Thrilla in Manila II: As Iron Sharpens Iron…

Late last night, I had no idea how I would formulate today’s post. Discount it as “religious” garbage if you may, but when I stepped out of bed at 3:23 a.m. today, this verse came to mind, and I believe it was straight from God Almighty.

***

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” ~ Proverbs 27:17

as iron sharpens iron

First, a disclaimer, and a few definitions are in order.

DISCLAIMER:

For 25 years I’ve been proud to work as a professional journalist, who above all things, strives for objectivity in his work (unless it’s an opinion piece). And furthermore, at the outset of my career, I purposefully chose not to be a sports journalist. Why? Because I love sports too much, and I never wanted something I loved so much to be – well, work.

This follow-up post from yesterday is fully intended as an objective work, but I’m acknowledging how very difficult it is to write objectively when the I’m one of the subjects.

DEFINITIONS:

MULLIGAN: In golf, a “free or extra shot,” the terms to which the players have mutually agreed, prior to the match.

THE HONORS – A rule generally allowing the player with the lowest score on the preceding hole, to tee off first, on the following hole. E.G.- On hole #4, you take a 4, and I take a 5, YOU have the honors.

HANDICAP: Relative to par, the number of strokes a player is generally allowed to deduct from his score to enhance the competition among players at different skill levels. E.G. – If par is 72, and my handicap is 8, I can shoot an 80 and still claim par.

***

By Steve Watkins

The day began with a pre-match breakfast at the highly acclaimed Eat-A-Bite restaurant in Monette, Arkansas, just 8 miles west of Manila, the home of Big Lake Country Club. Eat-A-Bite is so highly acclaimed because it’s the only restaurant in the home town where Brady and I grew up. That should give you some sense of our rural roots.

as iron sharpens iron

My buddy on the links, watching a nice second shot.

Brady had a western omelet. I had two eggs, fried, with two sausage patties and toast. It was the perfect beginning to a perfect day.

Just a few hours earlier, I’d previously posted: Thrilla in Manila II: But This Time, It’s Two White Guys on a Golf Course, and the post was shared via several social media outlets. By 9 a.m., we’d had dozens of comments about our match among well-wishers who gave their support to one or the other of us.

“Dude, you could hype up two birds on a wire,” Brady said, as we scanned the breakfast menu. I laughed, but took it as a hopeful complement considering the fact that I’m about to launch a new marketing company on foreign soil. The new business, in its most fundamental of works, is all about “hype,” so I sure hope he’s right.

Anyway…

Our breakfast conversation focused, as it most frequently does, not on golf, but on life in general. We finished up, and because we were in a good mood and it was a beautiful day, left the waitress with a healthy tip, and traveled 8 miles east to Manila’s Big Lake Country Club. And it was on.

***

QUICK BACKGROUND TO SET THE STAGE

Brady and I’ve been very best friends since 1977, when we were fifth-graders. Thirty-six years later we frequently discuss the “red-state, blue-state” issues so prevalent among the conversations of all Americans over the last few months. Brady and I agree on 90 percent of these things fundamentally. We simply disagree on the government’s role in how certain legislation (especially on the ‘moral’ issues) should be implemented, i.e., gay marriage, abortion, immigration, death penalty, etc.

The great thing is that we agree to disagree without it effecting our friendship, and unlike so many others I’ve seen.

Brady and I had a bet, and a side bet, on the recent presidential election. His money was on Mitt Romney, mine was on Barack Obama. Up for grabs was a dinner for four at Texas de Brazil, and a dozen golf balls to the winner.

I won the bet.

as iron sharpens iron

My second shot form in a match earlier this summer.

The day after the election, I proposed a heads-up golf match to go double or nothing on the dozen balls. In no way was I about to risk losing a carnivore’s delight at Texas de  Brazil. It’s off the table.

For the match, and because I’ve never beaten him a single time in 36 years, I proposed an 8-shot handicap for myself, relative to his superior skills.

He took the bait, and I have him on record saying “there’s no way an 8-shot advantage is gonna be enough for you.”

The terms were agreed upon, and the match was set.

THE MATCH

We rolled up to the first tee and offered God our genuine thanks for such a beautiful day. And it was a beautiful day. Crisp, clear, with a light north wind that became more prevailing through the day, and became a factor as we played on.

We flipped for honors. I won, and deferred the honors to Brady.

Through the first two holes we both went bogey, bogey, and so I maintained my 8-stroke cushion. Through the remaining front nine, Brady gradually cut the margin to two. Front nine scores: Brady 41. Me 47. We both played fairly well, and but for a few lipped putts, I’d have been at least two strokes to the better.

At the turn we bought a quick snack at the 19th hole, and the stage was set. If the back nine played out like the front nine, he was going to take me down to China Town.

***

We matched with two bogies on 10. He gained a stroke on 11, and I took the honors back on 12.

Thirteen and 14 – even up.

He gains one of 15. I get it back on 16.

With two holes remaining (and with the handicap) I’m up two, and we both know the match is on. And I know his mind games could set in at any moment. He always does it when it’s close. But it’s not a surprise, because I know it’s coming.

***

as iron sharpens iron

This man, Chuck Gschwend, was generous enough recently to give me an hour of his time. His lessons changed my golf game entirely. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

In all my years of golf, I’ve had a terrible slice. Thanks to a lesson from my friend and church pastor, Chuck Gschwend some three weeks ago, my slice hasn’t disappeared entirely, but it’s MUCH less frequent. I’m hitting the ball straighter and longer, and my iron skills are a thousand times better than before. I can’t explain in words how magnificent it feels to hit a driver straight down the gut, 200 yards and change, or to flop a wedge 10 feet from the hole from 40 yards out. My adrenaline skyrockets just thinking about it.

***

I had the honors on 17. There was pressure on us both to hit well-placed drives on BLCC’s most difficult hole, a 407-yard par 4 with an ever-so-slight left-to-right fade.

At this point on the back nine, forget the handicap, we’d played heads-up, mono-e-mono golf for 7 holes. I’ve never hung that close with Brady over 7 holes.

***

I launched a baby-fade drive, some 220 yards down the gut. (insert sigh of relief here), and Brady followed with a good drive of his own, only a yard or so behind me, and to the left. Our respective second shots both landed on the fringe of the green, and we both got up and down in 5.

***

THE FINAL HOLE FOR ALL THE MARBLES

I have the honors. The north wind has picked up, about 10 mph, dead in our face. About 300 yards down the fairway lies a very big lake.  It’s historic how many times that lake has changed a match. A short drive on this fairway means you’ll flirt with disaster on the second shot, and you’ll have to make a crucial decision as whether to “lay up,” or go for it.

My drive sends a high long ball straight down the middle. My best drive of the day, especially under pressure. Brady’s drive is also long, only a few feet behind mine, and just to the right. NEVER before have I out-driven Brady on two consecutive holes. As we approach the second shot, and just as I expect it’s coming Brady surprises me and says: “No mind games. May the best man win. If you clear the lake, I’m beat.”

Second shot. It will take 150 yards to clear the lake safely, and just beyond are two bunkers, left and right of the green. I pull out a three wood, praying for a sweet stroke. All I want to do is clear the lake and avoid the trap.

The three wood goes just left, but straight, clears the water by 50 yards, and I’m left with a 15-yard wedge to get up and down. I believe Brady hit a 4-iron (not his favorite club), and he clears as well, five yards inside me.

Again, we both get up and down for two 5’s, and the match is over.

With the 8-stroke cushion, I win by two strokes, but more importantly, lose outright, only by six, and we played stroke for stroke on the back nine, both chalking up a semi-respectable 44.

It’s the best nine holes of golf, I’ve ever played. We shake hands and embrace in a man hug, and the day is done.

***

So I win the bet with all its nuances, but still come up short six for an outright win. Brady knows I don’t care about winning the bet. He knows I long to beat him heads up over 18 holes, and that I’ll never be satisfied until it happens.

Sort of like kissing your sister, Lou Holtz might say. Actually, I’d submit, it’s even a bit better. Perhaps as if you’d kissed a really good-looking second cousin. Nevertheless, sans handicap, it’s a loss.

***

HOURS LATER

Driving home, I reflect on an absolutely exquisite day – not so much about the play, as the meaning of the day itself. Two buddies in fierce competition, yet cheering one another on at every stroke. It’s the rarest of things.

Arriving home, I send my friend a message thanking him for a day of wonderful memories. I tell him I know my improving play will only enhance his drive to become better, and that next Spring, we’re going to be one hell of a team.

He replies in concurrence, and said he was proud of me. And yes, he said, a fire now burns within him to get better with age. “It’ll be a great day when you beat me, he says, but I’ll never throw a single shot to let you do it. You’re gonna have to beat me.”

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

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Thrilla in Manila II: But It’s Two White Guys on a Golf Course in Arkansas

Cornish v. Watkins - Thrilla in Manila

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“One of the greatest qualities in a friendship is two guys who compete against one another, almost to the death, yet cheer one another on every single minute.” ~ me

DATELINE: NOVEMBER 16, 2012 – MANILA, ARKANSAS

By Brent Musburger, Lewis Grizzard Clod Dinglehopper:

thrilla in manila

BACKGROUND: In an epic and ongoing rivalry, these two fierce competitors play most frequently as companions and team mates taking on all two-man scramble challenges across the globe Northeast Arkansas. The team is complemented by Cornish’s long drives and mid-iron skills, and Watkins’ trusty putter, dangerous anywhere inside 40 feet. Best pals since 1977, Cornish, a high school state medalist, took Watkins under his wing as golf coach mentor in 1983. In their occasional epic mono-e-mono battles over the last 30 years, the protoge’ has yet to beat a stubborn Cornish who refuses to admit it could one day happen, but knows in the back of his mind, it will. Today begins a new day, in a new competitive era, and it’s on like donkey kong.golfing partners

VENUE: The Pristigious Big Lake Country Club, Manila, Arkansas.

TEE TIME: 10 a.m. CST

FORECAST: From our sponsors at The Weather Channel – Sunny with a high of 60°, light northeasterly wind at 9 mph. Humidity 49%.

COURSE CONDITIONS: Lightning fast greens, tough pin placements on undulating greens and leaves everywhere (it’s Fall in Arkansas).

RULES AND SPECIAL ALLOWANCES FOR THE DAY: One mulligan off the first tee, and then one mulligan per nine on 18 holes.

steven watkins blog jonesboro arTHE PURSE: It’s complicated with all kinds of action and side action. Cornish is down a dozen golf balls and a steak dinner for four at  Texas de Brazil from a recent presidential election double-wager that hangs over his head like a thunder cloud. At “steak” today – double or nothing bet on the dozen golf balls PLUS: this is the first day of an ongoing 365-day wager specifying $500 to the winner of a bet where Watkins says he’ll beat Cornish straight up at least once in the next year. Side action on the side action – and if Watkins beats Cornish, said Cornish has agreed to write a guest blog post on this site with detailed color commentary about how it all went down.

VEGAS LINE: Cornish comes in as an 8-1 favorite, but the prognosticators are keeping a keen eye on the Watkins surge.

best friends

Our favorite picture together, taken earlier this year in Mountain View, Arkansas honoring two favorite movie characters from Lonesome Dove: Texas Rangers Capt. Augustus McRae and Capt. Woodrow F. Call.

KEYS TO VICTORY:

  1. CORNISH – Must concentrate on a full backswing and follow-through, head down, and he MUST guard against over confidence going into the match.
  2. WATKINS – With new momentum coming off his first golf lesson from someone who actually knows what they’re doing, he must bring his wrist through the ball for consistent distance and direction, settle down on his wedge shots, and ignore Cornish’s inevitable mind games.

FULL COVERAGE AND RESULTS: Check Saturday’s listings on CBS  Sports and ESPN this blog tomorrow.

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When Your Best Friend Dies

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I first began thinking about this in 1985.

For those who are familiar with Larry McMurtry‘s epic Lonesome Dove, you know the story. It’s a story of two rough-and-tumble ex-Texas Rangers, who together, live out a life of adventure, love, tragedy and a shared vision of what life really should be.

Ultimately, Augustus McCrae (Robert Duvall) dies with Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) by his side. Anyone who doesn’t cry throughout the final hour of the mini-series is a tougher man than me.

The “best friend” relationship is truly special. There’s only one best friend. I wouldn’t trade mine for all the tea in China. This is what I love about my best-friend relationship:

Augustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call

This is a photo I truly treasure. On a recent weekend outing, my best friend and I came across this replica sign from Lonesome Dove. We both love it.

  • We have no secrets.
  • We have each other’s back – always.
  • Every time we’re together, we laugh until we hurt.
  • He is my cheerleader, and I am his.
  • Loyalty, truth and transparent honesty are the things we value most.
  • If one of us screws up, it’s okay.
  • And even though it’s unspoken between us, we’ve both realized our time on earth is short, and we’ve determined to leave the past behind, look ahead and make the most of what we have left.

Over the last few years I’ve lost a parent, a grandparent and many older friends who were my childhood role models. Each loss is a unique hurt, but I’ve never lost a best friend.

A few weeks ago I made a quick trip to my hometown and as I passed through its outskirts I saw an older man sitting on his front porch. I immediately recognized him as one of those older role models. His name is Gene Gathright, and a few years back, he lost his best friend, Devane Baldridge. It would have been easy enough to pass by, but I turned the truck around, went back and visited with Gene for a few minutes. Moments matter, and I didn’t want this to be a moment lost.

Gene and Devane were almost inseparable. They fished together, played cards together, loafed together and partnered in a number of community service projects. They were a pair naturally inclined to mischief. They were best buddies.

Since Devane died, life for Gene has been different. It’s just an indescribable void.

Another unfortunate scenario has caused me to think even more about this lately. Two men I know well are in the process of saying goodbye. I’ve shared many good times with both these men at family outings and on the golf course. One is now preparing for life beyond earth. The other is wondering what life on earth will be like without him. It’s a hard goodbye.

Have you ever lost a best friend? Would you be willing to share that experience?

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Over the next year I’m assembling a collection of unique stories about goodbyes between best friends, both men and women.

If you’ve lost a best friend, or know of someone who has, and would be willing to discuss it, please message me on WordPress or send me an email at: stevewatkins71@yahoo.com. I’m interested in stories in the U.S. and abroad.

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I’m Augustus McCrae, Texas Ranger: I Called it First.

(Blogger’s Note: Currently in the midst of a six-part series on How to Write Copy that Kills, I’ve taken a break over the last few days to write about other opportunities that have popped up on the radar screen. I’ll return to the series tomorrow, but it’s just another good lesson that there are no rules when it comes to writing.)

On a recent weekend trip to Mountain View, Arkansas, we came across this sign, made famous in Lonesome Dove. I love this photo of Brady and me, taken by my wife, Dana.

When we were elementary school kids, we were children of the country and had to get imaginative when it came to having fun. Often during recess we’d pretend to be the favorite characters from the popular sitcoms of the day. I remember around 1977, one of our favorites was Happy Days.

My best friend then, and now, Brady Cornish, was drawn to the character of Arthur Fonzerelli. Brady went on to become a high school golf medalist, and on the course, he was The Fonz. To this day for many, he’s still The Fonz.

Fast forward 25 years.

When Larry McMurtry‘s best-selling novel, Lonesome Dove, was made into a 1989 made-for-television mini-series, it immediately became my favorite movie of all time. It’s still my favorite today.

And there’s a good reason.

Lonesome Dove was a brilliantly written book, and the mini-series lived up to McMurtry’s novel. It’s a story of adventure, love, life, death, justice, mercy, but most of all – friendship – between the two unlikeliest of men.

Robert Duvall portrays Texas Ranger Captain Augustus McCrae, a man full of life, rough, but tender-hearted. He lived life in the moment and to the fullest.

Tommy Lee Jones portrays Texas Ranger Captain Woodrow F. Call, a no-nonsense quiet man, visionary, loyal, focused and business-minded. Easy-going, yet not a man you want to cross.

The film is special to me, because it reminds me of the friendship I have with Brady. We are different, he and I, but there’s something that holds us together like glue, and the Gus-Woodrow friendship,  parallels the relationship we have.

Brady’s never seen Lonesome Dove.

After a time of separation, our friendship was re-kindled in January of this year at the death of my father. Other than my wife and mom, he was the one man I needed by my side to get through a difficult time. At the funeral, he sat next to me as my brother.

Shortly thereafter, I gave Brady a copy of Lonesome Dove. I wanted him to watch it and see if he recognized the friendship between Gus and Woodrow as being the same as ours.

He’s saving the six-hour video for a long snow day at home and that’s fine by me.

The scenes throughout remind me of us. There’s the one where Woodrow beats the living daylights out of a Union soldier who has just horsewhipped a young boy in an attempt to requisition his horse for the army. Woodrow wouldn’t stand for abuse and neither does Brady. The end of the scene has Gus pulling  Woodrow off the soldier just before he kills him, then Woodrow calmly says: “…never could stand rude behavior in a man. Won’t tolerate it.” That’s my friend.

Most fans would acknowledge the most moving scene in the movie at Gus’s death, where the two friends have their last conversation. Gus makes an unbelievable request of Woodrow to give him one final adventure. Even at his demise, Gus was thinking of his friend. It’s odd, I know, but I’ve imagined that conversation between Brady and me at the end of our days. Carrying out the request, Woodrow carries McCrae’s body 3,000 miles to bury him at the place of his desire. I know if I asked my friend, he would do the same for me. For many reasons, I tear up each and every time I view this video.

Truth is, either one of us could be Gus or Woodrow. But I’m Gus. I called it first!

It’s silly for a 46-year-old man to see himself in a movie. I guess it’s the kind of thing ole’ Gus would have done.

Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit!

For a related post on my sidebar blog see: http://wp.me/p2wzTk-25

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What These Numbers Say to Me…

One of the best things that has blessed my life over the last couple of months has been the opportunity to re-connect with my best friend from high school.

Because of circumstances that are just too complex to explain in one post, I’ll just say there was a period of some 20 years when we lost touch and never even spoke. We weren’t angry with one another. We were just estranged…

My best, most loyal buddy, Brady Cornish (left).

About two months ago when it became obvious my dad had only days left to live, I called my estranged friend and told him I was going to need him soon. He said, let me know when you need me, and I’ll be there … and so he was.

Our relationship picked up immediately where it left off. It was as if time never passed. Now let me explain to you the importance of this relationship. If need be, Brady and I would cut our own hearts out and hand it to the other if that’s what was needed to help the other. That’s the depth of our friendship and I treasure it beyond what words might say.

We’ve shared a lot of “catching up” time lately, and yesterday I went to church with my friend at Mount Pleasant General Baptist Church, where some might say is “smack dab in the middle of nowhere.”

What a great experience to go back to the area where I was raised and see so many friends in their home church – worshiping where countless of their own generations have worshiped before them.

It’s a simple white wood structure with a modest steeple – no electronic billboards, no multi media mega screens, no rock the house praise and worship bands – just a small group of people coming together to hear the Word.

Most nostalgic to me was the photo you see here at the top of this post. The “display of numbers” you might say that reminds me of the very church I attended also “in the middle of nowhere” when I was a small child. We had one just like it at Macey United Methodist Church.

A few thoughts on what these numbers said to me.

  • At the bottom, notice the modest building fund goal, and the number where that goal currently stands. It’s important to have a vision and to regularly evaluate that vision. As we reach toward a goal such as this, we should celebrate milestone victories along the way.
  • Notice the day’s giving as it relates to the previous week and the correlation in church attendance from the previous week to yesterday. Attendance yesterday was one person more than the previous week, but the giving skyrocketed. The takeaway? Yes, one person can make a difference.
  • And the day’s attendance in itself? Do you see that? 27 people. Just 27. A small group of committed people CAN make a difference. I’ll bet you that almost every one of those folks came up (and as we say in the South) “hugged my neck,” just for being there.
  • And about that building fund goal – they are not there yet, but they are making progress. You keep pushing. You stay the course. You keep the faith. And God will provide.

At Mount Pleasant General Baptist Church “in the middle of nowhere,” they get it.

Thanks to my friend for welcoming me to his church, for showing me these lessons, and for just being there, as he always was, and always will be. Love you, my good buddy.