Popovich and Me

Gregg PopovichI got a call from Greg Popovich, the coach of the Spurs last year around this time and he told me that I was a lot like Tim Duncan and would have to conserve my writing mojo down the back stretch of my glorious career. He recommended bed rest and binge watching of “House of Cards” and “Hollywood Game Night” with a sprinkle of “Billions”. I took it to heart and have been laying in the weeds nourishing my creative juices and building mental muscle for some time now.

I watched the the Drive,Chip, and Putt on Sunday and it is too sappy for me but it does give us the first glimpse of the hallowed grounds of Augusta. April marks the awakening of our golfing sprit and the full fledged joy of Augusta is nigh. Here are my thoughts on the players who will write the story at the Masters.

bubba_watson_fore_leftBubba – As twitchy as ever (watch him walk the fairway after he hits), he is ready to wear a third green jacket. His win at Riviera had his vast skill set on full display and his game is probably more suited for Augusta than any golfer who has ever driven down Magnolia Lane. What he can do on the 13th hole off the tee, cutting the corner, is a shot that most players can only dream about. And the genius of his self taught swing and short game (maybe better than Mickeslon at this point) bode well for the inevitable up and downs so necessary to win here. I  am not a fan of Bubba but I like him a lot at Augusta.

 

1394211324000-phil-mickelson-footballPhil – Speaking of the Sun Devil, Mickelson continues to age gracefully despite sporadic runs to In and Out Burger!! What separates Phil from the other golfing mortals is what we have often complained about; his excessive tinkering has currently led him to the fairway on a regular basis with a straightness off the tee heretofore not associated with his game. Combine that with no chink in the armor of his short game, and a putter that is also solid and you have the makings of a Cinderella story in early April. Phil will be 46 in June and we can remember another 46 year old that won at Augusta. Can anyone say “Yes, Sir!”

lat-sp-jordan-spieth-20150721Jordan Spieth – He is an undeniable force with an ability to win which is well in excess of his technical ability. What bothers him most is not the challenge inherent in winning majors but his receding hair line! I like the fact that he hops in a private jet to go see his brother play varsity basketball at Brown and his inclusion of his special needs sister is just nice to see.  Like Woods in his prime, he putts it better than anyone under the gun of the majors. Rumor has it that his recent backslide is associated with chasing distance and that may be so. But I think it is more about the putting but do not discount him at any major. He has the “IT” factor of winning. There is no reason why he will not be on the leaderboard on Sunday and the other Masters champs better get used to Texas BBQ on several occasions

000b7eea-642Rory – We turn around and the goofy looking Irish kid is already 27 this May!! Yes, he has 4 majors and yes, he drives it better than anybody. But the putter is streaky at best and there is that odd missed short wedge shot. But as my friend Lou says, Rory is dripping with “back class”, a pedigree of winning and winning everywhere. If the putts find the darkness, he could run away with this thing; he is that good!

Adam ScottAdam Scott – He has served notice that his putter length is not an issue and he is playing at the highest level week in and week out. He has won here and he has the scale of game that does win here. I met him at Queenwood outside London when he was in the lowest point of his career and this is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet; humble, soft spoken, and thoroughly approachable. I am a fan of the person and the game and he should be right there on Sunday.

Hyundai Tournament of Champions - Round TwoFowler – Give him a lot of credit; he has ditched the image of the media darling who cannot win and he has the killer instinct but without the lousy personality; this is a good kid who will mix with the members at his home course, Medalist in Florida and will also make all his young fans feel included. He has contended regularly in the Majors and he has the toolbox to win here but the putter must speak loudly. He pulls off the high tops and is very much in the conversation.

Mike WeirDustin Johnson – We know how far he hits hit and this is accompanied by much better than average touch around the greens. He should win here but the struggle for him, more than the others, seems to be with himself. The battle with substances can never be discounted but he seems to be dealing with this; his caddy will be important for him helping him with decisions in the clutch. I root for him; he has had many heart breaks and certainly deserves his place among today’s major champions.

Day-Major-win-598819Jason Day – Is anybody else as annoyed as I am with the pre shot closed eyes visualization?? He is playing great and will no doubt win here at some point and this year is highly possible. Putts it and chips it the best right now. Nice kid who persevered through an abusive father and dirt poor upbringing. Easy to root for and I am no exception.

 

StensonStenson – Awesome player who could easily win here but his putter goes in and out and that is not good at Augusta. But he has been right there in many tournaments leading up to this event and the Swede will be on the first page of the leaderboard until the very end.

 

609490-sergio-garciaGarcia – Lots of experience and he has an ever diminishing chance to get it done. He is hard to root for, primarily because he is joyless and not fun to watch; his transformation from life loving boy wonder to laconic aging golfer has been painful to watch.

 

ShrekOosthuizen and Schwartzel – Louis plays on talent and a genius that Tiger should emulate and Schwartzel is a world class player who is in form.

 

 

 

Woods WalkingTiger – The picture tells the story; he is not on the golf course and is a stay at home dad. All who have followed my discourse over the years know that I have been vocal in my criticism of Tiger. The limited personality, the scrapes with the rules, and the lack of grace as he fell from glory are the foundation of my criticism. His loyal fans, despite the ugliness that punctuated his career, were hoping for the 18 majors and the indisputable heavyweight champion of the world moniker that would accompany that achievement. But it was not and will not be.

I have had the back surgery and was playing golf in six weeks; the fact that Tiger has had three of these surgeries and remains sidelined is troubling and unusual.  If he is able to step between the ropes again, a more important legacy than majors will lie in his comportment with his fellow players and us. He has shown signs of progress in his interviews and comments which indicate that he has accepted that “Dad” may be a more appropriate means of address than “Tiger”. If he wants to look at his golfing legacy, he has done more for golf than anybody and that includes Arnold. Yes, Arnold brought the game to television but Tiger did much more; he brought the game to EVERYONE. So I am rooting for a comeback because as limited as he has been as a person, he has shown signs of progress which is the mark we live by, not perfection.

Let us remember what a prodigy he was, playing as young man hitting every possible shot because he had something that Harmon, Foley, Haney, or Como could not give him; somebody else gave it to him. It would be hard to find a golfing fan that would not have goose bumps seeing a flawed and aging Tiger, perhaps limping a bit coming down the stretch with a chance on the back nine at Augusta on Sunday. Human and not perfect. Jeff Ogilvy had a wonderful quote in the recent SI article:

“How did he make every putt, how did he always pull off the shot? We don’t get how he did it, and we want to know how he lost it and where it has gone and why he cannot get it back. Maybe even Tiger does not know. I know we all want to see him do it one more time, to be reminded of how special it was. He certainly has nothing left to prove to anyone. It just seems like he deserves a different ending.”

The body has gone from immortal to human and the person is going in the right direction. His contribution to the game is undeniable and unparalleled and yes, he deserves a different ending; this fan will be rooting for him if that back nine at Augusta ever happens.

Random Musings

PabloSandoval-640x426Baseball is back;  the most exciting game… where fat guys can play first base or DH, where chewing, spitting, and scratching are integral parts of the game, and where the money behind the home run has corked many a bat and inflated many a body. As Bill Murray wailed so aptly in “Meatballs”, “it just doesn’t matter!”meatballs2

 

 

 

hqdefaultConcussion syndrome. I have some experience here having played the game while wearing a plastic shell with a bit of rubber and fabric as a suspension for my noggin. Luckily I ONLY had 3 concussions and have not shown any real signs of memory loss. Luckily I ONLY had 3 concussions and have not shown any real signs of memory loss. There is a brand new technology that is worn around the neck that forces blood into the cranium and can potentially immobilize the brain when it is assaulted with a violent blow and we will hope that this proves to be effective. However, there is likely no stopping this problem if you play the game, no matter how they improve the helmet and no matter what rule changes they make. It will be very interesting to see how the NFL handles this and my bet is that they will not handle it because there is too much money being made. Would you let your kid play tackle football? I would not.

Until next time…

 

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