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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Tee time

by Mike Masterson | June 27, 2021 at 1:43 a.m.

Watching the U.S. Open played last weekend at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif., carried me back to 1980 when I and three fellow Los Angeles Times reporters played there.

Our problem was never with the manicured layout or the persistent ocean breezes at this world-famous San Diego-area course. Instead, our issues stemmed from simply trying to get a weekend morning tee time. And we weren't alone by any stretch.

The city had established a supposedly equitable system where, in midweek at a certain hour, they would begin taking telephoned tee times for the coming weekend. Supposedly, it was first callers, first choice.

We regularly took turns calling precisely at the top of the hour. The phone would often stay busy for a bit. But fewer than 10 minutes after that designated moment, every tee time for Saturday morning had been booked until the afternoon.

The pattern never failed, regardless of how many weeks passed and how often we called.

Having had as much of that chronic situation as I could enjoy, several minutes before we were officially to finally tee off about 2 p.m. Saturday, I walked to the nearby starter's shack. There, I introduced myself as a Times reporter and politely asked to see the weekend tee-time registrations for the previous three months.

The starter at first balked but soon relented when I reminded him the records are, after all, public information since Torrey Pines was owned by the city. And, if need be, I could scribble out a formal FOIA request on a sheet of paper.

He reached inside the shack and handed me the list.

Perusing the previous weeks, lo and behold (and Heavens to Murgatroyd) I saw the same names repeated for every weekend morning tee time. Finding it impossible to believe these same folks, weekend after weekend, somehow managed to beat our calls at the designated registration time (and wind up with all the choice starting times), I took things a step beyond.

"So," I asked (always smiling), "are you and the other starters by chance familiar with these people who always have the weekend morning times?"

He sheepishly responded that he did know them. My next question was equally obvious. Did these fortunate and appreciative players ever give him and other starters thoughtful gifts for the holidays, or otherwise? He conceded some had done so in the past. But there was no favoritism involved ...

I hastily scribbled notes of these repetitious names, dates and tee times (usually the same times or within minutes each weekend). Back at my desk in downtown San Diego on Monday, I began to write what I'd discovered. The presses ran. The papers were distributed.

I'm sure to the chagrin of those who for who knows how long had a cushy arrangement, things changed dramatically at the starter's shack in days to follow.

We and others actually became able to occasionally nail down a morning weekend game for the first time since trying in vain for months to complete 18 holes before 7 p.m.

That's been 41 years ago. Yet I wondered, in watching Spanish golfer Jon Rahm pull off a magnificent victory at Torrey Pines last Sunday, if those reforms at the course have prevailed. Has the registration system remained fair to all seeking a weekend game, or have the waves subsided and things along the magnificent coast returned to old ways?

Perhaps it's time for some enterprising reporter in San Diego to find out.

First-pitch fiasco

On the subject of playing a game involving white balls, watching the baseball Razorbacks' outstanding 50-plus win season triggered another memory of my, well, not-so-outstanding performance before seats filled with Hog callers, also more than a decade ago.

I'd volunteered to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at an SEC game in Baum-Walker Stadium. It was an evening where that game's sponsor, our newspaper, was invited to send someone willing to stroll to the mound before thousands and risk making a fool of themselves.

I'd practiced for an hour that afternoon. The objective was to rear back with my right arm and release the ball directly in front of me. Piece of cake. I must have thrown 50 pitches at a blistering 40 miles an hour.

Then arrived The Time for Truth. I walked to the mound to a microphone introduction. My heart was racing as the catcher ran out and handed me the ball. Excited fans were clapping. There was still joy in Mudville.

"Release the ball directly in front," I kept repeating as I drew back my right arm, hesitated momentarily, then brought it forward as hard as an aging journalist could fling.

About halfway through, probably in the vicinity of third base, I released the ball and watched in frozen horror as it sailed directly to the Razorback's dugout, rolling most of the way. A mix of "awws" and "uhhs" resonated through the stadium.

Now what, Mike? I took a deep bow and shuffled back to my seat with a face as red as my Hog shirt. I never again volunteered to pitch a baseball, even in the privacy of my backyard.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Print Headline: Tee time

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