Monday, May 6
Updated: May 15, 10:17 AM ET
Finding the heart of many matters
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
As I mentioned in last week's column, I was going to attempt to qualify for this year's United States Open Golf Championship, which will be played Father's Day weekend at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. Well, it's Monday, and I just returned from the qualifier held at Ellington Country Club in Ellington, Conn.
My tee time was 9:30 a.m., which was just about perfect. After working on NHL 2Night the evening before with Barry Melrose and Keith Jones, I got to sleep around 1 a.m. I woke up at 8 a.m., showered, ate a banana, and had a bowl of Rice Krispies.
As I wrote in my golfing with Ray Bourque story a couple columns ago, I mark my golf balls with a hockey player's name. Last week, I was pretty sure I was going to write IGINLA on the side of my Titleist. My pick for MVP. Sunday night, I started having a change of heart. First, I was contemplating using the Titleist 77 that Bourque gave me on the fourth hole of our round at Wampanoag Golf Club during the first week of the playoffs. I decided it would be a mistake -- I would be too distracted by the defacing of this pristine, unique orb, and I would be PETRIFIED OF LOSING IT. So, I decided to go back to a Titleist Pro V1 No. 3.
Now, what hockey player's name to put on it? Again, I was having second thoughts on IGINLA. I decided to go with the player who at this moment is inspiring me more than any other. The U.S. Open, whether it be the championship or a qualifier, is about perseverance, smarts, guts and heart. You can't do anything stupid and you can't give in. Ever. Even if you have less talent or hit a bad shot or have a bad hole. No one comes closer to playing hockey like you have to play a U.S. Open right now than Steve Yzerman. His will, heart, talent, smarts and passion kept his teammates afloat until they could find their playoff "A" games. With 79 players competing for five spots, I would need all those qualities -- and a little luck -- to advance to the next stage of qualifying in early June.
I arrived at the course at 9 a.m. I'm not a big practice guy. I'm getting better at enjoying practice and understanding its importance to improving, but I've always enjoyed playing a lot more. I hit about 10 putts on the putting green and about 20 balls on the range and headed to the first tee. I took out my red Sharpie and wrote on the side of my ball YZERMAN. It was my first U.S. Open qualifier, I haven't played much spring, and I was playing with a bunch of good players, a lot of them professionals. My expectations were very low. I just wanted to break 80.
I was the first to tee off in my threesome and I puréed my 3-wood on the 378-yard par-4 leaving me 105 yards out for my second shot. The pin was tucked right and I attacked it with my sand wedge. I was a little pumped up and hit over the green by a couple feet. I completed my first U.S. Open qualifying hole by chipping in for birdie.
Ellington Ridge Country Club is a Geoffrey Cornish track built in 1959. I like Cornish courses, and this one is no different. We were playing the championship tip tees, which played at about 7,100 yards, and almost every pin was tucked in the most difficult spot on the green. And while it was sunny and warm, it was breezy. It was a tough test of golf -- as it should be.
The last three holes are brutal -- a 445-yard, par-4; a 245-yard, par-3; and a 475-yard up hill par-4 with a wind that was picking up. My chances pretty much ended on No. 16. I bombed a drive almost 300 yards to leave me with 150 yards and my favorite club, an 8-iron. I hit it so far left it almost ended up in Joe Thornton's back yard in London, Ontario. That just about sealed it. But, with YZERMAN staring up at me I gutted out a bogey and moved on. I finished bogey-bogey to go out in 40 and finished with a 78.
I'm not a good loser. I tend to beat myself up, and get short-term depression when I don't do well. But, all things considered, it was a good day and I got to watch hockey at home that night. I hit just six of 14 fairways and nine of 18 greens, and shot 78 on a long, breezy golf course. If I was a little smarter and a little better, 72 could have been mine and I could have advanced.
We all need inspiration. Someone and some things to lift us toward our dreams. I have dreams and you have dreams and since we both spend way too much time assuming they will never come true, I suggest you watch these NHL playoffs and closely inspect the desperation, courage and perseverance the players show every night. For me, Steve Yzerman inspired me to never give up no matter what during my long day on the golf course. You might connect with a different player. Whomever it is and whatever you wish for, you will likely find the keys to achieving in the eyes of your player or players. Smarts, sacrifice, patience, enthusiasm, and a will to JUST GET IT DONE.
When I watch Yzerman on TV and when I saw his name on my golf ball it reminded me of Tennyson:
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
Well, after an extensive search of North American Chevy IROC's and any male who bought The Marshall Tucker Band's "Southern Spirit" CD in 1990, Melrose's mullet has been found at Gold's Gym in Venice Beach, Calif., doing it's normal workout: 33 sets of bench presses and no legs. After a shampoo and blow dry, we asked Melrose's mullet eight questions. Afterwards he left for a new hideout, presumably, somewhere in Florida.
Mullet: Mainly musical differences. I'm into Winger, Krokus, Whitesnake, W.A.S.P. and Journey. Barry is almost exclusively country -- George Strait, Toby Keith, and Garth Brooks. Those three-hour car rides to Glens Falls, N.Y., were brutal, dude.
No. 2: Do you realize you have disrupted the entire equilibrium of hockey with your departure?
No. 3: Are there any plans to return to Melrose?
No. 4: Some speculate that you are the reason why Melrose has never been hired for another coaching position. Do you think that is true?
No. 5: Did sitting next to Ray Bourque on the set of NHL 2Night intimidate you into bolting?
No. 6: What active player are you dying to attach yourself to? What hockey player is MULLET FRIENDLY?
No. 7: Will the mullet ever return to the NHL?
No. 8: What have you learned in your time away from Melrose?
2. Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche: He was the leading scorer in the playoffs when the week began. He spreads everything out for them. As the games get bigger, he will elevate his play. No one sees the ice like him in the NHL. The game's best passer.
3. Patrick Lalime, Ottawa Senators: He has a .976 save percentage when the week began. In the first seven playoff games, he gave up five goals. I'm still not convinced, however. He played against a dead Flyers team and is playing against a Leafs team without much firepower. His heart hasn't truly been tested yet. But, there are no teams in the East with firepower, so Lalime can lead the Senators to the final. Then he'll get pulverized.
4. Jose Theodore, Montreal Canadiens: He's getting better and more comfortable in the playoffs. Remember, he only appeared in five playoff games before this postseason. He's the best goalie left in the East who has just started playing his best, and that's why Montreal could reach the finals. Ottawa has the best chance to beat him because they have more talented forwards.
5. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators: I believe Ottawa will emerge from the East because they have the best player of the four remaining teams. Alfredsson does little things and he does big things. I think Ottawa will eliminate Toronto by next Friday or Sunday because of this guy. If the Senators don't bid the Leafs adieu, then I guarantee you Curtis Joseph will be on this list next week.
Three winters ago, I drove to New York City with ESPN anchor -- and my official concert companion -- David Lloyd to see Counting Crows in concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th St. As with most cool things in my life the past four years, the opportunity was via an NHL fan. Doug Redler is a huge hockey fan and heard me give out a Counting Crows analogy to a Mathieu Schneider goal on NHL 2Night. Doug tours with the Crows, supplying musician support. One of his tasks is tuning the next guitar to be used after an instrument change. The Hammerstein is a great place to see a show. Cozy like the late Chicago Stadium and Boston Garden. David and I hung with Doug right next to the stage. After the show, we met the band. Whenever I get chance to meet musicians I bring along a CD booklet (is that what you call those things?) to get autographed. On this night I brought the Crows debut CD "August and Everything After," which I'm listening to as I type this. ("Anna Begins" just began. It's one of my top five Crow tunes.) After a few minutes talking about hockey and Jennifer Aniston's trapezius muscles, I asked Adam if he would sign my CD booklet. Without asking him what to sign, he wrote with the black Sharpie I handed him: "What I am to CC, John is to NHL 2Nite. Adam Duritz."
I talked with Adam while he rode on his tour bus somewhere between Mobile and Birmingham, Ala.
Introduction to the NHL: "The first game I ever went to was a California Golden Seals game against the Rangers. The Seals destroyed them and I labored for years under the misconception that the Seals were actually a good team. Of course they eventually left and I no longer had a hockey team to grow up with."
The Oakland/California Golden Seals were in the NHL from the 1967-68 season through the 1975-76 season. They moved to Cleveland and became the Cleveland Barons and played two seasons in Northeast Ohio before merging with Minnesota and becoming the North Stars until the 1992-93 season when Minnesota moved to Dallas where they reside today.
Re-introduction to the NHL: "I didn't go to games for a long time, but when I came to New York I met former Ranger GM Neil Smith, who worked out at the same gym. A friend of mine had Neil's tickets, so we had great seats right at center ice. I used to go to a lot of games in New York, and met Mathieu Schneider one summer. He was playing for the Leafs, and when I would go through Toronto we would hook up. When he got traded to New York, I saw him a lot more and eventually met all of the Rangers through Matt."
Why does Adam Duritz love hockey? "I really love the game. I played soccer my whole childhood and it reminds me of that a lot. It's about controlling areas of the ice and passing and the geometry of open men. Soccer, chess, and hockey is about controlling the middle of the field. The teams that do the basic things over a period of a game are going to win most of the games. You can still lose, since goals can happen out of nowhere and one goal can win a game, but mostly it's about the slow buildup of controlling the game."
Do you skate? "I skated as a kid a little, but I was never very good. Mathieu tries to get me to do it now so I can play celebrity hockey games, but I'm not much for the celebrity sporting events."
Most memorable game you've seen in person: "The comeback by the Kings against the Red Wings last playoff season blew my mind."
What's up with the Crows?: "The new CD comes out June 25th. It's called 'Hard Candy.' We're on tour now. We started out at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and now we're doing some southern stuff. We're heading over to Europe with Santana to open for them for most of May and some of June. Then we're coming back at the end of June for the release of the record and then go on tour with The Who. Apparently, we're the only band who is getting a leg of the tour. We got the western leg. Robert Plant is getting the rest. It came out of the blue."
The new record: "I talked with Paul McCartney at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a couple of years ago and for some reason it stuck with me. So when we went to make this record, I really wanted to write songs with a lot of melody so you couldn't get them out of your head. We went the extra mile putting tons of harmonies on things and horns and strings. We really went into it with a high level of detail."
My friend bet me that you aren't wearing pants during NHL 2Night. However, I caught a glimpse of your sans-a-belt waistband and recognized the pants as a pair worn by Fred Shero during the 1974 playoffs vs. Buffalo. I believe they were given to him by Noddy Holder of Slade. Who wins?
Guilty as charged. Although you must have caught me on a Tuesday. The rest of the week rotates between a wrestling singlet and a kilt.
Melrose sports playoff back hair and I have hair between my toes. THANKS FOR REMINDING ME OF MY LIVING HELL!!!!!!!!!!!!
All my relatives on my mom's side are Irish. My only advice is to use their recipe to combat boredom: Drink a lot and put up paneling.
I have lived my one credo: ADHERE PETE.
I dream of the naval jewelry worn by those Carolina Hurricane cheerleaders.
"Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" by The White Stripes.
You booed Santa Claus and I didn't.
The line is long and it moves quickly.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Tuesday-Saturday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.