If you’ve visited our site over the past year, rest assured you’re in love with this often wonderful, sometimes weird, always interesting sport.
Nine Holes With … is a new feature here at PGN designed to pick the brains of some local folks who have fallen for golf. My first playing partner is Chris Mueller, afternoon host at our Pittsburgh’s lone FM sports talk station, 93-7 The Fan.
In addition to yakking alongside Andrew Fillipponi five days a week, Mueller is a big booster of the regional golf scene. He’s the founder of Golftoberfest, a light-hearted, beer-themed event every fall at Moon Golf Club, and you can reliably find him chasing his ball around local links.
On to the Q&A!
Matt Gajtka: What’s your golf origin story?
Chris Mueller: I don’t remember the exact impetus for me getting into the game — it probably had something to do with Tiger’s rise in the mid-1990s — but most of my earliest memories involve playing with my uncle in Ohio. He was the club champion at a semi-private course in suburban Cleveland four consecutive years (1994-1997, I think), and also had made it to the second round of the U.S. Mid-Amateur in his golfing past, and that got me hooked.
I was fortunate that soon after starting, I was able to use nice clubs, and had someone who really knew the game and knew the swing to sort of get me through that initial learning period. This was when I was around 12, and from then on, I’ve been hooked.
MG: Which course do you play the most, and why?
CM: I play Moon Golf Club the most, partly because it’s the closest course to my house, but partly because I also just like the vibe and the staff there, and the course is sneaky challenging despite being pretty short. You go there and Josh and his staff are great, and make you feel welcome. It’s exactly what the golf experience should be at every course, and that’s why I’ll always be a regular there.
MG: What’s kept you engaged in the game lately?
CM: The big thing that has kept me engaged in the game of late is the fact that I feel like I’m stumbling upon some real changes that will help me hit the ball much better, that will also actually stick. It’s easier than ever before to find decent instruction — there are people on YouTube and Instagram doing quality swing breakdowns — and then with smartphones being as advanced as they are, you can try to take those changes to the range and watch yourself on video.
That sort of feedback appeals to me; it demystifies the process of getting better, and probably makes it easier to make basic improvements without having to spend a ton of time, which tends to help when you’ve got a family and a full-time job and are just trying to squeeze golf in around the periphery whenever possible.
MG: Who are your most frequent playing partners?
CM: I play a lot of solo golf, actually, just because it’s easiest for me to sneak out very early and walk 18 holes. Other than that, I typically play with 93-7’s Jim Colony and Jeff Hathhorn in a few events a year, and the same goes with my father-in-law and brother-in-law. My dad hurt his wrist and is just starting to swing a club again, but when he’s good to go I’m sure we’ll get out there with my older brother as well.
MG: What’s your favorite time to play?
CM: Give me weekday mornings over anything else, and it’s not close. It’s not that I don’t like the camaraderie and conversations that come with playing on a crowded weekend, but again, like everyone, I’m dealing with limited time, and there’s nothing quite like dew-sweeping on a mostly empty course before the weather gets hot for the day.
There’s something about getting in your car at 10 a.m. already having played 18 holes that puts you in a good mood, whether you shot 77 or 97.
MG: How would you try to make golf a better experience for all?
CM: I think it’s clear that you still have to make the game more affordable. That’s always going to be a massive barrier to entry for some. I think golf has come a long way in terms of being inclusive, but there’s still a long way to go. But for someone starting out, being able to play a course for, say, $25 instead of $50 would make a big difference. Being able to buy a full set of pretty good clubs for, say, $500 instead of well over $1,000 would help, too.
I also think making the time commitment a little less daunting would help. Encourage beginners to play nine holes as opposed to 18, etc. I also think encouraging faster play at all levels would help. That doesn’t mean that people need to rush, but there has to be work done to cut down on six-hour rounds and long Saturday slogs.
MG: What are your playing goals for the year?
CM: I have one goal for the summer; shallow the golf club. If I do that, I figure I’ll be playing significantly better golf. Beyond that, I’m currently lugging around a 13.8 handicap index. I’d love to get that to single digits by the end of the season, but time constraints will probably hurt that effort.
Also, I would like to not blow the Moon Open on the 18th hole this year.
— Moon Golf Club (@MoonGolfClub) June 16, 2021
MG: What’s your favorite food and drink to enjoy on the course?
CM: To eat? Hot dogs. Mustard and onions only. To drink? I love a good craft beer, though I’m usually trying to play well so I tend to not drink at all on the course, or limit it to a beer per nine holes at most. That said, there’s no drink I like more right now than a good Transfusion.
MG: Why is it important for you to put on Golftoberfest?
CM: Golftoberfest is important for me to put on every year because, for one, I love getting to work on an event with the guys over at Moon. For another, I just like having something that people can look forward to that’s a little different than maybe your normal event.
The weather is a little chillier, the format (two-man scramble) puts more of an emphasis on solid play from both members of a team, but we still have a lot of fun, and it feels like something that people can mark on their calendar in advance and think, ‘Hey, I’m going to get to play some fall golf, and I’m excited about that.’
Plus, I just like meeting new people, even if they disagree with me about the Steelers.