Thursday, May 28, 2009

Golf: The Sport That I Love (And That Beats Me)

Played nine holes of golf today at a course near Damascus, Va. (near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina).

It's a beautiful, lush green course framed by mountains. Overhead, I didn't have a blue sky; instead clouds and overcast weather followed me from hole to hole.

I had the course almost entirely to myself, encountering only about five other players throughout my round.

I believe golf is the hardest sport in the world.

Yes, Tiger makes it look easy, hitting all those 300+ yard drives effortlessly straight down the fairway. That's not all Mr. Woods does. He reads and studies greens, taking in all their contours, curves, drops and heights. Then he sinks some really long putts.

Me, I don't hit the ball nearly as far off the tee. A good drive for me is 200-220 yards.

Tiger pars, birdies or even eagles many holes.

Me, I'm a double-bogey (and then some) golfer.

Today, for instance, for nine holes at Deer Field Golf Course near Damascus, my score was 60. That works out to 6.67 strokes per hole. (And no, I didn't see a deer.)

No match for Tiger, who probably would have averaged about 3 strokes per hole where I played.

He's the best, and I'm, well, I'm trying to get better...

I'm not even close (even in my dreams) to being competitive with the best golfer on the planet.

Still, I love to swing the club, and occasionally I smack a good one. It's nice to connect with the "sweet spot" and watch the ball soar down the fairway. It's beautiful when a putt finds the hole.

Those are the strokes I remember when I close my eyes and doze off at night.

They keep me coming back to the golf course.

Golf--it's the hardest sport in the world. But I love it, even though it doesn't seem to love me.

Tiger, fear me not. I am NOT hot on your heels.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Soccer journalism

We've all heard of "soccer moms."

But now we also have "soccer journalism."
Who reads newspaper stories about soccer--other than the players themselves or their families?

That's a question I'm posing to my hometown community newspaper, The (Rock Hill, S.C.) Herald in the aftermath of what I consider to be disproportionately (and mind numbing to many readers) heavy coverage of high school soccer games. I'm talking huge photos of soccer players doing their thing. I'm talking LONG stories (about high school soccer) that begin on page one and jump to the inside of the paper.

I mean, come on Herald! This is NASCAR and basketball and football country. People in Rock Hill (or pretty much anywhere in the U.S., for that matter) don't give diddly about a sport where people score points with their feet (or sometimes with their heads). Our pulses don't quicken to final game scores of 5-1, or 3-2 or 1-0.
Ditch the soccer coverage, Herald, and get back to what interests us.

Yes, people in Ecuador or Brazil or France love soccer. Very few people in the U.S. follow the sport at all.

Don't believe me? Take a person-on-the street survey in Rock Hill. Ask folks what they think about the "World Cup." Listen to their answers.

I rest my case.

(No intention here to slam the student soccer players. They give it their all on the field, I'm sure, and they're good at what they do--kicking a ball and running up and down the field, and up and down the field, and kicking the ball, and then getting a foul, and then running again and again...)

Let's kick the soccer coverage, Herald, and get back to what interests readers.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dr. Dolly wows them at Rocky Top University

Youngest daughter (Elizabeth) received her bachelor's degree (suma cum laude) two days ago at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. That's the proud graduate with my oldest daughter, Dorothy, in a photo accompanying this blog post.

It was a graduation unlike any I've attended, with country music star, songwriter and actress Dolly Parton as the commencement speaker.

Dolly, the leading female vocalist in the world (with 100 million plus of her records sold) wowed the audience of about 15,000 people and 1,200 graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences with her spirited rendition of UT's national anthem song "Rocky Top."

I don't know all the lines of this tune, even though I've sung it dozens of times at UT football games (think after touchdowns or goal line stands or other pivotal plays by the Big Orange) and imagine the Pride of the Southland Band enlivening the 106,000 fans at Neyland Stadium with "Rocky Top."

I do remember this part:

"Rocky Top, you'll always be, home sweet home to me. Good ole Rocky Top! Rocky Top Tennessee!"

Dolly, born 62 years ago in Locust Ridge, Tenn., in Sevier County (in the Great Smoky Mountains) ran out onto the stage and shouted "Hello UT!" She then "Rocky Topped" 'em like only Dolly can do.

The place rocked and seemed to sizzle with excitement. Never mind that graduations tend to be solemn and deadly serious. Never mind that the stage on which Dolly performed was packed with Ph.D.s in the university powerstructure (deans, vice presidents, and other executive officers at UT) and even Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee.

The little woman with the big you know whats and even bigger heart (she's personally seen to it that children all over the world get a free book in their hands by the time they're 6 years old) elicited plenty of laughter and good old fashioned foot stomping "follow me as I sing this song" rhythmic spirit.

Dolly, the fourth of 12 children, shared her remarkable story of how her dream was always to be a star.

She grew up in a log cabin in the most humble of circumstances. She recalled how she would go out on the porch and scrounge around in the yard for an old tin can. She hosted that can on a pole and that was her microphone. Her audience? Chickens and pigs.

People tried to discourage her from dreaming so big but Dolly never gave up, heading off to Nashville soon as she graduated from high school, with all her belongings in a carboard suitcase.

Now, 40+ yrs. after singing from the front porch of that cabin in the mountains of east Tennessee, Dolly has won eight CMA awards and seven Grammies. She also has 20+ No. 1 songs--among them her astounding "I Will Always Love You" (topping the charts for Dolly in 1973 and 1982 and again for Whitney Houston in 1992.)

Inducted in 1999 into the Country Music Hall of Fame (country music's highest accolade), Dolly is also widely known for her philanthropy (Imagination Library for preschool children and Buddy Program to help stem high school dropouts) and for founding Tennessee's most popular theme park--"Dollywood."

Point being, here's a woman who's come light years from that cabin in rural Tennessee.

But she still has work to do.

At UT, she said he never wants to retire and wants to die (just not right now, thank you) with a smile on her face, while singing or writing or acting.

UT, calling her an authentic Tennessee hero and humanitarian, rightfully awarded her an honorary doctorate.

"Just think, I am Doctor Dolly!" Ms. Parton shouted. "Now when people say something about Double D, they will be thinking of something entirely different...!"

We love you, Doctor Dolly.

By the way, if you've read this far, know that Dolly sang another song, not "Rocky Top," at the commencement ceremony Friday. Definitely no lip synching from Dolly and worth listening to. Didn't catch the song's title, but it's about dreaming and rainbows and mountaintops. Beautiful and touching. Turn up your sound and click on the boldface headline at the start of this blog post to enjoy her singing. Definitely worth a listen!