Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why do they call it "golf"?

Way back in the early nineties, I was playing golf with my friend and roommate Bill Williams at a public course in Columbia. I love to play golf, but I stink. I've never shot better than 50 for nine holes, and that's with a liberal amount of mulligans. Anyway, we were joined early on by a couple of older guys—in their fifties or sixties, I guessed—around the second or third hole, and I found myself just butchering the fifth or sixth, taking my usual 8 or 9 on a par four. This prompted one of the older players to ask me, "Do you know why they call it 'golf'?" I shook my head.

"Because 'Oh, #&@$!' was already taken."

It's my favorite weekend of golf, the U.S. Open, and I'm pretty sure NBC's on-course microphones are on a seven-second delay so as not to inadvertently broadcast "#&@$," "$#^%," and the ever-popular "%@#$&#@$%#!" sure to be uttered by so many of these talented golfers this weekend.

What makes the U.S. Open great is a sadistic cruelty inflicted by the United States Golf Association on its annual entrants. It's great because it makes these ridiculously good professionals (and a few great amateurs) look like...well, like me.

Well, maybe not just like me, but you see the kind of shots that weekend duffers all over the country deal with consistently. Because of the difficulty of the course—especially the course at Merion near Philadelphia this week—you see beautiful tee shots take a bad bounce into deep rough, followed by rough shots that only go 100 yards. Back on the fairway, they'll put a wedge less than ten feet away from the hole, only the watch the putt slide right by the hole.

Merion has played like the Marquis de Sade of golf courses so far this week. I'm in the midst of watching third round coverage on a Saturday afternoon, and the tournament lead is at -1. Phil Mickelson, a five-time runner up in this tournament, is two strokes back, evidently getting a head start on choking away this title. Tiger is at +6; NBC keeps him on mute and won't show a close-up when he talks for fear of offending astute lip-readers.

These greens are just insane—almost impossible to read and evidently equipped with ball-repelling force fields, a new innovation from the dungeon masters at the USGA. I'm waiting for someone to freak out and start breaking clubs over his knees and tossing them into a pond (my money's on Tiger—he's just having a miserable round).

There used to be a PGA Tour ad with the tagline, "These guys are good." The U.S. Open should use this for their promos:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Adam Wainwright: Baseball's Best Pitcher

The discussion this year really should be about whether Cardinals ace starter Adam Wainwright will win his second (or perhaps his third) Cy Young award. He should have finished second to Chris Carpenter (or won the thing outright) in 2009 when the award inexplicably went to Tim Lincecum. He finished second to Roy Halladay in 2010 despite having a lower ERA.

I'm less bitter about Halladay than Lincecum, which was just a travesty. It will also be a travesty this year if Waino continues to pitch in the form we've seen so far this season and loses the Cy Young again to someone less deserving but closer to the myopic media centers on the East and West coasts. 

For example? Clayton Kershaw (LA)—great ERA, but only a 5-4 record. Jordan Zimmerman (WAS)—9-3, but team is barely above .500. Sure, if you look at a variety of different statistics, you can make a case for a variety of pitchers who deserve accolades at this stage of the season. But baseball is more than just statistics—it's also about chemistry and leadership.

Wainwright is on his second full season following Tommy John surgery, and he's more dominant than ever. He has full command of all his pitches, especially his vicious and destructive curveball. He has also emerged as the undisputed leader of the Cardinals young, talented pitching staff. All of the Cardinals highly touted rookie arms look to Wainwright for guidance and wisdom.

Wainwright inherited the leadership role from Chris Carpenter when Carp went down with nerve damage, and even if he makes it back to the staff this season, the pitching staff still belongs to Waino. He's also the team's undisputed stopper, the one you want on the mound after a tough loss.

He's always likely to strike out 8-12 hitters, pitch at least 7-8 strong innings, walk no one, and give up two runs or less. He's the first pitcher in the NL to reach 10 wins this season, and he's in the top four in ERA and strikeouts. A sure-fire All-Star selection, he's likely to get the start in New York this summer.

But if that doesn't convince you, just watch this:

He's got MOVES!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Tebow Dilemma

One thing I've never understood about the whole Tim Tebow phenomenon—both the good and the bad—is how so many people use one's opinion about Tebow's abilities to play quarterback at the NFL level as a litmus test of religious faith. Simply put, Tebow is, by all accounts, a young man of strong faith who professes a public commitment to living a Christ-centered life. Wonderful. He's also a lousy NFL quarterback. Not as wonderful.

In this age of social media and instant offense at the slightest of remarks, pointing out that Tebow's skill at QB in the NFL is atrocious has become akin to pounding another nail through Jesus's wrist. What? Since when did religious faith of any kind have anything at all to do with a person's athletic skill? The history of the NFL is full of outstanding QBs who range from strong men of faith (Kurt Warner) to others who wouldn't get within a zip code of any of my daughters (Ben Roethlisberger). One has nothing to do with the other.

Except with Tim Tebow. To criticize his ability is taken by his most vehement supporters as a slight to the faith. I'm sorry to inform those people of this simple fact, but here it is: Jesus himself, if he were an NFL head coach, wouldn't start Tebow at QB. Get over it.

That leads us to Bill Belichick, who will never be confused at any time for Jesus Christ. He has, for some unseen reason, decided to sign Tebow as a third-string QB for the New England Patriots. The connection is, of course, NE offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Tebow's head coach in Denver. Is this charity? Did McDaniels convince Belichick that Tebow still has real potential? Only time will tell, but from my seat here in the midwest, I can think of a few scenarios.

1) Tebow will be a third-string quarterback. This is the most likely. I find it hard to see Tebow outplaying Ryan Mallet—an unbelievably skilled QB at Arkansas—for the second-string job. And Tebow has as much chance of beating out Tom Brady for the job as he does convincing Brady's wife Giselle Bundchen of running away to Florida with him. So he rides the pine and holds a clipboard. Glamorous job, huh? 

2) Tebow will be a gimmick player. He'll be used sparingly on gadget and gimmick plays like direct snaps from the RB position, or some variation of the wildcat offense. This seems even less likely from either Belichick's or Brady's standpoint. Bringing Tebow in every once in a while does nothing to make your offense more potent. The Jets proved that when Tebow only comes in once or twice a game, it's easy  to stop him.

3) Belichick and McDaniels finally convince Tebow to play a different position. This is the idea that makes the most sense. He can run the ball better than most fullbacks. I assume he could catch from either the RB or the TE position. And, every once in a while, he could throw the ball downfield (his long arm is much better than his short game—watch his Denver games and see). In fact, Tebow could be a whole new type of position player: the Hybrid. You really don't know what he's going to do—run? Pass? Catch? All of the above on one play? He would be a bigger star in this role than he would ever be as a below-average QB.

There's nothing wrong, absolutely no shame, in being the best that you can be at what you do well. The best that Tebow can be as a QB is to sit on the bench as a third-stringer. The best that he could be as a hybrid RB/FB/TE/QB is create an entirely new position; he could be a real pioneer in the evolution of the offensive game in the same way we see with players like RGIII and Colin Kaepernick. 

I don't know who keeps telling Tim Tebow that it's his destiny to be a starting NFL QB. I don't think it's Jesus, and I don't think it's going to be Bill Belichick, either. Maybe one of them can convince him that a successful career leads down a much different path.