I wish I’d written that…

The ultimate compliment from one scribe to another: an occasional tribute to nice lines that stood out from the noise…

“Golf, more than any other sport, is supposed to offer its legends a graceful path into AARP*. Football is cruel once you’ve lost that first step, baseball sends fastballs rushing by, basketball mocks the player’s surrender to gravity. But golf, well, a great golfer can still show up in his 40s, maybe even win a tournament now and again, and at 50 he is given the keys to a whole new tour with old friends and easier golf courses lined with adoring fans who remember the good old days.” – Joe Posnanski for Sports on Earth: Tiger faces the hardest question of all

*American Association of Retired Persons

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The US Open and every freelancer’s worst nightmare

OpenIf you’ve always known the security of an employment contract, you might want to move on to the next story. This one may strike you as cheeky, perhaps borderline naughty, but you’ll probably wonder why I’m digging it up after almost 15 years.

If you’ve ever worked for yourself, on the other hand, and known periods of your life when no pay cheque could be taken for granted, you may well share my view that the naming and shaming should never stop when it comes to the biggest pile of steaming dung ever put in front of those of us who ply our trade in the creative sphere.

“We can’t afford to pay you as such but it will be good publicity for you.”

Whenever they find a freelance journalist/photographer/entertainer et al with a smoking gun in his hand, standing over a motionless body, rest assured those were probably the deceased’s last words.

Every freelance creative is spun this line, especially early in his career, when he pitches for work. They see you coming a mile off: young, hungry and probably desperate enough to fall for anything in order to get your foot on the ladder.

In time, you learn to employ one of two ripostes to this flagrant try-on…

1) “If publicity paid the rent, I’d sprint naked down Bond Street.”

2) “The companies providing your business with stationery, electricity etc – you’re paying them with publicity too, right?”

The sting of being played, however, is a scar on the memory that might fade but never vanishes. So whenever you hear that this ruse remains alive and well, you’re like an old war horse that starts pawing the ground at the sound of distant drums.

The United States Golf Association should have been beyond such a graceless stunt when they looked to hire a course architect for the 2002 US Open. Their ‘mark’, designer Rees Jones, would have certainly considered it to be a thing of the past for a man of his stature, with more than 20 golf courses on his career portfolio by the time the USGA’s executive director David Fay approached him in the mid-1990s.

For the 2002 renewal of their flagship tournament, the USGA had chosen a municipal as opposed to private golf course for the first time in Open history. Designed in 1936 by A.W. Tillinghast, one of golf architecture’s greats, Bethpage Black was a daunting monster of a course which carried its own health warning alongside the first tee and which clearly had Open potential. Heavy public use over the years had stripped the course of much of its shine and definition, however, and the USGA wanted Rees Jones to restore both.

Master storyteller, sportswriter John Feinstein, recounts how the job was pitched, in his book Open, which is where it recently came to my attention.

“Jones…was a bit nonplussed when he and Fay – good friends for many years – sat down to discuss the project and negotiate the fee.

“Because it’s a public golf course and I know you guys are picking up all the costs, I’ll give you a discount on my normal fee,” Jones told Fay. His normal fee was about $1 million.

“Damn right you’ll give us a discount,” Fay said. “I’m not going to pay you.”

Fay laughs as he retells the story. “Once he picked himself up off the floor, I think he got it right away,” he said. “I told him it was already going to cost at least $3 million just to move all the earth around. Plus, I said it would enhance his reputation not only…because this was the ultimate redesign project, but because he had been so magnanimous in donating his services. It would be great PR for him all the way round.”

Oh my. But then that’s what friends are for, right, David Fay?

Now, in fairness, it should be added that in agreeing to take ‘publicity’ to the bank, Rees Jones was playing the long game. Bethpage cemented a career niche that has earned him the label ‘Open Doctor’, as the USGA’s go-to guy for similar course restorations on the Open schedule, an arrangement which I’m sure has rewarded him many times over for this initial forbearance.

And I have every confidence that David Fay, like any other businessman, would have gladly given away a million dollars of his own time for the betterment of Society, had only someone asked.

Nonetheless, it is a salutary reminder to any freelancers reading this, whatever their own field, that there is no stone so lofty that the dreaded ‘publicity’ ploy won’t crawl out from beneath it and attempt to work its grubby magic.

[Sits back…slowly unclenches fists…breathes…]

Golf-haters need to spit it out

We are all this guy. Except me, because I’m not dumb enough to go golfing atop a frozen pond, and I’m not self-loathing enough to enjoy golf in the first place.”

Even if you held a gun to his head, I’m not sure Barry Petchesky could even begin to explain this bizarre comment that he penned for Deadspin this week.

Self-loathing?

Reach for some dental equipment à la the interrogation scene in Marathon Man, however, and I have every confidence that between sobs, he would quickly blurt out the sad truth. It was the first derogatory label he could think of and it seemed as good an insult as any.

Self-loathing.

I played golf for 15 years, have enjoyed it and the company of golfers for all my adult life, and am yet to encounter anyone with even good reason to self-loathe, let alone a proclivity for it.

Had Petchesky attacked us for snootiness or bad-taste clothing, he would have shown himself to be somewhat behind the times in attacking a sport about which he clearly knows nothing, but historically at least, he could have mustered a little context for his contention.

“Self-loathing”, however, is such a random, out-of-thin-air criticism that it deserves to be met with another one. That resentment born of a possibly-subconscious jealousy means that Barry Petchesky hates middle-class people at play so much that any old slur will do in his desperation to make a point.

Not knowing the first thing about him, I have no evidence with which to back up my claim, but at least that makes two of us.