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The sweet ‘tee’ of success

I do not love golf.

To say that I even like it would be a big fat lie.

Growing up, my house abutted the fourth fairway of the Shalimar public golf course and suffered so many broken windows we all had permanent slivers in our feet. I often had to chase away golfers who climbed over our fence for their errant balls as I sunbathed next to the pool. One time, I sat up from the diving board to examine my toenail polish and a ball smacked down right where my eye had been. I feel mine is a justified repugnance.

I’ve never been tempted to play a round, unless you count stealing two Bartles & James wine coolers and a golf cart from the clubhouse and driving it in circles under the giant sprinklers used to keep the acres green in the Arizona heat. (Thanks for not pressing charges, Shalimar!)

Let us say that when it comes to appreciating this sport, I am hopelessly handicapped.

I am aware I am in the minority. Obviously, golf is HUGE. It’s not like my interests are represented in a multi–billion dollar industry that includes its own cable station (though surely there are others who think a Scrabble Channel has tremendous potential?) I understand that for most Americans a nine iron trumps irony, and if you can’t beat ‘em, you just have to join ‘em.

Not that it was any kind of chore to accept an invitation last Tuesday from the lovely Lisa Kaminsky to watch the season finale of the Golf Channel’s Big Break at the new B&D Burgers on Congress. She and her husband Danny are the consummate hosts, and I knew while there would be golf, there would also be wine. Lisa’s little brother, Mark Silvers, was one of the final two contestants in the reality TV competition, which can be described as a cutthroat elimination–type show like Survivor, only with ugly plaid pants.

A hundred or so folks had gathered to drink, snack and watch last week’s recap before the finale aired at 9 p.m. Silvers worked the room like the Southern gentleman he is, born and bred on the Landings and a fixture at the Savannah Golf Club. At 26, the Savannah Country Day and University of South Carolina grad qualified for the U.S. Open in 2010 and competed applaudingly on the National Golf Association’s mini–tour circuit this year. If he won the Big Break, he’d automatically qualify for an exemption in the 2013 PGA Greenbrier Classic and one of those vaunted green blazers.

Of course, he already knew whether he won or not, since the Big Break was filmed last June, at the historic Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. But our blue–eyed homeboy wasn’t telling.

“It was a million dollar fine if the results were leaked, so that’s made it pretty easy,” laughed the softspoken and admittedly shy Silvers over the din. “I just keep telling people I have amnesia.”

The mood got tense as the opening credits rolled on B&D’s massive outdoor screen. As the first balls were teed against the lush backdrop of the Allegheny Mountains, I was most delighted to note that Silvers did not embarrass Savannah with any of those hideous golfer pants but kept it classy in polos and khakis.

I think we’ve established that I would rather decorate the undersides of my fingernails with bamboo shards than watch 18 rounds of golf. But there is something to be said for skillful video editing: In the absence of all that walking between holes and that weird hushed voice that the commentators use on the live tourneys, I was riveted.

Silvers was up one shot after two holes, but missed a birdie on the fifth that put his competitor James Lepp in the lead through the rest of the back nine. There was drama: Our man chipped a vertical shot onto the 12th while practically standing on a cliff, and Lepp got stung on the neck by a bee on the 13th. I peeked through my hands as Silvers drove the ball 124 yards to the 14th green and howled when he missed the putt. Did somebody say golf was boring?

The B&D patio was at a standstill at the 18th and final drive, with Silvers and Lepp tied and pretty much everyone’s fingernails bitten to the quick. Silvers landed it on the green a few feet from the hole; Lepp’s came down a little farther away. Silvers sank his putt easily, and Lepp missed his, making our man the winner. The place roared so loud the ground shook. Silvers ducked a champagne shower and gave his humble smile, the pressure relieved at last.

While each of the Big Break contestants had a story that made them compelling enough for TV, Silvers’ touched the producers’ hearts and many local ones: He and Lisa’s father had passed away just a few weeks before the competition. Many of the Big Break outtakes featured him holding a photo of his dad and sister.

Teary–eyed in his exit interview, the champ who still shleps his own clubs gave a nod to his often–rumbly relationship with his pop and said in the end, they made peace: “I knew that he wanted it for me so badly he couldn’t stand it.”
Looking forward to seeing this young Savannahian make us proud on the greens in 2013. I might even watch.


In this last Civil Society Column of the year, I’d like a word with you. Yes, you, buddy. Thanks for reading. I know there are more claims on your time than ever and plenty of other places to put your eyeballs — it’s deeply appreciated that you pick up or click on Connect every week. Many of you have written e-mails or come up to me out in the world to let me know how much you do (or don’t, for that matter) appreciate what we do here, and I hope you’ll keep up the dialogue in 2013.

A happy, safe and prosperous New Year to all!