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Thanks for the Memories, the Fat Lady Sings for Cybergolf

THE FAT LADY SINGS FOR CYBERGOLF
THE FAT LADY SINGS FOR CYBERGOLF

—If these be our last moments men,
Let us live them with honor.
J.R.R. Tolkien—

Somewhere on the road between Spokane and Seattle, I could hear the pain in Jeff Shelley’s voice through the Bluetooth speaker, though four hours of driving distance still separated us. My spider-sense was tingling. Stammering…hurt…disappointment…I had never heard Jeff like that before. There was bad news coming.

“Don’t sugar coat it, Jeff,” I told the man who has been my editor-in-chief at Cybergolf for the last decade. “What’s wrong?”

Damn my spider-sense – it was right again! Jeff was gone, and the rest of us were going: out the door, down the road, and out into the future. After 20 years, Cybergolf, like Golf Observer before it, is closing its editorial operations. “The super-smart site for golf,” as so many people have put it, will feature no new content after August 1. So long, and farewell, last one to leave shuts the lights off.

It’s a punch in the gut, to be sure, more to Jeff Shelley than anyone else. The scene of one of the most admired and affable men in golf sadly waving farewell to his colleagues in the U.S. Open media center was deeply saddening. The only thing that surpasses how strong and sterling Jeff is as an editor is how much of an open-hearted, generous, sincere person he is. Both he and Cybergolf deserved a better fate.

Happily, many of the excellent masthead of writers have already landed on their feet. Marino Parascenzo, Tony Dear, Dave Droschak, and I will be reporting from new sidelines come August. We’ll still be a heartbeat from the action, still be our same underpaid and over-privileged selves, and we’ll all still certainly be reporting with the same honesty, cynicism, and color you’ve loved since we all had dial-up modems. We just won’t be doing it with each other anymore.

So when Jeff asked me to write a goodbye article reliving my favorite 10 moments of being Associate Editor of this venerable magazine, I was grateful and moved. Cybergolf couldn’t have been a better home for the last decade. So once more, with feeling, pride, and gratitude, let’s take a walk down memory lane of the best of the last decade of Cybergolf’s greatest, funniest, and most poignant adventures.

10. The 2014 Pinehurst U.S. Open – Covering the U.S. Open with fellow Cybergolf writer Dave Droschak, (and his lovely, charming wife Lisa), bumping into eventual winner Martin Kaymer at Starbucks for breakfast, (“You’re the only person who knew who I was. It’s great!”), and playing Tobacco Road on an off-day were all bonuses to seeing history made that week when Kaymer broke the all time scoring record for an opening 36 holes at any major championship.

Oh…and there was the boob job my girlfriend got without telling me. I walked into her Arlington, VA apartment to spend the night before driving to Pinehurst and “Surprise, honey! Like ‘em?!” She turned this way and that, pulling them up to their sauciest angle, winking bawdily. I got easily distracted most of the week thinking about that… by the way, I passed the test with flying colors:

Jay: I thought you were absolutely perfect before.

Britt: AWWWW! Thank you, Jay!

Jay: But I was wrong. You’re perfect now, too.

Britt: AWWWW!!! THANK YOU!

Then I stole a dorky line for one of Tom Fazio’s restoration project PR pamphlets…

Jay: You re-perfected yourself!

One second later, I was wearing her.

How bout that? I used a line of Tom Fazio’s! Only when I used it, a beautiful girl ended up in my arms…see how it’s done, Tom?

JAY AND MARINO AT ATLANTA ATHLETIC CLUB
JAY AND MARINO AT ATLANTA ATHLETIC CLUB

9. The 2008 Torrey Pines U.S. Open – One of the few times at a major where the Cybergolf contingent was out in full force. Jeff, owner/publisher Dan Murnan, Travis, and others all convened on La Jolla for the first SoCal Open in a generation. Tiger vs. Rocco was great, but I still haven’t forgiven Woods for the unpardonable sin of making that putt at the 72nd and robbing me of the chance to play the course the next day. (Kidding! Kidding!)

JAY AND JEFF SHELLEY AT THE 2008 U.S. OPEN
JAY AND JEFF SHELLEY AT THE 2008 U.S. OPEN

8. Bermuda for the 2013 Grand Slam of Golf – Talk about opulent! Bermuda was a British protectorate and their influence is still there, especially in the impeccable service and stately grace of the island’s hotels. Finding two missing/lost holes at Tucker’s Point, (including their gorgeous Lion’s Mouth), and playing through a storm out of the pages of the Last Judgment at Mid-Ocean while sipping Dark and Stormies with Malcolm Gosling were highlights, along with the glittering scene of the PGA of America party hosted by Bermudan government officials. (Una Jones totally stole the show with a gorgeous, yet tasteful and elegant dress dazzling enough for any red carpet.) Coffee breaks with Win McMurray and Ian Baker-Finch on the terrace overlooking the veranda as the sun rose were a chance to chill out with colleagues in a charmingly unbuttoned atmosphere. Nobody in golf throws a better party than the PGA of America.

7. Lunch with Dan Jenkins at the majors – Golf, God, and Country all served up with a delicious side of Chicken Fried Tiger, how can you not love the Voice of the Great American Golfer – for that is what Dan Jenkins truly is. I’ll tell the grandkids about the time I made him laugh with puckish headlines like “”Soak Hill” and “Oakmonster,” all the times he offered me a Capri Ultra Slim with a brusque, “The smoking lamp is lit,” (what do I look like Jan Stephenson?), and especially about the time I stumped him!

We were talking about Kaymer winning the U.S. Open wire-to-wire, no ties, when he insisted that Tommy Bolt also did that in 1958…but I had just looked up that Bolt was actually tied with Julius Boros and Dick Metz after the 1st round with 71.

“Don’t mess with me, Jay! Don’t mess with me!” he laughed, still thinking he had me. But then I showed it to him. His eyes flew open in appreciation. Then he shook his head, smirking with frustration.

“Dick Metz…” he snarled acidly in the same voice he uses when discussing Jack Fleck.

6. In the same vein, watching my dear friend and mentor Marino Parascenzo win his PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 GWAA Awards Dinner was a joy I’ll also remember for my entire career. He’s a lifer who brought great honor to the craft of sports writing. The same is true of Art Spander and John Hopkins. Every golf writer should try to be like them – intelligent, inclusive, diligent and, most importantly sincere. They show every day that grace and class are still the hallmarks of truly great golf writing.

5. The 2010 Whistling Straits PGA Championship – A leggy brunette, a kids’ lemonade stand, an the hospitality of my pal Dick Daley were among the highlights of the trip, but it was my “Johnny on the Spot” moment at the 72nd hole that was the biggest story. I had Pete Dye on my right and Herb Kohler on my left as Dustin Johnson grounded his club in the bunker.

“It’s a bunker. I know it’s a bunker because I built it,” said Dye. “I put it there specifically to be a bunker. And what’s he [Johnson] doing going 70 yards wide on the 72nd fairway anyway?”

4. Oh us crazy, wacky, zany Cybergolf guys! One time Jeff Shelley – direct descendant, father to son, of Mary Shelley and Percy Byssche Shelley – blared the headline “Els Blows Alfred Dunhill” completely by accident on the front page of the site after Ernie choked a big lead.

We were applying for U.S. Open credentials that day.

“THWACK!! THWACK!! THWACK!! You hear that?” I asked him, cackling like the Blair Witch. “That is the sound of your ancestor hammering on the inside of his coffin, hoping to get out and go all ‘Madeline Usher’ on you for that headline.”

Then there was the time a junior writer at the mag sent me an email asking me what I thought of his latest piece.

Bad idea, I have no guile.

So among the much good and supportive advice I gave him, I also opined he should stop incessantly calling golf courses “tracks,” a clearly hackneyed and dumbed-down term used by people with poor vocabularies and barren imaginations. I attempted to get the point across, however, by colorfully joking that, “If Hunter S. Thompson were alive, he might say something to you like ‘the next ignorant, chicken-sucking pigfucker that calls a golf course a ‘track’ is gonna get maced in their worthless ferret face.’”

To my surprise and dismay, he had never read The Great Shark Hunt. (I mean really…all sports writers worth their salt have.) Not surprisingly, the patient did not tolerate the procedure well…

Fortunately Jeff Shelley had read The Great Shark Hunt. He called me up sniggering hysterically.

“WHAT DID YOU DO TO [name redacted]??!!” Then we laughed like donkeys.

So we worked out an arrangement. “We fucked up equally on that one,” I told that writer, his face pie-eyed with horror. “From now on, you don’t ask me what I think of your latest piece, and I won’t spout unhinged Hunter Thompson quotes at you about its shortcomings.” We did share a laugh, though, when I told him, “Oh that’s nothing! You should hear what I said to that idiot [name also redacted].”

3. The 2006 Winged Foot U.S. Open – My second U.S. Open was actually my first for Cybergolf. While my first Open at Pinehurst was a “pinch me” moment – green as peas and learning the ropes, so to speak – the second Open was the one where I had to make the quantum leap as a writer, develop both my voice and my imprimatur as a writer.

And of all the places to get the chance to write about! No golf course has as much of a devastating synergy of history and misery as Winged Foot, Graveyard of Champions. No water hazards, no out-of-bounds, no penal hazards, yet the green contours and rolling terrain apply relentless, suffocating pressure. In 2006 alone, Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Jim Furyk, and Phil Mickelson all suffered ignominious defeat. In particular, Mickelson’s falling out of the sky like Icarus just forty minutes after taking a three shot lead with three holes to play was both horrifying and mesmerizing. He came into the week looking for a third consecutive major. He left on the wrong side of golf history.

And if that wasn’t enough, sending Jaime Diaz and Trim Rosaforte into peals of laughter as I tried to get Freddie Couples to say intelligent things about Winged Foot in an interview was pretty fun too. Do you know that even as late as 2006 Couples still listened to his Roy Orbison recordings on an 8-track player? Way to rock that ‘50s technology, Freddie.

YEAH, RIGHT, GRAEME.  YOU MET JAY FLEMMA...
YEAH, RIGHT, GRAEME. YOU MET JAY FLEMMA…

2. The 2010 Pebble Beach U.S. Open – It’s not every day you get to drink Irish Whiskey out of the U.S. Open trophy, but thanks to my sharp-eyed friends Brian Keogh, Dermot Gilleece, and Karl MacGinty – the incomparable trio of quintessential Irish golf writers – I got to be in the right place at the right time for Graeme McDowell’s victory celebration. The place was so dark though, we couldn’t get a good picture – the Old Hubble Telescope took better pictures than my crappy 2010 model Droid Razr. That’s us in the picture, but I feel badly for Graeme. How can any of his friends see that he really truly was kickin’ it with Jay Flemma?

How does the rap song go?

I met Snoop Dogg
And I met Flavor-Flav
I met Jay Flemma
But the photo didn’t save…

Something like that…

1. The 2015 Chambers Bay U.S. Open – Cybegolf went out with a bang as our last hurrah was on home turf. All the Cyberstars align as Marino Parascenzo, Tony Dear, Blaine Newnham, Jeff, Shelley and I all had one last blowout as we watched Jordan Spieth win it, then almost lose it, then win it again when DJ flamed out on the 72nd hole, (as he’s want to do…)

Then there was my stay for the week on Das Boat – the 70 foot yacht that dwarfed every other sloop in the Seattle Marina, which came with its own concierge and a posse to rage with. Good times.

As for the future, I’ll be bringing everything over to Ryan Ballangee and the Golf News Net (www.thegolfnewsnet.com) where I also do my radio show, Jay’s Plays. Besides major championship coverage and golf design, I’ll be starting two new columns – The Rock n Roll Golf Diaries, where I play golf with musicians and other celebrities and play golf while also seeing some slamming rock shows like Foo Fighters, Phish, Fall Out Boy and others, and the Adventure Golf Diaries, where I combine golf and running, hiking, mountain climbing, cycling, and other athletic endeavors. It really is true that when one door closes, another opens.

As for the last ten years? I am grateful – Grateful! Grateful! Grateful! I have the greatest job in the world, and best readership. I’ll miss all my Cybergolf pals, but although it’s goodbye, it’s not farewell. And for the future, I’m reminded of another old rock song:

Change like an autumn mountain,
Change like a grand escape,
Change like the stars a-falling,
Change like the light on your face,
You can change. You can change.

So Cybergolf, via con dios, you were a blessing I’ll cherish forever. As for everyone else, see you from Wisconsin.