Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

SI Disappoints

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

For decades I’ve been a subscriber and avid reader of Sports Illustrated and many readers have mentioned to me that if it wasn’t for SI, I’d have to make this a weekly blog instead of a daily one. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, one of my aunts got me a year’s subscription to Sport magazine. I was so thrilled and told one of my friends at school the next day. He said that Sports Illustrated was the best sports magazine.

Naturally, he and I got into a heated argument, the kind only pre-teens can get into. You know, the kind that will never have a winner because, not only will neither admit defeat but because neither will even give the other credit for even one shred of truth. Eventually, I gave up denying the obvious – and my admission came well before the demise of Sport.

It’s not that I’ve always felt SI was right in every story they published but I did believe they always did a bundle of research and tried to report it fairly. Which is why I was so disappointed in Alan Shipnuck’s article on Anthony Kim in this week’s (9/22/14) edition. Until 4-5 years ago when my back issues became so bad I had to give up golf, I absolutely loved playing. I was so bad I’d never play for money and, for that matter, never even had a handicap. Had I been given one, undoubtedly, a record high would have been set. Yet, probably due to my coaching background, I thoroughly enjoy watching the guys on tour because I realized long ago how hard a game golf is and am fascinated with the strategy they use as well as the mental toughness they display.

When I saw the title of Shipnuck’s article (Where Have You Gone, Anthony Kim?), I was surprised. While not an avid fan, I often watch golf on TV. It wasn’t until after seeing the headline did I realize Kim had gone. I’m not so into golf that I knew what a party animal Kim is/was. I put present/past tense because the article doesn’t make clear if Kim still has the lifestyle he did when he was on tour.

That’s because, in that entire article – six pages (including pictures) – Shipnuck finds that almost no one wants to talk about Kim, e.g. Casey Wittenberg who said, “I’m not going to comment. He’s a great friend of mine. Sorry, I know you’re just doing your job.” Others (IMG & Nike) refused to comment. There are a few comments from a guy SI said was probably Kim’s best friend on tour, Colt Knost, but he admits he hasn’t seen much of Kim lately and no longer has his BFF’s phone number. The one guy in the entire article who will allow himself to be quoted is today’s favorite media source – “the anonymous friend.” Could there be more of a coward than somebody who wants to be a real somebody but doesn’t have the cojones to say, “It’s me.”

The author ties in “anonymous” and an insurance policy with quotes from past stories in a veiled attempt at making the story look current. Shipnuck dredges up Kim’s past unstable relationship with his father, along with the young golfer’s spendthrift social life and dislike among certain tour players (all of which happened more than two years ago) and adds a good deal of conjecture to make it into a juicy gossip narrative.

The insurance policy supposedly pays Kim somewhere between $10-20 million (more conjecture there) for a career ending injury (he hasn’t played in 28 months). Basically, he was a young American golfer who had a boatload of potential and played some phenomenal golf for a short period of time but, due to injuries, hasn’t been heard from since. He was 6th in the world – six years ago. For his career he has four wins (three PGA wins) and his best result in a major was third in the 2010 Masters.

Shipnuck went to find what happened to him, couldn’t and instead of leaving it alone, decided to make it a thriller about a guy who partied big, won a little and is now in hiding, trying to figure out if he can collect on an unimaginable insurance policy. It should be noted that Shipnuck did get someone famous to go on record and make nasty comments about Kim – Sergio Garcia. The same Garcia who lost to the 23-year old Kim 5 & 4 in the first match of the Ryder Cup Sunday single matches in 2008. Not like Sergio would be the type of guy who would have an ax to grind.

With all the seamy side of professional sports that’s been reported in the past few months, was it really necessary to chronicle a “maybe it’s a story, maybe it’s not” piece? It’s not like he’s Bison Dele who disappeared. Paraphrasing what Mark Jackson used to say as an NBA commentator:

“C’mon, SI, you’re better than that.”

Only I’m not sure if they are anymore.

When a Youngster Is Forced to Attend Michael Jordan’s Camp

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Recently returned from the 18th version of the Michael Jordan Flight School basketball camp. The camp is held on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. This year there were record numbers of participants: 2 sessions, 9 leagues with 8 teams in each, 12 players on a team – approximately 1650 campers. And, yes, there was a waiting list, meaning some kids who wanted to attend weren’t afforded the opportunity.

On the first day, the kids are placed on teams, initially by age, i.e. the oldest league is composed of 16-17 year olds, the next oldest league housing the 15-16s. The league of which I was “commissioner” was the third oldest so, mostly, we dealt with the 14-15 year old range. Our next move is to identify two groups: one of which are campers who are talented enough to “play up,” i.e. he (the first sessions is limited to boys only) could play with the next higher age group and be effective as well as have a more enjoyable and productive four days. Unless the camper is exceptionally talented, we try to limit those from our league, going “up” to the next league, to the 15 year olds. All leagues operate in a similar fashion.

The other group is, naturally, those youngsters whose skills are (significantly) below those in their age group. While it’s a little trickier, mainly from an ego standpoint, we try to explain that playing in the lower age group, i.e. “down” would be more fun as the age difference isn’t much of a factor for a 14 year old (playing with 13 and 14, as opposed to 14 and 15), yet the experience wouldn’t be as overwhelming as it might be if he stayed.

Occasionally, the “phenom” might be 14 yet it’s apparent he needs to be with the 15-16 group. Of a more sensitive nature is the 15 year old moving down to play with the 13-14s. We try to avoid this scenario as much as possible. However, such was the case I faced on Day 1 – although the kid our coaches unanimously felt should be moved was a big (overweight as well as tall) boy whose effort and attitude mandated his departure from our group. I spoke with him and he agreed to make the move, only to change his mind an hour or so later. While we make our best case for a move (up or down), we never force a youngster to move and we’re especially careful with kids who are two years junior or senior to the new group.

So, when our 15 year old changed his mind, I accepted that he’d be in our league and hoped it worked – for his coach and teammates as well as the kid himself. The first actual game (Day 2) proved disastrous as the big fella showed absolutely no interest when he was in the game. His own teammates were on his case when, down by two, the big guy’s group entered and their opponents proceeded to go on a 20-0 run, thus effectively ending their chances for a win.

I called the kid over and said, “I watched you and you gave zero effort in that game. What’s the deal?” After he shrugged, I asked him, “Why did you come to camp if this is how you were going to act?”

His answer was enlightening. “Because my parents paid the money and made me go.” I couldn’t quite understand his answer, so I pushed a little further. Finally, he said, “My father said he never had opportunities like this when he was a kid so he was going to make sure I did. He’s living his life through me.”

Right away I realized this was no dummy. I lit into him. “Just because you’re mad at your parents doesn’t excuse the lack of effort you put out today. This isn’t an individual camp. It’s not golf or tennis or swimming. You have four other guys depending on you when you’re on the floor. It’s not fair to those kids who are trying their hardest to get beat because when you’re out there, they’re playing 4 on 5.

“Additionally, you have 11 guys who are counting on you to at least try. Plus your coach who’s doing his best to help the team win. All of them deserve more from you than the pitiful performance you gave.” I couldn’t tell but it looked like what I’d told him was something he hadn’t considered.

Each night we give out a “Camper of the Day” award in each league. It’s given to a youngster who will probably not be an all-star nor will he win any of the shooting contests. That night’s award in our league had already been chosen but when I asked our coaches for a nominee the following day, the lazy guy’s coach nominated his “opening day slug.” His coach said, “I know you’ll never believe it but he really put out an effort – and, surprisingly, he’s got some skills. I mean, he’s never going to vie for the MVP but he actually helped us win one of our (two) games today.”

I submitted his name as our Day 2 Camper of the Day. Since the night’s winners are announced from youngest to oldest, our league is the seventh league to be awarded. When the camp director called out his name, his entire team gave him a standing ovation.

When he went up to get the medal, he was smiling and when he turned to see his teammates standing, I had a hunch he realized what his dad was trying to tell him by sending him to camp. As we often discover in life:

“Sometimes it’s the small victories that mean the most.”

Everyone Wants to Know If Rory Is the New Tiger

Monday, July 21st, 2014

A multitude of issues will cause this blog to be temporarily halted. At first, there were only two: 1) today is a trip to Stanford Pain Management for both a refill for my morphine pump and a consultation with my doctor to see if a change in strategy would make my life more “comfortable” and 2) tonight, after the three hour (one way) trip to Redwood City, a trip to Los Angeles for another couple sessions (for Alex) with shooting expert Mike Penberthy. A third roadblock has appeared. My computer served me fairly well for the better part of two years but is ready for extinction. The past few days, it shuts off while I’m working, causing me to save what I’m writing every few minutes or else lose the text. Not only is this frustrating, it’s time consuming. Today I figured out to make a word document and then, cut and paste it to word press (please excuse me if I butchered that explanation as far as proper computer dialogue goes but I’m not from the tech world). All I do is put together words and thoughts people (seem to) like to read.  

If you have a child with a mind of his or her own or one who does as he or she pleases, you’re stuck with the problem – and do everything in your power to understand and help it – but when a computer starts getting impudent, if it negatively impacts your life and it’s more problem than solution, you replace it. While it might be a tad expensive, it’s well worth it. My problem is the one I want has to be shipped in and it might take a week or so.

This blog will return as soon as I receive it. Please check daily beginning Friday.    

Rory McElroy went wire to wire to win the British Open, giving him three of the four Grand Slam championships – at 25 years of age. Now, only the Masters eludes him. Now, the whispers by writers (and the louder chatter of fans) of “the next Tiger” are beginning to be heard. McIlroy is doing nothing to suppress the babble. “Golf is looking to someone to put their hand up and try,” he said. “I want to be the guy that goes on and wins majors and wins majors regularly.”

How long will it take for the comparisons to Woods begin? Ironically, Woods career collapsed after his marital indiscretions became national news while McIlroy’s career has skyrocketed since he got cold feet and put an end to his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki (it couldn’t exactly have been devastating to her, either, at least as far as her career is concerned as she won the Istanbul Cup yesterday). Even if the McIlroy continues his success on the links, and people get weary of Tiger comparisons, there’s always Nicklaus.

Our country wants superstars – even, for some people – just so they can shoot holes in their reputations. McIlroy’s transparent honesty is refreshing but it might be just a matter of time until the media, using the term loosely for those who cross the line between truth and fiction – and enjoy doing so – bombard him with whatever will make for good reading. The fact that many of the stories rely on anonymous sources and twisted words doesn’t ever stand in the way someone trying to get ahead. Or, maybe, get even.

Golf is a sport unlike all others. In order to win, you have to beat the whole field – all at once. In team sports you expect help from your teammates. In other individual sports, e.g. tennis, bowling, boxing and wrestling, you have to win against another competitor, then win against another winner, and on and on, until you’ve beaten all of your foes. The comparison between golf and track & field or swimming is closer, but in those sports, while you have to win every race or heat, you’re only pitted against about seven or eight at a time. Golf and cross country are probably the most similar in that there are a multitude of people trying to beat you but, skill-wise, aerobics is the main ingredient in cc, while golf requires much less oxygen intake but a whole lot more dexterity and finesse.

How will all the scrutiny affect Rory McIlroy? He’s demonstrated remarkable poise thus far but, after more tourneys and more pressers and more demands on his time, will he be able to withstand it or will it make him crack?

We all will see because as Thomas Carlyle once said:

“No pressure, no diamonds.”



What’s the Proper Balance of Respect Between Players & Coaches and the Media?

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

People get upset when athletes and coaches aren’t willing, much less excited, to talk about the BIG game(s). Yet, that’s exactly when reporters and fans want to know everything these “giants of sport,” who have often been placed on a pedestal, think about it/them. It’s just that, at that time, players and coaches must be so focused – or at least ought to be – that distractions are the last things they want to deal with (or tied for last with ticket requests). It’s so hard to just make it to the tournament/playoffs/finals/Majors/Stanley Cup/World Cup/World Series/Super Bowl that coaches (especially) despise anything that will take their players’ minds off the urgent challenge they face. The serious athletes possess identical feelings.

So it becomes a battle of wills, as in will the people involved in the game break down and speak or will those who write about it . . . break them down? The pivotal individuals will do what’s mandatory, according to league, conference or association rules (no one better at this than the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich). Rest assured, there are players and/or coaches who revel in chatting it up to the media, some on the record, others off, e.g. the famed anonymous source usually being the guys who won’t be delivering much impact to the eventual outcome (marginal players and coaches not truly engaged in the game plan or planning) or are the selfish bunch who are looking to gain a favor or two down the road (possibly, a complimentary piece on them or a bit of timely gossip).

Should the media not obtain enough from the former group, or if the latter aren’t significant enough to write a compelling story, often media members (granted, usually not the good ones) will fabricate a story or twist words so the reader can come to a conclusion not necessarily false, but probably nowhere near what is really the case. Add to that group another that has become increasingly popular through the years – the paparazzi – and stories and pictures will be marginally changed, just enough to be flat out lies.

Why would someone stoop to such tactics? Miranda Lambert, who has had more of her personal life disclosed to the public, said just a few days ago in an interview:

“There are people who, literally, their only job is to make other people miserable, and that’s a terrible way to live.”

Golf Has Hole in One of Its Rules

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Fans of team sports have witnessed how instant replay can help determine the proper winner more so than leaving it up to referees (although each sport needs to figure a way to incorporate instant replay without compromising the flow of the game. Momentum is interrupted, occasionally for a greater length of time than is reasonable. I heard there are surgeries being performed remotely by specialists who are in other parts of the country. Why can’t it be that way in interpreting instant replays? If a surgeon in one part of the country can operate on a patient elsewhere, can’t a guy in a booth at, say, NBA headquarters, be able to tell which player touched the ball last? Rumor has it that the professional leagues are looking into one centralized location for viewing close calls – and/or challenges made by coaches – and making the decision from there. Kind of like a Wizard of Officials.

Golf has always been a sport which was self-governed. In today’s world, making sure the golfer who wins the tournament actually is the true winner is more difficult than in the past. Quite possibly, this is due to the lure of the exorbitant amounts of money that have become (a major) part of the sport. With purses upward of eight figures, the “no harm, no foul” concept is more tempting than ever before. Combine this with the person who lives to find flaws and the game has suffered – or not, depending on your true north.

Ever since a fan “outed” Tiger Woods for an improper drop, there are fans, whether viewing on the course or watching on television, who feel empowered to call in violations they’ve discovered. Their reasons might range from their ultra pure philosophy of golf to being able to finally realize their 15 minutes of fame to helping their favorite golfer by punishing (albeit justly so) a competitor.

First and foremost, the only individuals who ought to be allowed to call violations to the attention of those in charge are the people officially connected to the tournament and the golfers themselves. Here’s why:

1) Golf is, and has always been, a gentleman’s sport, based on the integrity of its players. In its past golf has seen its players call violations against themselves, sometimes causing a tournament to be forfeited or otherwise lost. Yet, we all know that people will cheat. The greater incentive, i.e. the money that’s made its way into the sport, the more enticing violating the rules become.

2) People who feel the need to be “a watchdog of society,” i.e. those whose lives are built around “making a better world” for everyone on the planet. Should any of this breed be golf fans, they’ll drop a dime on a pro if they think some type of infraction was committed. Good for them; unnecessary for golf tourneys.

3) The main reason for not allowing random people to call in violations of the rules is it’s not fair. Golf is built on fairness and, at the present time, certain golfers have appreciably larger groups of people following them. In that same vein, only certain golfers have cameras following their group. In other sports the officials tend to the entire game, i.e. both teams. Allowing fans to bring to tournament officials’ attentions an infraction committed by the golfer they saw would be akin to having more referees for one football team than another, e.g. five line judges checking to see if the visiting team holds on a play, while only one line judge calls holding penalties on the home team. In golf, sometimes that ratio is millions to none, depending on the players.

4) The rules should apply to every golfer equally. Until a tournament has every golfer videotaped and the tapes gone over daily, random fans ought not be allowed to affect a player’s score. If, however, someone does see a violation committed and feels necessary to report it, the video (if, in fact, does show a violation was committed) should be shared with the player only (and, possibly, the caddy). The player needs to be made aware of this behavior and should be given a chance as to explain why he or she felt it was not a violation of the game.

What should be made known to the perpetrator is that, unless there was a reasonable difference of opinion, i.e. not a strict black and white interpretation of the rules, people are following closely – and probably taking to social media, making life uncomfortable to say the least. Should the golfer admit to the error, it should simply be noted with no further action taken. Because of the nature of golf (and social media), one would hope these type of (usually minor) infractions will cease.

At that point, golf would return to the sport of integrity it was meant to be when it was created. Who could have ever envisioned this much money tempting mere mortals? It would be a wonderful world, a lot easier to live in, if only people subscribed to Alan Simpson’s philosophy:

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.

On Press Conferenes, Paul George, the Media and the Clippers

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Last night my wife, Jane, casually mentioned to me that LeBron and D-Wade did so much better a job of handling the media’s questions at the post game press conference than did Paul George. First of all, Jane doesn’t make a habit of watching post game pressers. For her to be even the slightest bit critical of Paul George was a pretty big shock to me. For those readers who don’t know, this blog originates out of Fresno where Paul George went to college. Here, he is everybody’s darling, the guy who, although not having a particularly spectacular college career, knocked NBA coaches and scouts on their butts at the Chicago pre-draft camp. Subsequently, he was selected in the first round (tenth overall) by the Indiana Pacers. He played so well that when his first contract ended, his agent and the Pacers negotiated a contract for 5 years and $90 million. One of the first moves he made was to buy all the tickets for a non-conference basketball game at his alma mater (Fresno State has a 15,500 seat arena and has struggled to attract crowds much greater than 5,000) and give them away (in groups of four) to anyone who wanted to see the Bulldogs play that night.

While I hadn’t seen last night’s press conference, it didn’t take me too long to realize that George was responding to reporters asking him about topics such as why the Pacers lost, was there a reason he wasn’t as aggressive as usual, what did being down 3-1 mean (isn’t that answer rather obvious?), what were the plans for regrouping once the series moved back to Indiana, did he think his team could beat the Heat, etc.

Reporters have jobs, players have jobs, coaches have jobs, people in the studio have jobs and on and on it goes. There is a 10 minute “cooling off period” following the game which is difficult for most people, especially at this time of the year. His team is one game away from elimination, from the championship he and the rest of his teammates have been waiting to claim after losing to this same team who beat them last year. Sure, you can say, it’s part of the job, it’s why they make big bucks (actually, every player is open game, independent of how much they make) and they shouldn’t complain but, as difficult as it is for some people to understand, they’re also human.

What has gone from a time of asking the participants to enlighten the viewers and readers regarding the game and the ins and outs of it has morphed into an almost inhumane meanness, a “can I ask the question that sets him off, so people will not only remember his response but who asked it” - possibly opening up all sorts of opportunities for me. The “investigative journalist” began with Woodard and Bernstein. That was necessary, they knew they were on to something big. Today seems more about creating something big. Even when, in the grand scheme, it’s not so big at all.

Maybe those asking the deep, insightful questions really believe what they’re doing is a vital service for society. I recall when the Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated in the second round and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin came out for their final post game press conference of the season. It was apparent both were distraught, that after the franchise brought in Doc Rivers and allowed him to not only coach, but make player personnel decisions, that they truly felt they had a really good chance to win an NBA championship. And they had a good bit of company in that belief – for several good reasons. CP3 was the penultimate point guard, the guy whose only thoughts and actions during a game were, “What can I do to put us in a position to win?” In Blake Griffin they had a guy who redefined himself and his game, not that he’s by any means a complete superstar but a guy who is on a mission to do just that. His improvement in field goal and free throw shooting, as well as expanding his offensive repertoire from last season to this, has been nothing short of remarkable. Doc Rivers proved to be the perfect choice to lead the group, molding and motivating DeAndre Jordan into, arguably, the #1 defensive force in the NBA, bringing in the right pieces through free agency and developing a bench so that nearly anytime the Clips took to the floor, they were better than even money to win.

Some of the questions in that press conference for Paul and Griffin were necessary while others were highly questionable, but when I heard the last couple, I literally shuddered. “If Donald Sterling is still the owner, how does that affect you?” and “Do you think players will take some course of action?” The blank look on each of their faces illustrated that the topic, at that time, was the furthest things from their minds and they were stumped for answers – especially to such controversial, time-inappropriate questions. At the proper time, they certainly would have responses – intelligent, well-thought out ones at that. But, to ask them, right after they’d been eliminated from the NBA Playoffs? Really? Luckily, the Clippers’ PR guy had the sense to put an end to the conference right then. But not until everybody watching could feel how awkward the situation had become.

My initial thought was, “How insensitive can people be?” Imagine if the person being questioned were his or her child? Would they not want to intervene in that situation? How about if it happened to be the writers themselves - having to answer questions (10 minutes) after some similar negative event in their lives had occurred? Just because they’re grown men, can people not realize they still have emotions, especially after all the time and effort they’ve invested?  Keep in mind these same media members will be reminding fans of the “voids” in each player’s or coach’s career, e.g. how many “rings” they’ve won – when, every season, only one team will win it all. 

It’s almost like in golf when, after a major, the media can ask every golfer in the world, except one:

“How does it feel, not to have won a major, again?”

Of course, they’ll get over it

A Short Synopsis Heading Into Masters Weekend

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Everyone knows that the biggest thing on a television executive’s mind is ratings. The almighty ratings. No one knows what the exact definition of totally devastating news to a TV exec is but you’d be hard-pressed to top “Hey, did you hear, Tiger won’t be playing in this year’s Masters.” There just isn’t enough Kleenex. Sharp objects are removed (except for those tiny pencils).

But no executive ever rose to that exalted position without being able to pull himself (or herself) together – whether through motivational sayings, meaningful affirmations or deep diaphragmatic breathing. Soon the thought process becomes, “OK, so Tiger’s not playing. Let’s give fans a great show. At some point we won’t have Tiger anymore and golf will still continue (Oh, God, I just hope it doesn’t happen until after I’ve moved up or retired . . . or died). Before long undoubtedly, there would be positive attitudes abounding throughout the studio. After all, wasn’t it an executive who coined the phrase, “The show must go on?” (Actually, I don’t know who said it but if I had to guess, it was probably the owner who sold out the house and didn’t want to refund all that dough).

Then, Friday’s play concluded. Golfers all over the country were wearing their thumbs out sending texts to their weekend playing partners, “Did you see Lefty fly the green from one trap to the other – and back again? I told you my game and his had something in common.” That line lost all its humor when Mickelson missed the cut – by one stroke. No Tiger, no Phil. Ouch!

“Is there any good news?” asked the executive. At this point it would take unbelievable job security, e.g. the owner’s kid or someone with compromising pictures of people really high up in the organization, to bring up the fact that Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson also missed the cut. Heck, no wonder Bubba Watson has a three stroke lead.

If ever a company line was heard, it was in the evening wrap up show with Jim Nantz and David Feherty when the affable Feherty made the statement (with a straight face), “I love this leader board.” When people speak of this Masters (barring anything other worldly happening during the weekend), “A Tradition Like No Other” will definitely not be what’s attached to it, but rather:

“Sometimes people don’t notice the things others do for them until they stop doing it.”

Young Athletes with Millions Should Never Go Broke

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Posting this notice late (it was supposed to accompany the blog below last Friday). There will be a new blog on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Every weekend my wife and I are out of town watching our younger son, Alex, and the Cal State Monterey Bay basketball team. Blogs will run from Tuesday through Friday until his season ends. 

Whatever you thought of Vince Young as a football player, there’s no way he should be filing for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at 30 years of age. My life had barely begun when I was 30, yet as I complete my second year of retirement, my wife (retired one year) and I are living large. And neither of us ever had even a six-figure salary, much less were we paid the $34 million Young received. While Vince Young’s life is not anywhere near its end, he has put himself in quite an unenviable position. He currently faces hardships he never, in his wildest dreams, would have considered. Sadly, his case is not nearly the exception.

In a 2009 Sports Illustrated study, 78 percent of former NFL players are bankrupt or are undergoing several financial stressors within two years of retirement from football and 60 percent of former NBA players are bankrupt within five years of retirement. This probably proves two points: one, that these young guys are poorly advised, if not simply scammed and two, NBA players get paid more – because there’s no way anyone will ever convince me that they’re wiser than their gridiron peers.

I hope it takes something other than a fool or an egomaniac (because I don’t consider myself to be either) to quote himself, but in my 5/3/10 blog, I stated: “Why not give (future pro prospects) a curriculum to prepare them for the life they’re about to enter?  That’s exactly what the . . . coach is doing in practice.  How about offering them (and any other student at the university) courses such as money management (including philanthropy for those who hit the jackpot – or need a tax write-off and would like to give back), selecting advisers (mentors, agents, and, although, it could be a sensitive area, friends), dealing with the media, women’s rights (this should be mandatory in the wake of . . . front page stories), nutrition, maintaining (year-round) physical fitness, accepting the responsibility of being a role model and acting appropriately (whether they want to or not, athletes are role models) and, since (professional) players don’t have normal 8-hour work days, nor do they play year-round, a course in how to productively use “down-time” (from doing crosswords and sudokus to keep the mind active, to reading up on topics of interest, to tennis and golf)?  Many other course possibilities exist if people at the top would put their heads together.” For lack of a better term, call the course load: Striking It Rich Early.

Elite athletes would see the relevance of these courses (certainly more than they do accounting, world history and ultimate Frisbee). Attendance should still be monitored (as it is at most universities) so the “special admits” (the guys who wouldn’t have gotten into school based on their academic record alone) would be forced to attend. Undoubtedly, before too long, they would feel more comfortable in the classroom. Then, athletes like Vince Young (who may or may not have been a special admit at Texas) would be exposed to the numerous examples of others – like him and before him – who’d been misled, lied to and swindled. The goal would be to have athletes who lost considerable amounts of money serve as guest speakers, if not adjunct professors.

Maybe one bit of advice would be, “If you want something, go ahead and buy it, as long as you invest an equal amount of money in something safe, e.g. Roth IRA, with the stipulation none of the invested money could be touched without two signatures, the athlete and someone trustworthy.” Who would be considered trustworthy? The athletes can be taught that if they ever want to withdraw out of that (those) account(s), the other person on the account should be someone who would not sign. Maybe that idea is too over the top or impractical, but Vince Young and others like him probably wishes they’d done something like it back then. There’s absolutely no reason any 30-year old person should have gone through – should have been able to go through – $34,000,000. It’s posted that way for effect because $34 with a word following it doesn’t have the impact on your brain.

Young invested poorly, overspent and, generally, suffered from bad advice. Ed Butowsky, a Dallas financial adviser, who was shown in an ESPN Films documentary about pro athletes’ inability to properly manage their money, said of Young:

“He’s ultimately responsible for all his decisions, but the people around him should have taken better care of him.” 

Talent Is a Trait We All Can Admire Even If We Don’t Have Much of It

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

There are all kinds of talent.  Currently I’m listening to an audio book on Steve Jobs.  Although that’s not the type of wunderkind I dealt with during my working days, it still blows me away that people can be that much better than their contemporaries.  Our house guest, Albert Van Troba, is the beneficiary of incredible art skills.  Maybe the reason art has always amazed me is because I can’t even draw stick figures.  Same with sculpture.  And musical talent.

While I was a decent athlete, when I got into coaching at the college level, I got to see guys with sensational skills perform daily.  Not superior to mine, but superior to 99% of the population.  When I got to certain institutions, I’d witness and get to know world class athletes.  I’d marvel at Washington State and Oregon track and field performers but that was nothing compared to the overall programs at Tennessee and USC, be they football, basketball, baseball, tennis, track and field, volleyball, swimming, water polo – you name it – men’s or women’s.  Not to be outdone by the more prestigious schools, at Fresno State we had – in one year – David Carr, the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Melvin Ely, regarded as the best post player in the nation and a NBA lottery pick, Stephen Abas, Olympic silver medalist (stop and think for a moment, that meant he was the second best wrestler in his weight class in the world) and future PGA sensation Nick Watney (who’s possibly has made more money that all the others).  And a couple of years prior to the guys, Laura Berg, the zillion-time Olympic gold medalist starting centerfielder, matriculated at FSU.

Watching magnificent athletes is like witnessing poetry in motion.  Another form of artwork (see how I tied the opening together) is seeing perfect photos of these marvelous athletes.  Just as there is debate as to who is the greatest player in a sport, similar dialogue takes place with photographers.  Always in the discussion, often at the top, is Walter Iooss Jr.  While I was rummaging through old boxes, I came across the SI from December 12, 2011 in which Iooss is asked why he’s stayed so long in his profession.  His response is not surprising:

“. . . because I’m still fascinated by people who do things the rest of us can’t.”

People Speak of “Golfer’s Mentality,” Few Understand It

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Most kids grow up in the United States playing some kind of team sport, be it kindergarten soccer, little league baseball, pee wee football or some version of biddy basketball.  In central California the first time a youngster has an opportunity to play an organized individual sport (unless the parent is Earl Woods, Richard Williams or Phillip Agassi) is fourth grade with cross country and wrestling.

By that time, they’ve already been ingrained in “team sport culture” and whether we’ll admit it or not, part of that culture is hoping an opponent “screws up,” e.g. misses an open net kick, strikes out with the bases loaded, fumbles or misses a free throw – each at such a crucial time in the game that the only way their team would win is if the opponent made such a mistake.  As the kids grow up, games are often won by great performances, sometimes by the team, more often by an outstanding individual effort.  Yet there are still moments when the outcome will be decided by the opponent.  A clutch performance and “the good guys” are doomed, a mistake and we win!  

Back to the individual sport situation, golf in particular because there’s nothing (short of gamesmanship) golfers can do to hurt their opponent’s chances.  Sure, someone can win when their opponent snap hooks a drive OB on the final hole but in golf, the competition is between the golfer and the course, and, in some cases, the elements.

If anyone’s played a team sport, there’s bound to be a time when the only way your team can win is if the other guys mess up, whether you cause the errors or they’re self-inflicted.  Maybe it’s a coincidence, but most of the friends I have grew up playing team sports.  Anytime we’d go golfing, there would always be a trash talking or kidding which was used to get somebody off their game.  We couldn’t help but wish a putt was missed or an errant shot was made so as to keep the match close.  Another trait of team sport guys is that there needs to be something on the game “to make it interesting.”

The difference for the professional golfer is the hours, days, months and years of practice.  Most of them start so soon in life that their mindset is ingrained in them by their parents, coaches and/or mentors early on.  They are dependent on no one other than themselves.  No respectable coach would ever teach methods of distraction to a player.  First of all, golf has always been a gentleman’s game.  Besides, it’s much easier – and certainly more enjoyable – to attempt to master the game than it is to try to distract an entire field.

Call me naive but I don’t believe when a golfer is over a 5′ putt to win the match that his opponent is hoping he’ll miss.  He certainly realizes that if the putt drops, he loses but I truly think that every golfer has empathy for his fellow competitor.  He understands and appreciates someone who can calm his nerves, focus on what needs to be done and come up clutch.   Possibly it’s because the flip side is misery – and he has been there at sometime in his career.  So, when the putt drops, there’s admiration for the winner – even though it’s not the guy he hoped it would be.

I admit my feeling is solely based on observation – of listening to post match interviews and talking to the few golf pros I’ve known – but in a golfer’s world, the phrase that seems to apply is:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”