Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

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:


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.”


Roger vs. Novak, Take 40

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

Roger Federer is playing in his 10th Wimbledon Finals, an astonishing statistic, especially considering he’s played in only ten semi-finals. Tennis is so unlike any other sport in that you have to beat every opponent you play in order to be champion and you can lose two sets each match and still come out a winner. Golf is like its twin – I mean, how many people, especially athletes that played team sports – play both tennis and golf when their football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc. days are over? Unlike golf, you don’t have to beat the entire field in order to win the championship. In that regard, golf is more like wrestling – a sport that would never be considered its twin, or any other family member. Just beat your next opponent.

Upsets can help, especially when one of the top seeds in your bracket unexpectedly loses. Counting on that strategy, however, is frowned upon and usually reserved for players who can’t win anyway (except for any woman on Serena’s side of the draw – because if someone else doesn’t beat her, chances are you won’t either). Tennis is the another of the “survive and advance” sports.

Because it’s an individual sport, it means there are no substitutions. So if you get tired or need to take a few plays off to regroup and calm yourself down, uh, you’ve chosen the wrong sport. Injury times out are allowed but not too often and you’d better have something legit wrong with you – as opposed to, say, soccer. In addition, at the end of the time out, you had better have recovered or the match is finito. Also, although there have been a few accusations to the contrary, there is no coaching permitted in tennis. Basically, you’re out there on an island (this post refers to singles tennis only).

Novak Djokovic is Federer’s opponent. In last year’s Wimbledon final, Djokovic beat Federer 6-4 in the fifth set. Should The Joker win, their head-to-head record will be even at 20 a piece. When I Googled “Federer vs. Djokovic head-to-head,” the site listed each of their matches and several categories. Three of the categories were: Winning Player, Losing Player and Score. For the 2015 Wimbledon final, it had Djokovic listed as the “Winning Player,” Federer as the “Losing Player,” with the Score listed as “Upcoming.” An oversight or is someone prescient?

I’ve always favored the “classy” tennis player, who usually shows little emotion, e.g. Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras. When I was asked which player I wanted to see win this year’s Wimbledon, my answer was well-thought out and succinct, with the deciding reason being obvious:

“I hope Federer wins because a lot of people think my son looks like him.”


But Rory LOVES Soccer

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

On the surface, it seems a rather irrational decision on Rory McIlroy’s part to play soccer with friends at this time of the year. People who are criticizing him for getting hurt playing soccer, however, are not taking into account that pros have lives, too. Why is this any different than, say, Jason Pierre-Paul’s Fourth of July mishap (severe burns on his hand and possible nerve damage)? Here’s why and it’s simple. The reason is that McIlroy plays an individual sport while the New York Giants entire team depends on Pierre-Paul. Team sport athletes are paid by the franchise whereas golfers, tennis players, track & field competitors, etc. only get paid if they perform well enough to deserve to get paid, i.e. they are the franchise.

Where there is a similarity is with the sponsors who pay athletes, independent of which sport is involved. To cover themselves, i.e. if the companies want to limit what their pitchmen (and women) can and cannot do, they ought to have clauses prohibiting such activities, just like teams do in their player contracts. In his case, Pierre-Paul didn’t violate any such clause in his contract but the Giants have pulled the $60 million max offer. Shed few tears as he will, in all likelihood, earn $14.8 million this coming season - although he has yet to sign. His foolish handling of fireworks could have, in fact, cost him a great deal more. McIlroy’s injury will prevent him from playing this weekend – and probably throughout the summer, if not longer. His team, though, suffers much worse than the Giants. With individual sports, unlike what our team coaches told us, one man is indispensable. Women fall into this category as well. Downhill skier Lindsey Vonn once sliced open her right thumb on a celebratory bottle of champagne after a victory in the World Championships.

Whether or not Vonn loves champagne that much is unknown (at least it is to me) but it’s common knowledge that McIlroy has a passion for futbol and has played it with friends in the past during the “golf season.” It’s doubtful any of his sponsors will attempt to include a “no-soccer” clause (c’mon, I gave the other term a mention, a big concession for somebody from the U.S.) for no other reason than he just might decline their offer. “Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage . . .” is the beginning of the text sent by McIlroy, informing his fans of his unfortunate situation. This news puts a real damper on the Jordan Speith-Rory McIlroy rivalry. Yet, no matter how much of a McIlroy fan you are, this definitely hurts him more than it does you. This includes all his sponsorships that would have been shown on television innumerable times when he plays.

Adversity doesn’t always mean losing, though. As creative as some agents are, the injured athlete might even wind up with endorsement opportunities because of the injury. McIlroy is probably weighing offers for the “boot” he’s wearing (assuming there’s more than one company making it). At least, then, fans would know he actually used the item he was pitching. I mean, does anybody really believe Shaq uses Icy Hot or Blake Griffin drives a Kia? Of course not, they’re just following their role models for (un)”truth in advertising” (as long as the price is right) – Ray Lewis for Old Spice, Karl Malone for Rogaine and Rafael Palmeiro for Viagra – an example of the extent guys will go for some extra income (possibly only surpassed by Jimmy Johnson for Extenze). If people only could understand that the reason celebrity pitchmen (and women) continue to line their pockets – with our money – is because we keep buying the product. Maybe the companies are the fools, e.g. their merchandise would sell equally as much if they didn’t pay celebrities. Then, again, if the public has it and continues to spend it, thus keeping the businesses profitable and putting their athlete endorsers further in the black, it’s a win-win for everybody.

Whenever bizarre incidents occur, like those with Rory and JPP, usually there’s an over-the-top reaction from professional franchises. As far back as when Bill Bradley played for the Knicks and the front office was alerted to an off-handed remark that their small forward made – that he heard sky diving was a thrilling experience – was a clause inserted into his contract prohibiting sky diving. And he’d never done it! Any player found to be in violation of such a clause could have his contract terminated. If you were bank rolling as much money with these guys as the owners are, you can bet you’d be just as protective of your investment. Ask any Patriots’ front office employee (or Pats’ fan for that matter) what his or her reaction was when video was aired of Tom Brady jumping off cliffs in Costa Rica, and a gasp would be the most likely response. Don’t be surprised if New England isn’t trying to amend his contract with a “no cliff diving” clause. Or any other potentially crippling injury to Brady – which the Pats feel by proxy.

While it can’t be written into a contract for athletes who participate in individual sports, common sense needs to be applied a bit more liberally. McIlroy and soccer is an example that straddles the border. On one hand, he truly enjoys playing and has done so, probably as long as he’s golfed. On the other hand, a bit more discretion – especially with the British Open almost upon us – might have been the more prudent move. After all, not only does Rory make his living at the game, he’s vying to be the best in the world at it. Tough decision.

Maybe in this case, Rory can learn from Thomas Edison, who said:

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”




NBA Basketball Is at a Crossroads

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

It’s that time of the year when colleges let out for the summer. Jane and I will be heading to Monterey to help younger son, Alex, move his “stuff” back home. Naturally, his car isn’t big enough to accommodate everything he originally brought in the fall – especially with the addition of the golf clubs he took back after spring break – then include what he’s accumulated throughout the year. So . . . we’ll have a two-car caravan heading back to Fresno on Sunday. Or Monday, depending on the weather in both locations; it’s a shame to waste a trip to the coast.

This blog will return on Tuesday, May 19. Allow me to suggest you take some time to catch up on some of my earlier posts if you haven’t visited this site in a while. I’ve been putting out some thought-provoking and entertaining comments, and would love to get your feedback.

“The first year, they took my hand check away. The next year, they took our forearm away. And then, I retired. I was done. I was like, ‘I’ve got to move my feet? I quit. This is no fun anymore.’ ” That quote, from an article by TNT’s David Aldridge, was made by a player who, currently is one of, arguably, the two best coaches in the NBA. Glenn “Doc” Rivers made his “retirement” statement, leaving the game that was intent on increasing scoring. In addition to the no hand checking rule, there was no “bumping” cutters, a rewording of flagrant fouls, instituting an illegal defense rule and others that were implemented to make the game more attractive to the fans. Not all the changes were to the defender – palming the ball has been ignored for over two decades. And the accusation that the NBA allows for an extra step has been increased, on occasion, to a couple of extra steps.

The NBA has again changed the way referees officiate, only in this case, they’ve instituted “fact checking” to the officials’ duties. Flagrant Foul calls (1 or 2), clock malfunctions, whether a successful basket was goaltended, interfered with, or a 2 point or 3-point field goal (for old fans who just began re-watching NBA games after a prolonged absence, the answer is yes, your team’s score actually did decrease after you went to get a cold beverage because it was determined that the shot from a few possessions ago was a two and not a three, so don’t blame the beer). Also, restricted area replays are conducted BUT only during the last two minutes of the fourth period and during all of overtime

The NBA Replay Center, located in Secaucus, NJ (which used to be famous for pig farming – and the smell that created an ambiance indigenous to the area) has a Crew Chief whose decisions are final. This idea was created with good intentions. “Get it right” was the league’s goal. If you’re a loyal reader of the blog space, you are well aware of the number of times I have either mentioned instant replay or produced an entire blog on the subject but this one is different, i.e. it’s not about the interminable length of time the officials take – and then get it wrong, obviously wrong according to the broadcasters and replays that the viewers are shown.

This post is about the creative decision-making that is used when deciding exactly how much time is left during the end of a game, e.g. what the criteria seems to be is, as soon as the ball goes out of bounds, the clock is changed to what the clock inset on the video displays. The actual verbiage from the NBA’s Description of New Replay Rules is: The game officials are reasonably certain that a game clock malfunction has occurred during the play. (A game clock malfunction includes situations caused by a mechanical malfunction or human error, such as a clock starting too soon or too late or an inbound play, stopping during play (whether or not it is re-started), or running too quickly during play, but does not include discrepancies resulting from what the officials determine to be normal reaction time or reasonable anticipation in starting the clock (bold is mine).

Yet, time is always added. That’s because they do take into account the referee’s reaction to seeing the ball go out and the time it takes to actually blow the whistle. In addition, the time it takes for the timekeeper to hear the whistle and send the message to the brain to stop the clock. I have no problem with this method as it is a truer indication of the correct time that’s left to be played. Forgive me for not recalling which game it was (I believe it as the Cavs-Wizards from Tuesday night) when the official changed the clock from, I believe 1.2 or 1.3 to 2.0 seconds. The ball can be seen going out of bounds with exactly 2.0 seconds and no time for human instincts.

Where this new version of “let’s go to the replay” fails is that same action happens every time a whistle is blown! To be totally accurate – and fair – the officials would have to check the clock throughout the entire game. Maybe there is some sort of technology being devised to do just that since it’s blatantly apparent that is not a feasible answer. Games would take an eternity to complete and nobody (with the exception of concessionaires) would be in favor. Yet, are we really getting a true winner each game?

Without doubt, the NBA has good intentions for all involved – players, coaches, administrators, owners and, of course, fans. So, it looks as though the NBA has to decide: 1) leave the game as it now is (even though an inordinate amount of time is being “wasted” – until the referees, or Crew Chief, make a decision), 2) go back to the human element and let the games play out as they used to or 3) find some techno genius who can have the clock synched to the officials’ whistle (I recall an experiment done with NCAA officials, and possibly NBA refs as well, but there were far too many malfunctions).

If the NBA is intent on getting it right, maybe they should take the attitude that the greatest inventor of all time had. When Thomas Edison would try out an idea that did not produce the result he’d hoped for, he didn’t view it as a failure. He would simply say:

“Well, I’ve just discovered another way it DOESN’T work.”