There Will Be Blood: Golf with Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky, and Gary Thompson
On the 19th hole at Rio Secco today, I took a 3-iron blast to the left side of my face.
The feeling of a resin-encased titanium bullet blasting into my skull at something like 150-mph isn’t pleasant. What’s worse is the pain post-trauma, when my swollen cheek starts looking like something out of The Elephant Man.
Hey, no one warned me about golf being a blood sport.
Then again, this is what it’s like tangling with Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky, and Gary Thompson — three merciless vultures who left me broke and bludgeoned out in the 111-degree heat that was Thursday, July 18th in Las Vegas.
Here’s my story of blood, pain, and defeat.
* * *
So I’m fucked even before I arrive at the course.
Unbeknownst to me, our foursome was set up during “Employees Day” at Caesars Entertainment. I had wrongly assumed this was just going to be us — some goof-off bunch of hackers who would roll out in the sun, whack the shit out of a few balls, score somewhere between 100-110 each, and be in the clubhouse bar drinking Campari long before noon. No one warned me this was going to be an actual golf tournament — like where the scores actually counted.
The embarrassment begins early. Two days after the 2013 World Series of Poker officially ends, today is my first actual off day since May 7th (first, three weeks working in New Orleans, followed by six weeks straight at the WSOP). So, what do I decide to do with the first actual free time I’ve had in like ten weeks? Try this for madness. Climb out in hotter than hell 111-degree heat, playing a game I suck at, and gamble my money away.
Gary Thompson, who you already know affectionately from a previous story (READ HERE), makes all the necessary arrangements. He insists that we all be there by 7:30 am.
That’s right “am.” An annoying two-letter combination that isn’t exactly in my vocabulary,
I leave the paradise of a 72-degree home for outdoor hell at 6:30 am, which seems like plenty of time to drive to the inferno, hit a few practice shots, and mentally get prepared to play. Ah yes. Golf is such a mental game. I already know what to do. You grab a club and hit the fucking ball. Just like those guys do it on TV. Trouble is, the mind and body don’t necessarily know the instructions.
On my way I get lost. Bunch of streets I can’t pronounce and all the houses look the same. I stop and ask someone where the golf course is, and he snaps back, “which one?” Apparently, there are four. And I have no idea what this place is called.
The GPS system doesn’t give directions worth a shit, and by 7:25 I’m screaming at slow-moving traffic and running stop signs trying to find the entrance to the course. Which reminds me of something else — who would have thought there would actually be traffic on the streets at 7:25 am? I don’t understand it. I have no idea where all these jokers are going. But they sure as shit were in my way big time when I was in a rush.
And so, I pull into something called the Rio Secco Country Club parking lot at 7:31 am — which sure as hell sounds very Republican to me. By the time I grab my bag and get wheeled up to the waiting area, it’s 7:36. Remember, we were supposed to tee-off at 7:30.
Six minutes late. No big deal, right?
* * *
I get carted up to the waiting area on the other side of the clubhouse and am instantly horrified. There are 36 pairs all sitting there waiting on someone. That’s 71 golfers all delayed because of the one ass-clown who’s arrived six minutes late. Guess who that happens to be?
I had no idea the outing was what’s called a “shotgun start.” Basically, that means groups scatter all over the golf course and start playing at different holes. Trouble is, they can’t leave the starting area and then begin play until everyone from the group has arrived.
When I finally pull up to the crowd, I get those hateful stares everyone lasers on the last lone passenger who boards the airplane — you know, the whole reason the flight’s fucking delayed. Seventy golfers somehow managed to make it on time. One jackass was late. And every eye is focused on him — errr, I mean me.
They haven’t even seen me swing a club yet, and I’ve got five dozen haters.
* * *
Our motley foursome consists of Ty Stewart (President of the WSOP), Seth Palansky (Vice-President of Communications for CIE), Gary Thompson (Spokesman for Caesars Entertainment), and myself.
Last time we played golf together, Gary took mercy on me. He saw me hacking balls all over Southern Nevada (and part of Utah, I think) with my $65 golf clubs purchased back in 2002 from K-Mart. He felt pity. So, he agreed to actually give me his old set of irons. As in free. Cool thing about his irons is, they are like expensive-ass Taylor-made clubs. Trouble is, putting one of these babies in my hand is like giving a hang grenade to a chimpanzee.
Talk about a sweet deal. Gary has brought his whole set of irons out especially for me. Unfortunately, I’ve got my scuffed up $65 Ram clubs clogging up my bag. So, I hand stuff Gary’s master set into my bag and all the sudden I’ve got like 30 golf clubs falling out all over the place. Ty throws a hissy-fit about the rules or something where you have to bring a standard number of clubs, and no more. He riffles though my bag and finds a broken putter and at least one totally club that’s totally illegal. I get read the riot act and they all demand that I remove the old shitty Ram irons from my bag, in order to complete this tournament by the rules. Don’t want to risk a DQ. Like the fucking rules should ever matter in a tournament.
Here’s where the story picks up.
These sticklers for rules actually force me remove my old Rams from my bag. So, I fish all the scratched-up clubs out of my bag that have cost me thousands of dollars over the years, and I stick them inside a cardboard box. We play another hole or two, and the box has tumbled out of the cart at least twice, spilling all over the cart path because Palansky drives too fast and too wild. The others start getting annoyed as shit. I tell them that if I wouldn’t have been forced to get rid of those old Rams, well then I’d have 30 clubs securely squared in my bag right now and I wouldn’t be anchoring down the group because my old fucking clubs are spilling out all over the course.
Gary finally gets flustered. After the clubs have spilled out like a third time, he yells, “Just throw them away!”
Can you believe that?
“Just throw them away.” He’s talking about my personal set of $65 Rams. That price doesn’t even include the sentimental value.
“What am I supposed to do, Gary?” I ask. “Where should I throw them?”
“Hell, I don’t know, just find a trash can,” Gary screams.
At this point, we’re wheeling between the 12th green and the 13th tee-box. There’s a cart path and some bushes off to the side. I’ve had enough of this. Fucking late the course. Gary chewing my ass out. People all pissed. Possible disqualification from the tournament. So, I just take the whole box of shit clubs and chunk them into some shrubbery. They spew all over the side of some cactus plants. So, if anyone reading this right now wants a really cheap set of Rams, make your way out to the 13th hole at Rio Secco. You’ll find a hell of deal sitting behind some bushes there on the left side. Take them away. They’re yours!
* * *
Ty Stewart is a beast.
This is no exaggeration. I’ve got witnesses.
ANNOUNCING: Ty hits the ball as far as any pro golfer. Really. I’m not making this up. And, he does it consistently. Trouble is, it’s usually off in the rough somewhere, but I’ve never seen anyone blast a ball like the Ty-ster. I’m talking every shot.
One hole, we measure. He clocks it 360 yards on a flat track. And these were on soft freshly-watered fairways. I’m not talking cart-path bounces here.
After one blast, Ty decides to toy around and smacks a few balls in midair. This is kinda’ the trick made famous several years ago in a Tiger Woods commercial, where he bounces the ball several times on the club face, and the whacks the shit out of it down the fairway.
Ty does one even better than this. He hoists the ball up in the air — baseball style — and somehow manages to make enough contact to just fucking maul the ball to the moon. The first time he did this, I thought he just got lucky. After three shots like that row, my jaw was on the grass.
Of course, the video camera finally came out, and Ty misfires one shot and then blasted the other one into someone’s backyard. That backyard is somewhere in Kansas. Watch it here for yourself:
* * *
Gary Thompson is as solidly consistent an amateur golfer as I’ve ever seen. Then, I played for the first time ever with Seth Palansky.
Even though Ty consistently out-distanced everyone by 50 yards with his drives, Gary and Seth were the ones who always seemed to put the ball on the green. As for me, I shot a decent round with Gary’s new set of Taylors. But I still ended up looking pretty bad compared to the WSOP’s three musketeers.
Here’s a short video of a hole where the water supposedly “does not come into play.”
* * *
Some people crumble under pressure. Others thrive.
Notice that when the video camera was off, I was all over the course. Couldn’t hit a fairway or sink a putt. The three of them were smashing the ball right down the middle. Meanwhile, I somehow ended up losing 20 balls (on a desert course).
That said, when the video camera was actually recording, I managed a swing bitch-slap of a shot that was about as solid a 6-iron as I’ve ever cracked. I couldn’t have hit this ball any better if I was as juiced up as Barry Bonds. Hey, if my last round of golf included an ejaculation after hitting Marissa’s $400 driver (READ HERE), this was most certainly the second-best feeling I’ve ever enjoyed out on a golf course. After hitting this shot, I damn near needed a cigarette.
Watch me absolutely shame Ty, Seth, and Gary.
Trouble is — I couldn’t do this again in a lifetime:
* * *
You’ve got to be able to take a punch. It doesn’t matter if you fall down. It’s whether you get back up that matters.
This story began with a bloody face and a swollen jaw. Now, I’m about to tell you how this all happened.
I got clocked by a golf ball that knocked me out for a couple of seconds.
Guess who hit the shot?
Some stranger off another tee-box?
Those would all be reasonable guesses. But they would also be wrong guesses.
In fact, the person who blasted a three-iron shot into the left side of my face and knocked me cold into the grass while the ball rifled off by skull was….
That’s right. Me.
Our foursome had just completed 18 holes. Good day. Fun day. And I hadn’t lost a dime, so far.
The trouble with the shotgun start is — you end up on a stray hole out on the middle of the course. So, since we ended on the eighth hole, we decide (translation: I insist) that we’re going to play the ninth hole as a freebie. And since it’s the last hole, there has to be a financial stake in the outcome.
Talk begets hustle and bets are made all around. The three hustlers all put up pretty good drives. Trouble for me was, they distracted me completely and caused me to hit one of my very worst shots of the day. I smash the ball, which goes straight up in the air. It lands like 20 feet ahead on the ladies tee-box. Meanwhile, the three of them are all way down the middle of the fairway.
I walk up and discover that my ball rests like three feet in front of this very large flat boulder. I didn’t think of it much. I have my three-iron, which I am feeling pretty confident about. Gary shouts something about moving my ball or moving the stone or something and I completely blow his ass off. He’s betting against me, so why should I listen to him?
The rest of the moment is a daze. I remember my downswing and making perfect contact. Net, there was a loud THUD. Followed by a WHACK. Followed by a much more intense THUD. And then, at least for a few seconds — total silence.
After blinking a few times, I saw Gary rushing up to me. My left jaw felt like I’d been hit with a club. I reached to my face, and there was blood on my hand.
The first thing I remember asking was — “how bad is it?”
Somehow, I had blasted the ball perfectly. Unfortunately, the ball smashed into the boulder, and then cannoned straight back into the side of my left jaw. It was like starring in the fucking Zapruder film. As I fell to my knees, I was told my ball bounced 80 feet up in the air and landed off next to some volcanic rocks. It clock the living shit out of me. My own swing. My own ball.
Looking back, I guess I was lucky Another two inches higher and I’d be playing Sammy Davis, Jr. the rest of my life. A bit to the right, and could have lost a set of teeth. Instead, all I ended up with was the indentation of a Titlist 3 on the side of my face, which is now swollen to the size of a grapefruit as I write this.
We finish up the hole and I somehow don’t manage to lose too much money. I did end up with a new set of irons, though.
That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.
* * *
DISSENTING POINT-OF-VIEW (GARY THOMPSON’S VERSION OF THE DAY — E-MAILED TO ME)
World Series of Poker gurus Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky and Nolan Dalla invited me to join them in a Caesars Entertainment employee golf tournament at Rio Secco. We turned in a very respectable nine-under 63, thanks in large part to towering drives and pinpoint second shots by Ty and Seth and occasional miracle shots by Nolan. As the tournament was a shotgun start, we’d begun on on hole No. 9, a straightaway 469-yard par four and ended the 18-hole tournament round on No. 8. Nolan was unable to contain himself and, because we were going by it anyway, suggested we play No. 9 again for money. He challenged the other three of us to $XXX individual matches. Ty offered Nolan four-to-one even up, I offered him two shots and Seth offered him one and a half. Nolan accepted all bets except mine, which he demanded be changed to only one and a half shots as well. I accepted.
Ty teed off first, hitting a 300-plus yard drive into the desert on the right of the fairway. Seth boomed one down the middle. I skyed one about 150 yards out. Nolan, who’d been hitting the driver well all day, for some unknown reason opted to hit a three iron. He teed the ball high and went completely under it. The ball popped up and forward about 10 yards, landing on the white tee box. As Nolan lined up to hit his second, I noticed the ball was on a downhill lie, with a basketball-sized boulder about two feet in front of it. I said, “Nolan, move the ball.” He refused because, unbeknownst to the rest of us, he’d put the ball back on a tee, but had pushed the tee down so the ball appeared to be lying on the grass. He admitted later, “I was cheating, but was trying to be inconspicuous.”
Nolan took a mighty swing with his three iron. The ball rose about three inches off the ground, smashed into the rock two feet in front of him, ricocheted straight backward and hit Nolan in the only place it could have without causing serious injury — his head. The ball bounced off his head with a reverberating clang like a sledgehammer hitting an empty metal drum and soared a couple of hundred yards into the air. I watched the trajectory, which was a perfect controlled draw, and thought it was the best shot he’d hit all day. Unfortunately for Nolan, it was soaring off into the rock-littered desert bordering the fairway.
When I lost sight of the ball, I looked back and Nolan was writhing on the ground, holding his blood-spattered dome. Seth rushed over with an ice-filled towel to help control the rapidly swelling injury, which had multiple indentations mirroring the dimples on the golf ball. We urged Nolan to call off the matches (well, I did, but Ty and Seth demanded we keep playing). Nolan manned up and said, “No, the game is on.” He dropped another ball — away from the rock he’d hit — to replace the errant second shot (his 20th lost ball of the day), and hit his fifth shot — we insisted on a one-stroke penalty for the lost ball that bounced off his head — straight down the middle. I was having a hard time controlling my laughter, topped my second shot and hooked my third into the water. Seth hit his second onto the green. Nolan saw Ty preparing to hit out of the desert and offered him another four-to-one bet if he hit the green. Ty did.
I was lying four. I dumped my fifth shot into the bunker. Nolan his sixth shot just short, and chipped onto the green with his seventh. I put my sixth shot on the green. Ty and Seth had already holed out and won their bets with Nolan. I two-putted for an eight. Nolan needed to two-putt for a nine and a win with one and a half strokes. Now, Nolan is an unrepentant sports bettor who often gets beat by the half-point hook sports books offer when they post their lines. And more often than not, he takes the wrong side. Nolan three-putted and lost to me by the hook.
Life is good.