Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weekend Thoughts (July 18)

Hey buddy, missed you this week. Maybe we can hang out soon? Please?
A lot went down this past weekend in the world of sports. That is, of course, assuming you count women's soccer as a sport.....I KID, I KID! Anyways, Casey, Prince, and I "officially" decided it was...so there! In all seriousness, it was nice to finally have something going on that didn't involve 400lb umpires or 400lb third basemen (sorry Casey, I'm referring to your beloved Pablo Sandoval). Instead, we were treated to a weekend of overweight, middle aged guys hitting golf balls, and mostly anonymous girls kicking around a soccer ball.....yippee. (Translation: PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, COME BACK SOON NFL! COME BACK!)

As always, I have some thoughts.


The Open Championship

One of the things I love about major championship golf is the variety in tests and challenges that each individual tournament provides. All you non-golf people (basically, all of you) might not understand what I'm talking about, so let me explain. The type of golf course and its specific set-up play a large role in how the tournament will go and who will likely have a chance to contend. The British Open is a huge departure from its American counterparts thanks to the links style golf courses the tournament is played on.

I'll spare you the boring minutiae of what differentiates a links golf course from a typical American course by boiling it down into one word.....weather. The United Kingdom is noted for its unpredictable and borderline unbearable crappy weather, and the island certainly didn't disappoint this past weekend. In the span of about an hour, Darren Clarke put on and removed his rain suit three seperate times as the weather cycled from sunny, to extremely windy, to raining sideways, and back to sunny again. These photos show just how crazy the weather was on Sunday, and it is symbolic of how The Open Championship has historically been played.

Overcast, but mostly pleasant.

Not so pleasant.
Network cameras could barely keep their lenses dry enough to adequately provide coverage.
The combination of rain, strong coastal winds, and England's unswerving desire to make everything bleak and dreary make for unseasonably cold weather.
OK, so this isn't actually from the British Open. This is a picture of a French golfer (farthest guy) celebrating after winning The French Open. It's funny because he actually hurts himself on this celebratory jump and was forced to miss The Open Championship. Stupid French!
Wind gusts in excess of 30mph wreaked havoc on Sunday's play.
Then it was kinda pleasant again by the end of the tournament...
So yeah, the weather was definitely insane.

Now, I could wax poetic about venerable Open Championship all day long, but you'd probably throw up and never read this blog again, so I'll move on to something a bit more relevant.

Don't get me wrong here, because I like Darren Clarke. He's been through a lot in his life and his sudden resurgence is a fantastic story. I truly am happy for him! It's just that, I was a bit bored Sunday. After a great opening nine, the tournament fell flat as all of Clarke's challengers faded away.

The fact is, there needs to be drama for a golf tournament to be compelling. It looked as if Phil Mickelson was going to provide that drama after a stellar 30 (-5) on the front nine. Mickelson has struggled mightily in the British, notching just two Top 10's in his 18 appearances. Compare that to his other major performances, where his next lowest is eight Top 10's in the PGA Championship, and you can see why Mickelson's run created excitement. Unfortunately, that excited quickly faded in a blaze of classic Mickelson glory. Two early bogeys on two missed short putts (aka. The Mickelson Special) left Mickelson well behind Clarke and effectively out of the tournament.

Even still, there remained one last contender. Dustin Johnson had valiantly fought back from his early struggles and sat just two back of Clarke going into the par 5 14th. After a monstrous drive, it appeared as if Johnson had an excellent opportunity to reach the green in two, setting us up for an epic duel to finish the tournament. Instead, he sailed a two-iron waaaaaaaaaaay right and out of bounds. Honestly, it looked exactly like the type of shot I hit every other hole! After finishing with a gruesome double bogey, Johnson was four back and the tournament was effectively over.

Here's my conclusion from all this...I WANT TIGER BACK! OK, so that really has nothing to do with the previous two paragraphs, but it has a lot to do with why I've been slightly bored with golf. Ever since Elin found out why Tiger loves Perkins so much and chased him and his Escalade around with a golf club, the golf world has desperately sought his 'successor.' After his big U.S. Open win, Rory McIlroy was 'The Next Tiger'...but we all knew that wasn't really true.

Fact is, there is no Next Tiger and any attempt to annoint one is foolish. I think the best thing about Tiger Woods career is that he almost never failed to put on a show. Even in losing, he was compelling and he always made you believe he would win. More than anything, that's what is missing from the game lately.

For all his talent and success, Mickelson simply isn't that guy. Like he did Sunday, Mickelson too often falls apart, compounding big mistake upon big mistake. Whether it's his gambling, go-for-it style or his penchant for blowing short putts, Mickelson, more often than not, makes you believe he will collapse rather than come through.

Even if you want to think the best of Phil, who is there behind him? What player can consistenly 'bring it' in the big moments and make things interesting?

Dustin Johnson should be that type of player, but he's now collapsed (in epic fashion, I might add) in three of his last six major championships. Perhaps he'll grow from his experiences and break through some day, but until then, it's hard to take him seriously.

McIlroy is perhaps the closest to being that type of player, but a historic Master's collapse this past April and multiple missed cuts in the past two years suggests he's not exactly ready to put the Tour on his shoulders yet.

So, tell me...who's the PGA's big draw without Tiger? Who's going to keep major championships Sundays interesting until Tiger takes his crown back? Is it Jason Day? Geoff Ogilvy? Martin Kaymer? Maybe Sergio randomly starts making putts? Lee Westwood and his bad teeth? Yeah, didn't think so.

Look, I'm a golf fan and I'll continue watching. Many of the guys I mentioned are really good players and I have a strong appreciation for how talented they really are. Still, I'm a sports consumer like the rest of you. I have things I want to do, family to spend time with, work around the house to find creative ways to avoid, pointless phone calls with Prince and Casey to waste time on. We've all been spoiled by Tiger for a long time now, and I'm finding it tough to deal with life after. Sports are driven, in large part, by compelling, charismatic, and domineering figures...and Tiger was money. As I've said before, I miss the yelling, I miss the swearing, I miss the fist pumping...I miss Tiger Woods. Darren Clarke is a great story and I'm happy for him, but heart warming stories can only sustain for so long. No offense Darren, but it's time to bring out the real golfers now.


Womens World Cup

Just to clear this up right off the bat, I only watched the PK's. I did not watch a single second of the actual soccer and I really couldn't care less about the results. That having been said, I have two thoughts.

1. I hate penalty kicks. It seems stupid to decide a soccer game on something that isn't actually soccer. Obviously, I'm not a soccer person and my opinion is probably not going to be respected in the soccer world, but that's OK. I feel the exact same way about shootouts in hockey...DON'T DECIDE THE GAME ON SOMETHING THAT ISN'T HOCKEY!

I understand the difficulties in having endless overtimes, specifically in soccer. Scoring in soccer is extremely rare, many games ending in a mutual understanding that one team has done a better job of faking injures, therefore they are the victor. Let's be clear, I'm not offering an alternative to PK's. I don't know how many overtimes would be appropriate, I don't know if taking players off the field at intervals of time would be a good idea, and I don't know if the shootouts are TV driven as one Colin Cowherd claims. All I'm saying is, it seems dumb to institute a random, fluky conclusion like PK's to a sport already rampant with random, fluky, game deciding plays.

2. Can everyone please stop with the "Soccer is about to break through in America comments?!" Soccer has been "on the verge" for decades! Let me try this one more time...hopefully it sticks...here we go...SOCCER IS NEVER BREAKING THROUGH HERE! NEVER! EVER! EVER!

Get it? Look, I know the ratings were good, and I know people got into watching the U.S. team, but guess what? Now that the event is over and the NFL season is soon to begin, soccer will fade deep into the background as it always does. Please, don't take this the wrong way. I don't mean this as a knock against soccer, but it's just never going to be a big priority for American sports fans. Our best athletes will continue to play basketball and football, because that's what people care about and that's where the money is. And our sports fans will continue to buy tickets to baseball games and play fantasy football because that's what we care about.

Unfortunately, it seems like the media never learns. Every time the national team (men or womens) plays a tournament, popularity goes up and the "soccer is breaking through" talk begins anew. Remember, we dealt with the same type of hockey claims during the Olympics were going on and the U.S. team was rolling through Canada in group play. Americans are highly nationalistic. We love cheering for American teams and American heroes. The ability to cheer for a collective group of Americans against teams from other countries is an extremely galvanizing force for our country.

This sentiment, and not the actual sport, is the reason for soccer's "rise" every few years. Please, don't confuse it with an actual increase in popularity. At the end of the day, people are still not going to buy MLS jerseys and they're certainly not going to miss Steelers-Ravens to watch an EPL game!

So please, enough with the soccer talk. It had it's fun, and now it's over. Soccer is NEVER going to be a major sport in the U.S. and the sooner we accept that, the sooner I can stop hearing about it.


  1. Great points about soccer - how nationalism, not true soccer interest, is what we see every few years. And PKs... oh my. I cannot believe how dumb they are.

    If soccer were more popular, people would probably acknowledge the new OT rule as the single most illogical rules change in the history of sports... yet somehow, every time a game has gone into OT ever since the 2010 World Cup, the announcers inexplicably worship the new rule. I am beside myself every time.

    If you don't know what I'm talking about, here it is: for a long time, we had a classic 'sudden death' OT, with what was known as the 'golden goal' - in other words, first team to score a goal wins the game. Seems fair enough, considering a single goal seems to be sufficient to win a full game more often than not, right? WELL, APPARENTLY THE FIFA COMMITTEE DIDN'T THINK SO! Their bright idea was, "Hey, why don't we give the game an even GREATER chance to end in PKs? Yeah, after 100 minutes of no scoring, if a team scores, why don't we give the other team another 20+ minutes to try to push it into PKs again so that one of them can lose unfairly? It'll be great!"

    Well, this is exactly what we saw in the Women's Final. Look, this has nothing to do with the coincidental fact that the USA would have won had the original 'golden goal' been in play. I don't care that much! I just watch men's (real) soccer!!! But I'm just saying, we could have ended the game when the USA scored in OT, and guess what? Had that happened, nobody could have argued about anything. They scored a goal, fair and square, before the other team, in regular soccer game play. Instead, now for the next 4 years we all have to hear about how lame it is that the World Cup Champion was decided by PKs. Well done, FIFA. This seriously is the dumbest rule change in the history of sports. And our sports media didn't even seem to notice.

  2. Not only did our sports media not notice, but they celebrated it!