Grace in the Face of Defeat

This might not seem like a business-themed post, so bear with me.  If you’re a golfer, or even a sports fan, then you are no doubt aware of what transpired at The Masters last weekend.  If you’re not much of a fan of golf, then here’s a brief recap: 22-year-old golf wunderkind Jordan Spieth, the 22-year-old defending champion from Dallas, was poised to make history.  With nine holes left to play, young Jordan led the tournament by five strokes.  He had birdied the last four holes of the front nine to take a commanding lead, and appeared to be on auto-pilot.  Not only did his title defense seem imminent, but he was about to set a historical precedent in the tournament that he won last year by four shots: not only would he be only the fourth player to ever successfully defend his Masters green jacket, but he would also be the youngest.  Beyond that, he would also be the first player in the modern era of golf to ever lead a major championship wire-to-wire two years in a row.

It seemed that every member of the media was preparing their stories about this amazing young man…even after he bogeyed the difficult #10 & #11 holes.  Then the inexplicable happened (as it so often does on golf’s biggest stages): instead of hitting the safe tee shot to the middle of the green that he and his caddie Michael Greller agreed upon, Jordan decided at the last moment before he swung that he would go flag-hunting instead.  He then dunked his tee shot on the devilish par-three 12th hole in the creek fronting the green.    He then took a penalty drop in a place where he had less than a full shot to the green, and hit what was perhaps the worst shot of his professional career, a fat half-wedge that didn’t even clear the pond.  A few minutes later, Jordan made a quadruple-bogey 7, and now found himself the pursuer to eventual champion Danny Willett of England.

In the space of 30 minutes, Jordan’s seemingly insurmountable 5-shot lead turned into a 3-shot deficit.  He gamely collected himself and made birdies on #13 & #15, but it wasn’t enough.  Danny Willett played brilliant golf down the stretch with the lead, and won his first major title a few days after the birth of his first child.  Within minutes of completing his round, Jordan Spieth than had to face the world in two separate time-honored ceremonies in which, as the defending champion, he had to place the coveted green jacket on this year’s champion, first with CBS cameras rolling, and then in another ceremony on the 18th green.

An old maxim states that you can tell a lot more about the character of a person when they lose then when they win.  Through Jordan’s incredible 2015 season, in which he became the #1-ranked player in the world, all we really saw of Jordan was winning, and he did it with class and dignity.  We learned quite a bit about this kid from Dallas in the process: how he has stayed humble, how he still hangs with his old high school friends, and how he is a devoted family man that dotes on his young sister who has Down’s syndrome.  But we never really got to see how Jordan Spieth would handle himself after a crushing defeat…until now.  After the tournament, when many of us would have climbed under a rock of some sort and declined to speak about an experience only hours old, without really having any time to process what exactly had just happened, Jordan stood in front of reporters and answered every question.  Yes, he was disappointed, and he admitted that he let a historical opportunity slip away.  Still, he was gracious in his praise of the winner.

jordan and danny

Yesterday, his caddie Michael Greller made a public statement, which is right here: Jordan Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller reflects on 2016 Masters in Facebook post.

In business, and especially in sales, we don’t always win.  In fact, in business and golf, we probably lose more than we win.  Still, we can all learn something from Jordan’s approach to this devastating loss at the tournament that he led for 137 holes before the bottom fell out.  Among these lessons, we can see that we always need to except blame, instead of blaming someone/something else.  We can also be gracious to the people that gave us an opportunity to compete, and we can take the hard lessons learned and apply them to our next opportunity.

Golf, like life, is all about how we deal with repeated setbacks, and how we can change our processes/approach to become a stronger person the next time we’re faced with a similar event.  Even when we don’t win, people are looking to us to set an example of why they agreed to engage with us in the first place.  Failure happens, but it doesn’t have to be the end of our stories.  Go back, re-assess what happened, find out where your weaknesses were in self-evaluation and in speaking with members of your team, and vow to become stronger from the experience.  In golf and in life, there is always another tournament to be played.


Remembering Just Who God Is

Even the most unchurched among us know of the parable of the Prodigal Son.  In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, we find a story that seems simple on the surface: a younger son of an extremely wealthy man chooses to collect his “rightful” inheritance before his father, who we assume is healthy, passes to the afterlife.  This particular young man then squanders his inheritance on his lustful appetites in a faraway land until he loses everything given to him.  A short time later, he is so reduced in his station that he takes a job feeding/tending to swine, which for a 1st-century Jew living in the Middle East would have been the lowest point imaginable.  Coming to his senses, the young man journeys home and rehearses what he will say to his father so that the old man will have pity on him, and at least bring him on as a hired hand.

For my daily Bible study/reflection, I recently signed up for a 30-day preview of Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest” on my Bible app.  Yesterday’s reading was titled “Recall What God Remembers.”  The opening question was simple enough: “Am I as spontaneously kind to God as I used to be, or am I only expecting God to be kind to me?”  To me, that was a stone-cold stunner, a People’s Elbow of truth delivered right between the eyes.  I realized that I have been just like the young man in the parable of the Prodigal Son: God has become a source of transactional blessing to me…if I pray enough and have faith, and sprinkle in some good deeds/works here and there, and don’t do anything too egregious, then maybe He’ll bless me, and give me direction in my life.  But relationship?  Love?  Well, of course I LOVE God, but I’m busy, and he’s already omnipotent, right?  So He already knows what I need, anyway…

I remember Pastor Tim Rice (at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Florida) once delivering a sermon on this very same parable, and what he said was recently repeated in something else I heard (I think it might have been a podcast): at the heart of what this younger son tells his father at the beginning of the parable is an attitude of, “Hey, Dad, you’re dead to me.  Just give me what I think I’m owed, and I’ll be on my way.”  Sort of like, “Yeah, I love God, but I can’t really see Him, so I’ll just take His blessings of eternal life and forgiven sins and be on my way…”

We say we love God, but do we really?  Do we refer to Him as “Lord”…or “Father”?  Sure, we fear Him, as well we should if we recognize His immense and indescribable power, but are we fond of Him?  Do we long to talk to Him, and listen for His voice?  Are we already satisfied that we know enough about Him to get by, or do we hunger for even more knowledge, fully realizing that even if we devoted every moment to studying His word and His character, we wouldn’t even scratch the surface of who He is?  Do we envision Him as the One that cheers us on, and who rejoices with tears of pride when we do something (anything!) that pleases Him?  Do we imagine Him saying to all gathered around His throne, “That’s my boy/girl!” when we do what He commands us to do?  Do we dream of climbing up into His lap one day and just resting in all that He is?

Or is He pretty much dead to us, only there for us to acknowledge with a few empty words in the morning or at night, and some rote memorized phrases at dinner?  What would you say about a friend or family member, someone that you were once close to and sought you out all the time to just talk, but now you only hear from when they need something or when they’re in trouble…especially when they find themselves in difficult circumstances because they completely ignored advice that you gave them repeatedly?  If you’re like me, you’d probably put on your self-righteous coat.  Yet, yesterday morning, I asked that question to myself, and saw a familiar face staring back at me in the introspection mirror.  Then I saw God, Abba Father, smiling and telling me that even though I have treated Him as an arrogant younger son so many times, He is ready and oh so willing to bring me back into the fold as so much more than a hired hand.

Father, we are in wordless awe at your power, and at what you have brought forth into creation.  You are a father that loves surprising His children with good gifts, and we marvel at the discoveries that you allow us to see and experience every day.  May we never forget the awesome things that you have done, that you are doing, and that you will continue to do in our lives, and the lives of those that we love.  May we never miss a chance to thank you for every blessing, and to praise you in every storm, for Your will is perfect and always perfectly timed according to what our needs are.  May we long to talk to you, even when we just jabber on like mindless children, but may we also remember to listen for Your voice everyday.  Please send your Holy Spirit to guide us, so that we can make you known throughout all the places where we have influence.  May you expand our horizons as well, and give us the courage to take risks so that we may show a world that doesn’t know you just who you really are.  May our struggles count, and bring your people closer to you, so that we can be your hands and feet in the world, and serve you not because of what you give us, but because we are so caught up in our adoration of you that we know no other way to express it.


Animal Farm

Bear with me, if you will, as we look at today’s Scripture reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31-46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I don’t know much about 1st century AD Palestine, but I assume that shepherds may have dealt with sheep and goats on an everyday basis.  Both animals look very similar, and would probably graze together, but would often have to be separated when it came time to shear the sheep or milk the goats, or something.  Jesus’ audience would have been very attuned to this, since many of his male followers probably had first-hand experience as shepherds.


Sheep and goats: very similar on the outside, but completely different animals upon closer examination.  Sheep are very docile and peaceful; goats, on the other hand, are pretty much crazy, will eat anything, and can be pretty aggressive, especially when you are at the Fort Wilderness (Disney World) petting zoo, and you have a book of tickets for the rides in the Magic Kingdom in your pocket…but I digress.

Jesus’ parable hits home.  To me, He is explaining that though many will claim to serve Him, very few will show actions that match their words.  What is also interesting is that both the sheep and the goats don’t even realize that they are sheep or goats (verses 37-39, & 44).  The sheep are so full of the Spirit that they serve while giving no thought to their eternal reward, while the goats are completely oblivious to the suffering around them, because, you know, they have a “personal relationship with their Savior,”  so they’re just gonna enjoy their blessings and then chill with the Lord in Heaven because they have faith.

I don’t think that there is, nor could there be, a stronger call to the Church to be the hands and feet of Christ, to go to the broken, to provide for our neighbors in need, or to serve Jesus by serving others.    Jesus’ words are very clear, and his point is sharp: if/when you do for the least of my children, you do it for me.  This is sobering…I don’t know about you, but I haven’t set foot in a prison to minister or offer companionship in, like…ever.  I haven’t served in a soup kitchen or volunteered at a nursing home in years.  Shoot, I can’t even be bothered to go to my kids’ campuses and help teachers grade papers or help at PE.

And yet, it’s not too late.  What are our gifts, and how can we use them to bring the Kingdom here to Earth for the least of these?  That is the question I sign off with tonight.  How can we, as God’s people, get off the bench and get in the game?

The Power of One

To this young generation, today’s date (4/20) is synonymous with smoking weed, and I’m sure that there is a story about how that came to be.  For old history teachers, though, April 20th carries a far darker memory of events past: on this date in 1889, Adolf Hitler was born.  More recently on this same calendar date, two malcontents shot up their high school in a suburb of Denver, CO, and killed over a dozen classmates and teachers.  Just missing this date was the OKC bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building by anti-government zealots (4/19/1995).  Clearly, the aforementioned individuals changed many lives with their actions.


He certainly doesn’t look like a genocidal maniac in THIS picture!

And yet, through the madness and chaos that people like this created, the work of others shines through the darkness.  Adolf Hitler shares his birthday with George Takei, the actor and gay-rights activist who has battled discrimination and hatred his entire life with class, dignity, and a tremendous sense of humor.  Uncle George, a natural-born citizen of the United States, spent four years of his youth inside a concentration camp…except that it was called an “internment camp” because it was in the United States.  George and over 110,000 others (mostly second-generation Americans of Japanese descent) were moved away from coastal areas in the early weeks of World War II after Pearl Harbor “for their protection” under Executive Order 9066.  However, instead of seeking revenge for those that wronged him and his family and others (or those that he FELT had done wrong), George has made it his life’s work to speak out against oppression and bigotry wherever he sees it, as any of his social media followers will attest.  The political firestorm (and potential economic boycott) that erupted as a result of George Takei’s statements immediately after the passage of the State of Indiana’s Freedom of Religion law largely influenced the re-writing of the just-passed law just days afterwards.


As Tennessee, Georgia, and Klempson fans will point out with gleeful irony, Adolf Hitler shares a birthday with ol’ Darth Visor himself. Happy birthday, HBC!!

History shows us that one person can change the world, and today we see evidence of that in a negative light because of men like Adolf Hitler, Timothy McVeigh, and the Columbine murderers.  But the darkness from their hearts doesn’t have to be the reason why we remember this day.  When I was a little kid growing up on Lakehurst Street in Lakeland, Florida, an older couple moved in next door to my family.  They dressed funny (compared to what I was used to, and this was in the ’70s, so you know that it must’ve been REALLY far out), and after a few days their house smelled kind of funny.  When I talked to the old man one day, he had a thick accent and a tattoo of six numbers etched across his forearm.  He introduced himself as Moses Varro, and he was from Hungary.  As a little boy, I found it extremely funny that he was from a place that sounded like a state of physical need, and he laughed, too.  He always laughed.  He always had a smile when he saw me, and said that I reminded him of his young grandson who lived in an exotic place called “Long Island.”  Mr. Varro’s wife was one of the kindest people that I ever met; she always had a treat for me, and those weird smells that emanated from their house were just from her Hungarian cooking.  When I was 12, we moved into a new neighborhood several miles north, and I never saw the Varros again…and he never told me where that tattoo came from.  I had to find that out many years later…

To have lived through the Hell on Earth that was the Holocaust in World War II Europe, and to have retained any semblance of humanity, let alone joy, when all those closest to you died, and to then have had the love and patience to constantly entertain some little kid’s endless queries about where you were from, and what is that a tattoo of…(I think that he actually told me that it was his locker combination, with a sad far-off look in his eye).  Mr. Varro was the first person that I remember patiently showing me a map of the Iron Curtain and the Eastern Bloc, and explaining to me what communism was and why he and his wife were so thankful every day to live in the United States.  To this day, one of my favorite things to talk about and read about is the Cold War, especially in the 1960s through the 1980s…and my love of maps.  All because of one person.  Maybe this is where my compassion and sense of injustice comes from, too.

One person can make a difference, and that difference can be felt for decades, even centuries, afterward.  How will YOU change the world tomorrow?

Spring is here!…it’s Masters Sunday!

It’s the one Sunday of the year where even the most casual sports fan will most likely turn on the television and watch golf, kind of like how even the most casual believer in the Almighty will go to church somewhere on Easter Sunday.  It’s tradition, and you’re just supposed to!

For someone that has been around golf his entire life, though, this Sunday trumps all other dates on the sports calendar, even Super Bowl Sunday and the NCAA football title game.  I have never been to the Masters tournament in Augusta, GA (I’ve driven by the front gate, but not during tournament week)…I keep waiting for an invitation to play one day, but I guess all the members are busy.  Still, as a golfer (not just one that occasionally plays golf), as someone that has played competitively and has coached some very good players, there is no other day quite like this one.  Really, there is no other WEEK like Masters week.  This is the tournament that inspired me to become a player.  This is the tournament that I imagined winning through countless downhill 15-footers on the practice green in the gloaming of a late summer evening at Wedgewood, Lone Palm, and Cleveland Heights.

No other sporting event typically has as much drama as the last nine holes on Masters Sunday.  No other sporting event can give you an eerie silence in the heat of competition (where players can hear the birds chirping in the trees surrounding the course), interspersed with deafening roars from all over the course…and each roar is distinct: there’s the “incredible shot” roar,” the “birdie by a past champion” roar, and the “Here comes the rally by a popular player” roar, for starters.  On no other course can a coronation of a new champion, or a six-shot lead over 54 holes, become a slow three-hour requiem as that lead evaporates into the humid Georgia air.

So, take a few minutes and check out how this tournament has unfolded over the last three decades!  Here’s 1983-1992…

1983 – Seve chips in for par to win!

1984 – Ben drops BOMBS!

Gentle Ben could not miss in the final round in ’84.

1985 – Curtis rinses it twice on #13

We’ve all been there: we’ve made a mistake, and instead of making the smart choice and cutting our losses, we’ve tried to create a miraculous recovery…and got ourselves in an even worse predicament. Curtis Strange shot 80 in the first round in 1985, and proceeded to play the next 48 holes in (-15) to take the lead.  Then he went for the green on his second shot at #13 and ended up in Rae’s Creek.  Bernhard Langer ended up the day with the first of two Masters titles (he also won in 1993).

1986 – Jack’s Final Charge

Jack Nicklaus was an afterthought in 1986.  Forty-six years old, and completely written off.  No tournament wins in two years, no major wins since 1980.  His play for the first three rounds, though solid, excited no one.  He started the final round four shots behind Greg Norman, and after eight holes Jack was stuck in neutral, while the best players in the world zoomed past him like Ferraris passing a Studebaker on a freeway.  Jack proceeded to play the last ten holes in 7-under-par (with a bogey on #12), which remains the greatest stretch of golf that I have ever witnessed.  All the other players crumbled under the pressure applied by the “Olden” Bear.  After Greg Norman bogeyed #18 to finish tied for 2nd, Jack had won his sixth Masters title…and I started playing golf.

1987 – Local Boy Mize stuns the world

Unheralded Augusta native Larry Mize faced the top two ranked players in the world in Greg Norman & Seve Ballesteros, and holed an impossible chip-and-run to win the Masters in a playoff.  If Larry Mize stood in that same spot with a bucket of range balls and hit that same shot over and over again, he probably wouldn’t get one within 10 feet, and a few of them would probably roll off the green and into the pond on the other side. That’s the way golf go…

1988 – Sandy wins from a bunker (of course!)

One of the greatest fairway bunker shots ever.

1989 – 1991: Hoch chokes, Sir Nick repeats, and the Wee Welshman wins a jacket

Whether you like Scott Hoch or not (and most of his fellow pros did not in the late 1980s), this is still hard to watch.  Sir Nick Faldo followed up his first Masters win the next year with a playoff win over former champion Raymond Floyd.  In 1991, Ian Woosnam was locked in a tight three-man battle with Tom Watson and Jose-Maria Olazabal.  Woosie ended up winning because the other two couldn’t par #18.

1992 – Fred Couples finally wins a major!

Freddie played brilliantly all week, but owes his green jacket to the blade of grass that kept his ball dry on #12 (seen at about 2:30 on the above video).

The Life Worth Living

One of the things that I wish I had time for (and more money to do!) is to watch films. I love a good story, especially one that can be taken to heart and used to inspire people. This morning, a scene from one of my favorite films came to mind:

There is so much going on in this scene from “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:” Aragorn, the Ranger, has lived a life running from who he really is. (Spoiler Alert: he is the rightful king of Gondor). Instead, he has allowed someone else to rule over his kingdom for him while he lives a life of relative anonymity, wandering Middle Earth. Through the first two films, though, we get to see that Aragorn is passionate about justice, and the forces of good overcoming the darkness that is spreading over the land. So, he joins the Fellowship of the Ring in order to destroy it.

Fast-forward to this scene: Aragorn and his friends have fought bravely to this point, but all hope seems lost. After amassing an army to confront the forces of evil that will soon lay siege to his own home and end the Age of Man, Aragorn is faced with failure; they simply have not been able to gather enough forces to stop the destruction that is coming. Coupled with this impending doom is the imminent death of his beloved Arwyn, who has forsaken her eternal Elven life to be with Aragorn. But, as Arwyn’s father Elrond makes clear, there is still a way:

“Put aside the Ranger, and become who you were born to be.” Take up the sword that belonged to your forebear, and you will summon an army that cannot be defeated by any earthly power.

This is scary stuff. How many of us have grown comfortable in the men (and women) that our choices and circumstances have turned us into? Maybe we once tried to do, or be, something great, but then we got sidetracked…something distracted us from the path that we were on, and now we look back and we can’t even see that first path anymore. So we stay on the path that we’re on; the scenery’s not great, but we know it pretty well, and it would be so difficult to get back on the path we started on so many years ago. We grouse, and we feel let down, but it’s the life we know…the life we’ve settled for. And so we fool ourselves into believing that this is all we’ll ever be until the grave swallows us, so let’s just make it as enjoyable as we can until someone shovels dirt on our cold caskets…

Stop. Just stop. We are called to be (and do) so much more! Maybe the path you’re on is going nowhere, and it is downhill and it’s hard to stop the momentum…maybe you feel you can’t stop because you have so much excess baggage now compared to long ago…or maybe you feel that you don’t deserve any better. Stop all of that. You can turn around and set a new course. It’s not too late. It will take some work, and you may have to drop some things that you think you need along the way, but you can do it.

Recently, I’ve become convinced that the road that I’ve been on for almost three years is heading to nowhere, too. Distracted by wealth and status, I set my course to a destination that could never satisfy me; instead, I would keep pushing, keep going, never stopping…and then I was allowed a glimpse at the effect the journey was having on everyone around me. In my focus on the road ahead, I had allowed other influences to affect my own family, and just figured that “someone else” could handle these things. The wake-up call came in May, six months ago, when one of my children claimed that a parenting decision that I had made didn’t matter because “you’re never here, anyway.”

That was a sobering moment, and he was right. A few weeks later, I received an opportunity to manage a more local territory in a new industry. I was excited for this endeavor; I felt that there was tremendous upside, and I would be home almost every night. Almost three months in, and now I realize that this road is taking me even further from where I need to be than my previous road did. You see, I believe that we are all created with certain skills and passions, and in order to feel like we’re actually doing what we’re supposed to be doing, those things have to be lined up. What I’m doing right now: not so much. I am passionate about children, and justice, and giving each child a chance to “live the dream,” whatever that dream might be. I see the children entering the United States from Central America, and my heart is broken, and I feel powerless. These aren’t hardened criminals…these are kids the age of mine kids, even younger.

For a few years now, my wife and I have been involved with two organizations that serve children and families in impoverished regions of the world (including parts of the U.S.): World Vision and Unity4Orphans. We love the work that these organizations do, and we are able to make young lives better through our involvement. We are very passionate about our adopted daughter, Yesmeri, and her village in El Salvador. We know that our gifts have been used to provide clean drinking water for the village, and to pay for supplies for the school. Quite honestly, though, we struggle with the thought that we’re not doing enough, that there HAS to be a way to do more out of the time and resources that we have.

Recently, in the midst of thoughts about mission and vision and calling and passions, God has shown me again that He is passionate about justice and mercy, and offering our resources to the “least of these.” As I have dove deeper into God’s word, and the truth that is present in those sacred pages, I have become convinced that my own path has deviated far from where it needs to be heading. The time has come for me to put aside the life that I have settled for as well, and become who I was meant to be. I don’t know what that might look like yet, and it probably is not anything close to what I’m doing right now, but if God makes clear where His passions lie, and we pursue the things that He is passionate about, and we arm ourselves with the sword of his Word and His Army of Righteousness, then who can be against us?

Matthew 16:25

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (otherwise known as Florida-Georgia Weekend)


It’s been awhile, and to tell you the truth, I’ve been a little busy for the last several weeks learning the ins and outs of a new job (that will hopefully allow me to be home a little bit more). I’m back, though, and this post is dedicated to one of my favorite yearly events: the annual Florida-Georgia football game held in Jacksonville, Florida, on the St. Johns River (trivia question: Why does the St. Johns River flow north? Because Georgia sucks!!).

I’ve been to this game ten times in the past, and there is no atmosphere like it in college football.  Throw out the records and the rankings every year; this is a true rivalry game, with two fan bases that gather every year as the temperatures start to dip in North Florida.  There is drinking, tailgating, more drinking, trash-talking, a little bit MORE drinking, a few fights, and some more drinking (the historic moniker of this event is the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”).  This is all before the game even starts!  Tens of thousands of orange- and blue-clad members of Gator Nation pack EverBank Stadium with their red-and-black-wearing counterparts from Jawja; the entire stadium is split 50/50 among the fan bases, and it is LOUD!

ga fl

The game has been played in Jacksonville almost every year since the 1930s (save for 1994-95, when it was played on both campuses), and is always touted as a neutral-site game, but let’s face it: Jacksonville is only a 90-minute drive from the University of Florida, and the game was played until 1993 in a stadium called the “Gator Bowl.” Still, the Bulldogs hold a slight advantage in the series, with the Gators winning 19 of the last 25 matchups. There has been a lot of heartache involved in this game, and some big moments from both teams:

*Heisman Trophy-winning QB Steve Spurrier’s loss to UGA in 1966, which cost the Gators their first-ever SEC title

*UF’s boneheaded “4th & Dumb” play that lost the 1976 matchup

*”Run, Lindsay, Run!” in 1980 that propelled UGA to a national title

*The 1985 game in which UF came in ranked #1 in the nation, and got flat whooped, 24-3

*The seven straight victories UF enjoyed over UGA from 1990-1996, when Steve Spurrier came home to coach the Gators, including:
-UF knocking off #4-ranked Georgia in 1992, 26-24, which helped UF claim the first SEC East title
-the infamous “Time-out Game” in 1993 when a Bulldog touchdown in the closing seconds was taken off the scoreboard thanks to a timeout called just before the snap by a smart freshman DB named Anthone Lott
-The Gators becoming the first opposing team to EVER score 50+ on UGA at Sanford Stadium in Athens in 1995
-UGA winning their 2nd straight over UF for the first time since the 1980s, and ruining the Gators’ perfect 7-0 record, in 2012; this loss kept Florida out of the SEC Championship game

Even when both teams are mediocre, with seemingly NOTHING to play for halfway through the season, they still have pride, and this game brings it out. In 2010, UF had lost 3 straight and was reeling; UGA was also in the midst of a disappointing campaign…and that game became an instant classic, with Florida prevailing in OT, 34-31.

And so we come to this year’s game. UGA came in ranked #9, with the inside track to the SEC East title and feeling pretty confident after impressive back-to-back games against Missouri and Arkansas.

Florida came in at 3-3, with the fan base demanding that head Coach Will Muschamp be replaced after yet another below-average start to a season (coincidentally, Muschamp played defensive back for Georgia from 1991-1994, never beat Florida as a player, and had lost three straight to UGA as the Gator head coach). And then this happened…

In a game that made no sense, UF was the bully, pushing ‘Dawgs all over the field to the tune of 418 yards rushing. Now, instead of Coach Boom (Muschamp’s nickname) being run out of Gainesville, the Georgia faithful are in a frenzy over Coach Mark Richt’s yearly flameout and the ineffective offensive playcalling of coordinator Mike Bobo. It’s interesting how things can change in just over three hours on a crisp November afternoon.

Obviously, this win was much-needed for Florida’s program, and should earn Will Muschamp the rest of the season, at the very least (and yes, I was one of the more vocal critics saying that he should have been fired after the dismal homecoming loss to Missouri two weeks ago). After that, who knows? I do think that yesterday’s win over the Gators’ biggest conference rival will provide the leverage needed to finish the season as UF’s head coach, and if the Gators could somehow win the next three games before heading to Tallahassee with a 7-3 record…

Before I get that far ahead, let’s get through the next few weeks first. Yesterday’s event showed once again that this game always lives up to the hype, and almost results in one-half of the stadium elated, and the other…not so much. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have three years’ worth of pent-up frustration to get out:

Summer Is for Kids

rory two trophies

“So, uh, what did you do this summer, Rory??”

“Oh, you know, watched some TV, played some video games, broke up with my fiancé, won back-to-back majors with a WGC event sandwiched in-between, became the #1-ranked player in the world. Not much. And you?”

“Yeah, kind of the same.”



     I don’t know about you, but I find Rory McIlroy to be a complete breath of fresh air for professional golf.  Open, honest, engaging, accessible…and fun, as evidenced by this video:

.  All this, and talent in abundance.  I hope that he enjoys a long career, full of success, but more importantly, keeps having a grand ol’ time doing it.

It’s almost time for football…unfortunately for UF fans.

Going into the 2014 College Football season, Florida Gator pigskin coach Will Muschamp’s seat is hotter than a Dallas tin roof on an August afternoon. Most UF fans and alums acknowledge that Coach Muschump may be in way over his head, and this season could be his last in Gainesville. After a horrific 4-8 campaign in 2013 that saw a lack of discipline, focus, and injuries to the starting and 2nd-string QBs (just to name two of the more prominent ones in a season full of season-ending injuries), Will will be on a short leash this season.

With all of that baggage going in to this season, I thought it might be fun to gauge just exactly when Will Muschamp will be fired during the 2014 campaign. Feel free to weigh in on this topic in the FB comments.

A.) Week 1 (Aug. 30): at home vs. the Idaho Vandals – Good Lord, if Florida loses this game, I don’t think Muschamp will get out of the stadium alive. Ditto for the next week’s game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles. But, it could happen…

B.) Week 3 (Sept. 13): at home vs. the Kentucky Wildcats – Perennial SEC football doormat makes its biannual trip to The Swamp. Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida on the gridiron since Reagan was president. UF also had a million-year or so winning streak against Vanderbilt going into last year…not that it mattered after Vandy embarrassed UF in the Swamp. If UF were to lose this game, heads would roll…but I think it’s more likely that UF would lose one of the first two games than this one.

bama sign

C.) Week 4 (Sept. 20): at Bryant-Denny Stadium vs. Alabama – Honestly, even with a 50-point loss in this game, Will Muschamp wouldn’t get fired because expectations aren’t that high for this matchup. This might be the safest game on the schedule for Coach Muschamp’s “Keep My Job” campaign: if Florida can hang close, Muschamp can point at that as a positive sign…even if he’s helped by his old boss, Coach Saban. And if Florida were able to pull this one off…well, let’s not get carried away.

D.) Week 6 (Oct. 4): at Neyland Stadium vs. Tennessee – Tennessee hasn’t beaten Florida in Knoxville or Gainesville since Ron Zook was head coach. That’s 9 wins in a row over Tennessee. It’s really not even a rivalry anymore. Still, despite the recent dominance, this is a game that Muschamp cannot afford to lose, figuring that the team will be 3-1 at this point, with another game looming next week against LSU. Lose this one to go 3-2 before the tilt with the Tigers, and things will be grim indeed for Muschamp.

E.) Week 7 (Oct. 11): at home vs. the LSU Tigers – UF & LSU have had a very interesting series of games going back to the Zook years. Most have been very close affairs, won with smothering defense. The offenses have been so bad that it’s been like watching two mules fight over a turnip. Because of LSU’s reputation and penchant for playing very physical football, this game will be close. An LSU win wouldn’t seal Muschamp’s fate YET…but the clock would definitely start ticking.

F.) Week 8 (Oct. 18): at home vs. the Missouri Tigers – Based on the complete butt-whuppin’ that Mizzou put on UF last year in the SEC’s OTHER Columbia, and the fact that if UF loses this game, they would be sitting at 5-2 at best, but most likely 4-3, I really feel like this is a must-win for Coach Muschamp. This season’s version of Mizzou football will not be last year’s version, which was completely magical. I think Mizzou comes back down to earth this season, but they’ll still put up a fight in the Swamp. A 5-2 record with a win before the big UGA game will look and feel a lot better than 4-3 after a loss…especially with a bye week in between games.

G.) Week 10 (Nov. 1): in Jacksonville vs. the Georgia Bulldogs – Will Muschamp played safety for UGA in the early ’90s. There’s a lot of YouTube video showing him chasing Reidel Anthony and Ike Hilliard during the Spurrier years. Will couldn’t beat Florida when he played for UGA, and he sure as hell hasn’t figured out a way to beat UGA since he became UF’s head coach in 2011. He is 0-3, and has three agonizingly close losses to his alma mater. This is the game that he simply has to find a way to win. Before Muschamp took over as UF’s head ball coach, Florida was 18-3 against UGA from 1990 to 2010. Now we’ve lost 3 in a row. My kids always figured that beating Georgia was as sure a thing as Santa dropping off goodies on Dec. 24th…now their hope is gone. C’mon, Will, win this one for the kids! If Florida loses this one, especially to drop to 5-3 or (God forbid) 4-4, Will is gone.

H.) Week 11 (Nov. 8): in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores – Will Muschamp could beat UGA by 30 the week before, but if Florida loses to Vandy two years in a row, he will not see the next game as head coach. Chances are that he will not be the head coach anymore going into this one, anyway. Still, miracles can happen, and if Florida can win this one after beating UGA to go 7-2, things will be looking pretty good for ol’ Coach Muschamp.

I.) Week 12 (Nov. 15): at home against the South Carolina Gamecocks – Florida’s favorite Gator, who just now happens to coach SC, would love to whoop his alma mater in order to force a firing if it hasn’t happened at this point. Spurrier’s ‘Cocks are 3-1 against Florida since 2010…but really, if Florida AD hasn’t pulled the trigger on Muschamp by this point, he won’t after this game…unless Florida gets beat by 40+. At home.

J.) Week 13 (Nov. 22): at home vs. Eastern Kentucky Colonels – Who? There may be so few fans at this game that even if UF did lose, no one would know.

K.) Week 14 (Nov. 29): in Tallahassee vs. Florida State – If Muschamp has survived to this point, I doubt that a loss, even by 30+, would end his job. The decision about 2015 will be made before this game. If UF shows some signs of life prior to this game, and can somehow: 1.) go at least 8-4, and; 2.) get a win against UGA (a must), LSU, and/or South Carolina, Muschamp will be back for a fifth season. A loss against UGA (combined with a loss against Kentucky, Tennessee, or Vandy) will end his job at Florida. By then, Texas may be looking for a good defensive coordinator.

I believe that going into the UGA game, UF will be 5-2. If UF wins, the Gators will ride that momentum into a positive end of the season and a January bowl game. If UGA wins, Coach Muschamp will be done and, even if it won’t be made public at that time, will be advised that he will not get a fifth season in Gainesville. If UGA wins by 20+, he may be released from his contract the next day.

Golf’s Youth Movement (“The Kids Are Alright”)

You wouldn’t often consider a 25-year-old to be washed up, but in the endless cycle of sports media hyperbole, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, golf’s current wunderkind, may as well have been written off going into last week’s (British) Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake. After all, Rory hadn’t won a major championship since (*GASP!*) August 2012. Since then, he had experienced a slump, a change in coaches and management companies, broke off an engagement to a tennis star before recipients of the invitations had even opened them, and walked off a course during a PGA tournament because his wisdom teeth hurt. After two blowout major wins in 2011 & 2012, the vultures descended to pick the carcass…”too much too soon,” “petulant,” “immature,” etc. Even as his game started to round back into form, he was “distracted;” after all, he shot a first-round score of 63 in the Honda Classic in February, followed it up with a 66, and still didn’t win. In Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament last month, he opened with a 63, only to blow up during Friday’s 2nd round, shooting 78. This form continued in the first two rounds of the Scottish Open, considered a warm-up event for the Open Championship. Rory opened with a 64, only to once again follow it up with a 78.

…And then the Open started. Young McIlroy opened with a 6-under-par 66 to take the first round lead. Four years ago, the last time that the Open Championship was held at the home of golf, St. Andrews, Rory blistered the Old Course for a major-championship record-tying 63…only to fall back with an 8-over-par 80 the next day. Nine months later, he took a 4-shot lead into the final nine holes of The Masters, only to make a triple-bogey 7 on #10 and fall way back with a 43 on the back nine.


Would this year be any different? The talk going into Friday’s second round last week was whether or not Rory could get over his second-round issues…which grew louder when he bogeyed the first hole. Rory commenced to play the last 17 holes of the day in 7-under-par to take a four-shot lead into the weekend. After Rickie Fowler (another good young player that is figuring out how to manage his game during the really big tournaments) briefly tied him on the back nine of the third round, Rory put his foot on the gas, making eagles on #16 and #18 to finish with a six-shot lead.

Save for mercurial veteran Sergio Garcia applying some pressure with a superb round of 6-under 66, no one put any pressure on Rory during Sunday’s final round, which is appropriate since it seems that the only player capable of beating Rory when he is at his best is…well, Rory. He coasted in with a par on #18 for a 2-shot win, and (this is an important point to make for such a young player) absolutely seemed in awe of what he had accomplished. Not in an arrogant “I’m the greatest!” way, but in a completely overwhelmed, big-eyed, wondrous way, as in “Wow…I can’t believe that I just won the Open!” Seeing Rory scan the Claret Jug after the closing ceremony, finding all of the names of previous winners…legends of the game like Old & Young Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods…and now his showed, in my mind, that no matter how great he is and he becomes, he will always have an appreciation for where he came from, and a mindset that remembers that golf is fun!


So, how great can he become? He is the third-youngest player to capture three legs of the Grand Slam (behind Jack & Tiger): Rory now has a US Open title (won by eight shots), a PGA Championship (also won by eight shots), and a Claret Jug. He has shown that he can play Augusta National well, and he is only 25 years of age, so it’s not out-of-bounds to think that he could become one of the greatest of all time. Only five men have won the career Grand Slam, but if Rory’s dad is a betting man (which he is:, he might want to put a few pounds on whether or not his son can complete the career “impregnable quadrilateral,” as golf writer O.B. Keeler once described his friend Bobby Jones’ feat of winning golf’s four biggest tournaments in the same year (1930)…which will never happen again.

For now, move over and make room for the new kid on the block in championship golf, Tiger. As an aside, with Tiger Woods playing in his first major championship last week after a back injury that had sidelined him since March (and ending the week with a career-worst major championship finish), two things are obvious to me:

1.) Tiger Woods is not the same dominant force that he was a few years ago. No one trembles when they see his name near the leaderboard anymore; in fact, his name has been missing from leaderboards for so long that most players might not even recognize it now. His career has clearly gone off the tracks; he is talking about needing to make some swing changes…dude, how about just playing golf again? Playing tournament golf is NOT like riding a bike, no matter how good you think you still are. Missing several months of practice and tournament-quality competition week in and week out has caused your game to atrophy…and it’s OK to acknowledge it. To proclaim that you’re in West England to win the tournament after having played only one event since March comes across as bluster, and the height of competitive arrogance. I could hear the other players scoffing from across the pond. At this point, Tiger has not won a major title in over 6 years, and is his game is no longer even formidable. He is clearly not in a conversation about the best current American players; his inflated world ranking is based on his 2013 season results. Can he get back to that level? Sure he can…he’s come back from injury before (not from back surgery), but if he thinks he’s still one of the best players right now, he’s delusional. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson needs to stick to his gut regarding his captain’s picks for the upcoming competition against Europe’s best players, despite Tiger’s lobbying for a spot on the team. Unless he can produce consistent results from now through August, Tom Watson needs to not treat a coveted spot on the team as a lifetime achievement award. Since 64-year-old Tom Watson actually finished five shots ahead of Tiger last week (T51st place vs 69th place), Tom Watson may be wiser in picking himself for the team come September. Besides, Tiger’s record in Ryder Cup matches is not earth-shaking (13-14-2)…I think he feels entitled because he’s Tiger Woods, and he WILL have his game back in shape by late September, and who are we mere mortals to doubt him? Realistically, the best thing for Tiger Woods’ career at this point might be for Tom Watson to pass him over, which would completely piss Tiger off and make him even more determined to show he is still the best going into next year. A wounded Tiger would be much more dangerous than a sated one.
2.) People (especially media types) constantly discuss how Tiger’s absence and subsequent decline has affected the game. Have they not watched any golf the last few months? Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy hit the ball unfathomable distances, Martin Kaymer’s game has returned from a disappearance so long that it was seen on the side of a milk carton last summer, Rickie Fowler cut his hair and now has back-to-back 2nd-place finishes in majors, Adam Scott is becoming a constant leaderboard presence, and Jordan Spieth is a joy to watch…the kid can’t even order a drink or rent a car, and he is performing at a level that 99.9% of the pros that play this game wish that they could perform. So, yeah, I’d say that the game is in good shape right now. If you don’t agree, than take a look at this:


And, that, my friends, is why golf is in good shape right now.