Saturday, August 27, 2005

Safe Bet

Like most of you, I've been searching for that one, foolproof system for guaranteed gambling success. Today, in an exclusive to the boone box, I, Grant "Split Ace" Boone, am going all in to announce I've found it. (By the way, you've never experienced pain until you've had your aces split.) Discovered by yours truly one year ago Wednesday and developed over the past 12 months, this is the system the casinos don't want you to learn. The one that threatens to turn the world of gaming bandits on its one arm...

Abstinence. No, it's not one of those exercise machines to give you a flat tummy. Nor will Abstinence make your heart grow fonder for the felt-topped tables. You simply don't play. It's my own unique spin on Texas Hold 'Em. I hold 'em and don't ever let go of 'em.

The wee hours of August 31st, 2004 was the last time I tithed to any place of prayer, online or otherwise. Since that time, my gambling record is perfect: 361-0. No bets, no losses. But I haven't merely broken even, I'm actually way ahead when I consider the time and money spent on more nobler pursuits, such as watching Anchorman.

(A quick aside: whenever someone tells you he/she is "about even" for the night in a casino, that usually means "about even...since I lost that first $300." Lying about gambling losses is, for some reason, as common as someone answering the phone from stage 4 of non-REM sleep but pretending to be awake.

"Did I wake you?"

(in an exponentially faster and louder voice than normal) "NO! I WAS JUST CLEANING OUT THE GARAGE..."

"At 3 in the morning?"

If they sound asleep when they answer the phone, they were asleep. And when people say they're even for the night, they're down. Probably big. Luxury gambling hotels don't keep going up every other day because we're all breaking even. Casinos are not non-profit operations...except for you.)


Fans of the boone box have clamored for more golf coverage, and I'm happy to deliver. Lots of my media brethren and sistren have squawked about Tiger Woods' revelation that he was not at Baltusrol for the conclusion of the PGA Championship Monday morning despite the fact that he was the clubhouse leader at 2 under par. Most have decried his decision, but I haven't heard anyone say what you're about to read here.

I'm calling BS: a Baltusrol Snooker, if you will. I think the Striped One is pulling a fast one. He claims he split Sunday night to go back to Florida because he knew the guys who were 3 or 4 under with a few holes to play wouldn't all fall back to 2 under. And that he was practicing Monday morning at his home club in suburban Orlando when play resumed. I wouldn't buy that story with Tiger's own American Express card. For two reasons.

First, no one leaves New Jersey that quickly. For one thing, you can't turn left. Seriously. You have to execute what the locals call jug-handle turns in which you veer right onto a side street and loop around until you eventually get where you want to go. If Tiger left the golf course Sunday night at, say 8 p.m., after his final round was finished, the earliest he could've made it to the airport would've been approximately November.

Second, and more important, there is no way that a player whose only measure of success these days is the number of major championships won isn't there if 2 under plays off. As it turns out, the overnight rain and calm conditions Monday morning softened the course and proved Tiger's prediction correct that 2 under wouldn't be good enough. But had the rain not come and the winds howled, that course could've been so hard that 2 under might've won outright. Tiger knew that, which is why he would've been standing on the 16th tee for a playoff had there been one Monday.

I know for a fact that Tiger has felt as if the media has, by breaching confidentiality and overblowing the occasional downturn in his play, sent him up the river. Maybe he floated this whopper to give scribes a return trip.


Sunday night, Nancy Lopez will announce her two captain's picks to join the 10 others who earned enough points to make the United States Solheim Cup team. Publicly and privately, Lopez has said she won't consider 15-year-old Michelle Wie or 17-year-old U.S. Women's Amateur champ Morgan Pressel or anyone not currently a member of the LPGA. I applaud Nancy's decision. Unless of course the objective is winning.

I'm not sure how many American players are better right now than Wie or Pressel, but I am 100 percent certain there aren't 12. And while the European Ryder Cup team has proven anything can happen in match play, the Euro Solheimers are on paper the prohibitive favorite, if not for Annika Sorenstam alone.

Nancy is one of the greatest players in women's golf history and an even better person. She's trying to be true to the Tour she loves. But ignoring Wie and Pressel will ultimately penalize the LPGA. The Solheim Cup will be played Sept. 9-11, concluding on the first Sunday of the NFL season. (Note to self: send LPGA officials a calendar for Christmas.) Even if the teeny boppers played, it's not as if they'd pull Joe Beercan away from his pigskin. Or is it Joe Pigskin away from his beercan? Whatever. At least you'd have more people going picture-in-picture or wearing out their remotes to sneak a peek at how the two teenies were bopping.

It's too late for the LPGA to reschedule to, say, this weekend, prior to the start of the college and pro football seasons. (As a fan of both football and women's golf, my reaction to the LPGA's Solheim scheduling is pretty much the pronunciation of ACU's now-scrubbed homecoming musical.)

But Nancy, it's not too late for you to pick the two players who'll not only attract the most viewers but who just so happen to be the two most talented options, as well. In so doing, you might steal some of the NFL's thunder and catch for yourself a little lightning in a bottle. And maybe even a Cup.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Aida (ahh! eee! duh!): Casting Stones And Common Sense On The College Stage

In Adam McKay's epic motion picture, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the members of the Channel 4 News Team vociferously protest to their news director the hiring of female reporter Veronica Corningstone. Weatherman Brick Tamland, whom we find out later will be told he has an IQ of 46, pounds his fist and screams, "Loud noises!"

I can relate to Brick - and not just in IQ - in the wake of the recent and incendiary developments at two Christian universities: Abilene Christian's scrapping of its much-anticipated production of the Elton John/Tim Rice version of Aida (see headline for pronunciation) and Harding's announcement that Ann Coulter will be a featured speaker in this school year's Distinguished Lecture Series. Somewhere, Brick is pounding his fists again and screaming. There are a lot of loud noises coming from seemingly every side.

ACU (my alma mater, for the record) pulled Aida because of pressure from minority groups and individuals who essentially branded the university and (implicitly) the leaders within the theater department as racists for casting a white student, Lara Seibert, in the titular role, one often played worldwide by a woman of color. The only black student who auditioned for the role, Jessica Owens, was one of those casting stones. Owens acknowledged she wasn't as good a singer as Seibert but was quoted in the Abilene Reporter-News as saying, "I don't think the ACU theater department is at a place where it can do colorblind casting on black shows. They need to recognize the problem." Apparently, the department has no problem being colorblind in casting white shows. Owens herself played the role (magnificently, I might add) of Julius Caesar's Caucasian wife, Calpurnia, in ACU's summer Shakespeare festival. Concerned that the cast and crew would be put in an unfair position, however, the theater department ditched Aida in favor of a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss. Any full-blooded Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz is asked to contact the department immediately to audition.

(A final thought on the talented Ms. Owens: history doesn't typically identify heroes in any movement as those who demand double standards and preferential treatment but rather ones who endure hardship to gain equality. Rosa Parks didn't ask to ride the bus for free.)

Meanwhile, Harding University is taking some heat for its decision to bring Coulter to campus next March. The ubiquitous author and pundit is ultra-conservative in her politics but ultra-liberal in dispensing vitriol. Most disturbing to me is not Coulter's presence but rather the absence of anyone on the Distinguished Lecture Series who might approach politics from a different angle. If Molly Ivins or Michael Moore were brought in for the same series, for example, the university would have an opportunity to put divergent opinions under the microscope of Christ and see if there's a molecule of truth in either. Instead, Harding's definition of divergent is Zell Miller, the erstwhile Democrat last seen roasting his former party members over an open spit at the Republican National Cookout, who'll follow Coulter next spring. (Perhaps now that he's publicly called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Pat Robertson will be forgiven for promoting instrumental worship and cleared to kick off next year's series.)

Two decisions. Two schools.

ACU. Harding.

One correct answer in my book. (Hint: It's not the one on the Right.)

Many good things have happened at Harding. (Some of my best friends are Bison.) And ACU, like any of us individually, has botched its share of situations through the years. This is more about the choices of the individual decision makers at each place than one institution being greater than the other.

ACU could have, with a squeaky clean conscience and a preponderence of evidence proving its casting impartiality, proceeded with Aida; Harding was and remains free to bring to campus whomever it so chooses. But the way of Christ seems to point us away from demanding our rights and toward the service of our enemies, even political ones.

Do you know your ABCs?
Do you, do you? Tell me please!
Start with A and end with Z!
Tickets are, for both nights, free!

Listen first to Ann, then Zell!
That's the way to sidestep Hell!
Which starts with H like Heaven, you C?
There's a party up there, and it's G-O-P!

A-C-U and H-U, each
Big decisions did they reach!
A-C chose, not Elton, Seuss;
H plucked two from off Fox News!

There's no I in Green Eggs and Ham.
Nor should there when we serve the Lamb.
So when God, speech, and arts collide,
Seuss or Fox News? U decide!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Early Service

I woke up Sunday morning in Reno, Nevada (pronounced Nevada, not Nevada) in search of a church service. Not finding one anywhere near my hotel, I grabbed my Bible and made my way over to the most popular place of prayer in town, Harrah's Hotel and Casino. I wasn't there for the ceremony, just the sacraments; Harrah's housed the only Starbucks I knew of within walking distance. (En route, I saw a bumper sticker that read "My Boss Is Bruce Springsteen." Good stuff. I wouldn't try it on Judgment Day, but for now you get a tip of my cap. Clever.)

As I filed in with the other congregants a little past 8 a.m., I was struck by the similarities between the house of cards and many of the houses of God I've attended.

Both feature otherwise disparate people communing around a table.

Both rather shamelessly ask for your money, usually for the next building program.

In neither place do the people look remotely as attractive or interested as they do in the promotional material. (I've missed the church and casino billboards featuring people in wheelchairs, on oxygen tanks, and missing random limbs.)

Both are always looking for the latest technological or cultural innovation to draw people in.

You can usually get breakfast comped in the bigger, more upscale versions of each.

Both strongly encourage evangelism.

Both have promised fulfillment, failed to deliver, and driven people away in despair.

I could only discern three major differences, call it separation of church and casino:

1) at church, you have to go outside to smoke;

2) at the casino, people surrender their money sacrificially; and

3) most people at casinos are both happy to be there and hooked for life.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that casinos pretend they don't want to addict you but do, while churches promote a lifelong commitment but rarely get it.

As for my pilgrimage, I placed a single $2 bet that I'd get a cup of Gold Coast in return for my ante. And - cha-ching! - I won a 16 ounce share of the pot. Amen.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Birdie Boom, Birdie Bing: Mickelson Makes Good In Jersey

Glory's last shot, as the PGA of America melodramatically dubs its major championship, was a day late but not a dollar short. After threatening weather suspended play Sunday afternoon, Phil Mickelson returned to Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey Monday morning to win the 87th PGA Championship.

That they couldn't finish on time had less to do with the Almighty than the Almighty Dollar. The networks that air golf's U.S. major championships (and pay the big bucks to do so) - CBS for The Masters and PGA and NBC for the U.S. Open - want those events to end as their Sunday night prime time programming begins. So the organizations which run those respective tournaments and get rich off rights fees happily schedule the tee times to end at 7 p.m. Eastern, which they usually do. Except when dangerous weather butts in, as it did twice Sunday in Springfield.

Mark Twain was right when he said everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it. In this case, championship officials could've done something. Like move the tee times up a couple of hours to account for the forecast storms. Instead, they left the schedule as it was and kept its Sugar Daddy - in this case, CBS - fat and happy. (I do applaud the PGA for rebuffing network requests for "King of Queens" star Kevin James to play with Mickelson and Davis Love in the final group.)

The irony is that the PGA actually shortsighted itself. Every tournament organizer in the world and every network executive - no matter what they say publicly - wants Tiger Woods to win their event. For tournaments, it means the opportunity to put the world's most popular athlete on all of its promotional material for next year's championship. For TV execs, it's about the ratings, which are exponentially higher when Tiger's in contention than when he's not.

Tiger finished just ahead of the second weather delay Sunday, the one that ultimately suspended play 'til Monday. A furious final nine flurry that saw him birdie three of the last five holes and nearly birdie the other two left Tiger at 2 under par. Had tee times been moved up and the leaders been forced to play the last four holes in those brutally tough conditions, 2 under might've been good enough for at least a playoff instead of a tie for fourth. What would CBS have given to lead into its Sunday night lineup with a Tiger/Mickelson duel 'til the dark, if not death?

The notion that Woods would even figure in the final outcome seemed as unlikely as a self-serve Garden State gas station for most of the week. Tiger, whose voice is baritone at best, spent the first three days of the championship mimicking a Soprano, specifically Tony. Like New Jersey's most famous fictional citizen, Tiger specialized in Waste Management.

Thursday, he botched Baltusrol's only easy hole, the reachable-in-two par five 18th, when he jerked his tee shot into a hazard and made bogey. An opening 75 (par 70) left his place on the leaderboard at roughly the heat index: 113. Friday, he got greedy with a front pin at 4 and splashed his tee shot with a short iron en route to a scrambling bogey. Only a two-putt birdie at 18 allowed Tiger to make the cut and prolong his agony. Beginning Saturday a dozen off the lead, he played brilliantly through 16 but couldn't birdie either of the closing par fives - thanks to a three-putt from 25 feet at the last - and settled for a solid but wanting 66. Needing a fast start Sunday, he instead bogeyed 1 and 3. And only his unparalleled penchant for the impossible got him back into some semblance of contention.

So Tiger went 1st-2nd-1st-T4th in the major championships this year, the best cumulative finishes since (who else?) Nicklaus more than three decades prior. Unthinkable for anyone else. But if Tiger never realizes his dream of winning all four in the same year, it's hard to imagine him having a better chance than in 2005.

Meanwhile, Mickelson turned the tables on his season, going from major disappointment (10th Masters, T33 U.S. Open, T60 British) to major champion for a second consecutive year. In so doing, he turned back two past PGA champs - Steve Elkington ('95) and Love ('97) - and one Great Dane, the doggedly determined Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, whose Saturday 63 matched the low round in Baltusrol and major championship history and whose play late Sunday and early Monday reversed a trend of recent major meltdowns.

Nearly everyone had melted by Sunday afternoon from the weeklong steambath. Yet somehow, the guy previously voted Most Likely to Have His Gym Membership Lapse, kept lapping the field. Mickelson slept on at least a share of the lead not three nights but four because of the Monday finish. And he couldn't have cared less about the sleepover.

Because while he may not be a gym rat, Phil Mickelson knows his way around the Wait Room. He was 0 for his first 46 majors. One more day wasn't too much to ask to make him 2 for his last 8.