Sweep-the-SwampCast #4 – March 1, 2019

As we wrap-up this week in sports, SwampSwami’s weekly audio podcast features an update on Johnny Football, the cool military logo of the AAF’s San Diego Fleet, a couple of newly-wealthy baseball players, the long-overdue change to the NBA’s “One-and-Done” player draft age limits, golf’s Jordan Spieth, the surprising LSU and University of Houston basketball teams, and we honor former basketball legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

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Mamma Mia! “Par-machino” Molinari grabs Italy’s first major!

Wow, what a weekend of golf!  The 2018 Open Championship (British Open) concluded on a windswept Sunday after two days of incredible swings of momentum and loads of golfing drama.

When the dusk settled over Scotland’s Carnoustie famed golf links Sunday night, only one golfer out of the field of 72 played the final 18 holes without a single bogey.  Heck, he didn’t have a bogey for the entire weekend!

You’ve seen those t-shirts which have a picture of the British royal crown saying, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, right?  Italy’s Francesco Molinari did just that by keeping his blinders on and his emotions in check all weekend.  Playing in the same pairing with the boisterous “Tiger Woods Show” during Sunday’s final round, Molinari tamed the winds, the noisy fans of Tiger Woods, and played the front nine in even par with nine consecutive pars.

I think Molinari’s new nickname should be “Par-machino”.  OK, that may be a little cheesy (ha ha), but Molinari was, by far, the steadiest golfer in the field this weekend at the Open Championship.

Meanwhile, his playing partner, Tiger Woods, whipped the crowds into a frenzy as the 42-year old legend rolled in two birdies on the front nine to roar back from four shots off the pace to stake a one-shot lead the turn at 7-under par.  Third round leaders Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner, and Xander Schauffelle started the day at 9-under par but quickly faltered as Carnoustie’s famed 20 miles-per-hour winds took their toll.

Woods eventually found the gnarly rough several times on the back nine and faded late.  Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy mounted late charges to post 6-under par scores in the clubhouse as Saturday’s leaders limped toward the finish.  It was Molinari, though, who kept grinding out pars on the back nine and eventually added two birdies coming home to rise to 8-under par and grab a two shot victory.

In hoisting the Claret Jug for his victory in this year’s Open Championship, Francesco Molinari also claimed the first major championship by an Italian golfer in the country’s history.

Born in Turin, Italy, Francesco’s older brother, Edoardo Molinari, had some early success in America by winning the 2005 US Amateur title.  The following year, Edoardo’s younger brother Francesco caddied for him at the 2006 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

In 2006, Francesco Molinari then followed his brother into professional golf by joining the European Tour.  Though a consistent top-level player, he had won only five times during his first eleven years on the European Tour.

Coming into 2018, the 35-year old Molinari decided to make some changes.  He made some adjustments in his putting technique (which had failed him under pressure in the past) and also hired a performance coach to help him with the mental side of the game.

Based on this summer’s results, those changes have yielded huge dividends.

Molinari grabbed a European Tour victory in May by holding off Rory McIlroy by two shots to win.  He then came to the USA and won the Quicken Loans event in Washington, DC in mid-June by shooting a final round 62 to win by a whopping 8 strokes.

Francesco Molinari has quietly been on the golf roll of his life this summer.

With golf’s biggest names in the mix on Sunday and the brisk winds making Carnoustie play like “Carnastie” once again, Francesco Molinari’s steady play under immense pressure was simply amazing to watch.

“Incredible to go bogey-free on the weekend,” Molinari said after the round.

It’s probably more incredible to see his name forever etched onto the Claret Jug as he now becomes a part of golf history!

 

 

And the Champion Golfer of the Year is…

If you’re a golf fan like me, this weekend’s final two rounds of The Open Championship (aka The British Open) promise to have something in store for just about everyone.

Like a challenging venue?  Scotland’s famed Carnoustie golf links have given the world’s best golfers fits for decades.  The winner at this normally windswept golf course near the North Sea usually struggles to complete the tournament with an under-par score.  Patience is a virtue here.

How about legendary winners at Carnoustie?  Padraig Harrington took home the Claret Jug here in 2007.  Before that, winners include Paul Lawrie (1999 – more on him in a moment), Tom Watson in 1975 (his first of five Claret Jug victories), Gary Player (1968), and Ben “The Wee Mon” Hogan in 1953 in his first and only trip overseas for this major championship.

Want a fantastic finish?   Remember Jean Van deVelde?  No, he didn’t win, but his 1999 struggles on the 72nd hole with a three stroke lead made for one of the most unforgettable final holes in major championship history.  Needing only a double-bogey 6 to win, the Frenchman hit his golf ball into the weeds, the stands, and the greenside watery grave called the Barry Burn as he rolled in a gutsy 10 foot putt just to make a triple bogey 7 and ultimately lose in a playoff to Paul Lawrie.

As the players tee-off for this weekend’s final 36 holes, you should have no trouble finding a golfer to root for.

Can Jordan Spieth keep the ball in play off the tee and find the magic again with his putter to repeat as the winner?  If you like past champions, Zach Johnson is right there near the top of the leaderboard.  So is Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland.

Tiger and Phil?  They both start the weekend six shots back of the leaders (Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson).  No doubt the golf fans at Carnoustie will be pulling for one of these legends this weekend.

If you like rooting for a deserving golfer to win their first major, look no further than Matt Kuchar (last year’s runner-up) and Rickie Fowler.  Both players are only a few shots behind the leaders starting Saturday’s third round.

How about a local favorite?  Tommy Fleetwood of Great Britain has a growing legion of golf fans with his pleasant personality and flowing locks.  He is only one shot back after 36 holes.

The big bombers pretty much bombed out at Carnoustie.  The current #1 ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, #2 Justin Thomas, and #13 Bubba Watson learned the hard way that Carnoustie is crafted to harshly punish errant tee shots.

Those numerous bunkers around this golf course are deep and quite menacing.  In many cases, the only way out is hitting the ball backwards the same way it came in.  No wonder some of the pros call this course “Carnastie”!

For me, I enjoy watching golf being played in Scotland’s cooler weather (highs in the 60’s expected) while most of us fry in the heat of midsummer.

Grab a hot beverage and get up early to enjoy “Breakfast at the British Open” as the action gets underway six hours ahead of us in Scotland.

This year’s “Champion Golfer of the Year” will have defeated a truly star-studded field to earn the coveted Claret Jug.

 

 

 

 

The Players’ greatest player was woefully underpaid

The Players Championship teed off today at the TPC Sawgrass course just south of Jacksonville, Florida.  The tournament features every single one of the world’s top fifty players among the 144-player field.  This is a rare treat for fans as injuries, travel issues, and personal issues usually cause a few of the top golfers to miss a top event like this.

The golfers chasing the Players Championship trophy will not be competing for chump change, either.

This year’s winner will pocket an incredible $1.85 million from a total purse of $10.5 million.

Talented young golfers like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas are reaping the benefits of playing in the Tiger Woods era of golf.  Riding Tiger’s wave of popularity over the past twenty years, golf’s television ratings also skyrocketed.

As a result of the increased money paid by advertisers for this prized demographic (men and women with significant disposable income to spend on advertised products and services), the networks began to pay big bucks for the television rights.  Tournament payouts eventually followed suit, and paydays for golfers on the PGA tour soared.

Today’s golfers (young and old) owe a debt of gratitude to the charisma of the late Arnold Palmer and, later, to Tiger Woods for helping mold golf into a more marketable television commodity.

Financially speaking, today’s golfers really do make significantly more money today than golfers toiling during the previous era dominated by Arnie, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, and other Hall-of-Famers from the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

Take Jack Nicklaus, for instance.  Nicklaus is the only three-time winner of the Players Championship tournament (now in its 44th year).

Golf’s greatest major champion won this event in 1974 and received $50,000 from a total purse of $250,000.  Based on the US government’s really nifty CPI inflation calculator, Jack’s 1974 win would be worth $268,000 today.

In fact, Big Jack won the Players Championship again in 1976 and pocketed $60,000 from the purse of $300,000.  It would be worth $270,373 today.

Nicklaus’ third win of this event in 1978 earned him another $60,000 first place check from the $300,000 payout.  That would be worth $240,524 today.

In today’s dollars, Jack Nicklaus won this event three times in the 1970’s and earned an inflation adjusted $778,000.

In contrast, this year’s winner of the Players Championship will pocket Jack’s total earnings from three wins plus another cool $1.1 million!

This adds significant credibility to the laments heard from the tour’s older golfers who preached that they had to compete hard every week to win, place or show on the golf course just to make any significant money on the professional golf tour.

By contrast, every one of the top ten finishers in the 2017 Players Championship earned more than Jack Nicklaus did in any victory during the 1970’s.

Count your blessings along with your dollars, PGA Tour members.

You are truly living in the golden age.

 

*If you want to have a few minutes of nerdy good clean fun, try using this calculator to see how much money you made in your early working years versus today.

https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

 

 

 

 

Masters’ champ Patrick Reed swats away all challengers

Like King Kong perched atop the Empire State Building, it seemed like an endless parade of professional golf’s biggest stars were lined-up to try to bring down the leader, Patrick Reed, during Sunday’s thrilling finish at the 2018 Masters.

Reed, like King Kong, stood strong atop his leaderboard, beat his chest a few times, and then swatted away all would-be challengers as he grabbed a coveted green jacket by winning the Masters tournament for his first professional major championship.

Hours before the overnight leader and U.S. Ryder Cup hero teed off in Augusta, a conga line of Patrick Reed’s doubters came forward from within the golf media.

As I watched The Golf Channel’s Sunday pregame show prior to CBS’s live coverage, host Rich Lerner asked a trio of former professional golfers whether they thought Patrick Reed had “the right stuff” to win his first major title Sunday afternoon.  Both journeyman Brandel Chamblee and former British Open winner, Justin Leonard, said that Reed would not be able to sustain his lead.  Chamblee even trotted out a graphic of professional golfers who had blown a 3-shot lead entering the fourth and final round of the Masters.

Only David Duval, a former World #1 golfer and winner of the 2001 British Open, said that Reed’s mental toughness in Ryder Cup play would be on display again on Sunday at the Masters and carry him to victory.

The Golf Channel and CBS continued to hype viewers with their hopes that Sunday would be the rightful time for Rory McIlroy (paired with Reed in the final twosome) to win the Masters for the first time and become only the sixth player to win all four of golf’s major championships (joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods).

The front nine on-air “Rory Rooting Section” of CBS commentators Ian Baker Finch and 3-time Masters winner, Nick Faldo, became even more annoying as McIlroy quickly moved within one shot of Patrick Reed’s lead in the first two holes.  It was like they seemingly couldn’t wait for Reed to fade and get out of Rory’s way.

But then, just like during his legendary 2014 Ryder Cup singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine, Minnesota, Patrick Reed, who became dubbed “Captain America” during that Ryder Cup for his gritty style and fierce competitive nature and 3-1-1 record, found his putting stroke and rhythm again.

By the end of the front nine, McIlroy found himself five shots behind Reed.  He looked dejected and all but defeated heading into the final nine holes.

One down for Reed.  Who’s next?

Sunday’s final round at Augusta National found former Masters’ champion, Jordan Spieth, on fire.  Spieth started the day nine shots behind Reed.

He posted a sterling five-under par 31 on the front nine.  Spieth converted birdie after birdie and briefly tied Reed on the back nine at 14-under par.  Then, Jordan hooked his tee shot into the trees on the 18th hole, settled for a bogey, and dropped a shot to finish at 13-under par.

American Rickie Fowler and his playing partner from Spain, Jon Rahm, then made their own charges on Sunday afternoon before falling just shy of catching Reed.

Rahm found the pond on his second shot into the 15th green (the same pond that defending champion and fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia repeatedly hit en route to an unbelievable 13 during Thursday’s first round).  Rahm’s dunked ball led to a bogey and effectively ended his chances.

Rickie Fowler, a crowd favorite who was also seeking his first major championship, never faltered down the stretch and posted a birdie on the 18th hole to move to 14-under and narrow Reed’s lead to a single shot with one hole to go.

“Captain America” responded to the pressure again by smoothly driving down the middle on the 18th hole, hitting his second shot into the middle of the green, and calmly rolling in an uphill 3-foot putt for par to seal the one shot victory and grab his first green jacket.

Patrick Reed has always carried an air of cockiness about him.  Many tour players and golf fans don’t care for his sometimes aloof attitude on the golf course.

However, if you look at Patrick Reed’s golf game, he has to maintain a steely composure to grind out victories on tour.

He doesn’t possess a high torque fast golf swing capable of hitting 340 yard drives off the tee like McIlroy (at least until he throws his back out).

He doesn’t putt with the gifted golden touch of Jordan Spieth.

He doesn’t consistently hit laser iron shots into the greens like Rickie Fowler does, either.

But Patrick Reed has one thing that most other professional players don’t have.  Guts.  Abundant quantities of internal fortitude.

Don’t mess with golf’s new King Kong when he is holding onto the final round lead and the odds and media naysayers are stacked against him.  The more detractors, the merrier.

Patrick Reed deftly swatted away all comers on Sunday afternoon and earned his 2018 Masters title.

No mo S.H.O.? Say it ain’t so, Houston!

Thursday will begin the first round of what may be the final four rounds of men’s professional golf in Houston, Texas after a 72-year run in Space City.  If you want to see Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler playing in the PGA tour event in Houston, you better hustle out to this year’s 2018 Houston Open.  Some are even saying that there might not be a PGA stop in H-town beginning next season.

The Houston Open began in 1946 and was won, appropriately, by a Texan named Byron Nelson. Other notable winners in the Bayou City include Arnold Palmer (twice), Gary Player, Curtis Strange (three times), Payne Stewart, Hal Sutton, and Fred Couples.

For the past 24 years, Shell Oil Company has sponsored Houston’s PGA tournament under the banner of the Shell Houston Open (SHO).

However, 2017’s event marked the final year of Shell’s corporate generosity.  Over the years, the Shell Houston Open has raised millions of dollars for Houston area charities while giving players a final opportunity for a Masters’ tune-up in the week preceding golf’s first major event.

Though your intrepid writer has yet to uncover an official reason why Shell dropped their sponsorship, it is quite possible that several years of relatively low oil prices and lagging corporate profits made it hard for the company to justify the hefty annual financial commitment required to sponsor the tournament.

One source indicated that a primary corporate sponsor will be required to commit spending a minimum of $5 million annually to have their name attached to a PGA tour event.  Despite SwampSwami’s personal attendance at several SHO events and faithful purchases of Shell gasoline over the years, it is probably difficult for the corporate marketing gurus at Shell to confirm that gasoline and other brand names have continued to receive a noticeable increase in sales, market share and corporate goodwill resulting from the company’s steep annual financial outlays with Houston’s PGA golf stop.

Unfortunately for the city of Houston and its golf fans, another corporate sponsor has yet to emerge in the ensuing year to pick up the tab for this event.  In addition to last summer’s massive floods from Hurricane Harvey, the past twelve months have remained tough for Houston’s energy business as oil, natural gas, and corporate stock prices kept slip-sliding away.

Timing is everything.  Even in the nation’s fourth largest city, the PGA and the executives running the Houston Open have been unable to land another title sponsor willing to sign a multi-year contract to sponsor the golf tournament..

The word is already circulating that the PGA is already looking to move the Valero San Antonio Open into Houston’s slot in the golf line-up beginning next season.  Ouch.  It’s bad enough that the Alamo City’s NBA Spurs have bested the Rockets in the basketball playoffs several times over the past 20 years, now Houston’s I-10 rival may be taking the city’s coveted pre-Masters spot on the PGA tour beginning in 2019.

Personally, I have to believe there is more to this story than what little we have heard and read on the surface (politics, anyone?).

For the PGA tour, though, the loss of Houston’s major corporate sponsor and, ultimately, a signature annual golf event in a major metropolitan area should be seen as an extremely loud wake-up call for the sport.

Professional golf needs to make a number changes (fewer tournaments, lower purses, and how about a shot clock to speed-up the game?) ASAP, or Houston won’t be the last PGA stop saying “B-bye” to the tour soon.

 

 

Jordan Spieth becomes golf’s version of Popeye

Jordan Spieth was down.  After taking a three shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale, Spieth’s confidence started waning.  His tee shot on the first hole failed to bounce downward off a hillside filled with heavy rough and back into the fairway.  He bogeyed the first hole.  His short putts on the front nine looked tentative for a guy widely reputed to be best putter in men’s golf.  Gasp – Jordan Spieth even three-putted the ninth hole Sunday and finished the front nine at three over par!  Suddenly, with nine holes to go, Spieth and his playing partner, fellow American Matt Kuchar, were deadlocked at 8-under par.  What else could go wrong?

Plenty.

On what Jordan Spieth should forever call his Lucky 13th hole, he sprayed his tee shot nearly 100 yards off line to the right.  Since there was no out-of-bounds along the right side of this par-4 hole, his golf ball was found in some very knarly rough atop a 50-foot tall sand dune.  After 20 minutes of asking questions to the rules official and his caddie, Spieth opted to take an “unplayable lie” penalty stroke and, utilizing a fortunate series of golf rules due to the location of some nearby television equipment trailers, ultimately decided to drop of his ball back into play again.  From the practice grounds area.  Yes, Jordan Spieth was that far off line.  In an honest moment, the rules official said that the British Open tournament officials had not thought it possible for a professional golfer to ever hit a ball that far off line on the 13th hole, so they applied local (course) rules to the situation to help him get line-of-sight relief.

Meanwhile, Matt Kuchar had already hit his second shot onto the green and was looking at a 20-foot birdie opportunity.  By the time the time the 13th hole was over, Kuchar might be in possession of a two or three shot lead.  If Matt could drain his birdie putt, it might just sap the remaining life out of Spieth, who was looking at a bogey or double bogey from his predicament.  Kuchar had played nearly error-free golf all day and was possibly thinking that Spieth was on the verge of yet another final round collapse in a golf major (remember his two tee shots into the water on Augusta National’s par-3 12th hole during the 2016 Masters?).  A betting man would have installed Kuchar as the man to beat at that moment.

Then…it happened.  Spieth didn’t hit a spectacular third shot onto the green.  Nope – it was fat.  Though Spieth couldn’t see where his 3rd shot finished, it turned out that he was quite fortunate.  His ball had come to rest about 20 yards short of the green in the rough instead of inside one of those evil ball-sucking bunkers at Royal Birkdale.  Spieth then hit a very good pitch shot for his 4th shot over the bunker, onto the green, and about eight feet from the flag.

Kuchar made a good roll on his birdie attempt but narrowly missed.  A tap-in par for Kuchar kept him at 8-under par as he now took his first lead of the final round.

Spieth then lined-up an 8-foot bogey putt that may serve to define him – one way or another.  If he missed another relatively short putt on Sunday, he would go two shots down with only five holes to go.  A miss would also drop him five shots over par for the day – yet another final round collapse in a major and, worse, a possible defeat.

At this key moment (both in this tournament and for Jordan Spieth’s golf psyche), Spieth summoned his inner Popeye and drained the putt to earn one of the most career-defining bogeys ever.  You could see it in Spieth’s eyes.  His golf confidence had returned back to him – and not a moment too soon.

Spieth showed a laser-like focus as he aggressively played the final five holes.  He went 5-under par over those five holes including a near ace on the 14th to tie Kuchar again, and then Spieth drained two lengthy putts – one for an eagle at the 15th hole and the other monster for birdie at the 16th – to seize the lead for good.

Matt Kuchar didn’t lose the British Open.  Kooch played terrific golf with a closing round of 69, but he was run over by a proverbial freight train down the stretch.

If Sunday’s pairing was a classic Popeye cartoon, Bluto (Matt Kuchar) made the mistake of grabbing Popeye’s girl (in this case, the Claret Jug) just about an hour too early.  Spieth responded by opening his can of golf’s version of Spinach (inner confidence) and was “strong to the finish” to grab the victory.

Toot Toot!