Swinging For the Love Of The Game

Swingers_CarverAcademy_golf_lessons
Swingers Golf Club’s Bernard Cooper, right, helps sixth-grader Claudia Mendoza with her stance during gym class as the Swingers Golf Club helps introduce the game to the kids at George Washington Carver Academy. (Matthew Putney/WCF Courier 2013 file photo)

A common phrase that is used a lot is “numbers never lie.” Sports and media critics uttered that line a lot during The Masters Tournament in April. The ratings were down significantly for The Masters due to Tiger Woods not participating in the tournament, due to an injury and surgery.

It’s not surprising a majority of sports talking heads are screaming from the rooftops about how golf is suffering without Tiger’s presence in the big tournaments this year. That may be true, this is also true:  golf was here before Tiger, and will be here after Tiger. Woods isn’t the only superstar in this game…he just happens to be the superstar casual fans will flock to their television screens to see.

(My opinion: It would be in Tiger’s best interest to take the entire year off. It isn’t worth trying to come back and re-injuring himself to appease the fans…ahem…the patrons and the media.)

There is something, however, that tends to be ignored: how many of those casual fans have taken up the game of golf since Tiger Woods?  What about the groups, without fanfare, that have worked tirelessly to promote and encourage others to play golf?

One of those groups resides in Waterloo, Iowa, and have quietly taught young children how much fun it is to play golf.

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Tannis Morgan, 11, of Waterloo swing during a putting competition at the annual Swingers Golf Club back-to-school event at Gates Park Golf Course. (Matthew Putney/WCF Courier 2010 file photo)

The Waterloo Swingers Golf Club, Swingers for short, consists of a group of African-American men in Waterloo who play golf and teach the game to young kids, particularly African-American children. Most of the members of the Swingers picked up the sport either when they young, working, or after retiring from their jobs and careers. For a few, they started to take up the game as far back as the 60’s.

Two weeks ago, I participated the 2nd annual Jim Montgomery memorial golf outing to benefit the Swingers’ junior golf program and the National Kidney Foundation. Montgomery was one of those individuals where no matter what happens, he was quick with a smile and something funny to say. As the father of one of my best friends, Travis, Jim and wife Charlene was always there to support Travis and older sister Liz in everything they did. Jim was one of the guys who started the Swingers Golf Club and made the Gates Park Golf Course their home.

In 2012, Jim passed away from kidney disease. His family decided to use his passion, golf, as a source of raising awareness of kidney health and support the Swingers’ junior program.

No, not all of kids in the junior program are going to be playing on the PGA tour and be superstars (it would be awesome if that did happen).The point is giving children an opportunity to learn a sport that isn’t always basketball or football. One young man in particular has become one of the best golfers coming out of the juniors program. Dominick Smith will be starting his senior year at Wartburg next fall, as a member of the men’s golf team.

We have a propensity to measure a game by superstars, social media, ratings, TV executives, and knuckleheads like Skip Bayless. But, do any or all of these factors encourage casual fans to take lessons and try to play golf? How many “Tiger” fans have taken up the sport since 1997?  And no, I’m not counting the inebriated bros on the 18th green hollering “You da man!” as a golfer tees off.

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Calvin Peete

I learned how to play golf in high school, as part of gym class in the early 90’s. Tiger Woods didn’t entice me to pick up the sport. It was Nicklaus, Faldo, Trevino, and a guy named Calvin Peete.

Who’s Calvin Peete?  Peete was the first African-American to play on the tour. Back then, Peete’s journey was a lot harder, amid racism and other factors back then, when it was next to impossible for minorities to play on any golf course, public or private. Casual fans are quick to assume that Woods is a pioneer. Yes and no. Peete and Trevino, for me, are pioneers. Woods enhanced it.

The Swingers Club are more than pioneers. They are teachers and fans of the game. It what makes what they do with the junior program that mean so much and a lasting impression on the children who spend time learning about golf with this special group of men..  

The Caddy Speaks

Caddy Steve Williams (left) is the latest to get clipped by Tiger Woods and his cabal.

After 12 years of caddying for one Tiger Woods, Steve Williams finally speaks. 

And everyone has a problem about it. 

Not me.  In fact, anyone who feels Williams should keep quiet and do his job is denying something that they have longed for:  to hear what’s it like to caddy for Tiger and how Tiger operates.  Who in the right mind don’t want to hear what Tiger’s self-appointed gallery goon have to say about his tenure with Woods, how he got clipped (fired), and is now picking up the bag for Adam Scott

Was it in poor taste to gloat after Scott’s win at Firestone on Sunday?  Yes and no.  Yes, because it took some attention away from Scott.  But let’s stop lying to ourselves.  You know you wanted to hear from Williams.  If no one wanted to hear from Williams, then why did CBS stick a microphone in his face?  That’s not his fault that he was asked for his comments.  CBS was giving you what you wanted. 

Plus, all we cared about as sports fans is Tiger vs. Stevie.  Yeah, Adam Scott won.  Charl Schwartzel and Rory McIlroy won The Masters and the U.S. Open respectively.  They’re not Tiger Woods, and he’s all that matters to most sports fans. 

Sorry, Adam, you’re not the big story in the golf world.  Sorry, sports fans, you know Adam should be the story, but you know better, against your own better judgment. 

I have to disagree with one of my favorite guys, Fox Sports writer (and former Des Moines Register reporter) Bill Reiter.  Williams is no idiot.  If he was an idiot, then how did he have a major part in Tiger winning 13 majors (yes, he did have a hand in those.  Without Williams, how many would Tiger win on his own?)  At this rate, Tiger has divorced (or fired) everyone who had a major part in his success

And mind you, Williams is highly regarded on the tour as one of the best caddies in the game, with and without Tiger.

He knows his stuff. 

Caddies are not idiots.  They have to be the smartest guys on the course.  They are the ones who walk the course, take notes, and get a feel of the course days, and even hours, before the golfers arrive to practice.  Caddies don’t just carry a golf bag.  Ask Bones McKay how many times he’s tried to tell Phil Mickelson how to play a hole and Phil does stuff like this…

and this…

Honestly, I like the fact that Williams is talking.  Spending 12 years being a caddy for someone like Tiger had to be an experience…with a gag order.  No wonder why Fluff Cowan didn’t last long carrying Woods’ bag.  He was a popular caddy and loved to talk.  Tiger doesn’t like to talk.  Nor does he like it when cameras go off during his backswing. 

Now that he’s freed from Team Tiger, he has a lot to get off his chest.  At least he’s talking.  He could have been pummeling a camera guy on the 16th hole and throw his camera into the pond. 

Admit it folks, you do want to hear the what a former member of Team Tiger have to say about Tiger, how he thinks, how he practices, and how he operates.  

That includes a caddy that you would prefer to keep quiet.  

Good luck with that.   

“Don’t Call it a Comeback”

 

Charl Schwartzel
The main story of The Masters should be Charl Schwartzel, who birdied the last 4 holes to win the Green Jacket. (Associated Press)

 

I watched The Masters this weekend and there’s a pet peeve that I have to get off of my chest, if you don’t mind.

I’m so tired of hearing this phrase…

“(Submit player or team) is back.”

“Tiger’s back!”

“The Huskers are back!”

Tiger Woods finished 4th at The Masters. He may be "back", but his putter hasn't...yet.

 

Yes, they are back, but it’s different. There is no such thing as returning to what they once were or used to be.

Has the Huskers returned to the Big Red dominating and overwhelming opponents during the Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne era? No.  Are they a good team and program?  Yes.  But don’t expect them to steam roll opponents like they did 10, 15, or 30 years ago.

Will Tiger return to the form that made the world stop to watch him swing a club? You may say “yes” he is returning to that form. Most of you think he is back.  However, it feels different. It will never be the same as it once was.

It’s hard as hell to replicate something special or important after a few down years or a major event that interrupts it.

We pine for the things that we loved and enjoyed in the past. But when our world evolve and things changes, for good and bad, we can be happy to see someone or something “come back”, but it will not be the “same.”

In other words, stop expecting the good ol’ days and accept the “right now”.

Leave Tiger at Home for the Ryder Cup

Will the U.S. Ryder Cup team benefit or struggle with Tiger on the team?

Corey Pavin has a big decision to make.  As captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup, he has to assemble the best team possible as they take on Europe in this biannual golf tournament.  That includes whether or not to put Tiger Woods on the team.  Given the past nine months of what Tiger has gone through personally and professionally, even he would confess that he shouldn’t play Ryder Cup.

I feel that Tiger should not be put on the Ryder Cup team.  Critics will say that Tiger brings in big ratings, eyeballs, and interest for the Ryder Cup competition.  That is true and accurate.  I offer a rebuttal:  it’s likely that Tiger isn’t going to return to form in time for the Ryder Cup, and who’s going to watch a struggling Tiger stumble all over the course? The fair-weather fans who only watch golf to watch Woods isn’t going to keep tuning in if he continues to look bad.

Zach Johnson is playing well "right now." He earns a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

If you track his progress this year, he has gotten worse in each tournament he has played.

2010 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin

There are some golfers who are red hot and playing well this season.  You put the “hottest” golfers on the team, the guys who are on top of their game “right now” not yesterday or tomorrow.

Right now.

Zach Johnson, Anthony Kim, and Lucas Glover are what the U.S. needs on the Ryder Cup team “right now.”  Tiger doesn’t have it “right now” and I feel it’s wrong to add him to the team, solely to make fans and television executives happy.

Big television ratings be damned.

There’s nothing wrong with making an unpopular decision.  Even if it’s for the best of the team.

The best story isn’t always the biggest story

Phil and Amy Mickelson. Listen to the The Masters theme by clicking on the picture.

I’m guilty of blowing off  Phil Mickelson this past week at The Masters.  Most of you blew him off too.

It was for  good reason.  All of the talk was about Tiger, Tiger, and more Tiger.  As great as Woods is, we forgot about good ol’ Lefty.  The ill-advised shot at Winged Foot, the missed opportunities, and the major wins he could have won.  But if there is anything about Phil is that he has never put on a front when it comes to who he is.

Which is why Mickelson’s win at The Masters Sunday was the story that no one thought would be the biggest one.

He loves having his family on the golf course.  He’ll answer everyone’s questions without being robotic.  Phil may not have as many fans, fair-weathered or not, as Tiger has, but he is very popular and well-thought of on the tour.

If anyone felt that Tiger’s been through hell, then you don’t know what the last 365 days has been for Phil Mickelson.

His wife, Amy, and his mother diagnosed with breast cancer within weeks of each other.  Phil played golf last year, but took time off to care for both his wife and mom.  No one expected him or clamored for him to return, like we did for Tiger. If anything, Phil’s priorities didn’t exactly have golf at the top.  It’s up there, but no money can replace how much he cares about his wife and his family.

If there is one thing I know, this simple adage still applies:  golf is bigger than one person.  People watched golf before Tiger Woods and Phil, and people will watch after they leave or when both guys do the ceremonial tee-shot to start the Masters.

Golf is a sports where individuals have a story to tell as they line up for a putt on each hole, take a chip shot out of the rough, and when a shot catapults into the pond.  The main idea is that there is a story behind the story during The Masters this weekend.

And it’s not always the big story.  It’s the story that should have gotten the attention or more interest. I don’t hate Tiger and it’s not my place to prevent him from making a living.  With that said for those who will only watch golf if Tiger Woods is playing, you’re missing the entire point about the game of golf and for those who were there before he arrived.

Tiger Speaks, Everyone Listens

These are my initial thoughts immediately after listening to, and then seeing the press conference held by Tiger Woods this morning.  I’m not going to write a 1,500 word breaking down every single thing.  This is a quick-write up to put the press conference and his remarks into perspective.

After nearly 2 1/2 months of seclusion, Tiger Woods made his first public appearance this morning to apologize for committing infidelity in his marriage and tarnishing his reputation.  The full statement is here.

I listened to the initial interview, and then I watched it.   I’m no psychologist, body language expert, or a speechwriter, but here are a few things that stood out to me.

-Woods has never been a person who is going to give a long speech.  He gives short answers and doesn’t spend time talking about anything but the game of golf. He didn’t look comfortable and it showed.  For Woods, this was difficult, simply that he had to talk about something outside of golf.

For the critics, let’s end this crap about “well, it appears he didn’t write this.”  Of course not, you idiots.  Who does?  The President doesn’t write his speeches.  Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t write all of his jokes.  Can we stop whining about that?

I know what it’s like if I have to speak in front of an audience.  I’m a stutterer.  I can talk to anyone in an one-on-one setting and stutter a bit.  Stand in front of a microphone?  I will stutter a lot.

-Unlike Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, elected officials, and others, Woods didn’t assign blame to anyone for his actions.  He took the blame for himself.  He said that repeatedly throughout the nearly 14 minute statement. Do you think Clemens has ever uttered “my bad” for using steroids?  No.  It was his wife’s fault, or Brian McNamee, or whoever.  McGwire blamed the “era.”  The “era” didn’t point a gun to his head and told him to take steroids.

-“Why did I do it?  Beacuse I could and I was entitled.”  Thank you Tiger for saying something no one wanted to admit and the public didn’t want to acknowledge.  Athletes, entertainers, and elected officials have a level of power and fame that offers them stuff that regular folks will not and can’t not get.  VIP parties, debauchery, vacation homes, et cetera. High-profile celebrities from all walks of life have never had anyone tell them “no”, and can do things we can only wished we could.  It’s a different set of rules for the individuals.

-Anyone who says they don’t care about this presser (press conference) and the hoopla around it, they are lying, in my eyes.  You do care.  It’s what brings you back to the story.  You do care to see when Tiger returns to the golf course.

An example:  I never watched Jersey Shore from start to finish.  I don’t care much for the show, but I am always intrigued about the people on that show and what they do on and off the camera.

That’s what casual fans do.  They tune in and out and is just as interested in something even when they don’t want to.

-Someone wrote on Twitter earlier today that they didn’t care at all about Tiger and his problems, as long as he picks up his 3-iron, gets back on the course, and plays golf.   If all you care about is to have him hurry up and play golf so that you can watch golf again, you’re not a fan, and you sure as hell isn’t a casual fan.  You’re a selfish bastard in my book.  Tiger Woods isn’t going out there to chip balls into the cup to make you feel good about watching golf.

You don’t care about what he is going through as an individual, because you never went through it.  You care about him resuming his playing career, so that you can buy his clubs, his shirts, and follow his every move.

The most important thing Tiger Woods has to do now is to re-earn the trust of those he let down.  It’s a long road to gain respect and trust again from people who defended you, only to learn that you did something wrong.