Golfing with Manu-el Diablo
By Michael Mastarciyan
When your list of ski buddies includes one of the best downhill racers in the world, I think it's understandable that one may feel a tad bit self-conscious about one's skiing ability and overall athleticism.
That's why, when Manuel Osborne-Paradis announced to me two years ago that he was taking up golf, my eyes lit up at the possibility of out-performing him in a sport that I clearly had an experiential advantage in (I'd been golfing for 15 years - he'd been golfing for no years).
My opportunity to regain some sense of sporting self-esteem in the face of Osborne-Paradis' gargantuan, natural athletic prowess came in early June when the friendly racer from British Columbia invited me to meet him for a round of golf at one of Canada's toughest and most famous golf courses - The National Golf Club of Canada just outside Toronto.
"I love golf and the challenge involved in trying to master a new sport," Osborne-Paradis told me as we drove out to meet some of his colleagues from Callaway Golf who were going to round out our golfing foursome.
Osborne-Paradis' new-found obsession - and believe me he now has golf in his blood - has been on the upswing ever since joining Callaway as athlete ambassador for their new Diablo brand earlier this year.
"I started golfing about two years ago and I immediately became an addict. I think it helps that I'm picking it up quite fast. There's nothing better than hitting a perfect drive or draining a super long putt, I think that's where the addiction to the sport comes in - you make a great shot and you are hooked and want more!" Osborne-Paradis said.
Despite only taking the sport up two years ago, Osborne-Paradis' average score is in the 80s - which is a spectacular accomplishment as a huge majority of recreational golfers rarely shoot scores lower than 100. On this day though, I was hoping this scoring claim was just that - a claim built on pure fabrication and Manny-hype as many golfers are known to tell tall tales about their scores - and truth be told - I rarely break 100 myself.
After pulling up to The National's majestic club house and dropping off our clubs, Osborne-Paradis' suggested we hit the driving range before cruising by the chipping and putting greens before the beginning of our round.
As soon as I saw him swing I knew my self esteem was going to take a beating after our 18 holes together.
To put it plainly - this guy is good!
Not as good as when he's ripping down an icy downhill run at the Lauberhorn or in Lake Louise - but in terms of recreational golf - for a guy who's only been swinging clubs for two years - he's a prodigy.
Once the warm up period was over and the realization that my dreams of crushing the World Cup's fourth fastest downhill racer last season on the fairways and golf greens would not be realized, we walked over to meet Preben Ganzhorn and Brent Mallard - Osborne-Paradis's Callaway colleagues and golf gurus.
After watching Ganzhorn and Mallard hit a few practice chips and drain a few 15 foot putts - it became clear to me who the worst golfer in this foursome was going to be - me!
"Manny is an incredible skier and a great all-round athlete with a very magnetic personality - the perfect combination for a Callaway ambassador. I don't think he'll be beating Phil Mickelson this year, but his golf skills are amazing in relation to the number of years he's been playing. I really think with a little more work on a few things he'll be shooting in the 70s - which would be the Holy Grail for any golfer I think," Ganzhorn told me as we walked to check in with the starter.
After a blistering drive off the first tee, it became quickly apparent that Osborne-Paradis' game was as good on the course as it is on the practice range.
With every subsequent monster drive Osborne-Paradis spun his head around in a manner not unlike the one Linda Blair made famous in the 1970's horror classic The Exorcist, and flashed me a devilishly gleeful grin. In fairness though, it wasn't gloating - just the pure joy an athlete exudes when he reaches the heights of sporting accomplishment.
After one particular blast that rolled a good 300-plus yards, I told Osborne-Paradis that I was going to nickname him "El Diablo" partly to honour the Callaway golf clubs he'd obviously mastered and also because it sounded like a good moniker for a Canadian Cowboy with a Spanish first name.
"Hmmmm, Manuel ‘El Diablo' Osborne-Paradis. I don't know if it'll catch on. Sounds more like Mexican wrestler than a skier or golfer. And I wouldn't want anyone to think I've sold my soul for success in golf or ski racing," he responded with a grin.
Four and a half hours later we finish up a wonderful round with the customary hat tipping and handshaking gentleman golfers make on the 18th green - and I scratched golf off my list of potential sports I hope to out-perform Osborne-Paradis in, my athletic self-esteem still mired in a Manny-induced emotional crater.