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I get to say something no one on earth – I’m fairly certain – has ever said before.


Better backtrack.

In December of 1985, three of us decided to start a golf league. This was before Rotisserie or Fantasy teams. We figured it’d be fun to have 10 professional golfers, each, add up the money they made after tournaments, and see what happens.

So, Tom Gwynne (who owned the Spirit Shop Liquor Store in La Jolla Shores for many a year), Jack Clancy (aka the “La Jolla Walker,” since he has made long, daily hikes around his hometown in shorts and a baseball cap for the last six decades), and I stood on three corners of the intersection, at El Paseo Grande and Vallecitos in the Shores, and shouted out names.

“Fred Couples,” I began the draft, since I won the toss – a flip disputed to this day (something about a coin with two heads, whatever…).

“Ray Floyd,” blurted Clancy (heretofore known simply as “the Coach”).

“Ben Crenshaw,” chimed in Gwynne.

We filled out our rosters and the TPA (“Team Players Association”) was born.

My team is The Masters, based on a lifelong obsession with that annual rite of spring.

At first, Clancy named his “The Raiders,” though they’ve since been renamed – for reasons unfair but heartfelt - “The Raiders of the Lost Coach.”

Gwynne chose “the Gonzomaniacs.” An apt name, especially the year he went “totally foreign” - banished American pros from the squad and didn’t make a dime. It was for these and other anarchic impertinences that Gwynne, the top Gonzo, earned the appellation, “the Top Gone.”

(Okay, there are those who say that many of Gwynnes’ other-worldly choices have added a deeply spiritual dimension to the TPA, and he has become known, in some circles at least, as “the Gonnie Lama”).

During that first season, we had trouble deciding on an appropriate prize. A trophy? Cash? Come on. We wanted ineffable value. Then the Coach opined that the goal of all right-thinking TPA coaches would be a waffle at Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla.

My team won $2,818,358 that year, and I was the first to dine.

At the ceremony we forgot to warn the waitress. When she asked my selection, I replied, “yes, I’ll have the Golden Brown Waffle please,” and Coaches Clancy and Gwynne responded with polite tennis applause.

All three of us rushed to explain, knocked over coffee cups and menus. Given her bugged-eyes, our desperation made us even more certifiable.

That was 1986. Over the years, the league expanded to 10 and has now contracted down to four teams.

Twenty-seven years. Loved ones have passed away, golf clubs and balls have undergone many a revolution, most of our original players are in their early 70s.

We’ve learned a lot about pro golfers. The two biggest lessons: a majority don’t perform with the consistency of basketball or baseball players. Instead they have streaks and then disappear, often when you put them in your starting line-up with hopes agleam.

Lesson #2: your best player will betray you 20 times a year. Some coaches refuse to watch the telecasts: too painful – like rooting for the Chargers with the lead and four minutes to go.

The hardest part: knowing a close friend is in last place – and what a burden it can be. Dietary restrictions have turned the waffle – originally plastered with butter, drenched in maple syrup, and circled with sausages or bacon - into a lofty (but no longer consumed) ideal.

We even have to warn the waitress beforehand: one of us will order a golden brown waffle, but not really. Which conjures yet another eyes-rolling, “ohhhhhh-boy” reaction.

As is probably true of many such leagues, fantasy and reality intertwine. The highs and lows can be as real, maybe even more, than anything in the “real” world.

During the Masters, coaches answer the phone: “House of Pain.”

Some coaches are convinced – metaphysically certain, in fact – that they influence the action. They read putts, pick a club, test the wind. If the golfer does as anticipated, you’ll hear: “now that’s COACHING!!!”

Some have been horrified when team members come to Torrey Pines and fail to thank them for expert tutelage. Or even nod a knowing hello.

(“Tiger, dude: it’s me, Coach Smith!!!”).

Most of us swear that colors send coded messages. If Sergio Garcia wears orange, he wants to be traded. When Adam Scott wears green, as he did last Sunday, he’s thanking Coach Smith for guiding him to victory at this year’s Masters.

Glad to be of service, Adam.

Our season ended last Sunday. For the year, my team won $39,572,748 and waffle number 12.

Twelve waffles. Okay, so how many championship rings does Phil Jackson have? Eleven, right? And Red Auerbach? And John Wooden has how many NCAA banners?

I applaud them, of course. Fine efforts, men. Fine indeed. But they will never know the empyrean majesty of ordering waffle #12 at Harry’s amid the awe, and polite applause, of my fellow coaches.

Even though I can’t eat it anymore.

Photo: Coaches Smith and Clancy at Augusta National

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