Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

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.”

Did Jason Dufner Choke?

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Anytime an individual or team with a big lead loses, the word “choke” surfaces.  That was the scenario in yesterday’s PGA Championship when Keegan Bradley came from five strokes down with three holes to play, rallied to tie Jason Dufner and then beat him in a three-hole playoff.  So which was it - was Bradley clutch or did Dufner choke?  Without trying to psychoanalyze, probably both.

Dufner played sensationally (although the commentators had mentioned some of the short putts he made did look a little shaky) . . . until he had the five stroke lead - which he obtained when Bradley triple bogeyed the par three 15th hole.  Dufner was a hole behind Bradley and bogeyed 15 (and, ugh, 16).  Bradley birdied 16 and Dufner watched him birdie 17 as well.  After Dufner bogeyed 17, the tourney was tied.  Bradley closed out his round with a par.  With the pressure on - and momentum against him, Dufner was forced to par - or lose.  For someone who had bogeyed three consecutive holes - on national TV, in a major, Dufner could have . . . choked.  He parred the hole which forced a playoff.

On the first playoff hole, Dufner hit his shot close but Bradley knocked one inside him.  Dufner missed his birdie attempt, Bradley made his and went on to win the PGA.  As for whether Dufner choked, Henry Ford’s quote sums it up best - without disparaging anyone:

“There isn’t a person anywhere who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can.”

There Are Just Too Many Experts

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Whether reading accounts of the World Cup and the British Open, or watching television or listening to talk radio about them, one theme was discussed over and over - the subject of choking.  Did the U.S. women choke?  Did Phil Mickelson choke?

The arguments shared by those who claim “choke” by the females are that they were big favorites, missed on early opportunities, gave up goals that could have been avoided and performed poorly during the penalty kick phase of the contest.  Losing as an overwhelming favorite has nothing to do with choking; maybe overlooking the opponent or taking them too lightly (neither of which explanation I believe was the case with the World Cup final), but not choking.   The early lost chances could have been chalked up to lack of focus, not choking.   The first goal for Japan was due to a mistake in clearing the ball, not because the players involved choked.  Granted, the second goal should never have happened but because of a questionable strategical decision, not anything related to choking.  Regarding the PKs, two of the misses were superbly turned away by Japan’s goalkeeper and while the other miss was badly airmailed, to reason that one play caused the loss would be absurd.

Only because Phil Mickelson played absolutely magnificently for the first half of the final round was he even in contention for the Open Championship.  Lefty’s explanation for some risky shots was that he saw Darren Clarke was playing so well he knew taking risks were the only chance anyone would have to beat him.  I’ll take his analysis over some talking head whose golf game is more like mine than Mickelson’s.  He does miss more short putts than any great player but the rest of his game is as good or better than nearly everyone on tour so if that’s choking, he’s a choker.

The word “choke” is overused, especially in these two situations.  A little empathy would be wise in sports, considering our own performances.  As Stephen Covey has said:

“We judge others by their actions, ourselves by our intentions.

In Today’s World, Nick Watney Might Be Too Good

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

College basketball coaches are allowed to evaluate off-campus beginning July 5.  Heading to SoCal for an AAU tournament.  Blog will return Monday.

Following his dominating win in the PGA championship in Philly, golf commentators hailed Nick Watney as most likely the best player from the United States.  Although he went through the tourney’s weekend in near perfect fashion ( a 27 on the back nine Saturday for a course record 62 and a bogey-free final round), he has a serious flaw in his effort to be “the best.”  He’s too good a person.

Nick Watney was a golfer for Fresno State when I was on the basketball staff there.  It was a time when the Bulldogs had some of the premier athletes in the nation.  In addition to Nick, David Carr was the overall number one pick in the NFL draft, Melvin Ely was the highest rated center in the nation (and a lottery pick in the NBA draft) and Stephen Abas was the best wrestler in his weight division, eventually winning an Olympic silver medal.

None were media seekers but Nick was the most reserved.  He was as unassuming a superstar as anyone you’d ever meet.  A great guy, Nick was just somebody who went to class, worked hard in practice and competed at the highest level.  He just wasn’t much interested in anything that would draw attention to himself.  He was a serious, religious young man, similar to his coach and uncle.  Mike Watney was as much a mentor to his nephew as he was a coach and relative, a trait he’s offered to every guy on Fresno State’s golf team - for about the past three decades.

How can all this modesty hurt Nick?  It seems Americans like their heroes to have a nasty or dark side.  Nick’s recently married, polite and soft-spoken.  Not a recipe for today’s superstar.  Instead, he’s a breath of fresh air.  While today’s cynical fans might look at Nick Watney as too boring, it would be better to follow Albert Einstein’s advice:

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It’s the only thing. “

Should Rory Be Compared to Tiger So Soon?

Monday, June 20th, 2011

It’s only natural in today’s world of “all sports, all the time” that once an athlete performs in an extraordinary manner he (until there’s a little more history on the distaff side, this blog will address only the men’s side) is immediately compared to the person who’s situated on the pedestal.  Whether or not this type of rush to judgment is warranted doesn’t really matter.  It’s just the way things are.  So when Rory McElroy went “Tiger” at the U.S. Open, it was inevitable the comparisons would follow.

It was impossible to put on a sports talk station today without hearing opinions from “He reminded me of Tiger” to “It might be a little too early to crown Rory as the new Tiger just yet” to “It’s simply insane to make any kind of comparison to what Tiger did.”  On ESPN radio in Fresno, which has two stations, both of them were devoted the Rory-Tiger debate.  Who cares?  If it helps the sport, golf has to be thrilled with everyone chatting up the recent events.

I started thinking about all this - both the pros and the cons - and couldn’t remember if this same talk occurred following Tiger’s first major victory which probably means where this story goes is yet to be written.  One thing is for certain.  If McElroy’s trouncing the field at Congressional stokes Woods’ competitive juices, everyone wins.

So, to paraphrase Bob Knight, who possibly would like to take back his comment:

If (it’s) inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”