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Daniel - Poker Journal

Maybe the Most Fun I've Ever Had

21 Jul 2009

Earlier this year, the head of NBC Sports, Jon Miller, invited me to play in the American Century Championship at Edgewood in Lake Tahoe. I'd been asked in the past to play in the event, but it always occurred during the main event of the WSOP. Well, this year they moved the golf tournament back so I happily accepted the invite.

Christian and I arrived early so we could get some practice rounds in at the course and get a feel for the distances since the ball travels a little further up in Tahoe. My first practice round was with Bill Laimbeer and Jack Wagner. Jack has won the tournament before and is a pretty good golfer, the only actor to ever win the event in it's 20 year history. I rode with Bill and he was a classy dude. He hits the ball a mile, I swear he hits a 3 wood over 300 yards it was nuts! He is a big man though.

Having played a few consecutive days in Vegas I was playing pretty well and shot 86. Not too shabby. The next day Jack invited me to play again with his son and Mike Modano, another really good golfer. I played well again, but not quite as good and shot 89. After the round I attended the players meeting and was seated next to a pretty sick group of hockey players, Jeremy Roenick, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull.

That night after golf was super fun. I hung out with loads of guys I grew up watching: David Wells, Dave Stieb who lives out there, Alfonso Ribiero, Joe Carter and many others. By the end of the party I ended up hanging with two other rookies in the even A.J. Hawk and Shane Battier. We all headed to see Dennis Miller perform live, and then after the show we all headed to the bar for a tradition of sorts, karaoke sports stars, lol. Seriously.

There is a guy up there singing and playing piano, and up go Richard Dent, Marcus Allen, and Alfonso Ribiero to entertain the audience. Alfonso can sing AND dance so it was actually pretty good. Eventually more of the guys went up on stage, all waiting for the main man to get there- Charles Barkley. Every year Barkley goes up there, buys a case of beers and hands them out to the crowd, then he pours Tequila shots for the crowd.

Charles pulled me up on stage and cleared the floor for me. He wanted to see my "white boy" moves, so broke it down a little bit, lol. Oh my, if I wasn't a bit tipsy I would have been SO embarrassed. I drew the line when he handed me the mic and asked me to rap for the crowd.

I ended up at the bar till pretty late, me Christian and Jerome Bettis. What a super cool guy Jerome is. We talked golf mostly, Jerome has the "bug" like I got and is trying hard to get better.

The next day was the celebrity pro-am and I was paired with a group of high handicappers. In fact, I was the best golfer in the fivesome and I knew that didn't bode well for us! I was hung over, and learned a valuable lesson that day. Walking 18 holes in the heat with a hang over= a bad idea! On hole three, breathing heavily, I asked Chrstian, "How many holes we have left?" I did not play well, but that night got to bed a little earlier.

The tournament started on Friday and I was paired with Jason Kidd and Chuck Lidell. Chuck just started playing like a month before the event- and it showed. The worst score you can get is -36 and he scored exactly that! The format for the tournament was a modified stableford:

Eagle: 6 points
Birdie: 3 points
Par: 1 point
Bogey: 0 points
Double or worse: -2 points

My goal going into the event was to score 0 or better. On the very first tee, after the introduction, it was my turn to hit. Right before I hit my heart was beating so hard, I was SOOO nervous! Golfing in front of a gallery is way tougher than you'd think. Nonetheless I hit the fairway.

I ended day 1 shooting 89, 4 double bogeys (-8), 5 pars (+5), and 9 bogeys (0) for a -3 total on day one. Could have been worse, could have been better, but it was a decent start.

On day two I had the best time ever. Day two you get paired with guys who are close to you in score, so I was paired with ex-NFL head coach Herm Edwards and actor Bruce McGill. You might not know his name, but I guarantee you know his face and have seen him in a movie. He played Walter Hagen in Legend of Bagger Vance and was also D-Day from Animal House. Great guys, we had a lot of fun. I also shot the lights out!

On hole 11 (we started on 10) I hit the two best shots I hit all tournament. A driver, 5 wood just long and on the fringe. I had a long putt and drained it for birdie! Just like that I was back to 0.
It got better, on the back I made back to back birdies! I hadn't made a birdie all week and now made 3. The second one could have just as easily have been a double bogey. I hit a good drive, but had to carry water on the second shot. I hit 5 wood and hit behind it a little bit. It was headed for water, but barely hit the wood rail and kicked right towards the green. I chipped from just off the green and DOINK, it dropped! I ended the round shooting a ridiculous score: 82! 3 birdies (+9), 5 pars (+5), 7 bogeys (0),3 doubles (-6) for a +8 round! That got me to +5 for the tournament. I hit two greens all day and made three birdies, lol. I ended the day with 10 putts on the back 9, and 23 total putts. That's pretty darn good.

My last round, I was paired with Mike Eruzione, hero from the 1980 winter Olympics for the U.S. team, and the "Great One" Wayne Gretzky. I ended up having my worst round of the week, but luckily made two more birdies. I shot 90, having 6 double bogeys on the day and shooting a -4. Good enough for a +1 tournament, good enough for 67th place. very happy with that and I achieved my goal. Next year... I'm aiming higher. I want to crack the top 45 and score +24 points for the tourney.

I left that night, sharing a ride with Jonathan Ogden who also lives in Vegas. He had a rough week and didn't play well, so we talked golf the whole way there. Another very cool guy who I'm sure I'll golf with here in Vegas every once in a while.

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When I first accepted the invite, my main concern was feeling like I didn't belong there. These were real athletes and real celebrities, and I wasn't sure how my presence there would be received. I left the tournament a bit taken aback and surprised and how popular poker must be. I was also so pleasantly surprised to meet so many cool people out there, not prima donnas, just a fun group of guys who leave their ego at the door and look to have a fun week.

I told someone during the week how cool everyone was, and they explained to me why that is. If you act like a dick, you don't get invited back. I thought about what he said, and wondered how that compares to guys in the poker world. I genuinely feel like poker players act more like prima donna's then guys who are actually legitimate celebrities. Kind of strange.

Tweet of the week: Phil Ivey makes the final table of the WSOP main event and acts like a regular guy. Regular guys make the final table of the WSOP main event and act like they are Phil Ivey. LOL that made me laugh.

The organizers seemed happy to have me there and I hope I made a good impression, because I'd love to play in that event every year for the rest of my life! As a sports fan who loves to golf and compete, could there be a cooler event for me? I think not. I was so honored to be invited.

I'd love to have a "poker group" come out and play, but the number of poker players who golf, and are also high profile are kind of limited. Phil Ivey is a no-brainer and I told him he should come next year. I think a fun third would be Gus Hansen. Doyle Brunson was the first name that came to mind, but something tells me he might not love the idea of walking 18 holes four days in a row! Erick Lindgren would also be an obvious choice and I know he would absolutely love the atmosphere there. He's a huge sports fan and would be in heaven. Oh wait, I forgot one other one: Chris Moneymaker!

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Back in Vegas, and back to working out. I lost 6 pounds during the WSOP and plan on gaining the weight back. If I can hit the ball 250+ yards by next year I feel like I have a shot at a top 30 in the event. So, I'll be working on that, golfing, and also playing online some at PokerStars. I also need to work out my schedule for the next few months. I will be leaving for Toronto rather soon to go see my mother in the hospital (more on that another time). I FINALLY got my Green Card in the mail! That's a big help for me and opens me up to do some things I've always wanted to do...

Anyway, I'm going to go hit some balls upstairs and then play some poker online in a little while.

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