07/28/2016

The boys of No Laying Up don’t take themselves or their sport of choice too seriously. At least, that’s what they want us to believe.

“It just started as an appreciation for personalities in golf,” says NLU’s impresario Chris Solomon. “The anti-Luke Donald, (a) celebration for the fun and cool in the game.”

“I enjoy sarcasm, hyperbole, a little bit of strangeness,” says Phil Landes aka Big Randy, a co-founder and contributor. “I try to be pretty laid back, casual.”

So it goes from the other two members as well, brothers Neil and Todd aka “Tron” Schuster. They are here for the fun, the jokes and the characters; the guys who rip heaters—looking at you Angel Cabrera—and drivers with equal glee.

But No Laying Up, the site, the twitter page, and most importantly the lifestyle, is no joking matter. How’s this for serious? Each member has become a prisoner of his art.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” admits Tron. “I laid up on a nice course once. I wanted to play the right way. I laid up.” Tron, a nickname borrowed from the Chappelle’s Show character, didn’t hear the end of it. “I literally can never lay up again.”

Solomon repeats his colleague’s lament.

“I never even remotely lay up,” he says. “I’ve hit more balls in the water in the last two years than I ever have before.”

If that shows a remarkable dedication to the ideal, you haven’t heard the half of it. Two years ago Solomon was offered the chance to work full-time in Amsterdam.

“Staying would have been laying up,” he says now with only a hint of facetiousness. “It changed the way I see things.”

It’s changing golf, too. No Laying Up started as a text thread between friends that morphed into a twitter account in the fall of 2013.

“Chris came up with it,” Landes says of the name. “It was so quick. ‘Hey, let’s start a twitter account. We’ll call it No Laying Up.”

Now, that twitter account boasts more than 50,000 followers and the accompanying website—which debuted January 1, 2014—garners 10’s of thousands of page-views each week. No Laying Up saw a niche in golf commentary and seized it. In the process, they drew the attention of respected members of the golf media, countless fans and even star players.

It all led to a stunning scene at the Memorial in June. Solomon, who grew up in Dublin, Ohio, which hosts Jack’s event, was granted special access to the tournament by the PGA Tour. He followed the high-powered group of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas the first two rounds. Spieth and McIlroy played well, while Thomas struggled.

At the 14th tee on Friday on his way to an assured missed cut, Thomas pulled out driver on the 362-yard par-4. Solomon was flabbergasted. He laughed along with his friend Chris Chaney, another fixture in golf twitter. Thomas turned to face the pair.

McIlroy, who split the fairway with an iron, joked, “Looking forward to the tweet about that shot.”

Think about that. When has that happened anywhere in the history of sports? When an athlete—a top athlete—mid-round or game turns to an avid fan and seeks to impress him? How did No Laying Up get there? And more pressing to its current status, where does it go from here?

*******

No Laying Up originated on the fairways where Solomon and his golfing buddies pretended they were much better than they actually were. It was born, in part, in a Columbia University football film room where a defensive coach brimming with testosterone and God knows what else shouted aphorisms and expletives at his audience, including a young Neil Schuster—Lack pop can’t play! Ejected!

 

NLU was forged in an off-campus Miami University (Ohio) house filled with empties, innumerable tenants, six bedrooms, one bathroom and zero bathroom doors. One day Landes, who lived in the dingy establishment with Tron, made a brave trip to the lone restroom only to be chatted up by one of the house guests. Not wanting to reveal his identity, Phil instead became Randy and hasn’t looked back.

Later, Tron and Big Randy—at 6-foot-7 he was always big—ditched that environment for Breckenridge, Colorado. When their money and desire for sleeping on floors ran out, they turned south for three days at the Phoenix Open before heading back to Ohio.

“For me, that was a defining moment. I really fell in love with watching golf,” remembers Big Randy. “Ever since that point, I went off to work. That’s when we started texting more.”

It wasn’t long before they realized they had something unique.

“I wouldn’t say we were bigger golf fans than any other sport, but we felt there was a niche open,” explains Solomon, who lived two doors down from Tron their freshman year at Miami. “We had a group text going for years. The stuff that Tron and Randy came up with was just hilarious.”

“It was firing off like crazy,” adds Randy. “Then twitter comes along, at least in my mind. We had so much fun among ourselves. It’d be so fun (to start tweeting).”

The handle became a window into their friendship. Imagine a country club where everyone is sipping their chardonnay and wondering why the three guys in the corner are having more fun than anyone else. Kyle Porter, now of CBS, was following from the beginning. So too was Fox’s Shane Bacon as well as Troy Klongerbo of USGolfTV fame.

“When has that happened anywhere in the history of sports? When an athlete—a top athlete—mid-round or game turns to an avid fan and seeks to impress him?”

No Laying Up wanted to capitalize on the momentum, but they needed a tech guy.

“I knew that those guys were messing around with twitter,” says Neil, who brought his memories of Columbia football with him to No Laying Up. “They called me December or November of 2013 and said, ‘We want to build a blog. Can you help us?’ I said sure. I ended up buying the hosting. We started early 2014.”

Neil’s first post covered a bizarre news story. A Georgia murder suspect got caught by the authorities when he was hitting balls at a PGA Superstore. With that, the tone was set, and No Laying Up was off.

“I think at first, we took a lot of pride in what we put on the website,” says Solomon. “We wanted to get it right.”

They introduced #TourSauce to the world, which Solomon and his friends perfected, but Tron named—“It just sounded good,” he says.

Then came YOTTO, year of the take over, and #PrayforTedScott, so named to troll Bubba Watson for his frequent outbursts at his caddy, Ted Scott. That hashtag gained more notoriety when Watson himself addressed it on an episode of 60 Minutes.

“(Bubba) tried to play off ‘Pray for Ted Scott’ like it was from him,” says Solomon. The fans know the truth. After all, Scott blocked No Laying Up on twitter long ago.

But to dwell on the humorous aspects of the site is to miss just how sharp these guys are. They’ve incorporated all four of their personalities to drive a single entity. Solomon in many ways is the face of No Laying Up. As host of the No Laying Up podcast, he’s interviewed some of the biggest names in and around the game. So strong is his influence, that players will direct message him to either admit to #TourSauce dramatics themselves or out their opponents.

Randy, on the other hand, who it should be said got his degree in Accounting, came up with the Tiger Tax, which calculates how much today’s players owe Tiger Woods based on the exponential increase in prize and sponsorship money. It’s an ingenious concept, and one that allows him to show off his dry sense of humor.

In his own words, Tron is “too politically incorrect” to tweet from the main handle, but he rarely censors his personal account. This rubs some people the wrong way, although his younger brother recognizes the sharpness of Tron’s wit.

“He can cut through the bs pretty well,” says Neil. “He’s very opinionated.”

As for the one they call Young Neil, the only member of NLU still in his 20’s, he fancies himself, “the customer support guy.” He makes sure the lights stay on but has contributed two Solomon favorites, ejected and lack pop can’t play (#LPCP), to the golf lexicon.

No one gains 50 thousand followers in three years on jokes alone.

And yet, success can be daunting. Ask any of the four how they feel about Solomon’s encounter with Thomas, and shock is a common theme.

“It still boggles my mind that any player did that,” says Randy. “It’s like what? It still feels surreal. I would be uncomfortable.”

On top of that, No Laying Up now walks a precarious line. Solomon knows he can bust Thomas’s stones so to speak, but what about the guys who don’t necessarily share the same sense of humor?

“I have the hardest time. I have had a hard time being critical of players that follow me,” says Solomon. “I don’t want to lose them as followers. I don’t want to offend them.”

Take for example Jordan Spieth, who counts @NoLayingUp among the 304 accounts he follows on twitter (against 1.6 million followers).

“I wanted to make fun of Jordan for wearing the (Curry 2 Low’s),” says Solomon, who runs the main twitter handle. “If it was Thomas, I would have. He would’ve understood I’m kidding.”

The challenges don’t end there. When Solomon, Landes, Schuster and Schuster started No Laying Up, they were four recent college grads who introduced their brand of golf fandom to the public. Now, they are young professionals scattered across the globe. Neil is in San Francisco, moving start-up to start-up—”Going corporate would be laying up.” Big Randy coaches basketball in Columbus. Solomon is approaching the two-year anniversary of his move to Amsterdam, while Tron lives in Boston with his wife. As a result, their collective production has waned even as their popularity continues to grow.

“That’s kind of what we’re facing. You’re always a victim of your success,” says Tron. “It’s turning into something that we never expected. Like, we all have real jobs. That’s why I haven’t been writing as much. I’m progressing my career. It’s just kind of trying to keep our heads above water.”

That started earlier this summer with a site re-design. They wanted something that both looked more professional and could handle the the flood of clicks that sometimes knocked down their previous host. As a bonus, the new site adds a dose of motivation to post content on a regular basis. Tron and Big Randy recently launched their own podcast, the TrapDraw, while Neil continues to push out new merchandise, No Laying Up’s only source of revenue. They have yet to put ads on the site. Staying true to themselves, and their fans for that matter, is more important than money.

“My vision is just to keep growing organically as long as we can,” says Tron. “As we’re presented with opportunities, be judicious about which ones we want to take.”

“If we had the resources to help make us full-time, I’d love that,” adds Solomon.

Regardless of what the future holds, know that No Laying Up won’t settle and they won’t stop.  “We’re all about that take life,” Solomon likes to say. It’s remarkable how ubiquitous the attitude has become in a sport that has long stifled the lighter side of things. Tune into a weekend broadcast, and you’ll surely hear the phrases No Laying Up made popular especially if Bubba, “Bagdad Gerry” as Tron calls him, is playing. Peek into the gallery, and you’ll see “No Laying Up” t-shirts. And twitter…well, No Laying Up made it a necessary supplement to any tournament.

“The concept is the voice of the people,” says Solomon. “That’s it. We think No Laying Up is good for the game. We’re just fans. We’re not journalists. We’re not experts.”

Yes, but their reach is wide. Some day soon, you have to wonder whether or not they’ll take that final risk, consider their options, look over the hazards and think to themselves, “We’re going for it.”

“It is a lifestyle, isn’t it?” says Neil. “Who knows? Maybe No Laying Up will become my No Laying Up.”

**********

Screenshot 2016-07-28 16.08.06

Screenshot 2016-07-28 16.08.40

Screenshot 2016-07-28 16.08.23

Screenshot 2016-07-28 16.32.28