By RANDY YOUNGMAN
The So-Called Expert is taking a knee – in victory formation.
With one week left in the NFL regular season and in this contest, the SCE has built an insurmountable 10-game lead over the guest prognosticators in our inaugural edition of “NFL Pigskin Challenge” at calgolfnews.com.
And it somehow seems fitting that in a season-long contest dedicated to shining the spotlight on a number of memorable and forgettable golf feats, the final guest prognosticator is someone who was responsible for – and was an eyewitness to – a feat that has happened only once in the history of golf.
“You mean your hole-in-one?” Rick Mielke asked.
On July 28, 1994, it was Mielke, then a sports anchor for Orange County News Channel (OCN), who invited me to join him for a round of golf at Tijeras Creek Golf Club in Rancho Santa Margarita, along with his brother, Scott, and his father, Dick, a Michigan resident who was in town on vacation.
And all of them became wide-eyed witnesses when I aced No. 5, a scenic par-3 from an elevated teebox over a large lake, over flowers and mini-waterfalls, and finally over a rock wall onto an elevated green that was extremely sportswriter-friendly.
Playing from the white tees –hey, it was less than two years after my first lesson and I was a hack who couldn’t break 90 – I got lucky. Simple as that. All you need to know is that I was a 20-handicap using Ping knock-off irons and a rock-hard Top Flite ball when I knocked in a wedge. One bounce, and it disappeared.
“I still remember you turning around and giving me a high-five so hard that my hand hurt for a week,” Mielke recalled, laughing.
I still remember that day, too, because after the round (no, I didn’t break 90) I had to skip the obligatory 19th-hole celebration and rush off to nearby El Niguel Country Club in Laguna Niguel, for another 18 holes, after which I went to the Draft Choice Sports Grill to buy drinks.
Then I watched on the big screen as Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers pitched a no-hitter against the Angels. (That’s why it’ll always be easy to look up the date, if I forget.)
It was my first, and perhaps last, hole-in-one. And I owe it all to Mielke, eyewitness to history.
“And don’t ever forget that,” he said.
How could I? There’s a hole-in-one plaque on the wall in my home office, featuring a color photo of the hole, the scorecard (I shot 44 on the front nine, thanks to the “1”) and congratulatory autographs from then-club pros Doug Booth and Tim Walsh, then-course manager Billy Donovan and then-course owner Tony Moiso.
I also later moved into a condo overlooking the fifth hole at Tijeras and lived there nine years, just so I could walk onto my balcony and watch people try to match my feat. How’s that for self-absorbed? OK, and I still use an aceonno5 email address.
Now you know why Mielke, now 52, is getting the chance to challenge the So-Called Expert in Week 17.
Though he was born in Illinois, Mielke moved with his family to Southern California when he was in fourth grade. He grew up in Huntington Beach, went to Marina High (where he was class president in 1978), then to UCLA, then to journalism school at Northwestern in suburban Chicago.
His broadcasting career as a news and sports anchor spanned more than 30 years, including Southern California TV stints at OCN, KOCE and in San Diego. Now working as a financial advisor in Huntington Beach, Mielke remains an avid golfer and Chicago Bears fan.
Ready or not, it’s time for this week’s NFL picks, with a lot of golf balls on the line, as always. The So-Called Expert is working on an eight-week unbeaten streak, which takes the sting out of my career-worst 3-13 record in Week 3.
Here are my picks and comments, noting the four games on which Mielke and I disagree:
Oakland Raiders (4-11) at San Diego Chargers (6-9): Chargers. In what most believe will be Norv Turner’s last game as Chargers coach, it would be nice if his players sent him out a winner and spare him being booed off the field at game’s end.
Arizona Cardinals (5-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1): 49ers. Niners blew their chance for a first-round bye in blowout loss at Seattle last week, but they can win the division title by winning this one. And if Green Bay loses at Minnesota, 49ers would get the bye back.
Baltimore Ravens (10-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6): Bengals. Both teams have already clinched playoff berths, but Bengals want to prove they are a bona fide playoff contender so they want to send a message.
Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at Washington Redskins (9-6): Redskins. (Mielke picked Cowboys.) Game of the Week. Winner claims the NFC East and a playoff berth; loser likely misses playoffs, though there are longshot asterisks. I’ll go with Robert Griffin III to lead ’Skins to sixth consecutive victory.
Chicago Bears (9-6) at Detroit Lions (4-11): Bears. To avoid becoming the first team in NFL history to start 7-1 and still miss the playoffs, Bears have to win and have Vikings lose to Packers. Lions have lost seven in a row, which actually scares me.
Green Bay Packers (11-4) at Minnesota Vikings (9-6): Packers. (Mielke picked Vikings.) Green Bay can clinch first-round bye with a victory and help division-rival Bears. Adrian Peterson-powered Vikings can clinch a playoff spot with their fourth consecutive victory; AP also needs 102 yards to reach 2,000-yard milestone.
Houston Texans (12-3) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5): Colts. My Upset of the Week, and Mielke agrees. Despite being blown out in two of past three games, Texans can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning. Colts are locked into No. 5 seed, but I think they’ll be motivated by return of Coach Chuck Pagano. Did you know Texans are 0-10 all-time in Indianapolis?
Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) at New York Giants (8-7): Giants. Late-season nosedive has all but knocked the defending Super Bowl champs out of the playoffs, so we’ll see if they have heart. QB Michael Vick gets start for Eagles, because of injuries, in what likely will be his — and Coach Andy Reid’s — last game in Philly.
Miami Dolphins (7-8) at New England Patriots (11-4): Patriots. A Houston stumble could give victorious Patriots a first-round bye, but they have to be more concerned with declining performance in past two games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Atlanta Falcons (13-2): Falcons. (Mielke picked Buccaneers as his Upset of the Week.) Even though Bucs have lost five in a row, anything could happen in this one because Atlanta has wrapped up the No. 1 NFC playoff seed and likely will rest a lot of impact players.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) at Denver Broncos (12-3): Broncos. Two teams passing in opposite directions: Peyton Manning and Broncos have won 10 in a row and will clinch first-round bye by extending their streak; Chiefs can clinch the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft by rolling over, which they do very well.
Cleveland Browns (5-10) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8): Steelers. Pittsburgh, which has lost three in a row and five of past six to fall out of playoff contention, needs a season-ending victory to avoid its first losing season since 2003. Cleveland has injury problems at QB.
New York Jets (6-9) at Buffalo Bills (5-10): Bills. Flip a coin. It’s been a difficult and disappointing season for both teams, but heads likely will roll in Jetland if the season ends with a thud. Mark Sanchez back at QB for Jets. Will it be his last game in N.Y.?
Carolina Panthers (6-9) at New Orleans Saints (7-8): Saints. For a meaningless regular-season finale, it could be an entertaining offensive show with Drew Brees and Cam Newton filling the air with passes.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) at Tennessee Titans (5-10): Titans. (Mielke picked Jaguars.) Bowser of the Week. Can’t think of any reason to watch this game unless you’re a member of the opposing coaches’ families. Jacksonville’s Mike Mularkey and Tennessee’s Mike Munchak are both on the hot seat. Woof-woof.
St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5): Seahawks. Riding a four-game winning streak during which they are averaging more than 40 points a game, Seattle is undefeated at home and might be the most feared team heading into the playoffs. Rams defense will be a good pre-playoff test.
Last week: Gary Moorhead, wrong-hole ace author, 9-7; So-Called Expert 11-5.
Season totals: Guest prognosticators 140-99-1, SCE 150-89-1.
Football Pool and Golf Ball Challenge winner: Joe Duffin 16-0! (Going into the final week of the regular season, Rick Baumgartner leads Dal Moncada by four games in the overall contest for the La Quinta Resort & Spa vacation.)