Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Tee Shot

TigerBlog Jr. spent six years or so as a Princeton basketball ballboy back when he was a kid.

At the time, he was also learning to play the saxophone, and at some point he set as his goal to play the national anthem on his saxophone before a Princeton game. As such, he began to practice the song, to the point where when he was 11, he felt he was ready.

Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't. Half the time he'd try to play it, he'd do it well. The other half? It wasn't always smooth.

Still, he was determined, and so it was on the night of the men's home game against Cornell on Feb. 6, 2009, that TBJ stood out at center court, all by himself with his sax, and began to play.

TigerBlog was on the radio that night. He stood courtside and watched, helpless really to do anything about it if it started to go off the rails. 

As it turned out, it never did. TBJ sailed through the song without missing a note. It was impressive, for the way he played and also for the way he risked failing.

And so when it TB was offered the chance to do something similar, he didn't turn it down, even with the possibility of failing in a major way. And so too it's why TB was drawing inspiration from his son as he stepped into the moment.

It all started when Ed Calkins, a member of the 1992 men's lacrosse NCAA championship team, sent TB a text. The Friends of Lacrosse golf outing was coming up. Did TB want to hit the ceremonial first tee shot?

This would be like throwing out the first pitch. It's a real honor, and yet it's frightening, in that a lot could go wrong, with no place to hide from it.

TB briefly thought about declining the opportunity. Then he thought back to his son and the anthem. Just do your best, he told him that night. He would have to take his own advice. 

Keep in mind, TB isn't very good at golf. He'd last played in the last Friends of Lacrosse outing, which was in 2019. The time he played before that was the one before that. The time before that? It was before TBJ ever picked up a sax.

Just hitting off a tee at a driving range is an iffy thing. Now factor in that there would be nearly 100 people watching him hit this first drive? Yikes.

Plus TB doesn't even own golf clubs, or golf shoes, or a golf glove. In fact, he had to borrow clubs from one of TBJ's best buddies, Matthew, who was a ballboy with TBJ all those years ago. 

TigerBlog actually remembers driving them to the game the night TBJ was going to play the anthem. What did Matthew say to him? "Ten bucks says you mess it up."

Armed with Matthew's clubs, TB arrived at Springdale early to get in some practice shots. If there is a club that he's consistent with, it's a five-iron, but there were two problems with that: 1) he couldn't really hit a ceremonial tee shot with an iron and 2) Matthew doesn't have one in his bag. He did have a six-iron, but TB instead decided on the five-wood.

He then hit around 100 practice shots. About half of them were good. When he tried to figure out what he was doing right on those shots and do it again, he'd dribble it off the tee or have it never get more than a foot off the ground or hit it really far to the left or right.

"Ten minutes," Ed told him at one point. Was there a way to back out now? Nope.

Eventually, it was time. Ed brought the whole group together and asked TB to come forward. TB then basically said that he thought about saying no but that he decided to do it, knowing that he was going to be doing this in front of the group of people in his life who would more than any other never let him forget it if he messed it up.

He walked up to the first tee. He turned back to see the army following him. Now it was time. 

"What's the worst that can happen?" he said. "We're about to find out," someone behind him called.

Then it was time. He took the five-wood, drew it back, swung, kept his head down and hoped for the best.

Crack. It made that perfect sound golf balls make when you hit them just right. He looked up to see the ball rising majestically and making its way high, straight and far down the fairway.

At first, he was a bit startled. Then relieved. There was applause. There were congratulations. 

And for TB, there was a sense of satisfaction, not at how well he'd hit it but that he'd done it in the first place. 

When he was leaving at the end of the day, the last person he saw was Jon Hess, one of the keystones of the 1996-98 NCAA champions. "Nice shot," Jon said.

"Thanks," TB said. "I'll be living off this forever."

1 comment:

D '82 said...

Pretty sure that Teddy Roosevelt did not have a ceremonial tee shot in mind when he gave credit to the man in the arena, but he would have told you, "Ten bucks says you hit high, far and straight."