Golf Chatter and a little about Tiger

The first true spring day arrived with temperatures in the high seventies and low eighties, and everyone else got the same idea that I did. Wakonda Club’s greenskeeper, Mr. John Temme, did something magical last fall and the results are apparent. After being covered in a blanket of 3 to 5 feet drifts as recently as two weeks ago, the greens and fairways emerged and almost instantly greened. The turf is near perfect despite it being so early in the season and everything is green. The greens haven’t been rolled to Augusta speed yet, but challenging nevertheless. It’s the fairways though that have finally come to fruition, nearly two years after the club pressed a giant reset button on the whole course and resurfaced the whole course from tee to green. Last year, the greens came into full bloom, but it is this year that the fairways are back to true form. It is fully 3 years since the project was proposed and now we are enjoying some of the best conditions I have ever played on so early in the season.

I wandered into the Lower Grill and ran into T who invited me into his group. I grabbed an Arnold Palmer and marched out and met his playing partner K and we marched along, a happy company. Blogging and operating has made me a social retard because I can no longer make polite small talk.

Me: So K, do you think any differently about Tiger when your wife is not around?

K: You have a way of asking socially awkward questions to complete strangers.

Me: It’s been stewing in my mind for a while.

K, smiling: I think that I admire him for his talents and achievements on the golf course.

Me -looking for ball: Have you ever seen those bears in the Russian circus? They get that way from conditioning -from a life of negative and positive reinforcement from the time they were cubs. I think Tiger’s pathologies only mirror the pathologies in his development. I question the place from where his golf comes from…

Let’s say we have a whole professional tour based on people who love to balance on a ball and they practice and compete out of joy of walking around on that ball, and all of a sudden this bear comes in to compete. He takes all the prizes.

From this whole sad season, it’s become clear to me that Tiger is not unlike this trained circus bear who must be a bit sad and lost when he’s not walking on his giant ball. For Tiger, golf is what he does well. Come two weeks, and we’ll see him take the trophy. I’m rooting for it.

So I shoot a 48, not too bad for a peripatetic round of a triple, bunch of bogies, and three long putts for birdie missed by a hair, missing comebackers through carelessness. It was too fun an evening to care. That is probably why I am a much better surgeon than I am a golfer.

The Perfect Golf Shot

I played 27 holes this weekend. My 9 holes yesterday were played in windy, cool weather and I got a 50 for my efforts. It was notable for a par on the treacherous second hole which has a tilted green. I hit 5 of 7 fairways yesterday but three putts and botched approaches made life difficult.

Today, I hit the reset button and armed with a new 58 degree wedge from Callaway, I set out solo onto an empty course. The picture above is from the first hole. My drive was directly into a 20 mile per hour wind which made the 48 degree weather a touch more miserable -hence the absence of players on an otherwise very golf-worthy Sunday morning. The drive was in the left rough off the first cut, leaving me 200 yards out on a sidehill lie that left the ball below my feet. I tried to play a duck hook around the tree, but I lost my balance and lucked out by having the ball settle on a steep upslope with line of site to the green.

The first hole at Wakonda is officially a par 4, but it really is a par 4.5, and with the wind, it was a stretch to make par. I was 150 yards out and the pin was in the middle of the green -the green tilts to the right and I had to land the ball center or left to get to a makable par putt.

The wind was going a sharp right to left and the green is a good 20 feet above me. The ball is on the upslope. I chose to fade a 5 iron -the upslope would take some of the distance off and the fade into the draw cross wind would straighten the shot, I hoped.

It is always here on number 1 where I have my most intense golf moments -where concentration and visualization becomes very clear and I decided to pour myself into this shot. I set up aiming slightly to the left of the pin and practiced a fade swing, trying to keep my head still and my shoulders in line with the slope. The shot I had in mind was “locked in” and the actual shot became the apotheosis of my mind’s vision.

The ball launched after a clean hit -this is so important on wet, sodden grass, and the ball kept climbing and going straight -this despite my having hit a near slice. The winding motion of the ball that normally creates a slice now was creating more lift with the right to left wind. The ball landed on line with the pin and I knew the ball would be 10 feet from the cup with a straight uphill putt (image -right).

I missed the putt by a hair, but still made a 5 which on this day was fine. I ended up with a  47 on the front -a great round given that I had great difficulties with my initial approach. After 18, I hit 10 of 14 fairways, but made only one green in regulation -this will require work. Despite this, I am still in bliss from the perfection of that approach on number 1.

This Week’s Daily Bread

I am beginning to get the idea behind bread. It gets its flavor from fermentation and a touch of salt. It converts a bland wheat flour into something palatable and portable. I can see why the first bread makers would have been excited.

The no knead recipe from the NYT (link) has some intimations about how much water to flour you need, but I am learning from experience. The dough, if you can pour it, results in a kind of a hard crust foccacia. Actually, its somewhere between that and a Levantine flat bread. To get a boule, the dough needs to have a touch of backbone. The no knead technique then really is about creating a steam oven for the non-professional bread baker.

The problem with making a stiffer dough is that it can result in a denser bread -I think then I will have to let it rise longer.

I advocate this for everyone -make a loaf of bread on the weekend -it is relaxing and invigorating at the same time. It is a game of balance and timing. It takes patience. It is the culinary equivalent of golf.

Michael’s Old Country Sabbath Challah from Chernowitz

My daily bread for this week is challah bread. Specifically, it is Chernowitzer Challah bread from my current favorite iPhone app, Epicurious. I have always felt the pull of Judaica since I was a child in the shtetl of Jacksonville, Florida. Now, I can partake of a little bit of manna.
This bread took about 6 hours to make -my kitchen is a bit cooler than that called for leavening dough. The bread out of the oven looked great but was “biscuit-y” according to my wife. The difference was that I used bread flour rather than plain enriched white flour -perhaps the enriched flour is more gluten-rich?
I will try when it has cooled -perhaps the structure will set in as it cools giving the inner texture that one associates with the best challahs. That may be it or the Chernowitzers just prefer cakey challah.

Ramen for People with Easily Upset Stomachs

Hoo Roo Rook is an onomatopeia for the sound you make slurping ramen

My in-laws sent me the latest instant ramen to hit L.A. It is called Hoo Roo Rook which is a new trend in instant ramens -the premium, health conscious, instant ramen. The noodle, unlike the original instant ramen, is not fried but rather just dried. It is a capellini grade noodle that unravels almost instantly in boiling water -always boil the noodles separately from the soup and rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Unfortunately, thin noodles are hard to gauge and this noodle basically is ready to rinse very soon after unravelling, otherwise, you will go past al dente and enter over cooked territory.

The soup is also a new trend among instant Ramens -it is meant to be less salty and more subtle. I think it is also meant to help out with older Koreans who don’t want to wake up with acid reflux from the chili pepper red soups found in more popular instant ramen brands. It’s okay, but really kind of boring. It specifically says no MSG, but you can’t escape the umami 5th taste in the fish stock that is hinted in the soup -it is balanced and subtle, but again -you won’t be seeking this out to cure a hangover.

You have to remember to make the soup a little more concentrated if you are separating the soup from the noodle during production because the noodles add water to the mix, diluting the soup, and cooling it as well.

The noodles were overdone in this first batch, but if pulled out withing a few moments after unraveling, they would be in fact perfectly al dente and give wonderful chewy mouth feel. The noodles are of highest quality, and that is what I think the point of this ramen is about. That and the fact that the soup won’t give you acid reflux.

Impression: Instant ramen for old people and those with digestive problems. Also, good for feeding toddlers and children.

My Favorite Bar In Manhattan

In celebration of St. Patrick’s day, I will give out the location of my favorite bar. The Landmark Tavern (link) is my favorite bar in Manhattan. It is old, classy, with naked lady sculptures and bas-reliefs meant to mesmerize 19th century gentlemen. The barkeeps are fastidious and silent -the place is never full, usually empty, and nearly impossible to find from just memory, hard to get to by public transit, and there is a Hotel California kind of vibe if you go there at night. The picture above implies that the place is sunny and it is absolutely not -it’s dark and gloomy, and best visited on a rainy afternoon. Its the place to go for solitude, for breaking up (although awkward because there are literally no cabs and the nearest subway is two avenue blocks or so to my recollection, but aren’t they always awkward), for catching up with long lost friends, and for the best shepherd’s pie on the island. I half expect to sit down to a drink with Ullyses S. Grant in the place. There are no college students, and no loud drunk tourists. It’s a serious bar for serious people who want to meditate in the twilight zone.

It Begins

Of the public courses around Des Moines, I like the Legacy the best for tuning up my game. The private clubs are waiting for the course to drain of residual snow, but the Legacy will let you play about two to three weeks earlier. Bless them!

There were 15mph winds gusting to 25, and it was drizzling. Temperatures were a Scottish 40 degrees. Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf. The ground was sodden and this took twenty yards off every club. The greens were like the fake grass welcome mats. There was snow in the bunkers. Still I loved every minute of my nine holes.

I shot 48 with a 1.9 putting average, 5 of 8 fairways from the tips. My circle of certitude was the green. The approaches were all muddled -my most effective shot with this wind usually into the face was a punch-draw with my 7 iron -I did get pin high on 3 holes, but was in a bunker or off the green at pitch length. I’ll have to work on my irons, but I also credit the soggy fairways. I also counted two penalty strokes for ball in water (meltwater -would this be casual water and not subject to penalty -will have to review).

My Daily Bread

In my quest to master the basics of post-industrial cooking, bread has been a bit of a mystery. I grew up with rice and can tell the basic qualities and provenances of rice with ease, but bread I just like to eat. I think the difference is that I never saw my mother bake bread, and therefore, it is mysterious.

I used a simple no-knead recipe from the NY Times(link here). This is my second try -my first was a gooey mess. The results above are my second effort, and it looks really edible. The crust cracks fiercely and there is wonderful topography to this bread. It took very little effort, and I think this is how we’ll make our bread from here on.

The crust is wonderfuly crisp and the center is fluffy and chewy. It is bread heaven.

What does Bowie’s Major Tom mean?

The David Bowie song has taken a lifetime to decipher. When I first heard it, I though it was a groovy song tuned to the psychedelic times -this is the most common interpretation that I got on the internet. Here are the lyrics.

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you
Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five,
Four, Three, Two, One, Liftoff
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do
Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows”
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you….
“Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.”

It’s after the passage of 42 years that I understand the true meaning of the song. The song has to do with transformation. The hero is an astronaut. In that era, astronauts were the straightest of straight arrows. Buzzcut illuminati of American manhood, these men were walking statues of virtue, and for Bowie, an easy group to symbolize as the American Everyman, who worked for a large corporation, drove an American car out to a suburb, with a pretty wife and cute children.

The disembodied voice of Houston is in fact the voice of society and her expectations. It is also the voice of authority. When Major Tom leaves his government-issued cocoon, he undergoes a transformation. He’s floating in a most peculiar way, and the stars look different today. It is the awakening of the man, and he understands he can’t go back to the way things were. This happens to some men after they reach the top of the hill and look back and then look forward. Some can’t help themselves and decide to go sideways. The middle-aged man is typically at the height of his powers, but is in essence impotent in the face of the inexorable passage of time, the enormity of the universe, and unbearable blueness of the Earth.

Dreaming in PBS

I dreamt a strange dream tonight. it was my first dream in PBS. I was seeing a documentary play on TV. It featured Yvalisse Sondag, a Brazilian scientist who discovered a parasitic frog (pictured).


I was walking to my laboratory and it began to rain. I felt a big drop fall on my back and I didn’t pay attention because I was running to the bathroom. in the bathroom I felt something strange between my legs and it dropped into the commode. it was a small green frog but it swam away into the plumbing. I noticed something on myself, a tiny red egg which I recognized as a frogs egg. It was on me.

narrator’s voice
Yvalisse is a professor of vertebrate biology. She placed the egg in a controlled environment. She had a hunch that thus was no ordinary tree frog. the egg was kept in a moist environment at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yvalisse translated
The feeling of a raindrop on my back that day did not feel like the rain we were getting at that moment. I suspected that it was the frog that landed on my back. I found the frog as I was wiping myself. I incubated the egg in the conditions found in a vaginal canal and it hatched a very strange looking tadpole that didn’t survive long.

pan to picture of tadpole with no visible eyes, row of very sharp teeth.

Dr. Sondag thought she was onto something -a parasitic vertebrate. She postulated that the frog is a short lived adult form whose purpose is to mate, and then jump onto the backs of females and deposit the egg in the vagina. on hatching, the tadpole swims up the canal and bites down and forms vascular attachments to the host, deriving it’s nutrients. When the time came it would complete it’s development and exit to lay eggs on other hosts.

Dr. Sondag, translated
The key was finding the host. There are native tapirs in the forests around the university and we captured several. for a long time, we came up with nothing but last year we found a young female.

A fiberoptic camera was inserted and revealed a clutch of tadpoles attached to the cervix. Serial images show the deveopment of these into a small green frog with small orange spots. It is the first instance of parasitism involving vertebrates as host and parasite.

Dr. Sondag, translated
we have discovered the frog secretes a topical anesthetic – that’s why it felt like a rain drop. We’re developing the chemical it secretes as a pharmaceutical.