Stroke Play Has No Match

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

T. Bert Lance

 

I’ll admit right off the bat that I may be in the minority on this one. I am not a fan of the NCAA golf championships match play format. There, I said it.

 

Believe it or don’t, with the exception of WWI, schools have been competing for an NCAA title in men’s golf since 1897 (Yale won 13 of the first 20) using the time-honored, team stroke play format. After more than 100 years somebody decided that format was broken and needed fixing. So in 2009 a championship long decided by shooting, then adding up, scores changed to “all I need to do is be better than you for one hole.” The event went from stroke play to match play. It was such a good idea that the NCAA didn’t adopt this fix for women’s teams (competing since 1982) until 2015. The championship wasn’t broken but they decided to fix it anyway.

 

No other NCAA championship, played as a team sport all season long, is suddenly decided in such individualistic fashion. Tennis? Nope; Track and Field? Sorry. Those sports crown national champions after having schools compete in the same format over which they competed to qualify for a great big trophy. Not golf. Not anymore. In fact, from what I could deduce from the websites of the two schools that faced off in the National Championship final match yesterday, Arizona State didn’t play in any match play tournaments all year. And while Northwestern competed in a few “one offs” neither team’s conference championship was decided in that fashion. Nor should they have been, and neither should the National Championship.

 

North Carolina’s NCAA basketball title wasn’t decided by a one on one dunk contest followed by a point guard “dribble off”. The Clemson football team did not take home the championship because Deshaun Watson beat Jalen Hurts in a 40 yard dash. Or the Tiger’s right tackle held his block one second longer than his Crimson Tide counterpart. Each team won a team title by playing together as a team. The same way they had done it all year long. Neither sport changed the rules of the competition because CBS or ESPN made them. And that’s what this fix actually comes down to… TV and, of course, greed.

 

The NCAA wanted its golf championships back on television (they were televised, playing the traditional team stroke play format; men playing on one golf course, women on a different one, years ago) and the only way any TV network would agree to do it was if they changed the format to one more simple and easier to broadcast (match play) and made the women as well as the men compete on the same venue. “Done,” said the governing body selling its soul and selling out the student athletes. So for the last three years what was an exciting team event that saw athletes compete over 72 holes, hitting shots, counting strokes, all with the hope of helping a team win a championship has become a slog fest where 17, 18 and 19 year olds take forever to hit shots that may or may not matter and fail to show enough common courtesy to concede 10 inch putts. To make it all even more absurd the individual title is still decided by stroke play and so are the insignificant, match play seedings. Teams were ranked 1 through 8 based on stroke play scores over three days at Rich Harvest farms; not by how a team competed and fared over the course of an entire season. So while Northwestern claimed the top spot they could have just as easily been number 4 or 8, or not even in the match play portion at all.

 

Thanks to Mother Nature this year even that was rendered even more meaningless because an entire round was lost to weather even though plenty of golf could have been played the day play was cancelled. Plenty, but not enough. Not enough to avoid extending the championship an extra day thus upsetting a television schedule that has the men competing the day after the women finish. Heaven forbid they actually crown a national champion after a full 72 holes of competition. Remember that great Notre Dame football team that was crowned after 3 quarters? Neither do I. Not to mention this new world order put the women at a distinct disadvantage by making them play a golf course, under weather conditions, that was too big, too brutish, too unconducive to produce consistently good golf. Like many things; this thing has been compromised by television. The athletes and the viewers are not better off because of it.

 

But many will say all that’s worth it because of the excitement this format generates. Not me. And no matter how many times you replay a handful of screeching teammates you won’t get me to change my mind.

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Rock and Roll is Here to Stay

“It’s all about the music.”

Bill Herbstman

 

 

My wife and I are the proud parents of three incredible children. They are intelligent, accomplished and, most of all, thoughtful human beings. Our oldest is a recording engineer who has been, on multiple occasions, recognized for his work by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Our daughter, the middle one of the three, is a WNBF award-winning fitness professional who is fluent in multiple languages including Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. She is currently living in Japan working for that country’s government. But with all love and respect to our two oldest, this particular piece is about our youngest son; the rock star. I don’t offer up that term as a superlative like many parents do when referring to their offspring. You see our son, Jake, is actually a rock star.

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Post Animal is a 5, sometimes 6 person, band of musicians from Chicago, Illinois. As a write this they are crisscrossing the country, crammed into a Dodge minivan they christened Shannon. The first leg of their tour, headlined by Twin Peaks, took them to, among other places, Tucson, Austin, New Orleans, Oxford MS, Washington D.C., and Chapel Hill NC. Then they teamed up with the indie rock, pop punk, San Diego-based band WAVVES for more than a dozen shows. The first one was at the historic Bowery Ballroom in New York City and that’s where we got the chance to see our son and his friends take the stage.

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I already mentioned that Jake, like his two siblings, is thoughtful and intelligent. He is also caring, compassionate, faithful and talented. As a kid he sang in the school choir and acted on stage in various plays and performances. Influenced, no doubt, by family members and friends the desire to learn and play musical instruments seemed natural. He gravitated to the guitar and keyboards and now plays both in the band. Post Animal is Jake, Dalton (bass guitar and lead vocals), Javi (lead guitar and vocals), Matt (lead guitar and vocals), and Wes (drums). Sometimes they are joined by a sixth member, Joe Keery (guitar) but he is also an actor who is currently shooting the second season of the Netflix hit Stranger Things (he plays Steve). They write their own songs and play their own brand of classic, pysch rock, music. And they Rock! The 40 minutes we watched was filled with inventive riffs, hard pounding chords, soulful vocals and Wes’ “keep up the pace” beat. Some of the songs bring to mind the Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles while others conjured up an Iron Butterfly vibe (at least for me). I had heard Post Animal’s music before but never live and never completely bursting with parental pride.

 

They were really good and my wife and I weren’t the only ones who thought so. They commanded the stage that, over the years, has served as support for thousands of acts including Maroon 5, Metallica, Coldplay, Counting Crows and Rickie Lee Jones. Most of the capacity crowd was there to see the headliner, WAVVES, who’s 2010 single, King of the Beach, landed at number 36 on Rolling Stone magazines list of Best Summer Songs of All Time. But the crowd clearly enjoyed the Post Animal set; dancing, bobbing, and applauding every solo, hair flip, and song. The boys are clearly still learning and Jake admitted to feeling more than a normal amount of nerves during the performance. Who could blame him, or any of them, for that. After all your first time on the stage of an historic New York City music venue is heady stuff.

 

Life is just a great unravelling ribbon and none of us; even, or maybe especially psychics from Nostradamus to Dionne Warwick, know what the future has in store. But for right now our son Jake and his 4 (sometimes 5) band mates, business partners and, most importantly, friends are spending the summer seeing the country. Performing on stages in front of hundreds of people every night and living their mid-20’s version of the rock and roll dream. The whole time they’re being respectful to and of each other, their fans (new and old) and their music. How in the world could any parent NOT be proud of that.

 

check out Post Animal this summer in a city near you. Follow them on Facebook, on Twitter @postanimalmusic and listen to their songs http://www.postanimal.bandcamp.com

 

If you enjoyed this, or any of my other blog posts, I would encourage you to visit http://www.keithhirshland.com and explore my two books. Thanks for your support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A “Can’t Miss Kid” Hits The Mark

On Sunday Kevin Chappell won for the first time on the PGA TOUR. I was shocked; not because Chappell won but because it took him so long to do it. We (our Golf Channel production team) met Chappell for the first time in 2010. He was a little more than a year out of UCLA where he was honored as the Collegiate Player of the Year and part of a National Championship team. He was teeing it up in the first of 15 Nationwide Tour events we would televise in 2010; something called The Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae, just outside San Francisco.

 

Kevin Chappell was a 23 year-old cocky kid, with a flat billed cap and a ton of talent, who survived a windy, wacky golf course to collect his first win as a pro. He birdied the 17th then made a great par at 18 to shoot a final round 65 and beat David Hearn by a shot. Chappell was a “can’t-miss kid” who, by all accounts, was now on his way to fame, fortune and a boatload of trophies. He beat a host of other “can’t miss kids” that week including Bubba Dickerson, Jason Gore, Chris Nallen, Nick Flanagan, Casey Wittenberg, Brad Elder, Colt Knost, Luke List and Jamie Lovemark. Then, as now, that professional golf tour was full of tremendously talented young players. Picking the ones that would go on to have long and successful careers on the PGA TOUR was like shooting fish in a barrel.

 

Lovemark, for instance, was two years younger than Chappell, attended rival USC, and was an acclaimed collegiate player too. During his sophomore season as a Trojan he won an NCAA individual championship and every award under the sun. In October of 2009 he ended regulation at the PGA TOUR’s FRYS.com Open in Scottsdale tied for first with Rickie Fowler and Troy Matteson; eventually losing to Matteson in a playoff. On the Nationwide Tour the following year (the year Chappell won) he also collected a victory, though not on TV, and went on to be that tour’s leading money winner and Player of the Year. Jamie Lovemark is currently a member of the PGA TOUR and he is still waiting for his first win on golf’s top stage.

 

Chappell’s win in San Antonio prompted me to go back in time and remember who else won, on The Golf Channel’s Nationwide Tour air, and off it that same year; 2010. The results might surprise you. Tournaments not televised that year were won by Jim Herman, Steve Pate, Martin Piller, Chris Kirk (he actually won twice), Jhonattan Vegas, Hunter Haas and Scott Gardiner. All but Gardiner are still playing the game professionally on one tour or another. The trophy takers ON TV was another amazing group.

 

After Chappell won in Northern California we took our cameras to Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, Canada, Ohio, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, California, and Florida. We watched Ewan Porter, Justin Hicks, Peter Tomasulo, D.J. Brigman, Michael Putnam and David Mathis win. We also witnessed and celebrated victories by Jason Gore, Brendan Steele, Steven Bowditch, and Kevin Kisner. We watched Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey grab winner’s checks for each glove.

 

Surprising all of us, Steele, Bowditch, Kisner and Gainey all went on to win on the PGA TOUR before Chappell. Hicks, Tomasulo, Brigman, Putnam and Gore (who won his only PGA TOUR title in 2005) are still chasing the dream. Ewan Porter is now an adventurer, entrepreneur and author. I don’t know what happened to David Mathis.

 

It never ceases to amaze me how good each of these guys had to be to win even one tournament on the Hogan/Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide/Web.com Tour; let alone take it to the next level and win on the PGA TOUR. Some of those guys (Chappell, Gore, Kisner, Steele) are millionaires many times over and you’d be crazy to think that they are done winning at the game’s highest level. But heck, back in 2010 we all thought Kevin Chappell would win again in a matter of months, not EIGHT years! We must have been crazy then too.

 

I was in the car, coming home from hitting balls, listening to the PGA TOUR radio coverage of the Valero Texas Open. I heard the analyst ( a multiple time PGA TOUR winner himself) say as the extremely talented Tony Finau finished off another great tournament without a win, “Tony didn’t get it done this week but there will no doubt be many weeks in his future that he does get it done!” Really!? Why!? Because he hits it a mile? Because he’s a decent iron player? Because when he gets on a roll, he can “roll his golf ball”!? So can every other guy out there and hundreds more who are headed out there. It’s a better bet that Tony Finau, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open Champion, never wins again on the PGA TOUR or that Kevin Chappell wins another one, two or three before he does.

 

The bottom line is nobody knows, especially not the “experts” on TV and radio. Ask Colt Knost, Ryo Ishikawa, Bud Cauley, Jeff Overton or Briny Baird if any of them thought their PGA TOUR trophy cases would still be empty. Then go shoot Mark Wilson or Ben Crane full of truth serum and ask if they thought they’d each win five.

 

I’m just glad Kevin Chappell finally won his first

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Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

“Put it back.”

My Mom (about a gazillion times)

 

I’m a huge fan of The Masters. I have been for as long as I can remember. I have been fortunate to attend several tournaments, actually work a couple (thank you Karel Schliksbier, Mark Dibbs and CBS) and look forward to the next time I’m able to go. Augusta National is a beautiful, remarkable, place and you can bet your bottom dollar it will be different next year than it was this year (hey, was that Azalea, Dogwood, bunker, tee box, there before?). Change is constant at Augusta and whether it’s a new crop of trees, a teeing ground shifted a handful of yards, a corporate castle or a brand new media manor, it’s happening as we speak.

Smart people, motivational people, people who can handle it seem to always say, “change is good” and occasionally I’m inclined to agree. I’m also, sometimes, inclined to disagree. One of those times is when it comes to White Dogwood, the 11th hole at Augusta National. In my opinion they’ve transformed a good, tough, test into what might be the worst hole in major championship golf.

It’s not a golf hole anymore, it’s a root canal. It’s a 7 hour Fellini movie. It’s a Los Angeles to Tokyo flight, in a coach middle seat, one row in front of the shitter. Tuning in to Grant Boone and Billy Ray Brown, as they called the action this week, I was struck by the fact that there is little, actually no, room for error on 11 anymore. As a viewer it’s hard to watch; I can’t imagine what it’s like as a competitor.

The 11th at Augusta begins what is famously referred to as Amen Corner (11,12 and 13). The esteemed golf scribe Herbert Warren Wind first called it that in a Sports Illustrated article he wrote after the 1958 tournament won by Arnold Palmer. The original description referred only to the approach shot into the par 4, 11th, the entire par 3, 12th hole, and the tee shot on the par 5, 13th. He borrowed the phrase from the title of an old jazz song titled, Shoutin’ in that Amen Corner. It used to be an incredible stretch of holes. Two thirds of it still is.

Two of my most vivid Masters memories happened at 11. In 1990 Raymond Floyd was trying to become, at 48, the oldest Masters Champion. But Nick Faldo, in the quest for his second straight green jacket, came from 4 shots back with six holes left to force a playoff. In that playoff, from the left side of the 11th fairway, Floyd hit a mid iron (6?, 7?) into the pond that sits menacingly at the front left of the green.

Two years before, the front right of the 11th green was where Larry Mize’s approach ended up in his playoff with Greg Norman. We all know what happened then.

Those are just 2 recollections of the 11th hole when it was playable. If I had to guess, I’d say there won’t be many more memories there in the future. I remember when players could bail a little to the right off the tee and still have a go at the green. Then they added a small forest golfer’s right and moved the tees back. Over time the trees have grown (trees tend to do that) and 65 yards, in total, has been added by a number of teeing ground moves. So now there is no safe space right; hit it there, punch it out. Because the hole is so long now (505 yards) a player has to thread the needle with a 320 yard tee shot or he’s begging, praying, for par (see Sergio Garcia on Sunday). I wish I had a nickel for every ball I saw that bounded 10, 20 or 30 yards to the right of the green because that was the only realistic place to hit it. Conversely if I had a dollar for every pelota that found the pond I probably wouldn’t have enough to by a Masters logoed golf shirt. 

For the entire week there was one fewer double bogey or “worse” than there was birdies (11 of one, 12 of the other). On the weekend, when we were down to the 53 best, there were 11 birdies and 30 bogeys. THIRTY. Historically the 11th is the hardest hole of the tournament, playing to a stroke average of 4.35. This year, only the first hole played harder, primarily because of Friday which saw an incredible 54 bogeys, double bogeys or others compared to 39 birdies (2) or pars. Coincidentally, or not, they’ve also added 45 yards to the opening hole, “Fore please…”. The only other place that’s added as much turf is the finishing hole, which has also seen more trees and the teeing ground moved ever so slightly to the right. Remember when players could actually hit a tee shot into the fairway bunkers on the left side of the 18th fairway? I do too.

Look, as I said, I love The Masters and Augusta national changes every year in some way, shape, or form. Even the par 3, 16th is different (it actually was 20 yards shorter than the 190 it played when Greg Norman splashed his tee ball more than two decades ago. For the most part no one notices and I’m pretty sure fewer than that (is that possible?) care. But I do.

Admittedly, I never loved 11 (White Dogwood “for those of you scoring at home or even if you’re alone” as SportsCenter not MSNBC Keith Olbermann once said) but I liked it. It was problematic but not preposterous. It was exacting but not exasperating. It was watchable but not, not.

Just put it back.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you liked it, head over to my website http://www.keithhirshland.com and check out my books. I’ve written two. One is about my four decades career in broadcast television, the other is a mystery. I’m currently working on number three.

 

 

 

 

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It’s Official!

“The referee is going to be the most important person in the ring tonight besides the fighters.”

George Foreman

 

There is so much to talk about dear readers.

First and foremost, let me give some hearty congratulations to the North Carolina Tar Heels on winning the 2017 NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship. I also want to congratulate their fans, some of whom I count as friends. But they have to admit to breathing a sigh of relief after reading my previous column predicting UNC to lose. What happened last night further cemented my well-earned, self-proclaimed, title of “World’s Worst Prognosticator.” The evidence is there and it’s real.

I said Gonzaga would beat South Carolina and UNC would beat Oregon. I got those right but those two picks were just building blocks to my ultimate projection that the Tar Heels would, for the second straight year, come up short. Not because they aren’t talented, not because they weren’t the better team; simply because they would be out-coached. Well I was wrong. They won AND Mark Few turned out to be as equally inept as Roy Williams (of course having the highly overrated, surprisingly soft, Przemek Zarnowski lay a mammoth egg didn’t help).
In that same column, I opined that it wasn’t whether UConn would win the women’s NCAA title, it was by how much. 20?, 30?, 40?, I sat like a smart ass and typed. Then Mississippi State handed my ass to me.

0 FOR 2 or as my critics might say 100%.
After hoops I turned my attention to golf and went on to say that neither Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, nor Phil Mickelson will be slipping on the green jacket at “toonamint’s” end. How much money do you have? What is your house worth? How close is the nearest pawn shop? If you’re smart, you’ll take it all and divided 4 ways betting a quarter of it on each of those four guys. My track record speaks for itself.

 

Next, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to address the events of the past 48 hours in which sports fans saw one set of officials do precisely what they are supposed to do and another set achieve the opposite.
I saw a statistic today which read 44 fouls were called in the combined 74 possessions during last night’s NCAA Championship game. That’s like a billion per cent! I watched the game, TRIED to enjoy it but there were so many whistles my dog could have worn a path into the hardwood floor coming and going the room.

And now, from a number of reports,  it appears, with less than a minute left and Carolina up 1, the officials should have blown the whistle, declared the ball out of bounds, and awarded possession to Gonzaga. Instead one of them blew the whistle, declared it a held ball, and awarded possession to UNC. Watching, I was simply shocked they didn’t blow the whistle and call a foul!
A little more than 24 hours before LPGA rules officials received notice that the person leading a golf tournament had breached a rule (two actually) and was deserving of two, two-shot penalties. On live television they assessed those penalties in a timely manner and the contestants played on. Did the way both sets of officials approached doing their job affect the outcome of each competition? Most certainly. Could one of those approaches have been different? Again, most certainly (I’m looking at you zebras!).

Scores of folks are still talking about how each “score” was settled so with tongue slightly less than firmly in cheek I offer up a solution to avoid future disenchantment…
Let’s play the games without referees, rules officials or umpires! After you stop laughing, or shaking your head, indulge me. Why not? We, as kids, did it all the time. We, as adults, on the golf course, in the gym at the Y, or at the baseball diamond and soccer field at the local park, still do. You, and your friends, colleagues, partners, or teammates know if the serve is in or out; if the ball is a strike or not; if the guy driving to the hoop took an extra step; or if you happened not to put your golf ball back in the same place from which you marked it. It’s called the honor system. It’s called sportsmanship. And if one call goes against you or your team the chances are, simply because of the law of averages, the next one will go in your favor. It’s called fairness.
Producers have, in the past, televised an NFL game and a professional golf tournament using no announcers. Why don’t we try showing a game, tournament, or a match with NO officials or referees? I’m not suggesting Game 7 of the World Series, or The Super Bowl, or Wimbledon, or The United States Open Championship, or the NCAA men’s final but why not a Spring Training Game, or a soccer friendly, or a mixed doubles exhibition, or the first half of the NBA All Star Game? (some would say they play that without officials already). Heck, why not the first round of a Web.com Tour event? Many would argue, and actually this week have said, that most of the players in a golf tournament play without the benefit of the watchful eye of a rules official all the time.
Would some participants, in every sport, try and stretch the envelope? Game the system? Out and out cheat? Of course they would, I’m not naïve. But goodness gracious wouldn’t that be illuminating? Wouldn’t that give us all a glimpse into the character of the athletes we follow, like, and, in many cases, want our kids to emulate? Where’s the harm in this type of experiment? Where’s the foul? It could be a ton of fun to watch and an eye-opening social experiment.
In the end, it’s just sports… or at least it’s supposed to be.

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Pick A Winner

I am a terrible prognosticator. I realize it. I readily admit it. I know why it’s true. I bet with my heart and not with my head. All you have to do is look at my 2017 March Madness Bracket for proof.

 

I went to The University of Nevada so of course I picked my Wolf Pack to beat Iowa State. Then I added salt to that would by choosing them to advance to the Sweet 16. I surprised myself by stopping there.

 

I listened to some “friends” who convinced me that East Tennessee State University was going to be a force to be reckoned with so, of course, I dove right into the deep end of my brackets pool and penciled in the Buccaneers to beat mighty Florida. Because why wouldn’t I. What I didn’t do was pick the other team from Tennessee, that isn’t Tennessee, to win a game even though the “experts” said they would.

 

I did listen to those experts however when they told me on show after show after show that Duke was finally playing up to its potential and the Blue Devils were “the team to beat.” Plus my wife went to Duke. Plus I like Duke. So I advanced Duke all the way to Phoenix and then I decided they would ultimately cut down the nets. By the way I had them beating UCLA. Hey, I told you I wasn’t very good at this “picking a winner” stuff.

 

With all of that in mind allow me my thoughts on what lies ahead.

 

The Final Four(s)

On semi final Saturday Oregon will play North Carolina and South Carolina will take on Gonzaga. The first game is a Cinderella dream matchup between a team that nobody, save the school’s most ardent fans, saw coming against a group that has been destined to be there for years. In it, the Gamecocks will bring the same heat, the same muscle and the same energy that propelled them over Duke, then Baylor, then Florida but I believe Gonzaga is too big, too smart and too focused to lose. The Bulldogs win a close one.

 

Then Oregon goes up against North Carolina. I think Carolina prevails but it won’t be because of coach Roy Williams, it will be in spite of him. The guy could be the world’s worst “big game” coach but his team, while undisciplined, is too talented to lose to another occasionally messy, skilled squad. So Monday will give us Gonzaga against North Carolina and, the way I see it, the Tar Heels lose in the championship game for the second straight year. Whatever you do don’t  take that to the bank.

 

Things about the Final Four for which we can be thankful

  1. Baylor won’t be playing Oregon (our eyes couldn’t take it)
  2. Austin Peay won’t be playing South Carolina (saving us from hearing “Let’s go Cocks” followed by “”Let’s go Peay!”
  3. We are this close to never hearing or seeing those dreadful Direct TV (featuring the incredible creepy singer) and Amazon Alexa (featuring the incredible untalented Reggie Miller) commercials again  

 

One thing you can count on his the women’s Final Four. True to form, as women’s college hoops almost always is, both semi-final games feature a number one seed against a number two. No build up to any championship EVER features so little drama as this one (with the possible exception of last year’s women’s tournament, or the one before that, or the one before that, or the one…).  Connecticut, yawn, will win. The only question is whether they win by 20, 30 or 40.

 

The Masters

 

I want Tiger to play. In fact, I want Tiger to win. I have said previously in this space, and out loud, that I believe Tiger Woods has plenty of time to, not only contend in, but win major golf championships plenty of times. Not a United States Open Championship or even a PGA Championship but certainly a Masters or a British Open. Good grief Jack Nicklaus won at Augusta as a 46-year-old and Tom Watson should have won a British at 59. Those events, because of the course and the conditions, lend themselves to those kind of heroics.

 

Going in to this year’s Masters Tournament Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are, according to oddsmakers, the favorites. None of them will win. Neither will Phil Mickelson. I can’t tell you who will win, I just know those four won’t.

 

So Put your money where my mouth isn’t and enjoy the next couple of weeks; thankfully baseball season is right around the corner. And try to remember… April showers bring May flowers and what do May flowers bring??? Pilgrims.

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Home Means Nevada

I tell ya, I get no respect. If I was a politician I would be honest.”

Rodney Dangerfield

 

The year was 2004, it was March. We were at a bar in Myrtle Beach or Austin, Texas, or West Palm Beach, FL. I was there, my guess is so was Gersh, no doubt Spo, and probably Schwartzy, Emmett, EW, and Foltzy. It was March Madness and my alma mater, the University of Nevada, was on TV.

The Wolf Pack was led by 6′ 6″ Junior guard Kirk Snyder and a 6′ 11″ Freshman from Arvada, Colorado named Nick Fazekas. The team had gone 13 and 5 in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and then won the conference tournament to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament as a 10 seed. It had been two decades since Nevada earned a birth so, for this grad, the game against #7 seed Michigan State was a big deal. It was Thursday, they were on a court in the Key Arena at Seattle Center. I was in a bar somewhere else. The Pack won by 6 to earn a date, two days later, with Midwest second seed Gonzaga. Back at the same bar, because that’s what a true fan does, 48 hours later I sat in amazement and watched Nevada not just upset the Zags but blow Gonzaga out of the gym, 91-72. It was hard to believe but the Wolf Pack, my  Wolf Pack was on the way to St. Louis and the Sweet Sixteen to take on Georgia Tech. I didn’t go but I got the T-shirt.

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Nevada lost by 5 but Pack fans took some consolation from the fact that Georgia Tech made it all the way to the National Championship game that year before losing to UConn. Led by Nick Fazekas, the Wolf Pack returned to the “big dance” the next three years and won first round games in both ’05 and ’07. I admit it’s not Duke (now working on their 22nd straight appearance) but it was a damn good run. Then Fazekas graduated and it took ten years for Nevada to get back.

The team that accomplished the feat is this one, a run and gun, put it up from anywhere, tour de force, that won both the Mountain West Conference regular season and the conference tournament. Despite those accomplishments neither Nevada’s coach, Eric Musselman (28-6 this year, 52-20 in two years at Nevada) or any of his talented players including Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, D. J. Fenner or Jordan Caroline were worthy enough for conference coach or player of the year honors. “I tell ya, I get no respect”.

Selection Sunday rolled around and Pack fans all over the world waited to see who they’d play and where. We didn’t have to wait long. CBS front man Greg Gumbel called for the first bracket, the Midwest, “with games being played on Thursday in Tulsa and Milwaukee and Friday in Sacramento and Indianapolis. Many of us, especially those living in and around Reno, were hoping this would be the region in which Nevada would land because a first round date in the California capital city of Sacramento would result in an easy, over the Sierra, two-hour drive. We got half our wish. The Pack would indeed be one of the 16 teams trying to come out of the Midwest but they’d have to start in Milwaukee with, more than likely, only a handful of hearty hometown fans in attendance. Northern Nevada and Mountain West Conference “conspiracy theorists” were on high alert especially considering of the eight teams suiting up in Sacramento only three hailed from west of the Mississippi. One was Oregon the other two were Omaha, Nebraska based Creighton and Oklahoma State.

The next indignity, if you’re one of those looking for indignities, was the seeding. Nevada was given a 12 seed despite having won more games than all but two squads in the sixteen team bracket. Then came the kicker, the opponent. The brilliant minds on the tournament committee decided the 5 seed the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament champion would face would be… Iowa State. A 23-10 team that had just dispatched with Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia on its way to winning the Big 12 Conference tournament championship for the third time in four years. “I tell ya, no respect.”

“What do you want?” you ask. Well let’s look. I would argue, as would many of my Wolf Pack brethren and “sisteren”, that a 12 seed was too low for this team. Probably better suited as a 10 seed which would have meant first round games against South Carolina, St. Mary’s, Dayton and Michigan. All, I would contend, more winnable than the Cyclones. Even if you kept Nevada a 12 seed they could have been matched up with Minnesota or Virginia in other regions. Also easier match ups than Iowa State. I will admit that as a 12 they could have also had to play Notre Dame so I guess you could say the committee threw coach Musselman a bone. “What a dog I got, his favorite bone is my arm!”

The bottom line is good teams have to beat other good teams to advance in this tournament. Nevada is a good team, a really good team if they shoot like the did in the second half of their conference tournament tilt against Fresno State or the first half in the championship game against Colorado State. Marshall, Fenner, Oliver, Caroline, Musselman and company will have their hands full against Monte Morris, Deonte Burton and the rest of the Cyclones tonight.

This time I’ll be watching from home. I have no idea what Gersh, Spo, Schwartzy, Emmett, EW and Foltzy will be doing. CBS Sports’ Seth Davis thinks Nevada can win and so do I. If they do a return to the Sweet Sixteen, and another T-shirt is not out of the question. Neither is earning a little respect.

 

 

 

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