So-Called Expert takes on David Hill in this week’s NFL/Golf Ball Challenge

BY RANDY YOUNGMAN

This is one of my favorite golf stories of all time and the reason David Hill of Mission Viejo was chosen as the latest guest prognosticator in my weekly one-on-one NFL Pigskin Challenge in this space.

And I swear I didn’t know until I called him that Hill also is a native Chicagoan and lifelong Bears and Cubs fan, like a certain So-Called Expert/golf columnist. Honest.

Like me, he also graduated from a private Division III college in Illinois – he at Millikin University in Decatur and me at North Park University in Chicago, both schools in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. But none of that is relevant to the story he is about to tell.

His golf anecdote is so funny and so deliciously ironic that it needs a name. We’ll call it “The Ping with a Sting.”

The story begins in the mid-1990s – Hill thinks it was 1995 or 1996 – when he traveled to the Fitting Center at Ping headquarters in Phoenix so he could be custom-fitted for his new set of Ping Eye 2 clubs.

At the time, he was a 25-handicapper who teed it up about once a month, usually for business purposes, but he was confident his new sticks would improve his game and eager to take them out for a test drive on the course.

Soon thereafter, Hill – a regional vice president at a Southern California company that manufactures commercial carpeting and flooring –got his chance when business associate Randall Thorn suggested they take some customers out to play at Old Ranch Country Club in Seal Beach.

Several holes into their round, the adventure began.

“I don’t recall the exact hole, but from where we were teeing off, there was a green from another hole about 75 yards away and about 90 degrees to the right,” Hill said, setting the scene for a shot he’ll never forget.

“My three partners, all low handicappers, proceed to hit nice drives down the middle, and then I step up to the tee,” he continued. “I tee off with my lightning-quick swing and hit a low missile 90 degrees to the right – almost backward – directly at the other green.”

With his hosel rocket heading toward a foursome on the putting surface, his partners yell “Fore!” just in time.

“The four senior citizens on the green all squat down and cover their heads as my ball whistles over their heads,” Hill recalled. “As you can expect, I’m on the teebox very embarrassed, dumbfounded and frustrated that I just embarrassed myself in front of key customers and nearly killed some old guys out for their weekly game.”

Oh, well, it could have been worse.

“We all wave and apologize, and I decide to reload,” Hill said.

You can probably guess where this is going.

“This time, with all my emotions running sky-high, I grip the club even tighter and swing even harder – and proceeded to hit the exact same shot, only this one is lower,” Hill said. “My partners all yelled ‘Fore!’ again, and the old guys squatted again and covered their heads.

“This time the missile hits the fringe in front of the green and bounces up and hits one guy in the ‘family jewels.’ He goes down like a deer hit by a rifle shot and his partners gather around him.”

Standing “speechless and bewildered” on the teebox, Hill decides “to do the right thing” and run over to apologize and face the music and the inevitable backlash.

When Hill arrives, his 80-something victim is still on the ground, moaning.

“He couldn’t yell at me, because he was curled up in the fetal position and grabbing his groin area,” Hill said. “I thought his buddies would scream at me, too, but they were too busy laughing and telling him to get up so that they could finish the round.”

Apparently, there is no crying in baseball or in golf, either.

“Once my victim makes it to his feet about five minutes later, he informs me that I will be buying the drinks for the group at the 19th hole,” Hill said. “I gladly agree and walk back to join my foursome – they’re 200 yards down the fairway pretending not to know me – with my tail between my legs.”

The story gets better.

Upon rejoining his playing partners, Thorn – the Old Ranch member – asks Hill if he has any idea whom he nearly neutered.

Hill shakes his head.

“That was Karsten, Mr. Ping,” Thorn said.

Yes, it was Karsten Solheim, founder of Karsten Manufacturing Corp. and the creator of Ping golf clubs, the brand Hill was using.

Born in Norway, Solheim moved to the U.S. with his family at age 2 and later became an engineer. He used his engineering skills to design golf clubs and became the first to develop perimeter-weighted irons, a concept that distributed the weight of the irons to the outer edges, increasing the sweet spot and allowing more room for error.

Well, obviously not enough room for Hill’s errors off the tee, as Solheim learned the painful way that day at Old Ranch CC. Which is why Hill wound up buying drinks for a self-made multimillionaire who once made Forbes’ list of the 400 richest people in the country and after whom the Solheim Cup was named.

The irony, of course, did not escape Hill.

“I hit him using a set of his own clubs,” Hill said. “Funny thing is, years later I found out I was fitted incorrectly for those clubs. So I guess he got what he deserved. ”

The Ping with a Sting.

Hill was just joking about his most embarrassing moment on the golf course. And only a few years after his chance meeting with the golf icon at Old Ranch, Solheim died in 2000, at age 88. The cause was reported as complications from Parkinson’s disease. So Hill is off the hook.

Ready or not, it’s time for this week’s NFL predictions, with a lot of golf balls on the line, as always. For what it’s worth, Hill and I also have a round of golf riding on the outcome.

“Don’t worry, as long as you’re standing behind me, you’ll be fine,” he said, laughing.

Here are my picks and comments, noting the five games on which Hill and I disagree:

THURSDAY

New Orleans Saints (5-6) at Atlanta Falcons (10-1): Falcons. Atlanta pulled out a one-point victory against Tampa Bay last week, its seventh by seven points or fewer this season, so I’m not going to pick against Falcons two weeks in a row.

SUNDAY

Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) at San Diego Chargers (4-7): Chargers. (Hill picked Bengals.) Did Norv Turner’s team really blow a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter by failing to stop a 4th-and-29 play against the Ravens? Why am I picking them to win? I must be mad, but not as mad as Chargers fans.

San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1) at St. Louis Rams (4-6-1): 49ers. Yes, I know these teams tied in first meeting at Candlestick, but at the moment I think the Niners are the best team in the NFL. Sorry, Texans and Falcons.

Cleveland Browns (3-8) at Oakland Raiders (3-8): Browns. (Hill picked Raiders.) Bowser of the Week. Flip a coin. Two bad teams, but I’m picking the team on a one-game winning streak instead of the four-game losing streak. Woof-woof.

Seattle Seahawks (6-5) at Chicago Bears (8-3): Bears. Chicago suffered several key injuries last week, but Seattle is 1-5 on the road. Tough to go against that trend.

Minnesota Vikings (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-4): Packers. Green Bay was manhandled by Giants last week, but Vikings are in a 1-3 tailspin.

Arizona Cardinals (4-7) at New York Jets (4-7): Jets. Forget their identical record. Arizona has lost seven in a row since a 4-0 start. Enough said.

Carolina Panthers (3-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-10): Chiefs. My Upset of the Week. (Hill picked Panthers.) Can’t believe I’m picking a 1-10 team to win. Of course, I picked a 1-9 Jacksonville team to win last week and lived to tell about it. Normally, I always go against team that played Monday night and has to travel to its next opponent.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) at Buffalo Bills (4-7): Bills. In Week 11, cold-weather Bills beat the warm-weather Dolphins, so I’ll also give them the nod against the warm-weather Jaguars.

New England Patriots (8-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-6): Patriots. Do you remember when the Patriots were 2-3? Unfortunately, I don’t either.

Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Detroit Lions (4-7): Lions. (Hill picked Colts as his Upset of the Week.) Call me stubborn. I picked the Lions to upset the Texans on Turkey Day and would have been right if Jim Schwartz had kept his red flag in his pocket or if Lions kicker Jason Hanson hadn’t hit the upright in overtime.

Houston Texans (10-1) at Tennessee Titans (4-7): Texans. Houston wins all of the close ones, but I don’t think Texans will go very far in the playoffs with a defense that gave up 31 and 37 points to Detroit and Jacksonville past two games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) at Denver Broncos (8-3): Broncos. Granted, Bucs are the NFL’s best 6-5 team, but Peyton Manning is having another MVP-type season in his first season with Denver. The Hall of Fame awaits.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2): Ravens. Word is that there’s a 50-50 chance that injured Steelers QB returns, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ravens haven’t lost at home since 2010.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-8) at Dallas Cowboys (5-6): Cowboys. Eagles have lost seven in a row, which means Andy Reid is an endangered coaching species. How in the world did Philly beat Ravens and Giants early in the season?

MONDAY

New York Giants (7-4) at Washington Redskins (5-6): Redskins. (Hill picked Giants.) Why is this game a pick ’em? Because of one man: Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III.

     Last week: Carl Cain, putter extraordinaire, 9-7; So-Called Expert 9-7.

     Season totals: Guest prognosticators 103-72-1; SCE 108-67-1.

     Football Pool and Golf Ball Challenge winner: Ramon Roxas 14-2. (He won tiebreaker with Matthew Schlosberg in random drawing).

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