Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

(Lack of) Excitement Ruled Yesterday’s Sports on TV

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

Yesterday’s date was 4/9/16. Don’t worry about committing it to memory as, although a few thrilling events took place, there was nothing to get excited about quite yet.

The Masters, arguably the nation’s favorite golf tournament, is going on right now. During yesterday’s third round, the winds were so nasty that the tourney’s final pairing, consisting of two of the top four players on the PGA Tour (maybe two of the top two players) put up scores of 73 (Jordan Spieth) and 77 (Rory McIlroy). The former dropped three strokes on his final two holes, yet still remained atop the leader board at -3. The latter dropped as well. Out of contention. Only four golfers are in the red numbers.

What is so enjoyable about golf for television viewers is that the scenery is absolutely beautiful, the environment is close to sterile and, while many of the participants are young guys in terrific physical condition (like Spieth and McIlroy), an average guy, e.g. somebody who’s a few (or more) pounds overweight, not in such great cardio shape and, even older than we’re accustomed seeing in professional sports (like over 40!) can not only compete but, actually, win it.

Yesterday’s winds were so blustery, it was like they narrowed the clown’s mouth and sped up the windmill at your kids’ local favorite course. What makes golf less fair than other sports is that conditions aren’t the same for everyone. In golf the course itself doesn’t make for a level playing field. Fans want to see great players play great – or maybe even face severe adversity. But not because of the wind. Watching yesterday’s round left golf enthusiasts unfulfilled. I mean, who roots for the wind?

Switch over to baseball and one of sports’ greatest rivalries ever – Dodgers vs. Giants – were wrapping up a three-game series. They used to play in ballparks much closer to each other (those of you born before 1950 understand exactly what I’m saying). The Giants won the first two games of the series but the Dodgers rallied and won yesterday, 3-2 in 10 innings. That leaves both teams at identical 4-2 marks – with only 156 games to go. It might be an incredibly intense rivalry but try to hold some energy in reserve when the pennant race starts to get tight. Like six months from now.

Lastly, we have a sport – and a building – that’s coming to a close, we turn our attention to basketball. The Sacramento Kings (who will not be participating in the NBA Playoffs) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (who most definitely are) squared off against each other in what was the final game in Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento (the new Golden 1 Center will be the crown jewel of the west coast).

Naturally, the home crowd wanted the last game in the old gymnasium to be a victory, although sitting at home watching, the crowd didn’t sound exactly deafening. The lottery-bound Kings did what they could to give away the game, up seven with 26 seconds to go. A Thunder three-pointer cut it to four, one of two free throws after OKC was forced to foul put the home team up five, but they gave up another open three within five seconds. Another foul, another 1-2 at the line made it a three-point game with 11 seconds remaining.

Among basketball coaches, the debate rages on about whether, and when, to foul if a team is up three. The Kings decided to do so but Russell Westbrook, realizing what Sac’s strategy was, heaved a wild three-pointer as (or, possibly, just after) he was fouled. The NBA continuous action rule being what it is, the referees awarded Westbrook three free throws with seven seconds left in the game. Of course, he made them all and it looked as though the Kings’ fans were going to get some bonus Sleep Train Arena hoops. However, Rudy Gay drove, got fouled with but one tick on the clock, knocked down the FTs (it was he who’d shot the previous four, making half) and everybody went home happy. At least as happy as fans can be whose team isn’t invited to play in the post season.

For those who remember the old Honeymooners television show, i.e. people who used to root for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, the Cramdens lived in a one-bedroom apartment that was, to put it kindly, sparsely furnished. Ralph (played by Jackie Gleason) was a dreamer and always had a get-rich-quick idea brewing. With the Kings’ situation as it currently exists, if significant changes aren’t made in the off-season, moving into a brand new, “most connected” arena in the world (it will boast internet connections 17,000 times faster than average home) will be akin to what Ralph would say when waiting for his ship to come in:

“Wait until you see what this furniture looks like in a Park Avenue apartment.”

 

 

Now Is When Kobe, Tiger and Peyton Need to Be Role Models

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Sorry, readers, forgot to mention there would be no posts for the past few days but I notice a number of people logged on, apparently to catch up on some previous entries (after all, I’ve been blogging daily since 2007). In addition to today, I’ll be posting tomorrow but not again until Tuesday, Dec. 8.

As Michael Wilbon said on the ESPN show, PTI, “Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning – it’s a sad week.” For those folks who believe bad things happen in threes, there’s more fuel to add to that fire. Our sports viewing will certainly take a hit after the trio decides to give up competing at the highest level of their respective sports.

After listening to Kobe’s press conference, it’s apparent he, not only is OK with his impending retirement, but is actually looking forward to “whatever comes next.” Peyton and Tiger have also been rumored to have something to take up all their spare time. Their visibility might be less (not counting commercial endorsements) but their bank accounts and influence will still flourish.

If only all professional athletes had similar futures. While it’s true that 99% of the athletes don’t “make bank” anywhere near the haul that Woods, Bryant and Manning do, the flip side is that the majority of them make more than most of us “common people” do. A whole lot more. So if we can figure out how to make ends meet, why should it be so difficult for them?

Here are some ideas for professional athletes. One is that you make a ton of money – for a brief period of time. The minimum salary for an NFL player is nearly a half a million dollars, for NBA and MLB players, it’s a little north of that figure. If golf is your profession, it’s more difficult to make money (because you have more expenses) but you have it better than your predecessors with all the endorsement and sponsorship dough available that wasn’t around during their careers. Pros’ “jobs” may not last long (even if you never get injured) but while you’re a pro is the best time to realize you’re going to be living for a long time after you use the ball to make your living – and there’s a good chance that whatever your next line of work is, it won’t be quite so lucrative.

Which brings us to a simple strategy that isn’t used nearly as much as it ought to be. Savings. It sounds simple but, with all the stories floating around about “broke” athletes, that must not be the case. My late mentor, John Savage, was as wise a man as I’ve ever met. He had the ability to simplify major issues, often with memorable quotes. He’s been gone over 20 years, yet I can still hear the advice he gave to so many people. “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who spend and save what’s left and those who save and spend what’s left. The first type always wind up working for the second.”

Although Tiger, Kobe and Peyton are at the end of their careers, they are nowhere near the end of their lives. And for nearly every other athlete, the professional career is much shorter. Selecting trustworthy advisers might be as important as any other thing they’ve done, second only (for some) to learning how to say “no.”

It might be a little deep but Edmund Burke’s idea makes so much sense:

“Frugality is founded on the principle that all riches have limits.”

 

Media Members Could Have a Little More Empathy

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

This past Saturday night, driving back to our Oregon hotel, I was listening to a college football talk show. One of the first things I heard was a sound bite of Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.  After experiencing the first loss of the season and, thus ending any hope the Buckeyes had of repeating as national champions, the talented running back got “a microphone stuck in his face,” as head coach Urban Meyer explained it. Imagine the feelings, at that moment, of the college junior (albeit someone who had no intentions of becoming a senior). Some may say Elliott was upset for an additional reason – that, due to his less than stellar performance, his chances to win the Heisman Trophy went down the same drain the national championship hopes did. Whatever the factor was, he proceeded to do what (nearly) every media member lives for – make inflammatory comments – in this case, criticize his own program, especially the play calling during the game his team just lost.

“I deserve more than 11 carries. I really do. I can’t speak for the play caller. I don’t know what was going on . . . We weren’t put in the right situation to win this game,” were among the quotes Elliott made at a post game press conference. He also made mention of the fact he was lobbying Meyer to run the ball more. Media members were drooling when he also stated he will not be returning to Columbus for his senior season. Players like that almost write the story for the media member.

People who have never been a member of a football team – a group that physically punishes their bodies, depends on each other more than any other sport (because it’s the ultimate team game – see my 8/31/15 blog for a more thorough explanation) and either wins or loses as a unit (as opposed to individual sports teams – tennis, golf, swimming, track & field – in which one competitor can achieve victory while the team loses), cannot fully realize the emptiness that comes with defeat. Not that many people get to work at their craft and “put it on the line” each week. If only sportswriters had to file a story each week and have it scored, the result being a win or a loss for that individual. Consider how the person who “lost” week after week would feel when it was written and discussed on television (and the Internet) that the next week’s story was critical – that the writer was on the “hot seat” and that another L could lead to a job demotion or a move to a paper with a smaller circulation or, perhaps, even end a career.

What I heard on that talk show was the co-host applaud a colleague for one of his follow ups, giving kudos for a “probing” question. To her it was a guy doing a sensational job, while I looked at it as “piling on.” The guy had lost four games during his three-year career (while winning 36). His team had just had a 24-game winning streak snapped. And they weren’t going to get the chance to defend their title. Throw in the Heisman loss if you know Elliott well enough to believe that was his motivating element.

Predictably, Elliott apologized later, as athletes who speak out of emotion in frustrating times (right after a devastating loss) usually do. He said he was sorry for OUR (caps his) loss, didn’t mean to point fingers, was caught up in his emotions, loves his team, gave nothing but blood, sweat and tears, always put the team before himself and, to illustrate his love for Buckeye Nation, ended with “GO BUCKS!” He did, however, stand by his statement regarding not coming back for his senior year. The remarks he made were, as opposed to the post game rant, well thought out and explained, although admitting it was the wrong time and place to make that “announcement.” He realized a month ago he was going to enter the NFL draft. Anyone who has done any research on the longevity of an NFL running back, i.e. earning years, would completely understand such a decision.

Would sportswriters’ attitudes be any different if others had the capability to turn the tables and ask questions of their own? Queries such as, “With those in the know claiming newspapers will go the way of the dinosaur, how long do you feel your paper has before shutting down?” “With so many of your colleagues being laid off, do you think you’re also on the hot seat?” “There are rumors that there is in-fighting at your newspaper. Care to comment on that?”

Naturally, that will never happen (much to many readers dismay). Still, it would be nice if the media kept in mind:

“A little empathy goes a long way – and it never really hurt anyone.”

Pressure in Some Sports Different than Pressure in Others

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Watching a field goal kicker line up for a game winner (especially if a miss will result a loss), is tense for all concerned. Skill position guys and behemoths alike are seen holding hands or locking arms on the sideline, praying for a make (or a miss). I can’t speak for all field goal kickers but having been one (for a brief period, a long time ago) I can tell you the pressure on making or missing is from a team standpoint, i.e. the kicker wants to come through for his team (OK, a little for himself but only to keep his job – just ask Josh Scobee). Conversely, should he miss, he feels awful because he let his guys down. I’m not sure about today’s NFL PK but, in the past, he was a guy who grew up as a position player and fully realizes how much work, sweat and pain went into actually playing. He just got to a level in which he wasn’t good enough to compete with the other guys – yet possessed a skill that was still quite valuable for the squad.

Players on the free throw line with tenths of a second on the clock and the outcome of the game riding on the success or failure of the shot, a pitcher vs. batter confrontation with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game, kicks taken in a penalty shoot out in soccer contests – losing hurts more than winning feels good. The reason is mostly due to how the individual’s performance affects his or her team more so than how the player feels about the result (although today’s endorsement deals might be cutting into that theory a bit).

If any fan, mainly those who never played (but can rattle off stats and analytics like it’s nobody’s business), wonders which is more pressure-packed, a team or individual sport, watching the Presidents Cup (golf matches between a team representing the United States and an International team representing the rest of the world minus Europe) told you all you needed to know. For those fans who didn’t want to stay up that late, or to whom golf takes a backseat to football (meaning golf is put on the back burner until after the Super Bowl), the final day produced some nervous moments.

Sangmoon Bae was the only Korean on the International team, playing in front of his home crowd – for the final time before serving two years of mandatory military service – and had the entire outcome fall on his shoulders. Playing in the final spot, his match came down to his needing to win – or else his International team would lose. Tying, or halving, his match would still give the Americans the victory. His opponent, Bill Haas – son of the U.S. team coach (talk about some additional pressure) had hit his approach on the 18th hole in the green side bunker. Bae’s approach landed short of the green, meaning a chip within “gimmee” range would force a not-so-easy up & down for the American. Hole out and Haas would be forced to do he same.

Bae stood over his shot – and, after he hit it, the obvious conclusion was . . . the term no athlete wants next to his name – he choked. He stubbed his chip, didn’t reach the green and watched as his ball rolled back down the incline. His immediate reaction drew sympathy from . . . well, anyone with a heart. He broke down, crouched and put his face in his hands – something only seen on a golf course in victory. His caddie walked over and gave him a pat on the back, for no other reason than to let Bae know that he wasn’t alone – even though the golfer was well aware that everyone at the course, as well as the millions who were watching on television, had their eyes glued to him.

Why is it that superstar players, who look so cool during tour events, have a much tougher time when their performance counts toward a team victory as opposed to a personal one? Miss an easy one on tour means the golfer doesn’t win, takes home a smaller check or doesn’t make the cut. For a guy like Jordan Speith who talks in “we,” “us” and “our” and as opposed to “I,” “my” and “mine” (meaning he understands that there are people who have assisted in his currently being #1 in the world), it’s apparent he has figured out he has a team behind him, composed of, but not limited to, his caddie, parents, the rest of his family, his girlfriend, management team, trainer, sponsors, physio/chiropractor, social media/activation team, various coaches. Yet, Team Speith’s success still depend 95% on how he performs on the course. Naturally, he doesn’t want to let that support group down but, with Presidents Cup play, there was the added factor of his team – the 11 other guys playing for the red, white and blue. In other words, his team winning or losing wasn’t 95% on him.

Some guys thrive on team golf, others not so much. Last Sunday Chris Kirk hit an absolutely awful chip on the 18th, sending his ball well past the hole. His opponent, Anirban Lahiri, was inside five feet. The situation looked bleak for the U.S. – until Kirk made the putt every golf fan will remember him for (it will take quite a feat for any putt he makes in the future to top this one for pure drama). Kirk drained the downhill 15 footer and Lahiri missed his 3’8″ putt, much to the local fans’ dismay. Lahiri wasn’t the only golfer missing short putts. Bubba Watson missed not one, but two five footers, costing his squad a point. And, maybe the hottest golfer over the last month, Jason Day, didn’t win a match during the whole tourney.

As most players will readily admit regarding the difference in the pressure of playing a tour event (including a major) or playing either Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup (and ditto for tennis players in Davis Cup play):

“It’s just not the same.”

 

Finally, the Reign in Spain Has Ended.

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

Last evening began innocently enough. I came home from playing golf (for the first time in five years) and my wife had the television turned on to the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Jane isn’t that big a tennis fan but she does like to watch the majors – both tennis and golf. Serena came from a set down to win, undoubtedly on her way to the calendar Slam. Then, it was #8 seed Rafael Nadal (who any tennis fan would know) vs. #32 seed Fabio Fognini (who few would).

About an hour earlier, a friend of mine (a non-tennis fan) called and asked if I was going to home. When I told him we had no plans and he ought to stop by, he told me he’d be over around 8:00 pm. When I got off the phone with him, I noticed that Nadal got off to a good start and looked to be in control. After a shower and a light dinner, my buddy showed up and, as we went out onto our patio, Rafa was cruising to a straight set victory, having won the first two.

He’s fond of cigars (my friend, not Nadal – at least to my knowledge) and we talked about a new job he’d taken. The conversation lasted the time it took him to smoke two cigars. He got up to leave and I walked him to his car noticing, without paying too much attention to it, that the match was still going. When I got back into the house, Jane told me Fognini had battled back and took the third and fourth sets. What??? Fognini is a clay court specialist and this match was played on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

Now, it was getting interesting. My 8/18/15 blog a couple weeks or so ago, was about the fact that sports are played at different levels. When you’re watching a sport at the highest level, especially if you’ve ever actually played it, you are almost hypnotized at the skills the players exhibit. Not only making amazing shots but, in the case of tennis, returning what look like sure winners.

Tennis is a game played, basically, with two strategies – aggressive (trying to hit winners) or patience (keep a rally going until your opponent makes mistakes). The “I’m going to hit more winners than you” (while trying to limit my unforced errors) vs. the “I’m going to sit back and return balls until you make a mistake.” The underdog will have a better chance of winning if his or her style of play is the opposite of the opponent. That only makes sense. If two players employ the same strategy, the more skilled of the two will probably win, assuming health factors, e.g. no injuries to either, are equal. However, if the styles are in opposition to each other, there’s a chance for an upset because an aggressive underdog might just be “feeling it” or someone with a patient strategy might frustrate the aggressor into over-hitting and force errors.

And so it was last night as Nadal and Fognini battled until 1:26 am local time. Usually in a five-set, marathon match (this one lasted three hours and 46 minutes), the winner is the one who makes fewer mistakes. The bodies are drained, minds aren’t as sharp and fatigue sets in. Last night there were seven straight service breaks in the final set! Yet, Fognini, long questioned about his effort, according to none other than the best tennis analyst in the business, John McEnroe, kept on battling. Johnny Mac knew about battling through lengthy matches, having beaten Mats Wilander in 1982 Davis Cup play (9–7, 6–2, 15–17, 3–6, 8–6) in six hours and 22 minutes (prior to tie-break era) and lost to Boris Becker in 1987 Davis Cup (4–6, 15–13, 8–10, 6–2, 6–2) in six hours and 21 minutes (also prior to tie-break era) – the fifth and sixth longest matches of all-time.

Although Nadal was the heavy favorite, Fognini had beaten him twice this season and last night he used a series of breathtaking shots to beat his rival. When asked about his comeback from two sets down to a player as imposing as Nadal, Fognini said he needed to use a high-risk, high-reward strategy to give himself a chance, e.g. he overcame his eight unforced errors with 12 winners in the third set. The final stats were 154 points for Fognini to 152 for Nadal. Yet, the Italian hit 70 winners to only 30 for the more patient Rafa. It was the first time in 151 Grand Slam matches that the Spaniard had lost in which he’d won the first two sets.

McEnroe has played in and seen most of the greatest matches ever. His reaction to last night’s Fognini win:

“That was one of greatest, most spectacular comebacks you’re ever going to see on a tennis court.” 

Every Sport Has Different Levels at Which It’s Played

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

When I was an assistant basketball coach at Tennessee, one of my closest friends – and mentor – was UT’s tennis coach Mike DePalmer (a member of the Tennis Hall of Fame). Mike, as good a friend and giving a person as there is, and I played many tennis matches at 7:00 am – for seven years! One morning, I showed up to play and he had already given a lesson to a local youngster at 6. We began to warm up when his manager came out, telling him he had a recruiting call from South America. “Jack, I gotta take this call. I’m already warmed up from the lesson, why don’t you warm up with Paul?”

“Paul” was Paul Annacone, his #1 singles player at the time. For those of you who aren’t tennis fans, in 1984 (the year he and I “warmed up”), Paul proceeded to go 51-3 in singles and was the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Player of the Year (I steadfastly refuse to take any credit for helping him achieve that award). Following a successful professional tennis career (in which his highest ranking was #12 in the world), he turned to coaching. Among his pupils were Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

One interesting aspect of working at a major university is the number of world class athletes you encounter, not only the players you coach, but those in other sports. In my time at UT the coaches and players ate together in the dining hall of the athletic dorm, so I got to know some kids with amazing skills. That day, Paul walked to the opposite side of the court and we began to rally. After he and I hit the ball about 4-5 times a piece, I stopped and walked toward the net.

“How do you get the ball to jump off your racket?” I asked him. He was leisurely hitting shots and they were exploding back to me. Being a wise guy New Yorker (which he knew I could relate to), he deadpanned, “It’s called a hitting off the sweet spot. Your racket has one, too.”

Another close friend of mine is Mike Watney, the former golf coach at Fresno State (and a member of the Golf Hall of Fame). Note: My career in intercollegiate athletics was more known for longevity (30 years) and number of Division I schools that employed me (9) than for any personal accomplishments. However, as the reader can see, I was wise enough to form connections with the giants in their respective games (someday I might list all the coaches I worked with, if for no other reason than to show the “coaching education” I was exposed to during my time in the business). In fact, my last two bosses in college hoops are in the Naismith Hall of Fame – or will be soon. Jerry Tarkanian was inducted a couple years ago and George Raveling (I was his graduate assistant at Washington State from 1973-75 and associate head coach at USC from 1991-95)  will be enshrined on September 9.

In an earlier post, I told the story of winning a free golf lesson at the Fresno State Xmas luncheon and how Mike convinced me – someone who’d never really played the game – to take him up on it. I quickly became hooked and while my back surgeries have shelved my golf game (I’m hoping not permanently), our two sons (26 and 21) have been bitten by the bug and play whenever they can.

Mike called me about an opportunity he’d been given and wanted to bounce some ideas off me. When we were catching up with what was going on with our kids, I mentioned how into golf each of our guys were. Being the gracious guy he is (you’ll be hard pressed to find a more genuine, down-to-earth person – anywhere), he offered to give a lesson to the boys when they were in town. Unfortunately for Andy, who lives and works in Newport Beach, he couldn’t take advantage, but his younger brother, Alex, was home for another couple weeks before heading to Cal State Monterey Bay for his senior year – and he jumped at the chance.

My back is such that my pain level will never really get “better” but I do yoga, ride an exercise bike and work with a personal trainer so it doesn’t get worse. I’ve been working out with former Fresno State strength and conditioning coach, Steve Sabonya, since the beginning of July. Although I take the workouts seriously, I still manage to “chat it up” with Steve while he’s putting me through exercises to improve my flexibility and strengthen my core. Since he’s worked with elite athletes throughout his career (present company not in that category), we’ll talk about how good somebody has to be to make it professionally in a chosen sport.

Last week Steve asked me what I thought a 10 handicap golfer would shoot if he were to play in a PGA tournament. I told him how Mike had worked with Alex and, after their session, mentioned that he thought Alex had promise as a golfer – and if he wanted to get really good Mike would give him another lesson. Alex didn’t need to be asked twice. That second lesson was the day after my workout with Steve. When we showed up, I mentioned Steve’s question to Mike.

“With the way they make the course so difficult for PGA events, from growing out the rough to making the greens so fast,” I asked him, “what would a 10 handicap golfer score?” Mike didn’t take long to respond. His answer was a 10 handicap would be fortunate to break 100.

All of this came to mind when I saw an article in which John Wall commented on his chances to make our Olympic team. “I’ll be out of the picture,” said Wall through a laugh and without any noticeable trace of resentment. “I’m just being honest. Chris Paul has already won one (Olympic gold medal). Steph Curry had an amazing last year and just won the World Cup. Kyrie (Irving) just won the World Cup. Russell (Westbrook) will probably be on the team. They’ll use him as a two-guard. So, I probably won’t make it.” Keep in mind that this admission was coming from a basketball player who is universally worshiped by the 21-and-under crowd.

It’s like Mike DePalmer told me after I informed him about Annacone explaining the sweet spot theory:

“The game of tennis” (and really ALL sports) “is played at different levels. There are beginners, you and I play at a better level, then there are additional levels, including college, professional and – the best of the best.”

Golf Is Undergoing a Metamorphosis

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Seldom am I glued to a golf tournament for an entire weekend but the recently completed PGA Championship had me 1) sitting on my La-Z-Boy, 2) lying on my couch or 3) riding the recumbent bike (hey, I needed to get some exercise). Heading into Saturday, Jason Day was the golfer who most everybody thought had the best opportunity to win (even though Matt Jones held a two-stroke lead on him, few people, Australians included, were on the Jones’ bandwagon). However, even with Rory (first name only necessary) being seven shots back (people crave dramatic returns) and Jordan (also first name only necessary) playing like he was the number one golfer in the world (which he wasn’t before the tourney but is now), there was a good bit of intrigue.

Adding to the suspense was that Day had come so close before in majors, only to falter due to subpar play or . . . vertigo. Maybe he was a sympathetic figure (with a ton of talent) or maybe it just seemed as though this was his time. In an interview after the victory, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi asked Day how he felt being matched with Spieth for the final round (a pairing that happened only because a number of golfers ahead of Spieth stumbled late on Saturday). The newly crowned champ remarked how difficult it was due to the way Jordan had been playing – and with the fans rooting for Spieth (Day admitted if he were in the crowd, he would be pulling for Spieth). He even mentioned that some people were yelling, “Choke!” to the Aussie. Whether that’s because they were Spieth fans or Americans pulling for “one of their own” he never said. While we shouldn’t brand an entire group of folks, keep in mind the tourney was played in Joseph McCarthy’s home state where the former senator made “love of country” (in)famous.

The remark Day did make in the Rinaldi interview was the amount of emotion he displayed prior to, as well as following, his tap-in for the victory was because of the childhood he endured, his thoughts that, as a youngster, he never felt like he’d be making a living as a professional golfer, his (pregnant) wife and little son, Dash, – and the amount of hard work he put into mastering his craft.

The golf world has a whole new bunch of stars. Tiger (who will always be a first name only guy, independent how poorly his career winds up, or down, – he’s now 286th in the world) has been trying to convince us and the media (himself?) that he’s continuing to improve, that all the changes made to improve (and because of his injuries) take a great deal of time, that he feels he’s hitting the ball better every time out, that he’s more and more pleased with his putting, yada, yada, yada. It seems as though, even for those staunch Tiger loyalists – and the number is dwindling exponentially to his scores increasing – if anyone believes a major can be won at age 46, like Jack (golf has to be the best for first name only guys), there’s a better chance it will be Phil (also no last name necessary) who turns 46 next year.

Get ready for some great golf (just with a different starring cast), because of the skills and confidence of the new guys – Rory, Jordan, Jason and a host of others. After winning it and posting the lowest score ever in a major (-20), Day’s statement about how he felt at the beginning of the PGA Tournament was all-telling. What he said was an example of the cool brashness of this new breed:

“No one was going to beat me this week.”

 

A Couple Weeks Off While I Work MJ’s Basketball Camp

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

It’s that time of the year – Michael Jordan Flight School (MJFS) @ the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB). It’s the 20th year of the camp and if anyone wants to know how powerful MJ and his “brand” are – all these many years later – consider that not one of the kids has ever seen Michael Jordan play! His last year in the NBA was 2003, meaning that even the oldest kids (17-18), were only 5-6 years old when he played. And that was for the Wizards, not the zenith of his career.

There  will be approximately 800 youngsters at each session, the first one for boys only; the second co-ed – and for children from other countries, e.g. last year we had over 200 kids from China alone. The camp is split into eight leagues, with eight teams in each league (based mainly on age, but also ability). This is the first point of contention with which we have to deal. Parents want their boys and girls (mainly boys) to be in certain leagues – usually an older one because his (or her) advanced skill level – and let the league’s commissioner (I happen to be one of the eight commishes) know in no uncertain terms about their child’s prowess.

Since I worked with parents of players (or students) for 42 years, the issues can be resolved with a modicum of diplomacy. Not so shockingly, there is quite a chasm between the youngster’s actual skill level and the parent’s evaluation. Check-in is in the morning. Shortly after noon, followed by a quick orientation, leagues are formed, practice games played (with coaches doing the best they can to balance teams). Team selection is completed the first night of each session, in time for the second most treasured moment of camp – Picture Day. Michael takes a picture with every team (64), each coach (64) and commissioner (8). Also included in picture day are, the trainers, dorm people, food service people, equipment folks – and, somehow, MJ looks exactly the same in every one. Same smile, same sparkle in his eye. I have never seen him have to redo a picture in all the years I’ve been there. One of my colleagues and I marvel at how a guy can walk into a gym, wearing a t-shirt and jeans – and look like a million bucks.

Celebrity camps aren’t exactly a new phenomenon but MJFS is the standard. Jordan speaks to the campers a minimum of once a day, and often twice. He’ll give instructions on shooting one morning, free throws on another, run contests (in which winners receive shoes for themselves, their friends, occasionally for their whole team). Evenings are for competitions, sometimes MJ will select a camper as his partner. One highlight is the Q&A session at night which usually consist of the same ol’ questions, although very once in a while, he’ll have to field one from out of left field. (Somehow, during the day, he squeezes in 36 holes of golf.)

The greatest event for everybody concerned, with the exception of MJ, is the last morning when everyone connected with the camp gets an autograph from the G.O.A.T. We have calculated that on that final day, Michael signs upwards of one thousand autographs – with never a reported case of writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel. The cost for a session is in the neighborhood of $800 which, when the math is done, makes for . . . a whole lot of money. Since the camp’s inception, Michael Jordan has taken no money from it, i.e. his “share” is donated.

That is a major reason MJ is known by letters:

“G.O.A.T.”

This blog will return Wednesday, August 12.

 

Who Was in Charge at St. Andrew’s – and Why Did No One Help Him?

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

Regarding yesterday’s blog: watching The Open, as the British Open golf tournament is referred to, I had to re-think how much fun the game of golf is. After Day 1, Tiger Woods (you remember him, right) made the statement that, due to his poor first round, he had to hope for nasty conditions on Day 2, forcing his competitors into subpar scores, then play some terrific golf himself.

Can you imagine hoping for bad weather? I can understand the Buffalo Bills wanting miserable conditions in upstate New York when they play the Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers but football is a bit of a rougher game than golf. Like a shark is a bit more dangerous than a goldfish. I made my feelings known about golf yesterday when I said one reason golf was fun was because you got to play in wonderful weather (if not, just don’t play – there will be nicer days, especially when you’re retired – and live in California).

Well, the R&A outdid itself on Saturday in Scotland (even though it didn’t quite seem like Saturday yet out here). It didn’t take a meteorologist to figure the weather was brutal. I mean, golfers are extremely talented athletes (I do consider them athletes, certainly in terms of hand-eye coordination, strength and conditioning – for most in today’s game, anyway – and, certainly, mental toughness). But in no way does anyone consider them gladiators, as fans do, say, football players.

So, leader Dustin Johnson had to play three holes – while other golfers didn’t swing even once. At that time the powers-that-be decided that no sane person should be out in that kind of weather – and the only thing that was keeping them out there were . . . the decision-makers for The Open. The major problem with what took place at St. Andrews (pronounced sin-TANDREWS) was that it was just that – a major. Why should golfers have to play one of their four most important events in inclement weather when the rest of the game is so pure?

Don’t agree? Try sneezing or coughing (or even just taking a picture if it means there will be an audible “click”) during a golfer’s backswing. The Seattle Seahawks have their decibel meter. It gets so loud that opposing offenses can’t hear play calls and, often, teams are forced into penalties. The Golden State Warriors gave credit to their fans for making so much noise during their run to last season’s NBA Championship. Imagine having to play golf with the kind of distractions quarterbacks, place kickers and free throw shooters do? Because of that, golfers should never be forced to putt into 40 mph winds. Nobody practices putting into 40 mph winds, nor should they. That’s not skill and, if nothing else, golf is a game of incredible skill. Someone shouldn’t become a champion because he got to play in sunshine – after rain was coming down sideways for the guys playing earlier.

Talk about leveling the playing field. OK, so everything can’t be exactly equal. But to do what was done yesterday at St. Andrews definitely skewed the results, independent of who wins. Let’s face it, although power has entered the game more than it ever has, golf is still a finesse game, a great deal of it built on touch. What the answer is I don’t know but late Friday night (on the west coast) wasn’t even fun to watch. As fans, we’d like to think the games we witness are fair (WWE excluded). I’d imagine the players feel the same way.

“When stubbornness tops common sense, someone needs to step up and give the group a literal slap in the face – for everyone’s sake.”

My Return to the Links – Maybe

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Early in my career, there was an unwritten rule that if a young basketball coach harbored any hope of moving up in the profession, playing golf was taboo. While it was unwritten, it was not unspoken. Both Abe Lemons and Jerry Tarkanian used to say, when asked about their hiring philosophy, “I never hire any coach who owns an RV or golf clubs.”  In fact, of all the head coaches I worked for throughout my 30-year career (10), only two could be considered golf enthusiasts – and four of them didn’t play at all.

The first time I actually played golf was at a media event in the late ’70s. I “competed” in couple more of those outings but, as far as playing a sport, I enjoyed tennis a good deal more. It was a better workout, didn’t take as long and was a whole lot less expensive. Plus, I had more skill with a racquet in my hand than a club. It wasn’t until early in my stint at Fresno State – ironically, working for Tark – when I was properly introduced to golf.

The athletics department had the annual Xmas party and the format was everybody donated something – so everybody won. Kinda like Little League. When my name was picked, wouldn’t you know it, my prize was a free lesson with golf coach Mike Watney, coach/uncle to PGA pro Nick Watney and a member of the Golf Hall of Fame. Mike and I shared a mutual respect for each other (me for him for obvious reasons, and him for me . . . because he told me so). He approached me after the luncheon and asked when we could get together. As I tossed the piece of paper with the “one free golf lesson” written on it in a trash can, I joked that if I was to take up golf, the worst golfer in the world would move up one notch. “No, c’mon, meet me outside my office” (where there was an open field) “and I’ll give you a couple pointers.”

By that time in his career, Jerry had relaxed his “no golf for coaches” rule. There were so many Fresno State tournaments in which boosters played, our AD, who was an avid golfer, wanted coaches to participate and mingle. While Jerry never swung a club, his son, Danny, a marvelous athlete, would represent the basketball department. I set a date with Mike and he had me swing a 7-iron. I gripped it like I would a baseball bat (a sport I was familiar with, had played in high school and loved). After a couple serious slices, Mike diagnosed (one of) my major problem(s). “Try turning your grip so the ‘V’ between your left thumb and index finger points, instead of toward your left shoulder, as it is now, toward your right shoulder. Same with the right hand. Point that ‘V’ to your right shoulder as well.”

I’m nothing if not coachable, so I followed his instructions and – how about that – the ball started straightening out. Not bombs, mind you, but at least shots I’d be easily able to find. Our beat writer happened to be there (at that time, he and I were extremely good friends) and even he, a total non-athlete, was impressed. That made two of us. Mike claims he was never in doubt. Kind of him to say.

Since there were so many others in the department who played and because the weather was always good, I began playing once the season ended. I admit I was hit by the bug and couldn’t wait to get on a course. In addition, one of my surgeries had resulted in nerve damage in my feet, causing neuropathy, a condition in which the feet tingle – like the feeling you get when your foot falls asleep – so my tennis days were long gone.

After a few more surgeries, playing golf became impossible as well. I still loved the game – I mean, you’re playing with friends (the guys I played with weren’t bettors, so it remained a fun game), in a beautiful setting with green grass, sand, water, shrubbery and trees (I’ve spent more time in them than is recommended), in great weather (otherwise, I waited until it improved), riding in carts and, once in a while (more often for me than I was supposed to), you hit the ball. As a golfer, you play against the course. Even though I knew I’d never come remotely close to beating it, it’s the 120 yard 9-iron that I holed out for the only eagle of my life, or the sinking of a left-to-right 30-foot putt that would bring me back – even though my scores might have been in triple figures. I have missed playing tennis and golf (if I were a jogger, I’d miss that too). Now, yoga (no one will ever confuse me with Eddie George but my flexibility has improved) and 30-60 minutes on a recumbent bike have been the totality of my athletic accomplishments.

Maybe because I have learned to live with pain, maybe because I just have to give it another try, I’m thinking about playing golf again. I haven’t reserved a room at the hospital – and hope I don’t need to – but a person can do sudokus (there has never been one I couldn’t complete) only so long. Joni Mitchell was right:

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