Youngman takes on sports agent Larry O’Brien in the NFL/Golf Ball Challenge

By Randy Youngman

Nicknames acquired on the golf course usually stick, such as last week’s guest prognosticator, Rick “Blackjack” Lancaster, an Irvine insurance agent who got his after making a 21 on the penultimate hole of a three-day tournament that cost he and his partner the title.

I also have a golf buddy named Mike who still answers to “Champ,” simply because he won back-to-back club championships many, many years ago. (Maybe I should start calling him “Jethro Tull,” for living in the past.)

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite professional golf nicknames, in addition to “The King,” “The Golden Bear” and “The Great White Shark”:

* Woody “Aquaman” Austin, who will forever be remembered for falling in a water hazard after losing his balance during the 2007 Presidents Cup.

* Tony “Champagne” Lima, who delivered the bubbly to the media after promising he would pop the corks if he won the 1962 Orange County Open at Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa.

* Freddie “Boom Boom” Couples, he of the monstrous tee shots for which he became known early in his career.

* Loren “Boss of the Moss” Roberts, for reasons as obvious as his silky and money-making putting stroke.

* “Slammin’ ” Sammy Snead, whose smooth swing generated prodigious power.

* Craig “The Walrus” Stadler, whose bulky shape, jowls and moustache are reminiscent of a certain sea animal.

But my all-time favorite golf nickname is one that was inspired by a golf bet in Orange County.

A few years ago at El Niguel Country Club in Laguna Niguel, Larry O’Brien and fellow member Frank Punelli played a $20 Nassau on the back nine that turned into a runaway.

“I knew I kicked his butt, but I didn’t know how bad it was,” O’Brien recalled, adding that fellow member Mike Scott – a former Cy Young winner for the Houston Astros – had been keeping track of the bets and scores in a group that also included former major league knuckleballer Charlie Hough.

“On the way back to the clubhouse, Mike said, ‘Hey, OB, did you know you beat him on every hole on the back?”

(Yes, “OB” is a golf nickname you wouldn’t want to have, but that isn’t the one this column is about.)

For the record, O’Brien and Punelli had played automatic two-down presses, meaning every time a player went up by two holes, a new match started.

For example, after winning the first two holes, O’Brien was 2-up in the match, so another match (or press) started on the third hole. When he won the next hole, he was up 3 and 1. After winning the fourth hole, he was up 4 and 2 and another press began on the fifth hole.

You get the idea. It’s simple arithmetic progression. So by winning every hole on the back nine, O’Brien won his original match-play wager and all four subsequent presses.

On paper, the damage looked like this: 9-7-5-3-1.

Just to rub it in, when they got to the men’s grill, O’Brien and Scott plotted to embarrass Punelli, with Larry yelling across the crowded room, “Hey, Mike, how did Punelli and I do on the back nine?”

So Scott proceeds to read the card aloud, letting everyone in the room who was drinking, eating and playing cards know that O’Brien had won No. 10, No. 11, No. 12 . . . and No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15 . . . and — would you believe? — No. 16, No. 17 and No. 18, too.

“OB, you beat Frank 9-7-5-3-1 on the Nassau,” Scott announced.

That’s when Al Thiel, an attorney and another member at the club, yelled, “You Kerby’ed him!”

Say what?

“You won 9-7-5-3-1 – that’s the zip code for Kerby, Oregon,” Thiel said.

Sure enough, O’Brien looked it up: Kerby is an unincorporated community in Josephine County, Oregon. Population in the latest census: 400. Zip code: 97531.

And, as the late, great Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.

From that day on, many of the members at El Niguel began referring to Punelli as “Kerby” until the day he died.

I love that story, and it earned O’Brien the honor of challenging the So-Called Expert this week.

O’Brien, a longtime member at El Niguel, also is the founding partner in Laguna Hills-based Full Circle Sports Management (www.fullcirclesm.com), a firm that represents about 75 professional baseball players, including Angels pitcher Jerome Williams, Dodgers pitcher Ted Lilly and Detroit Tigers pitcher Phil Coke.

O’Brien grew up in Santa Monica, went to Cal State Northridge, got married in 1969 and moved into his current home near El Niguel in 1979.  He became a certified agent in 1982, the year his younger brother, Pete, made it to the majors with the Texas Rangers.

Even though baseball is his favorite sport, O’Brien was an avid Rams fan back when Roman Gabriel was their quarterback and later became friends with him. I’m hoping he doesn’t pay much attention to the NFL anymore.

For what it’s worth, the So-Called Expert won Week 9 decisively to move back ahead of the guest prognosticators by the slimmest of margins.

Ready or not, it’s time for this week’s NFL predictions, with a lot of golf balls on the line, as always. I just hoped I don’t get Kerby’ed.

Here are my picks and comments, noting the three games on which O’Brien and I disagree:

     Indianapolis Colts (5-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7): Colts. Was tempted to take Jaguars as my Upset of the Week in this Thursday night showdown until I saw they are 0-4 at home. One team has a promising future (thanks to rookie QB Andrew Luck) and one team is doomed to a half-filled stadium the rest of the season.

 San Diego Chargers (4-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4): Buccaneers. This is a monumental development: I’m picking against the Chargers for the first time this season – and it’s long overdue. Bucs have averaged 33 points in winning three of past four, including two road games.

Oakland Raiders (3-5) at Baltimore Ravens (6-2): Ravens. Only one AFC team has a better record than the Ravens, but they are so bruised and banged up that they are no longer a strong title contender. They still have enough weapons to handle Raiders, however.

St. Louis Rams (3-5) at San Francisco 49ers (6-2): 49ers. Rams have been more competitive of late, but moral victories are for Pop Warner teams. Niners will roll against NFC West doormat.

Detroit Lions (4-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4): Vikings. (O’Brien picked Lions.)  Granted, Vikings QB Christian Ponder has passed for fewer than 75 yards in two of the past three games, but I’m going with the home team in this NFC North rivalry.

Buffalo Bills (3-5) at New England Patriots (5-3): Patriots. Tom Brady & Co. were favored by 12 points at the start of the week. Only 12?

New York Giants (6-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-5): Giants. G-Men lost a game they should have won against Steelers last week, but this week they’ll finish off the Bungles, who have lost four in a row since a 3-1 start.

Denver Broncos (5-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-6): Broncos. Who said Peyton Manning’s best days were behind him? Denver’s only losses were to Houston, Atlanta and New England, who are a combined 20-4. By the way, I’m not apologizing for saying Robert Griffin III would win the battle and the war against Cam Newton last week.

Tennessee Titans (3-6) at Miami Dolphins (4-4): Dolphins. Miami is the team that has gotten the least out of its opportunities this season, with two overtime losses and a 3-pointer at Indy last week. Titans have given up an NFL-worst 308 points this season. Enough said.

Atlanta Falcons (8-0) at New Orleans Saints (3-5): Falcons. Can’t pick against the surging Falcons until they lose, especially against the NFL’s worst defense statistically. No, I wasn’t impressed with Saints’ victory over self-destructing Eagles on Monday night.

New York Jets (3-5) at Seattle Seahawks (5-4): Seahawks. (O’Brien picked Jets as his Upset of the Week.) All you need to know is that Seahawks are 4-0 at home, where their fans make so much noise opponents can’t hear themselves think.

Dallas Cowboys (3-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-5): Cowboys. Call this the Disappointment Bowl. Who thought both of these teams would be 3-5 at midseason? I’m done picking the Eagles, but for some reason I still think Dallas has a chance to make the playoffs.

Houston Texans (7-1) at Chicago Bears (7-1): Bears. (O’Brien picked Texans.) Game of the Week. This is also my Upset of the Week even though oddsmakers had Bears favored by one point at start of the week.  Most of the TV pundits don’t give the Bears a chance, but I believe. (OK, my fingers are crossed.)

Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3): Steelers. What a terrible Monday Night Football matchup. Make that mismatch.  I’ll find something else to watch on TV, like presidential debate reruns.

Byes this week: Arizona Cardinals (4-5), Cleveland Browns (2-7), Green Bay Packers (6-3), Washington Redskins (3-6).

Last week: Rick “Blackjack” Lancaster, Irvine insurance agent, 8-6 ; So-Called Expert 11-3.

Season totals: Guest prognosticators 76-56, So-Called Expert 77-55.

Football Pool and Golf Ball Challenge winner: Jonathan Lorden 13-1. (He won six-way tie in random drawing.)

Go to www.calgolfnews.com/challenge to make your picks today.

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