BY RANDY YOUNGMAN
The stories keep getting better and better – make that more and more horrifying — as the NFL season progresses and my weekly one-on-one “Pigskin Challenge” continues.
We have already chronicled the plight of a CPA who lost $2,048 on a 25-cent bet, a golfer who was nicknamed “Blackjack” after making a 21 on the next-to-last hole of a two-man team event he should have won, a 6-handicapper who made an 18 on No. 18, a hacker who entertained a wedding reception by hitting ball after ball in the water near the festivities, as well as a golfer on a business outing whose errant tee shot struck famed golf club designer Karstein Solheim in the family jewels.
Suffice to say, this anecdote tops all of those and epitomizes a sport that can go from exhilarating to infuriating to humiliating in a matter of moments.
The protagonist in this story is John Ashkarian, a Huntington Beach businessman and then-golfaholic who was enjoying a career round in the mid-1990s when he arrived at the 18th hole at Meadowlark Golf Club in Surf City.
Ashkarian was even-par on the par-70 layout when he stuck his tee in the ground on Meadowlark’s relatively short finishing hole (491 yards from the blue tees), a par-5 reachable in two if you hit a solid drive down the left side of the fairway — away from the water hazard hugging the right side of the hole.
Naturally, John knew what was on his scorecard and bragged to his cousins, his playing partners that day, that if he finished with a par it would easily be his best score ever.
The golf gods must have overheard him.
“I hit my driver down the middle, maybe faded it a little, and the ball stopped about 10 yards from the lake (on the right),” Ashkarian recalled.
He had about 250 yards to the green. Good start.
“The angel on my right shoulder told me to lay up and go home with a 70,” he said. “Unfortunately, the devil on my left shoulder insulted my manhood, and I decided to go for the green.”
The shortest and most direct path to the green required a long carry over the water.
You can guess what happened. He calls it his “Tin Cup” moment. And now he has something in common with Roy McAvoy of movie fame.
“Only a moron would try to do what I did,” he said. “If I was smart, I would have laid up to the left and made my par.”
But that wouldn’t have made a memorable (or forgettable) golf story.
So Ashkarian pulled out his 3-wood and went for the green.
Then he dropped another ball and tried again.
Rinse and repeat. Again and again and again.
It took John five 3-woods (and four penalty strokes) to finally reach the green, and then he 3-putted for what he called “a glorious lucky 13” to finish his round at 78.
Hey, not many guys can make a 13 on the final hole and still break 80.
But for some reason, John wasn’t thinking about silver linings.
“I wasn’t raging or cursing or anything,” he recalled, “but obviously I was frustrated.”
So he “calmly” pushed his cart to the edge of the greenside water hazard, “picked it up and heaved it as far as I could.”
His clubs, matching bag and custom push cart made a very big splash.
As his cousins were rolling around on the ground laughing uncontrollably, Ashkarian realized he had made another blunder.
“I realized in mid-air that my wallet and cell phone were in my bag,” he said. “ ‘Oh, John, you idiot.’ ”
So he waded into the water to retrieve them?
“No way was I going to punish myself even more,” he said. “I canceled my credit cards and bought a new cell phone.”
Great story, but it doesn’t end there. After Ashkarian went out and bought a new set of Cleveland irons, he returned to Meadowlark three or four weeks later for revenge.
He was playing well again, but when he got to No. 18 — the scene of his crime — he blew up again. This time he made a 14. And, no, he didn’t break 80. But he was angry enough to break something.
This time he didn’t throw his clubs in the lake.
“I went to the parking lot and dumped them in the trash can,” he said.
And as he stormed to his car, he saw some kids trying to fish his clubs out of the trash.
“I ran back and screamed at them, and they were terrified,” he said. “I told them to wait until I left the parking lot; then they could do whatever they wanted.”
And the story gets better – or worse, depending on your perspective.
“I didn’t play golf again for 15 years,” Ashkarian said.
Part of the reason for the long layoff was his frustration with the game and another part was he had to take over the family business – a food service manufacturing company – after his father’s death.
Three years ago, Ashkarian decided to start playing golf again. He had to.
“I love golf,” he said. “I breathe golf. I started going to the range three or four times a week.”
And about a year ago, he went back to Meadowlark. He had to.
“I shot an 83,” he said. “Not bad.”
And what happened on No. 18?
“Made a 7,” he said, “I’ll take it.”
And now you know why Ashkarian, now 47 and working in property management, was chosen as this week’s guest prognosticator and will be the latest to challenge the So-Called Expert.
He was born in Inglewood, grew up in Los Alamitos and went to Los Alamitos High, where he played on the tennis team. His father’s favorite NFL team was the Miami Dolphins, so it’s always been his favorite team, too.
After a recent bout of elbow tendinitis, his doctor has cleared him to return to the golf course. He can’t wait. Like a lot of us, he’s hooked. Unlike a lot of us, his old sets of clubs don’t sit in his garage.
Ready or not, it’s time for this week’s NFL predictions, with a lot of golf balls on the line, as always. (If you haven’t been paying attention, the So-Called Expert hasn’t lost since Week 8.)
Here are my picks and comments, noting the seven games on which Ashkarian and I disagree:
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-9): Bengals. Eagles finally ended their eight-game losing streak last week by scoring two TDs in the final four minutes against Tampa Bay, but that was an aberration until proven otherwise.
Carolina Panthers (4-9) at San Diego Chargers (5-8): Chargers. Still can’t figure out how Chargers won at Pittsburgh last week, but Panthers are 2-4 on the road and one was against hapless Eagles.
San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) at New England Patriots (10-3): Patriots. Game of the Week. Patriots blew out Texans in potential AFC title game preview; now they take on 49ers in potential Super Bowl matchup. All you need to know: Pats are 21-1 at home in December since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) at Oakland Raiders (3-10): Raiders. Bowser of the Week. Last place in the AFC Worst is on the line, so it’s hard to pick either team. Flip a coin. Woof-woof.
Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5): Packers. (Ashkarian picked Bears.) Bears need it to keep division title hopes alive, but injuries to key players are starting to mount, including QB Jay Cutler, K Robbie Gould and LB Brian Urlacher. Pack clinches division with a victory.
New York Giants (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (11-2): Falcons. (Ashkarian picked Giants.) Yes, I realize Carolina took it to Atlanta last week, but Falcons are 6-0 at home. Giants will be motivated, though, because Dallas and Washington are lurking one game behind in division.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) at New Orleans Saints (5-8): Saints. Both teams have lost three in a row to pretty much fall out of the playoff picture. That last-second loss to Philly last week was a killer for Bucs.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (6-6-1): Rams. (Ashkarian picked Vikings.) Rams have won three in a row, including an upset against 49ers and a rare road win, and are getting better every week. Vikings still in playoff chase, but they are 1-5 on the road.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Miami Dolphins (5-8): Dolphins. Two last-place Florida teams go helmet to helmet. Yawn. Jacksonville needs to lose to keep pace with Kansas City in two-team race for the first pick in the NFL draft.
Washington Redskins (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-8): Browns. My Upset of the Week. (Ashkarian picked Redskins.) Redskins have won four in a row to get in playoff contention, but rookie QB Robert Griffin III sprained a knee ligament last week and might not play. Browns are riding a three-game winning streak, their first since 2009, and actually have a winning record at home: 4-3.
Buffalo Bills (5-8) vs. Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at Toronto: Seahawks. Believe it or not, Seahawks still have a chance to catch and pass 49ers in the NFC West. If Niners lose to Patriots and Seahawks win this one, Pete Carroll could get revenge against Jim Harbaugh from their USC-Stanford college rivalry in Dec. 23 showdown in Seattle with division title on the line.
Denver Broncos (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (9-4): Ravens. (Ashkarian picked Broncos.) I hate to pick against Peyton Manning and surging Broncos, especially on an eight-game winning streak, but underdog Ravens have lost only one game at home in past 2-plus seasons.
Detroit Lions (4-9) at Arizona Cardinals (4-9): Lions. This is the Loser Bowl. Detroit has lost five in a row and Arizona has lost nine in a row since a miraculous 4-0 start. Lions by default.
Indianapolis Colts (9-4) at Houston Texans (11-2): Texans. (Ashkarian picked Colts as his Upset of the Week.) I expect Texans to bounce back from humiliating loss at New England on Monday night, but they shouldn’t be favored by 9 ½ points over a Colts team that has won seven of past eight. If Colts win, they clinch at least a wild-card berth – not bad for a team that won two games last season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6): Cowboys. (Ashkarian picked Steelers.) Both teams probably need to win out to make the playoffs, so anything could happen. Steelers have lost three of past four; that’s why I’m picking against them.
New York Jets (6-7) at Tennessee Titans (4-9): Titans. Both teams have been mediocre home and away. Though Jets have won two in a row to temporarily halt the tabloid-bashing in the Big Apple I’m picking Tennessee solely on home-field advantage in a nationally televised game.
Last week: Jim Fuchs, accountant with the secret to great golf, 9-7; So-Called Expert 10-6.
Season totals: Guest prognosticators 122-85-1, SCE 129-78-1
Football Pool and Golf Ball Challenge winner: Rick Baumgartner 13-3. With three weeks to play, he also leads overall contest in race for the La Quinta Resort & Spa vacation.