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Posted at 03:23 PM ET, 10/11/2006

Professional Soccer Player Plays Fast and Loose With Mini Golf Rules

Here's the thing about covering a mini-golf tournament: you get a workout. Especially when the tournament is at Top Golf's Mountain Course, and you're trekking around the hilly terrain trying to keep track of the leaderboard without much help at all from tournament officials. If there's one thing I learned from being a sports reporter, it's that the lazy mini-golf reporters just stay in the clubhouse and get the automatic updates fed to them while sampling from the media buffet, but the best reporters get out there on the course to get a feel for what's going on. Anyhow, here's what you need to know about last night's D.C. United event.

1) A bunch of United players visit Top Golf once a week for mini-golfing fun. The winner receives nothing, but the loser gets punished. Various punishments have included having to show up for future mini-golf events in a suit, in a United jersey, dressed as a softball coach, in a poncho, and toting MLS trading cards while offering them to young ladies as business cards.

2) This weekly game made it a bit easier to handicap the field. Ryan McIntosh and Devon McTavish were installed as 3-to-1 favorites, Esky declared himself the clear frontrunner and United senior VP Stephen Zack decided he was "gonna go with the Cosmo Man," that being Bobby Boswell, under the theory that BB was on such a high from the magazine publicity that he would putt straight and true.

3) But it turns out that the actual event was sort of disorganized. The golf started about an hour late, and you had to form your own four-some or five-some with no regard for handicaps, and no one really knew if it was a best ball or an alternate shot format or what (confused mini-golfers were asking me the rules). Plus, there was no shotgun start, so about 10 groups tried to tee off from No. 1, and others randomly scattered throughout the course, and there were major delays on virtually every tee box. This is why you don't want to involve too much alcohol when you're planning your mini-golf events. Although, frankly, the media seemed to be the only people (person) complaining.

4) Plus, no one was really keeping track of the scores in a formal way, and so if I wanted to know which United player was going to finish with the best total, I was going to have to do some actual reporting. Hence, the trekking about the various mountains of the Mountain Course.

5) Needless to say, Esky showed up late. And needless to say, the entire team was decked out in snazzy United shirts, except Esky, who had a New York Mets t-shirt on.

"I've got to keep it real man, I've got to represent Jersey," he said. "I should have worn my headgear."

6) No. 3, the signature hole of the Mountain Course, has two options. You can swing your ball on a hard dogleg right, avoid the tree box on the downslope and try to send your ball into one of those false-holes, down a tube, and to the real green below. This is what Esky did, and he scored something like a 5 or a 6.

7) Or, you can deliberately bank your ball hard to the right, pre-dogleg, and into the clear mountain stream, where your ball will hopefully avoid various rocks and pebbles and eventually be funneled into a different tube and directly onto the real green. This is also what Esky did, after he decided his first time through the hole didn't really count.

"My team and I, together we decided that would be the best thing for us," Esky explained.

"He's from Jersey," mini-golf teammate Paul Sotoudeh said. "You don't argue with guys from Jersey."

8) Of course, if the pebbles stop your ball in the stream, you'll have to whack it a few times to get it all the way down. (While helping a teammate rescue her ball from the stream, Esky--who has been hampered by a knee injury--was climbing about the rocky terrain. "Esky, be careful, you've got to watch your legs and [stuff]," another mini-golfer said, which is probably something the Redskins don't hear too often from their fans.)

Anyhow, if you're Esky, none of that really counts, and somehow you leave the third green with a 2 on your scorecard after making contact with the golf ball at least nine or 10 times.

9) Matt Nickell, waiting on the fourth green, saw all of this transpire and was as incredulous as I was.

"You gave yourself a 2 on that last hole?" he kept asking. "You gave yourself a 2?"

"Don't be jealous," Esky said.

"Are you calling us liars," mini-golf teammate Kim Klyberg asked Nickell?

"Absolutely," Nickell said.

"You'll fold in the end," Esky told him. "I'm not even worried about that, you always fold in the end."

"I do, I do," Nickell said. "I get a little flustered."

10) But Nickell began asking Esky whether he'd really be able to sleep at night

after such blatant disregard for golf's sacred rules, so Esky took it upon himself to ruin Nickell, and he did, heckling him all through No. 5, until Nickell, unstable chap that he is, carded a 6.

"I buckled," Nickell admitted. "Big-time."

"Typical," Esky told midfielder Josh Gros. "A little bit of pressure, he cracks."

11) So now Nickell was sort of irritated, and on No. 6, he attempted to heckle Esky back.

"No worries my friend," Esky said. "I like that sort of pressure."

"Es-ky, Es-ky, Es-ky" his teammates chanted.

"I like that type of support; I'm nothing without my teammates," Esky said.

"We're not athletes, we're athletic supporters," mini-golf teammate Kim Klyberg said.

"It's not an easy hole, I'll admit it, but big players come through in big-time situations," Esky said, and then hit his tee shot within two feet of the cup.

"You've got to be kidding me," Matt Nickell said, clearly distraught. "You are the luckiest player in the world."

"You create your own luck," Esky said.

"Here's to you, Eskandarian; D.C. loves you more than you will know," his teammates sang, to the tune of "Mrs. Robinson."

12) Soon after, Nickell completely flubbed a tee shot, as Jaime Moreno looked on.

"Oh, Matty, Matty," Moreno said sadly. "You're terrible."

13) Word began to spread that Esky's score might be a little, um, off. Ok, I began to spread that word.

"Make sure you put in there that he's cheating," Bobby Boswell said.

So the heckling of Esky increased. Some little kids started heckling him, too.

"When you're on top, everyone's always trying to bring you down," a forlorn Esky said. "It's lonely at the top. Somehow, I find a way to persevere."

14) Around this point, I ducked into the clubhouse to eat some nachos. When I emerged, Nickell had dropped something like 15 strokes behind Esky. I mean, you felt for the kid. Someone just got in his head and planted a few insults and rattled things around, and the player that emerged on the other side couldn't have hit Ralph Friedgen with a beach ball. Now I understand what it must have been like to watch Phil Mickelson on No. 18 at Winged Foot.

"He asked me politely to stop [heckling him] so I did," Esky said. "I felt bad for him. It's so funny."

15) But who was gonna win? McIntosh, who used to shoot in the low 70s on real golf courses, was a complete stickler for the rules, taking himself out of contention. McTavish hadn't had his best round. Boswell thought he was leading, but he was only counting his front-nine score.

So my on-course calculations had the field being paired to Esky and dark horse Justin Moose, with Esky one shot ahead and two holes to go. As the crowd began to swell, Esky gagged his way to a 5 on No. 17, opening the door for Moose, who drained a seven-footer through the fake sand to card a 3 and seize control.

"I folded," Esky said. "I'm not gonna lie."

16) The rest was anti-climax. Esky bumbled his way to a 5 on No. 18, and Moose calmly made 4 to win by two strokes, and the gallery went nuts, and fans shouted "Go Back to Jersey!" at Esky, and Moose did some sort of non-graceful homage to Chi Chi Rodriguez with his putter.

"I've got to hand it to him," Esky said. "I didn't have the best last hole, and I paid the price for it."

17) But it turns out that I missed the final putt with my video camera, since I was too busy panning the crowd for some "setting the stage" shots.

"Who would want to watch this anyhow?" I asked.

"I would," Moose said. "I'll watch it every day."

Which would pad my readership, if nothing else.

By  |  03:23 PM ET, 10/11/2006

Categories:  D.C. United

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