro” shows, but I got the idea.

Without a serious set of lessons from a pro, and presumably without pumping a little iron to boot, I’ll never be one of those guys who looks at a par-five 500-yard seventeenth hole and thinks, “eagle.” But my goodness, that was a nice sound to make with a strip of metal and a pair of upper arms.

And then another one. Not quite so much distance as a result of that sound, but comparable.

I was set up on a driving mat that was all the way over on the right-hand end of the row of mats, and so there was no one for my right-handed self to see ahead of me. I could hear the gentleman behind me, though. It sounded as if he was making more than decent contact when he swung … but after every single drive, he took somebody’s name in vain. Or at least made very, very unsatisfied grunts and blowing-out-of-breath sounds. Maybe I was wrong; for all I knew, those irritated noises might have been reacting to shot after shot after shot after shot that looked more like a lacrosse ground ball than any kind of golf shot.

Forty-nine or so of my own swings later, only a couple of which posed a threat to the dandelions, I decided to wander back to the cashier window and make a purchase. But I paused briefly, ostensibly to re-tie my shoes, but really to get a look at the man with the equally-threatening-looking driver and the dim view of his own work.

One of the four shots I watched (I tie slow) cut some grass, but the other three went BANG, up, out, and gone.

So maybe at some point I’ll be be jaded about hitting from one end zone over the far end zone and well into the next guy’s football field, or maybe get frustrated about not being able to do so consistently. But for the moment …

Hee hee hee hee hee.

I wonder if Teddy Roosevelt was a golfer?

May 18, 2013 Posted by | golf, sports, technology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Making a List… (or, Taking It For Granite, Part 4)

As promised (or, depending upon your viewpoint, as threatened), a gentle and completely unscientific, disorderly, incomplete, stream-of-consciousness-based list of things that I’m thankful for.  Testing.  Testing.  Is this thing on?…


Family gatherings that I can look forward to.

Gainful employment.

The freedom to write essays about what I wish, about subjects I wish, when I wish to write it, and the freedom to post that writing where I like. For today, I will not fret about what online spy software is keeping track of that writing, for purposes of targeted advertising or targeted national security activities.

A niece and nephew who crack me up.

A day off (of sorts) today.

Friends who crack me up – albeit more often online than in person, but this is oft-times unavoidable.

Friends who ask me to write tunes for them.

Students who ask me great questions about the copyright implications of my writing tunes for my friends.

Technology that allows me to make believe I’ve made recordings of my tunes with professional musicians that live in a recording studio in my house. (I oughta be a sales rep for Sibelius software, I swear.)

A mother who shows no signs whatever of slowing down, and memories of a father who lots of people should wish had been their dad.

The opportunity to vote for people I want to vote for.

The opportunity to stand in a relatively short line to do so.

People who are willing to read my writing.

People who are willing to click a virtual button and thereby admit publicly that they Like my writing.

People who are willing to click another virtual button and open their online defenses, which is to say, subscribe to this blog and subject themselves directly to the rantings published herein.

A local driving range whose existence has allowed me to figure out how to hit a golf ball from one end zone to (and beyond) the other one.

A thrift store that sells working golf clubs for less money than I would spend on lunch at your average T.G.I. Applebee’s Olive Garden.

The Rachel Maddow Show audio podcast.

A sister who is more fiercely protective of her brother than her brother is sometimes; and a brother-in-law who is so not your stereotypical intolerable brother-in-law. (I could have done SO much worse in that department.)

Summer opportunities to teach alongside a number of brilliant teachers (most of them far less heralded than they ought to be).

Summer opportunities to teach alongside a number of people who regularly make me laugh in a very silly way.

Former teachers with whom I am still in contact.

Students who make me laugh unexpectedly.

A college band experience that taught me the sorts of things I needed to know in order to be successful in either of two career paths … and that introduced me to people I now call lifelong friends. Woo Minutemen.

The brief but unforgettable experience of helping to provide a college band experience for other people. Woo ‘Saders.

Friends with whom I seamlessly resume conversations after weeks, months, or years of separation.

A church choir which I can count on to produce, week after week: beautiful music … a community of caring … and belly laughs.

A church music group that has allowed me to become a slightly better than hopeless bass player.

Friends who have the ability to make me smile, buck up my courage, and feel honored to know them, just by writing a one-sentence Facebook message.

Friends whose snark has rubbed off on me just enough.

Administrators – bosses, essentially! – for whom I am inspired to work hard. (Yes, I have them.)

A working car, and a trustworthy mechanic.

A roof over my head. A dry basement under my feet. Electricity. Food (albeit slightly bachelor-y food) in the fridge. And a fridge.



Patient readers.

November 23, 2012 Posted by | arranging, band, blogging, choir, civil rights, education, Facebook, friends, golf, marching band, music, social media, teachers, technology, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment