Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

Life Lessons Can Be Found at Sports Illustrated

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Most people, myself included, read Sports Illustrated for the articles.  At least until the swimsuit edition arrives.  But other than that issue, pictures are secondary (after the first few pages) to the written word.  The last page has become an audition to see which writer comes as close in popularity to the readers as Rick Reilly.  It might be a stretch to compare him to John Wooden but there seems to be no outright favorite yet even though there have been several very good columns.  It seems that there are many Gene Bartows, Gary Cunninghams, Walt Hazzards, Jim Harricks, Steve Lavins and Ben Howlands (most of whom were outstanding coaches) at SI but no one like Coach Wooden.  For my money, there hasn’t even been a Larry Brown yet.

When SI first asked its readers which of a list of sports, other than football, basketball, baseball and possibly a couple others that currently escape my mind (which shows my particular tastes), they had an interest in, e.g. tennis, golf, auto racing, etc. my choices came down to tennis and golf.  It was a tough choice and if I were younger - and still playing tennis - that would have been what I’d have selected.  Since my back issues eliminated playing tennis about a decade ago, I chose golf.  Now I get additional articles on the sport as well as special extra editions.  A good friend of mine is a scratch (or close) golfer so those issues go to him, after I’ve briefly scanned them.

The one on the Masters that just came out intrigued me enough that as I perused it, the article with their panel of (three) experts (and one anonymous pro) caught my eye.  Opinions abound in sports and I’ve found (through experience) it’s always a good idea to hear what others who are deeply involved in a sport or topic think before you start popping off, or even discussing, issues so as not to look foolish.  Although I’ve read some interesting points in the past, little did I think I’d come across as introspective an explanation as Gary Van Sickle’s regarding Rory McElroy’s approach to his profession.  Van Sickle said of the young star:

“He’s not all golf like Tiger was.  Rory is going to take the time to enjoy his life.  He reminds me of Arnold Palmer a little there.  He’ll be streaky great, and he’s got other interests.  He’ll have a better quality of life, and if that means a couple fewer major wins in the long run, that’s all right.”

In addition to expertly defining the differences between the two golfers, the Van Sickle quote speaks volumes to most everybody who has a job.  If you’ve just entered the working world, those are your choices.  How do you approach your profession?  Do you love it so much that it consumes your every waking minute?  In the business world, that type of an employee is called a workaholic.  Those people often find an abundance of material wealth, yet, frequently, there is something missing in their life in another area of it.  In the field of sports, we call them single minded and driven.  Some (most?) people think a person’s life should be balanced.  We all remember the old adage “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” 

The times and people (and salaries/purses for sporting events/endorsement deals) have made that quote obsolete.  Now, it’s “get it while you can” and “the window of opportunity is open only so long.”  Maybe not so much in golf where some wise brilliant old golfer had the imagination - or told somebody else - to create a Seniors Tour.  Still, people don’t want to see extraordinary talent not pushed to the ultimate.  Usually parents and agents because 1) nearly all of them weren’t as athletically blessed and 2) they don’t have to do the heavy lifting.

Far too many people have altered the line so that it turned around the original message.  Maybe Rory McElroy has it right but for now it’s become:     

“All work and no play make Jack (or Jill) a champion.”

Sometimes a Dad Just Has to Brag

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Unless you’re a person like George Washington, Thomas Edison, Ludwig van Beethoven or someone else who’s given something to the world that will never be forgotten, your legacy is your kids.  Chances are you did your own thing for a while (longer for some of us than others) and then decided to settle down and do what your parents had been bugging you about.  Which included having kids.

I fit into that category, but was one of those who started settling down late.  I waited to get married until I was almost 39.  My wife, Jane, and I had two boys.  We never really thought about what we’d do when they grew up because we got so used to having them around.  Andy was the first to leave, attending UC-Irvine and graduating with a BA in four years.  As if that wasn’t amazing enough, he immediately found employment, albeit as a salesman whose job description contained a good deal of cold calling.  This meant walking past “No Soliciting” signs on many occasions and getting cursed out often by owners (once, in front of the guy’s five-year-old son).

The greatest aspect of that gig, though, turned out to be its training - which helped Andy with his current job as Sales Executive at a company named Booker which sells software, mainly to spas, health clubs, etc.  Keep in mind, what I know about technology can be put on the head of a pin - with a little room left over.  But the fact that I have a 24-year-old who’s living on his own (in Orange County), has a good paying job (with benefits and commissions), is debt-free (we followed wise advice and started early but he’s been smart too) absolutely thrills me no end.  He’s active in his fraternity (SAE), loves golf (which I wish I’d taken up earlier) and is living the dream.

Alex came along five years later and early on, it was evident that he had exceptional hand/eye coordination.  My last coaching job was at the high school level so understand I’m aware that parents think highly of their kids’ athletic prowess.  Alex, however, does have the numbers - and the awards - to back up my beliefs.  He finished his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of, not only his high school (Buchanan) but the entire Clovis Unified School District.  For that matter, he scored more than anybody who ever played in the Fresno Unified School District.  He finished as the sixth leading scorer in the history of the San Joaquin Valley.

Many thought he’d wind up at a Division I institution - including several scouts and professional coaches - but, while he had some D-I interest, at none of those schools did he feel comfortable.  He played very well during an April evaluation period and was contacted immediately by Cal State Monterey Bay.  An official visit followed that next weekend and he found a match.  His play this year was good enough (he averaged 13.4 ppg) for him to be named Freshman of the Year in the conference (he finished 6th in the league in total points scored) and, just yesterday, received notification that he was named to the Division II Bulletin All-Freshman team, the only player from the West region to be so named. He is the first Monterey Bay player to receive that distinction.

I know all of this sounds like I might throw out my shoulder patting myself on the back so hard, but as Satchel Paige once said:

“It ain’t braggin’ if you kin do it.”

Many Dream of Coaching in College, Few Leave Satisfied

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned CoachGeorgeRaveling.com as a website that is well worth visiting.  One area of George’s site is a Q&A in which I ask him questions about himself - information that very few people are aware of - in order for people who don’t know him (as well as those who do) to better understand this complex individual.  To date there are somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty such segments.

A week or so ago George and I had lunch when he told me he wanted to video another set of vignettes in the near future.  As sort of a scoop for those of you who read this blog, I’ll let everyone in on one questions I plan to ask him during our next recording session.  It’s no secret that there are infinitely more people interested in coaching on the college level than there are positions.  Ask any head coach and he (or she) will tell you that on a seemingly daily basis they’re getting letters, phone calls, emails, recommendations - whatever type of communication available - from or about candidates for coaching positions.

Something I’ve noticed since I began in college coaching 40 years ago is that while coaching is such a coveted profession, an overwhelming majority who earn their living in the coaching business (on the Division I college level) are bitter when  their careers end - especially those who ascend to the position of head coach.  One would think that someone who finally reached the pinnacle, who got to grasp the brass ring, would be elated when their careers ended.  One would be wrong.  By a lot.

For example, of the ten head coaches for whom I worked, I’d say eight of them didn’t leave on their own terms.  While some get over it, others never do.  Bump into them - I’m talking about all former coaches now, not just my ten bosses - and when the conversation gets around to their career, they’ll either start to reminisce about when times were better or tell you (for the nth time) how such-and-such administrator/booster/player/assistant/you-name-it stabbed them in the back or didn’t give them enough time or didn’t understand how difficult the job was.

George wasn’t one of them, although his departure from coaching came after a retired professor ran a red light on the outskirts of USC’s campus and broadsided his car, not only forcing him into retirement but nearly ending his life.  How many more years George would have coached is unknown but with multiple broken ribs, a broken pelvis, broken back, punctured lung and numerous other injuries coaching took a backseat to . . . living.

A couple of former coaches with whom I’ve been reunited - if only via Sirius FM radio - are part of the small minority of D-I head coaches who got out of coaching on their own volition and are loving life.  It shows in their radio personalities and in their voices.  One is Bobby Cremins whom I first met when he was the head coach at Appalachian State and I was an assistant at Western Carolina.  For those of you who are unaware (meaning nearly everybody), these two schools are bitter rivals, Appie State on top of the mountain and WCU in the valley.  It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys.  We had some epic battles in the Southern Conference.  We got the better of them; they go the better of us.  Bobby did well enough to land the Georgia Tech job.  He did so well there, they ultimately named the floor at Alexander Coliseum after him, but not before firing him first.  He said he was going to take a year off before coaching again. That year became six - before he took the reigns at the College of Charleston where he led them back to the glory days of legendary coach John Kresse before retiring to a life of radio and golf.

Another guy who had a nice run in the profession was Tom Brennan.  Tom led the University of Vermont into the NCAA tournament, a feat similar to climbing Mount Everest.  With mittens.  Barefoot.  I began my 30-year journey through nine D-I institutions at UVM and while I realize the situation was better for Tom than it was for us, it’s only because . . . it had to be.  In 1972 I went there as a grad assistant for $1,000 plus graduate school tuition.  Oh yeah, I was the only assistant.  Our head coach, Peter Salzburg, was in his first year and was hauling in $12,500.  Our entire budget, not including salaries and scholarships was $9,975.  I don’t care what kind of improvements they made, there should be a statue of Tom Brennan outside Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium.

When Bobby or Tom are on the radio, each has a wonderful sense of humor - usually the self-deprecating kind.  When they are pointing out interesting and insightful information, neither takes himself too seriously.  They enjoyed their head coaching successes, endured their failures (which were numerous since each took over absolutely dreadful jobs) and exited gracefully, moving on to where they are thoroughly enjoying their current gigs.  The other ex-coaches (whose agents got them radio and TV jobs) sound like they’re interviewing for their next job every time they express an opinion. Because they are.

Brennan, however, after hearing of lavish gifts heaped upon someone when he announced his retirement (I can’t recall the name now), joked that when he left Vermont, they gave him a barbeque.  “And I was thrilled!”

Since nothing good comes from stress - and no one’s getting out of life alive - probably the best way to view what’s going on in the tournament is to use the line retired Texas Tech football coach Sonny Dykes said:

“We are fixin’ to have more fun than a little.”

A Valuable Lesson from a Guy Who’s Been Through an Awful Lot

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

If you were trying to accomplish something you love, and had worked extremely hard, over a long period of time - and finally got it - imagine how thrilled you would be.  Then you got hurt and the person who wasn’t quite as good as you took over.  While you’re working to get back in tiptop shape, your “understudy” is performing really well.  So much so that your group wins.  Without you.  In the field in which you work, people outside of it have short memories.  They loved you when you were doing well but criticized you when you weren’t, especially when your company wasn’t winning.

Answer honestly, are you be hoping the “next guy in line” 1) does great, 2) does just well enough so that your team wins, 3) flops, but somehow your team wins or  4) does horribly, independent of whether the team wins or loses?  That is the test of every first teamer who lost his job because of injury.

It happened to the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith.  Keep in mind that Smith was the overall #1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft.  You can’t get drafted any higher and the expectations mirror your selection, only more so.  Smith had to learn the offensive philosophy from the offensive coordinator because in the pros the head coach really coaches the coaches.  The assistant coaches coach their respective position players, with the coordinator in charge of the offense or defense.  If that sounds a little complicated, consider that Alex Smith had five different offensive coordinators in his first five years.

The NFL is the college game on steroids.  Everyone is bigger, stronger, faster.  The defensive coordinator is trying to make the game so difficult for the opposing QB - especially a young one - and the game has become so sophisticated that not only do teams change defenses, e.g. from a 3-4 to a 4-3, they change defensive looks within the same defense.  Worse yet, players have become so specialized that there are third down and long defensive linemen, nickel backs and guys who function so much better in one blitz package over another, their PT is limited to just such situations.  It’s nearly impossible for an inexperienced QB to succeed early in a career.  Ask Peyton Manning.

Alex Smith did not succeed.  Some fans didn’t think he was the guy to lead the 49ers back to championship contenders - and they were the ones who liked Smith.  The others ridiculed him - and the club - for wasting a #1 pick on someone so incompetent.  In walked Jim Harbaugh who, when asked what college QBs he’d like to get for his new team said he thought Alex Smith would be fine.  The fans thought he as kidding.  Maybe he was but it was the beginning of the Harbaugh-Smith-49er fans love affair.

Then Smith went down with a concussion.  It wasn’t diagnosed immediately.  When Smith was not cleared, Harbaugh had to go to the bench for a substitute.  He chose a second year QB, Colin Kaepernick.  Wouldn’t you know it?  Kaepernick led the Niners to victory.  After the win, Smith was asked about how he felt watching his backup play?

Remember the hypothetical question an four choices at the beginning of this blog?  Here was Alex Smith’s reply:  “If you can’t be happy for your teammate’s success you’re playing the wrong sport. Go play tennis or golf or something … That doesn’t belong in team sports. It’s the quarterback position. It gets a lot of attention. We’re going to get talked about.”

Would that have been how you felt?  The difference between players who are legitimately happy for the team, regardless if the teammate they’re competing with outplays them, as opposed to those who want the team to win - but only if they’re the major part of it - is probably going to determine whether or not your team will win or lose.

During my first year of coaching, in the early 1970s, we were losing and I had a kid who wanted to ask me a question.  After I said of course, he kind of stammered, but went on “Well, I want to know why I’m not playing more.  Mark is ahead of me and he can’t shoot, can’t pass, can’t dribble (”handle” hadn’t made it’s entrance into the hoops vocabulary yet) and can’t rebound.”

I looked at him and said, “I completely agree with you.  Mark isn’t a good shooter, passer, dribbler or rebounder.  But he does all of them better than you!”  This led to a mantra we would use throughout the rest of the season:

“Just because someone else is doing poorly doesn’t mean you’re doing well.”

P.S. Harbaugh named Kaepernick the starter for the Niners’ next game.  Will Smith continue taking the high road?  My money’s on him - after all he’s endured.

Impressions from the Ryder Cup

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Did Rory McElroy come closer to convincing everyone he’s the #1 golfer in the world?  Not sure, but with his career winnings, how about buying a reliable alarm clock - one that has all the time zones?

Does the enormous amount of tour money lessen the pressure?  Dottie Pepper, commenting at the 17th hole yesterday, made the comment, “It seems like there’s no oxygen here in Chicago.”  So the answer seems to be the pressure is astronomical because this is the only time all year these guys are not playing for cash?  There’s nothing more difficult than knowing if you fail, you’re letting down millions of people, in particular the guys you see on a weekly basis during “business” hours.

Terrific, to the point of almost exasperating, sportsmanship displayed by both sides.  It appeared like there was more positive acknowledgement of good play than laser focus on the next shot.  Don’t they care as much, do they respect their opponents to the point of so much public admiration or is it a method of masking a kind of fear?  Or maybe it was just a select number that caught my eye.

After Saturday’s Ryder Cup concluded, the United States held a commanding 10-6 advantage, needing only 4 1/2 of the 12 possible Sunday singles points.  The Americans would need to win another 4 1/2 points to reclaim the Cup.  To put it in another context, nine all-squares and three losses would mean victory for the US.  Harken back to Saturday when the score was actually 10-4.  Going into Sunday down 6-10 isn’t so bad when your team won the final two points, the last of which coming from Ian Poulter who broke from the gates with five straight birdies.  Talk about a serious shift of “Mo.”

Speaking of Poulter, England’s favorite son (as of today) went 4-0 in Ryder Cup play and probably would have earned the MVP but that’s more of an individual honor for someone from a team sport, whereas the Ryder Cup is a team award for an individual sport.

Brandt Snedeker played much below his normal game.  Could it be because he had a letdown after just winning $10,000,000 in the FedEx Cup?  Yes, the zeros were included for effect.  It’s tough to tell as the sample size for that particular problem is too small.

So, was it an amazing European comeback or a classic US collapse?  Depends upon which team you’re pulling for or where your money was.  Also, how you look at life.  Are you a “There must be a scapegoat” type of person or “Unless it was just an out-and-out gift, congrats to the winners” kind of guy?  Before you answer, ponder the comments from former UNC offensive line coach, Howard Mudd in the 9/24/12 edition of Sports Illustrated.  What he was saying was directed to the “incredible psychological stability” of future Hall of Fame center, Jeff Saturday.  Take from it what you will regarding the clutch vs. choke argument:

“The really good players don’t rise to the occasion, as people like to say; they’re just not as adversely affected by the situation.”

Golf’s Higher Ups On the Ball

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Golf got it right.  The best players play in all the majors and most of them play in the big tourneys.  It’s world-wide competiton that, because it’s an individual sport, naturally produces stars.  They’re recognizable, they’re “understandable,” and they’re all over the place - TV, magazines, billboards.  It’s always been a rich man’s game but more and more “lesser income” kids have been getting involved.  Now, a program called “First Tee” is reaching out even more.  Imagine better athletes who couldn’t afford to play golf deciding, “This is a pretty cool sport - and I can play it a loooong time, making BIG bucks into my 50s and 60s.”

Golf also has the Ryder Cup.  The Ryder Cup is team golf- the US vs. Europe.  The twelve best from each group.  Intense is a perfect word to describe the competition.  Millionaires playing a game in which other people (not their posses) are dependent on them.  Other people as in their peers.  It’s not just “I do well, I reap the benefits.  I fail, I don’t get paid.”  Now it’s, “Hey, how I do affects other golfers beside just me.”  The pressure increases exponentially.  Missing a five foot putt and losing a half a mil pales in comparison to missing it and losing a point for your partner.  And your team.  And your country.  Note: I wasn’t very good in world geography but this blog is written for residents of the US of A only.  When my international numbers skyrocket - or enter single digits - I’ll make the post geographically correct.

Plus, it’s not overdone.  The Ryder Cup is played only every two years.  Make the people wait - increase interest, increase excitement, increase pressure.  Of course, the Ryder Cup’s success begat the Presidents Cup which is the US vs. non-European players - also biennially, during the off-years.  There’s no reason to think America’s fan base can’t handle this team format on an annual basis.  Heck, every other sport is so saturated, mainly because if there’s a buck to be made, somebody out there will sponsor it, corporations will buy blocks of tickets, television will air it, etc., etc., etc.

This year’s Ryder Cup has its own identity, from Bubba Watson encouraging fans to cheer, i.e. scream during his opening drive to Keegan Bradley exhibiting the enthusiasm of a college substitute who hit the game-winner to send his team to the Final Four to . . . Tiger Woods.  The former #1 in the world (and, at one time, talked about as, gasp, the best golfer of all-time) has hit the skids professionally, stuck on 14 major titles (we should all be “stuck” in such a tough place) and struggling to find, or remake, his game.

Tiger is 0-3 so far this Ryder Cup (this blog is published prior to his Sunday single pairing against Francesco Molinari).  If you’re a Tiger fan, it’s agonizing to see him, along with friend and partner Steve Stricker self-destruct each time out - although Friday afternoon I’m not sure any pair in the world could have beaten Nicolas Colsaerts and . . . anybody.  Or even nobody.  As any competitor knows, when things aren’t going your way, the last thing you need is to play against a guy who’s having a career day.  Colsaerts’ eight birdies and an eagle - by himself - qualified.  So if Tiger is not your favorite, did/do you root against him, meaning the team he’s on - representing your country - could also lose?  Really?

In the 1920s Samuel Ryder was so impressed with the US playing against their European counterparts, he donated food, champagne, prize money and, oh yeah, a cup to insure more meetings.  The Ryder Cup is a true example of Thomas Watson’s quote:

“The great accomplishments of man have resulted from the transmission of an idea of enthusiasm.”

Great Golf Didn’t Always Impress Me

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

As I mentioned a couple days ago in this space, I reentered the world of golf.  My golfing buddies were Peter Sharkey, who is also my workout partner at GB3, and Sean Carey.  Peter is a much better golfer than I am.  And Sean is a much better golfer than Peter.  An example was Saturday’s sojourn up 41-N to Brighton Crest - or whatever they call it now.

Sean and I drove in the same cart.  We chatted it up the entire afternoon which, if you’ve ever played with me - or simply know me - will come as no surprise.  At the end of the day, when scores were totaled, I was thrilled I broke a 100.  Since I’m oblivious to most things golf, I was stunned when Peter told us Sean shot a 73.  As in one over par 73This reminded me of another golfing story that occurred several years ago.

During that time I was teaching math at Buchanan High School.  One of my colleagues in the math department was Greg Funk, former record holding baseball player at Fresno State (and prep star at Serra HS where, as a senior, he had a frosh teammate named Barry Bonds).  Greg was drafted and made it to Double A when he decided the major league dream might be just that.

As with many ex-”team sport” athletes, Greg picked up golf (tennis being the other favorite sport for this group).  Others had told me Greg was a really good golfer but never did I think that the guy who, not too many years before, was the leading home run hitter in Bulldogs’ history, was quite so proficient.

My history of playing golf was mostly limited to going out with guys who were a lot better than I was - about 10-15 strokes better.  One day Greg and I hooked up on the course and rode in the same cart for a round with another two friends (whom, for the life of me) I can’t remember now.  Greg has just a gorgeous swing, straight down the middle - pretty far down the middle.  His approaches are terrific and his short game is good as well, including his putting.

I’ve always told people that if you’re a totally focused and an incredibly intent golfer, don’t play with me.  Occasionally, you’ll have to wait 2-3  strokes before you finally get to hit because “I’m (still) away” is something you’ll often hear from me.  However, if you’re looking to have a good time, I’m a fun guy to be around.  I’ve always been told I have an excellent sense of humor and a quick wit.  Since I realize I’m not about to join the Seniors Tour anytime soon, I don’t take the game too seriously.  But you can bet I’m going to have a good time.

This attitude also means I don’t take in exactly what’s going on.  For example, the score.  So when, at the end of the round, when people started asking Greg (who was keeping score) what their scores were, he gave them theirs and then said, “Jack-o, you had a 92.”  Out of curiosity, I asked Greg, what’d you shoot?”

“68.”

What!?” I exclaimed.  “You know, Greg, I thought if I ever played with a guy who shot a 68, I’d be more impressed.”  I meant it as a compliment.

Now it was his chance to go off.  “What?  You be more impressed?  I just shot a 68 and you’re not impressed?“  To say he was incredulous would be one of the great understatements of all-time.

I began to back pedal.  “It’s just that if I ever thought I’d see somebody shoot that low, that there would be a hole-in-one, 40′ double-breaking putts, holing out from the fairway.  All you do is hit it straight down the fairway (a mile), reach the green and then two-putt.  OK, sometimes one putt.  Sure, you had a couple birdies on par threes but it was . . . boring.”

He then gave me a lesson I’ve never forgotten.  “That’s how you shoot a low score.  Be boring.  Guys who chip in from ten yards off the green are usually the same guys who three- and four-putt the next hole.”

Throughout the years, we’ve told and retold the story - about how shocked I was and how pissed he was - and we have a good laugh, along with those who are hearing the story for the first time.  The moral is to think before you speak on something you know very little about.  Or you might find that:

“The only time you open your mouth is to switch feet.”

Golf Is Back and I’m Grateful

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Actually I tried to post this yesterday but was so tired, I kept falling asleep at the computer.  I woke up one time and saw a screen full of c’s.  No joke.  I decided to fight it off - until I awoke for about the fifth time and, somehow, I had rotated the screen 90 degrees.  (Note: if I knew how, I would have used the little degree sign).  It was at that time I realized I should turn off the laptop, go to bed and live to blog another day.  Here’s what you missed yesterday.

The sport of golf is extremely hard to master even if you’re a pro.  For the rest of us it’s astonishingly difficult but tantalizingly attractive.  Think about golf from the average guy’s point of view.   Say, mine.  Remember I said average guy, not average golfer.  My goal is to be an average golfer.

Golf gives me a chance to enjoy the company of friends, where I can catch up on old times (or what happened last week) and tell stories (if you didn’t know by now, a passion of mine).  Every course is beautifully manicured and the weather is always great (otherwise, I’m not playing).  Every once while, I get to swing a club.  In addition, for those of us who like to have our skills quantified, golf definitely satisfies our “competitive jones” - and then some.  And in golf, quite often the results can be demoralizing.

Yesterday (Saturday) I played for the first time in about three years.  Back surgeries and a little more stress than I wanted in my life put golf on the back burner.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t going to stay there forever.  Retirement and a tenth back surgery - which for the time being has shown some promising results - gave me the hope to get out there and give it another shot.  Or several.

All of the above were true during my round.  Peter Sharkey and Sean Carey were the guys who drew the proverbial short straw and had to put up with me all afternoon.  Speaking for all of us, it was great fun, with me donning the bronze medal at day’s end.  In reality, I considered breaking 100 for my first trip back a success (although the USGA rule book was nowhere to be found when it came to recording my score).

Golf didn’t become part of my life until 2002 but I was immediately hooked on it (maybe it was because I got to play for free quite a bit during those early years).  More likely it was due to the one or two, or, on a couple of occasions, several great shots I hit during the round.  Believe it or not, that’s inevitable no matter how poor a player.

I realize now what Joni Mitchell meant when she sang in the ’70s:

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

It’s More the Putter than the Caddie

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

This blog was posted before the Sunday final at the British Open but it probably wouldn’t affect its content.

By now everybody knows Steve Williams used to be Tiger Woods’ caddie and is currently on Adam Scott’s bag.  Since sportswriters need story lines beside the obvious (as well they should, it’s hard writing a different story every day), it was pretty well known that everybody covering the British Open was hoping Scott and Woods would be paired for today’s final.  Imagine the elephant in the room, or on the course, during the final day.  And the questions that would inevitably asked at the press conference.

The truth of the matter is that when Williams was Woods’ caddie, Tiger was the best player in the world.  Was Stevie the reason?  No one can be sure but Woods sure won a lot.  And now Williams is caddying for Scott and he’s playing some impressive golf.  So how important is the caddie?  Those in the know claim that beyond Stevie’s knowledge of courses and club selection, he can have a calming effect on his boss.  This certainly is a trait that could serve Scott well on the final day.

But what really gives Scott a greater edge is his putter.  These guys are so good that every golfer is looking for some little advantage that might shave a stroke here or there.  The belly putter was first on the scene.  Its purpose was to provide a fulcrum pivot the club around.  Then came the long putter (as if one that goes up to your belly isn’t long enough).  This version is parked under the golfer’s chin or chest.  These inventions take wrist movement out of the putt.

It seems there are two camps when the subject of long putters comes up.  The first are the revolutionaries, or as the second group thinks of them, “the guys who couldn’t handle or win enough with a conventional putter.”  The traditionalists think long putters should be banned.  Golf is a little different.  Imagine calling penalties on yourself in another sport?  Golfers don’t use pine tar on bats and in gloves.  They don’t grab the guy at the bottom of the pile to make him loosen his grip on the football.  Golfers are the ultimate anti-floppers.   And there’s the major difference between camps one and two.

One feels they’re just using modern technology; the other thinks it’s an unfair advantage.  Golf is caught up in the quote:

“There’s no progress without change but not all change is progress.”

provides a fulcrum to pivot the club around
fulcrum to pivot the cluliams was caddying for Woods, Tiger was the best player on the tour.  And Williams was, arguably, the best caddy.  Right now Scott is playing as well as anybody.  Having Stevie with him hasn’t hurt.  According to those who know, Williams’ caddying skills go beyond knowledge of the courses and which club would be best.  He also can have a calming effect on his golfer.

The Search for Tiger Goes On

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Many people in the world of sports have been wondering if and when Tiger Woods would dominate his sport like he used to.  Well, Sunday he won - again.  Not a major, but if you’re a believer in the “creep, crawl, walk” theory, Tiger might be about ready to lace up his Nikes.

While he looked good during the event, he never looked more like the chew-them-up-and-spit-them-out Tiger of old than during the post match press conference.  Usually he answers questions very analytically, explaining what happened on whichever hole with total recall.  Recently, he’s been talking about how close his game’s been, but for poor putting or not hitting enough fairways or whatever.  Sunday’s press conference was different - and the same.

This one had more of a give-and-take bent than an educational one that we’ve come to hear after his recent tourney woes.  Those press conferences were courtesy of the the new and unimproved Tiger; Sunday’s banter reminded fans (and media) of the old and superior Woods.  Referring to the fourth estate as “you guys,” there was that familiar, cocky smile.  The ear-to-ear one we were used to seeing.

There have been more sightings of the old Tiger Woods than there have been of Sasquatch, yet each one was exposed as a fraud by the following Sunday.  For someone who was so good for so long (bookies used to post odds on “Tiger vs. the field” - and most bettors took Tiger!), he might wind up taking a page out of Robert F. Kennedy’s book:

“Don’t get mad, get even.”