I am having trouble with the backside, mainly because I've been parked on mine all night. My natural fade is coming into play, mainly because I haven't slept in 24 hours. The sun is rising outside my Orlando hotel room, where I am in hour 12 of the most bizarre assignment of my 12-year sportswriting career. I am conscious of my own halitosis.
Do a story on the Golf Channel, my managing editor had said. Hole up in a hotel room and watch it for 48 hours. Take notes.
What I said, "Great idea, boss. It's bold! Visionary!"
What I thought, Should I be updating my résumé?
I was wallowing in such self-pitying thoughts in the early hours of a Saturday morning, when a promotion for Golf Today came on. In the promo, dapper Golf Today host Dwayne Ballen walks toward the camera, touting his show because it contains "more pre-tournament coverage than your television can possibly hold." On cue, a nearby TV explodes, raining golf balls all over the studio.
My skull is on the verge of a similar eruption. It is not so much a skull anymore as it is a large bucket in which names, places and random golf thoughts have been jumbled like so many range balls: yips, chips, birdies, eagles, Eales (Paul), Els (Ernie), Jeff Gove, Davis Love, Rocky Thompson, Rocco Mediate, rye grass, Sawgrass, flagsticks, flat sticks, fairway woods, Tiger Woods, what I would not give to be out of this god-forsaken room; Aoki, Azinger, and my ordeal had barely begun.
The longest day of my life began with a 7:30 a.m. production meeting for Golf Today. I'd planned to stockpile some zzz's at my hotel, wander in around 11, take a few notes, then—after feigning just the right amount of protest—accept somebody's offer to take me to lunch. These plans were foiled by the channel's preternaturally chipper public relations manager, Kyle Eng, who informed me the night before that he'd secured permission for me to sit in on the meeting. "Pick you up at seven," he chirped.
My chair at the conference table turns out to be a ringside seat for a lively little spat between the show's two analysts, Debra Vidal and Mark Lye. Vidal makes the point that Nancy Lopez's career earnings are all the more impressive when one considers that LPGA Tour players make roughly half what their male counterparts do.
"Well, only half as many people watch [women play] on TV," rejoins Lye, the channel's self-appointed Angry White Male.
Of course they get along famously, as does most everyone at the Golf Channel. They have to. Most of the station's 185 employees moved here from someplace else. Other than people they know from work, they have few friends in Orlando. Further bonding the staff is a shared sense of risk—many left secure, well-paying jobs to join this outfit. (Just how big a risk they took became painfully apparent on June 1, when Golf Today got the ax and 15 staffers got pink slips. Ballen, Lye and Vidal—the talent, to use the medium's odious expression—were reassigned.)