Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

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.”

Another Difference Between Golf and Team Sports

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

People who compete in golf have no one else to blame when they lose.  It’s just you against your opponent.  There are no substitutions, e.g. put in someone who putts better than you do when you have a tricky eight footer.  Conversely, you know when you win, you did it (with help from your caddie, coaches, medical staff, etc. but the point is, you did it.  You hit all the shots.

Fair and square.  Everybody plays by the same rules.  The difference is that in golf, the rules are sacred.  You don’t have other people blowing whistles for you or against you.  In other sports someone else enforces the rules and when the players disagree with the (paid) officials’ calls, they show their displeasure sometimes by yelling through mouthpieces and body language (football), other times by “showing up the referee” by running down the court or some other theatrics (basketball), or the ultimate – making a jackass out of yourself by screaming at the authority figure, nose-to-nose – with your hat on backward (baseball).

Because others enforce the rules in team sports, the players will do whatever they can to influence the officials’ calls.  Including flat out cheating.  One of the stories people have been talking about the past few days is the recent (absurd) “flop” by Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat.  The referee waved off a basket by the Spurs at a crucial spot in the game.  How much the outcome was affected is up for debate but the fact that, after watching the replay and seeing how boldly Bosh cheated, begins a debate on integrity vs. gamesmanship.

Dirk Nowitzki, one of the better floppers in the league, said he thinks flopping is part of the game.  While the NBA is naturally opposed to intentional illegal play – and because they won’t subscribe to Dirk’s philosophy – what can be done?  This year the league office has been doling out fines but, really, with how much the players make, and the fact the calls can’t be retroactive, the fines are like putting a bandaid on cancer.  Example: Chris Bosh is making $17,540,000 this year and was fined $5K for the dive he took.  That would be like fining a guy making $100,000 a grand total of $28.50.

Golf, on the other hand, expects the players to call fouls against themselves.  Purists were incensed that Tiger Woods didn’t disqualify himself when he took an illegal drop a month or so ago even though the move didn’t have much of an impact on the tournament and, if you believe Tiger, he didn’t realize what he did was against the rules.

Bill Bennett’s quote might just serve people from both sides:

“When what we want to do and what we ought to do are two different things, character is built in the choice we make.”

How Is an Athlete Defined?

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

A few months ago I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine who, like most everybody our age, loves to play golf.  We were marveling about the guys on the PGA Tour.  In addition to shot making talent (with nearly every club in the bag), possessing nerves of steel (especially when there are millions of people watching), being able to get out of terrible trouble (with no worse than a bogey – and usually a par) and the ability to play well in any kind of weather, the overall mental – and physical – toughness golfers must have in their game labels them elite athletes.

Along came another buddy of mine (who’s never played golf and definitely has no plans to pick it up in the near future) asked what we were talking about and when he heard, I thought we might have to call 911 he became so apoplectic.  “What!!?!!  You’re calling golfers athletes?” he screamed.  After the other patrons were assured no physical harm was coming, I asked him who, exactly, he considered athletes.

His reply was similar to the one Justice Potter Stewart gave when he was asked to describe pornography: “I know it when I see it.”  We discussed the topic for hours that day/night and brought up a zillion examples – tennis players, wrestlers, bowlers, ping pong players, archers, swimmers, synchronized swimmers, dart throwers, long distance runners, shot putters (and the other throwers), high, long and triple jumpers, cheerleaders, chess and checker players, spelling bee championships, you name it.  If there was something in which score was kept or people competed, we added it to the argument.  After all was said and done (and, believe me, more was said than done), we called a truce.  I now realize that was four-five hours of my life I can never get back.

I recall reading a quote somewhere by Rhonda Rousey who became the first American to win an Olympic medal in women’s judo since its inception as an Olympic sport in 1992 as well as becoming the first UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion.  I don’t necessarily agree with her definition but would never tell her that.  She has her definition and, until someone comes up with another, it’s illustrates what she does and her belief in it:

“If you don’t break a sweat doing it, it’s a skill.  If you do break a sweat doing it, it’s a sport.”

Life Lessons Can Be Found at Sports Illustrated

Monday, April 8th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes a Dad Just Has to Brag

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It ain’t braggin’ if you kin do it.”

Many Dream of Coaching in College, Few Leave Satisfied

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions from the Ryder Cup

Monday, October 1st, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golf’s Higher Ups On the Ball

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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