Monday, April 27, 2009

Grading Your NFL Team's Draft

Perhaps it's a function of the instant gratification world we live in, with more information than we can possibly process delivered to us instantly each day, but in recent years analysis and grading of NFL team's Draft Picks has become something of a sport in itself. And the time frame is shrinking. It used to be that journalists would wait until the rookies at least got a chance to practice in the first mini-camp prior to rendering a judgment about that player's probable success or failure. Now, they barely have the last pick chosen when the analysts on TV and the Internet pass out grades. And a lot of this is sheer foolishness. It may be fun to read, but it's still foolishness. There are too many questions that can't be answered right after the draft.

First of all, players have to make the adjustment from the system their team ran in college to the one employed by their new team in the NFL. Players often do not have a chance to showcase all their skills in college, and they blossom in the pros when they do get that chance. For example, if your college team never throws the ball to a running back, how do you know whether a given back can make the transition to catch the ball in the NFL?

Also, these are very young people, still growing physically and emotionally. How do you know which player will be able to add strength and stamina over the next few years? How do you know which players have the mental toughness to cope with the long season of travel, endless practices, and games played under super-intense pressure? The answer, you don't.

Another factor is, the NFL is the ultimate team game. We talk about the quarterback and the receivers all the time, but the teams that find players to fill specific roles tend to be the ones that succeed year after year. It's not just a game of a few superstars, like the NBA. Every contribution is important.

So, let's assume we want to ignore the pundits and give our favorite team a grade ourselves. What criteria do we use? That's a very difficult question to answer, isn't it?

What you find over a period of time is that there is an element of crapshoot in these draft day selections. The teams do the best they can to find the top talent, but the reality is there are as many misses are their hits for most teams. Out of ten picks, if you end up with 2-3 starters you are doing pretty well. Perhaps the best idea is to not fret about the "grade" passed out to your team by the experts, and instead just enjoy the NFL Draft as an opportunity to immerse yourself in football for an entire weekend, and with the season more than four months away, that's a blessing indeed.

Brian Hill is the author of several nonfiction books and the novel, Over Time - Love, money and football: all the important things in life. He's an avid grill master. Find his grilling tips, techniques, recipes, and menus.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Improve Your Golf Game: Practice Like a Pro

Next time you have the opportunity to attend a pro golf tournament, PGA or LPGA, spend some time at the practice area watching the pros get ready for their round. Most amateurs waste their time on the driving range simply hitting random shots. This may warm up your muscles, but it won't get you mentally focused enough to play your best. And the pros will tell you that good golf is at least 50% mental. If you watch a pro warming up, you will see they make sure they hit a few shots with each club, so they have a feel for each one. Amateurs tend to warm up with just their driver and perhaps one or two irons. You can improve your golf game if you practice like a pro.

Pros also know that accuracy with the putter and wedge(s) is an important determinant of your final score. Watch how a pro hits wedge shots of various lengths, from a 1/4 swing all the way to a full wedge. They always hit practice bunker shots as well. And of course they take time on the putting green to get their stroke fine tuned.

A pro has an objective for each shot on the driving range just like he or she does on the course. They select a target and go through the same pre-swing routine they will use on the course. They want to be as comfortable as possible when they get out there in the heat of competition.

Another tip you can get from watching pros warm up: SLOW DOWN! Their goal is not to hit as many balls as possible, but to get into the proper rhythm. Take time between shots to think and plan the next shot, just as you would on the course.

Use your practice or warm-up time to move your mental focus from the duties and concerns of everyday life and career, to concentrating on the challenge of playing your best golf. The practice range is not the place to make or receive cell phone calls. For one thing, it is discourteous to your fellow players who may be disturbed by the phone ringing. A round of golf is supposed to be a respite from our hectic lives, a chance to immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of the course, the interesting design of the course, and the challenge of making the most of our athletic ability. Make sure you give yourself the best chance to succeed by making your practice time count.

Professional golfers who have finished their competitive round for the day often return to the practice range to work on some of the flaws in their swing they noticed during the round, while the day's shots are still fresh in their mind. This requires extra time of course, but you can improve your golf game if you try this technique.

Brian Hill is the author of several nonfiction books and the novel, Over Time - Love, money and football: all the important things in life. He's an avid grill master. Find his grilling tips, techniques, recipes, and menus.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Collecting Vintage Golf Equipment

The game of golf is steeped in history. Golfers are appreciative of the game’s history, and enjoy learning about the great players of the past, and the memorable tournaments. Just watch any major championships on TV: there are always segments about prior championships played on that course, who won, and what were the memorable shots. Golf’s long history also presents the opportunity for an interesting and potentially lucrative hobby, collecting vintage golf equipment. Displaying vintage clubs or balls can add a lot of interest to any golfer’s home.

Just as anyone who appears on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow program can attest, it is tremendous fun to try to find bargains in antiques, and vintage golf equipment is no exception. Vintage golf items are relatively easy to find, and pursuing this hobby can be a way to learn more about the history of the wonderful game of golf, and how equipment has evolved and improved down the years. It’s fun to grip an old hickory-shafted club form the ‘20’s, set down a gutta percha ball, and imagine trying to actually play with this type of equipment! You quickly gain greater appreciation for today’s forgiving clubs and juiced-up golf balls.

As with any other form of collecting, there are pitfalls, however. You need to make sure items you are buying are authentic vintage equipment, not fakes or replicas. For instance, new clubs can be distressed to look antique. If you are buying items with signatures from great players, you need to make sure the signature is authenticated. These types of collectibles, if authenticated, can enjoy great price appreciation over the years.

You can of course search for vintage golf equipment online. The mega-store eBay has an extensive “Vintage” golf equipment section on their site, often with more than 1000 items. Golf collectibles are not necessarily just clubs from the late 19th or early 20th Century. The original “Ping” putters from the 1960’s are highly sought after collectibles. Items bearing the signatures of greats such as Ben Hogan or Byron Nelson also fetch hefty premiums. Prices for vintage equipment can start very reasonably, $20-$50, and be as high as several thousand dollars for certain rare items.

There are also online sites devoted exclusively to golf collectibles.

Antique Golf Clubs from Scotland describes itself as “the leading online resource for antique golf clubs and memorabilia from Scotland, the birthplace of golf.” offers clubs and balls from the 1900-1930 period, obtained from a private collection.
A vintage driver runs around $125, a Mashie (5 iron) is $95 and a mesh-patterned golf ball in good condition is $75.

Before beginning your acquisition of vintage golf equipment, you should do some research. An excellent guidebook is: Antique Golf Collectibles: A Price and Reference Guide (Paperback) by highly respected golf collector and publisher, Chuck Furjanic. This book includes comprehensive information on literally thousands of collectibles: antique clubs and balls, autographs, signature golf balls, artwork, medals and trophies, as well as trading cards and other collectibles. With more than 500 photographs, this book is fascinating to read as well as an important price guide for would-be collectors.

A few other tips: 1) Try to find items in as good a condition as possible. These are more likely to hold their value or appreciate. “Vintage” doesn’t mean in beaten-up condition. 2) Putters are among the most popular collectibles. 3) When you begin collecting, stick with equipment items, clubs, balls, vintage golf bags, etc. rather than golf artwork, which requires more study in order to make informed decisions.

Brian Hill is the author of several nonfiction books and the novel, Over Time - Love, money and football: all the important things in life. Read his sports blog. He's an avid grill master. Find his grilling tips, techniques, recipes, and menus.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What’s The Big Deal About Starting 0-2?

Every year there are several really good NFL teams that stumble out of the gate, losing their first two games. This year, the Chargers, Seahawks and Vikings, all mentioned as bound for the playoffs in most of the preseason predictions, have suffered this frustrating start. In the Vikings’ case, it has already led to the starting quarterback being replaced. The poor QB barely had time to be picked in anyone’s Fantasy League before he was benched.

What follows such a dismal start are predictions of gloom by the sports media, citing the curious statistic that only a small percentage of teams that start 0-2 ever make it to the playoffs. That statistic is suspect, simply because the fact of the matter is, many of the teams that start 0-2 just keep on losing, so of course they don’t end up in the postseason. The 0-2 start is merely the truly bad team’s way of prepping the fans for the 3-13 debacle the season is going to end up being. This is much more merciful than winning your first two games, getting your fans all hyped up, and then losing the next ten games.

We should also keep in mind that the NFL season is a war of attrition. Even terrific teams destined to go deep into the playoffs lose two consecutive games at some point in the season. All it takes is a few unfortunate injuries, or running into two opponents that are on a hot streak. If you look back at playoff teams’ records after the season is concluded, you will often find that they win 4, lose 2, win 5 more, drop another couple of games, and when all’s said and done, they wind up 11-5.

The best advice for the fans of the current 0-2 teams is, RELAX. The Chargers got off to a similarly slow start last year and ended up very strong. There’s no reason to think they won’t equal or surpass last year’s record. Sometimes it seems that there are teams that don’t play their best football in September, for reasons that are difficult to identify. Their offense might not click right away. The spotty playing time starters get in the preseason may not prepare them to work well as a unit once the season starts.

One of the under discussed factors in the NFL is the relative strength of the team you are playing that week, not how they look on paper, but where the team is right at that moment, both mentally and physically. Suppose you’re facing a team that just played, and lost, a brutal game to a division rival on a Monday night. That team’s energy might be depleted when they play you, giving you somewhat of an advantage. Or they might come into your stadium as mad a hornets. Over the course of the season, these weekly situational factors might play a key role in the outcome of 4-5 of your games.

So, an 0-2 start is not so frightful after all. Of course, if you lose that third game...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Green Fees

Most of us can’t afford to join a country club, so we’re content to find a reasonably priced daily fee course in our area and make that our golfing home base, or perhaps select several we enjoy playing and visit them on a rotating basis. Once in a while, though, it’s fun to treat ourselves to an upscale golf experience, a round at one of the country’s finest courses.

Every year GOLF magazine comes out with a list of great golf courses that are accessible to the public. The list is fascinating; check out this link to it:

The list is bound to get any avid golfer’s pulse racing a little faster. Did you know you can play courses that have hosted the US Open or other of golf’s Major Championships? You can. Pinehurst (No.2) for example in Pinehurst, NC. The green fee is hefty, $339-$410. Perhaps the most famous course on the list is Pebble Beach in Northern California. The green fee there is even higher, $495-$530, but anyone who has played there will tell you it is worth it for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. One way to stomach the high price tag is to just think of it as putting $1.50 a day away in a piggy bank for one year. That’s not so hard, is it? The Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, is a bit more reasonably priced, $275-$375 per round. But this does not include the cost of all the balls most us would hit into the water on the legendary 17th Hole.

Surprisingly, not all the courses on the list are expensive to play. Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley, ID, #93 on the list, has greens fees that range from $40-$95. A true municipal course, Bethpage (Black) in Farmingdale, N.Y., another US Open venue, has extremely reasonable green fees, $50-$124. Beautiful Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, MA, a Jack Nicklaus designed course, can be played for a modest $65-$110.

This brings up an important point: nearly all golf courses have greens fees that vary widely by season. In the South and the West, typically fees are lower in the very hot months, and much higher during tourist season in the winter and spring. Similarly, Midwestern and Northern courses are less expensive when the weather turns chilly in the fall. Many days are still pleasant enough for golf in October and November, however, and there is the added advantage of the courses being less crowded at that time.

Famous resort courses even have relative bargains on green fees at certain times. Kapalua Resort in Kapalua, Maui, has a peak greens fee of $295, but it can be as low as $80. Even Arnold Palmer’s famous Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida, can be played for as low as $110, though the greens fee is as high as $225 at other times.

The other cool thing about GOLF Magazine’s list is that the courses are dispersed all over the U.S., showing us that great golf is available wherever we live. You might not think of Nebraska as a golfer’s paradise, but right there at #60 on the list is Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg. And they charge an incredibly low $33-$51 per round.

Viva Las Vegas: Nevada now boasts 5 courses on the Top 100 list, most of them built in the last ten years.

So whether you want to treat yourself to a round at one of the most famous courses in the U.S., one of the premier resort destinations, or just a beautifully designed, challenging course, you can find one in your region of the country. GOLF Magazine came up with a list of 100, but in truth there are at least 500 fabulous courses available to daily fee players.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Healing Broken Packer Hearts

Among Packer fans, there’s a lot of hurt, anger, sadness and even depression about the departure of #4, and the way the team handled it. I don’t want to take the time to rehash the whole saga, for one thing the subject has been covered adequately by much more eloquent sportswriters than I:

What I found especially disappointing was how Packer fans turned on each other in the forums and chat rooms. If you didn’t “get with the program” and “move on” you somehow weren’t a true Packer fan, you were, these people said, often with profanity laced tirades or personal insults, “a Favre fan.”

As if that were something bad.

Well, I’m a Favre fan, then. I tend to root for individuals, not for institutions. A stadium is just steel and concrete. The people who serve in a management capacity at NFL teams come and go, and some are quickly forgotten. What matters are the players: they're the ones who through supreme effort, sweat, blood and sacrifice bring us football glory. I remember when I was kid and the Packers fired Bart Starr as coach, right at the time he was starting to be a good coach, I totally lost interest in their games for a number of years. Bart was one of the greatest Packer players in history. I thought he should have been treated better than that. He had assembled a team that had lots of upside potential. After he was let go, they had to go through several complete, miserable, iterations of rebuilding before Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren—and Brett Favre--were able to turn the team into a winner.

So, I think it is perfectly reasonable to be angry that Brett Favre is no longer with the team. The question is, what to do now? How to heal up and enjoy football again. Here are a few ideas:

Don’t be angry with the Packer players, especially Aaron Rodgers. I think it’s really poor sportsmanship to boo the players in practice or at the games. They have no say in personnel decisions. Truth be told, each of them knows they could be the next one shipped out in a trade or an outright release. And I imagine if they did get to vote on the issue, they would have nearly unanimously said to keep both Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.

This continues in the blog post that follows...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Healing Broken Packer Hearts Part II

Radical Idea: Root for the New York Jets. I’ve visited the Jets website and they are quite welcoming to Packer fans. Numerous fans have already posted that they will be Jets fans this season, and are now “former” Packer fans. The Jets seem to have lots of good players, and their fan base in obviously energized. It could be quite exciting to watch Brett guide a team that was 4-12 last year to a 10-6 record or better this year.

And guys will be pleased to know the Jets just hired the lovely Jenn Sterger to be the host of their Gameday broadcasts. Not sure exactly what her NFL experience is, but she’s bound to be more interesting than some of the guys on the broadcast networks.

Take a Season Off. Time heals all wounds. Instead of watching the games and getting mad, just do something else on Sundays. Sure, check the scores or watch the highlights, but you don’t have to plan the whole day around the Packers’ game. Since they’ve been around for 90 years, they’ll most likely be around next year, too.

Pick a new team to watch. Most of us have more than one team that interests us. I’ve always liked the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, for example. They both have good teams this year, and I thought I’d watch some of their games. That way, we don’t have to be worried about how either Brett or Aaron perform.

Stay away from Internet forums. Nothing can be gained by engaging in arguments with nasty people who hide behind their screen names. You don’t have to justify your opinion that the Packers did the wrong thing in sending Brett to another team. In time, we will know who was right. I went ahead and deleted all the forums from the bookmarks on my computer.

Root for both the Packers and the Jets to succeed. Just think, if both teams win ten games this season, you have the opportunity to be happy 20 times! That means you’ll be even happier than Patriots fans, if you can imagine that.

Friday, August 08, 2008

God Bless the Jets

…for making Brett Favre and his millions of fans happy. At my house, and in many others no doubt, we went into a protracted period of mourning when he announced his retirement in March. It just seemed strange that he would leave after such a successful season both on a personal and a team level. Without jumping into the acrimonious debate of whether he was forced out by Packers’ management, the fact is that when he arrived in New York to such a warm welcome from the team, the fans—and even the Mayor—it made me feel really, really good. I think he can have two extremely productive seasons for the Jets, and perhaps even three. Jets fans are hungry for victory, their team owner committed the necessary funds to bring in talented free agents, and they were better talent-wise than their record would indicate in 2007. All these factors bode well.

And Brett richly deserves whatever remaining success he can summon out of that amazing right arm of his. Besides his athletic skill he will bring to the Jets something that I haven’t heard the news media talk much about: his incredible will to win, or perhaps refusal to lose. He causes the players around him to perform much better than they would if he weren’t there. He’s repeatedly been able to turn mediocre receivers into 1000-yard season all-stars, so he’s way ahead of the game in New York because they have excellent receivers. Without his sterling play at quarterback last year, the Packers would have been hard pressed to finish 8-8. Without his vigorous leadership in the playoff game vs. Seattle, after the Packers fell two touchdowns behind in the first quarter, they probably would have lost, instead of roaring back to score 42 points.

Those are the facts, and as President Reagan used to say, “Facts are stubborn things.”

What struck me when I watched the various media events surrounding his arrival in New York was how happy he looked. To be playing again. To be at a franchise that clearly wanted him.

The Jets play in San Diego in September, a short plane flight from where I live in Phoenix. I can’t express how grateful I am to be able to see him play in person one more time. It is an unexpected gift.

God Bless the Jets!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Season Tickets Conundrum

I’ve always been ambivalent about the idea of purchasing season tickets for a team’s games. I’ve done it before—in football, baseball and basketball, and in a way, as I’ll explain, golf. On the one hand it’s exciting to know you can see EVERY SINGLE HOME GAME your team plays. When the schedule comes out, you almost get goosebumps when you spot the games against your team’s key (or hated) rivals. This is going to be so much fun! In the case of baseball, it’s almost like your summer is all planned out for you.

And of course there is the status you can earn with your peer group when they find you have popped for the season tickets. You might even find you have more friends than you imagined…

One of my favorite experiences with baseball season tickets came when I was in high school. My father’s company purchased 8 season tickets—really good ones on the first base side only 6 rows up. His idea was to reward employees for good performance with the tickets. This worked great for about the first month of the season. But the team started off very badly and got worse from there. By July, he didn’t have many takers for the seats. Employees kept coming up with excuses why they couldn’t go to the games. He thought it looked bad that the company seats went unfilled so we ended up going to the games. This got old very quickly. By the end of August, when I saw another game on the calendar, it was like: not another baseball game! Couldn’t I stay home and mow the lawn? Or, you know, it’s really time I cleaned my room.

Next season, he didn’t renew the tickets.

Football season tickets were my favorite. There are only 8 regular season home games, and each one is truly an event to look forward to. The only drawback was late in the season in a northern climate, sitting out in the cold or rain or snow. With NFL games, they are normally sold out so there is a ready market for your seats if you can’t attend the game. Basketball season tickets I didn’t enjoy as much because the weekday games are at night and it can be difficult to get off work, grab dinner and make it to the arena by tipoff, especially if you had a long day and are tired. I recall dozing off several times in the fourth quarter of dull games. Luckily I don’t snore.

My experience with golf “season” tickets involved an entrepreneurial idea that went bad. I noticed the tournament had a VIP package you could purchase, 5 VIP passes, 15 daily tickets and parking passes. I had the bright idea that if I sold the tickets to my friends, and gave them a discount from the price you pay for an individual ticket, I could make a profit of over $150. Not bad. Until the first two days of the tournament were rained out, no one wanted the tickets, and I took about a $350 loss. Oh well. It was still a good idea, in the concept stage.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Three Free Passes

On a regular basis it seems, a celebrity or TV or radio personality says something really, really idiotic that makes a particular group in our society really, really angry and what follows is a round of recrimination, demands for the person to be fired or their products boycotted, or any number of other punishments. Next comes an even longer round of apologies, tears, and acts of contrition from the offending party, who now carries the name “disgraced” with them for however long the media decides, such as disgraced announcer, disgraced comedian, disgraced politician.

If you think about it, dis-graced implies the individual possessed some degree of grace prior to the incident. I for one have never used the words politician and grace in the same sentence.

Even a harmless golf announcer was trapped in a firestorm of negative reaction for a remark she made about Tiger Woods. And tournament golf isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of controversy. During recessionary times especially, the depth of grooves in a golfer’s sand wedge is not something I can get too worked up about.

If we look at this whole issue of media feeding on media, we see that it is a statistical certainty that every few weeks at least, someone will shoot their mouth off and offend a significant segment of the population. Why?

--The number of microphones being thrust into our faces increases exponentially while the supply of intelligent individuals remains constant, or perhaps even declines due to the ineffectiveness of the public school system and the rise of Reality TV.

--Behind the scenes of any media outlet you will find editors and producers in the quest for higher ratings, exhorting their on-air troops to be edgier, more controversial, more “fiery”. So, with the reasonable goal of pleasing their boss, the on air personalities dream up more and more outrageous things to say. They think they’re just doing their job.

--In the case of celebrities and entertainers, they have a pathological need for attention. It’s like a drug addiction that requires more and more frequent fixes. There’s no cure either. Not even finding religion helps many of these poor folks.

I have a solution for this whole problem: Three Free Passes.

This simply means anyone in the public eye is issued a voucher containing free passes that can be used to wipe out the record of three inane things that come out of their mouths and sail across the airwaves (and eventually sailing out in space to offend the tender but probably weirdly shaped ears of aliens on distant planets).

They would carry these passes with them wherever they go. When they catch themselves uttering something idiotic, they pull it out and holler “FREE PASS!” and are immediately absolved from criticism and outrage. They, and more importantly we, get to move on with our lives. No controversy, no unpleasantness, no boycotts. Just a return to the gentle rhythm of our peaceful existence.

Why three? If you say more than three really stupid things on the air, perhaps it is best you find another career, one that doesn't involve microphones or TV cameras.

By the way, I’m deeply sorry I made fun of alien’s ears. FREE PASS!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Retiring Too Soon

This week golfer Annika Sorenstam joined Brett Favre in the ranks of athletes retiring at the top of their game this year. Both of them said they had been thinking about the decision for a long time, but to their fans, the decision seemed abrupt, and even a little mystifying perhaps. Obviously playing football exacts a more physical toll on your body than playing pro golf does, so we could understand if Brett felt worn down. But his performance on the field in 2007 dispelled any notions we might have had that his skills were declining. In the memorably snowy playoff game against Seattle in Green Bay, Brett was running around the field like any of his twenty-something teammates. And the Packers are definitely a team on the rise, with some of the best young players in the NFL, and steadily improving depth at key positions like defensive line and wide receiver.

So, we ask, why quit, Brett?

Ms. Sorenstam is also enjoying a great season, and in the somewhat convoluted player ranking system the golf tours use, she is one of the top two female golfers in the world right now—she may end up the season #1. She battled through some injuries last season, but seems to be healthy now. And golfers never really “retire”. They might cut back on the tournaments they play, or just concentrate on the “majors”, but they never completely leave the scene. Golfer Julius Boros when asked why he kept playing on the PGA tour well into his 50’s responded memorably: “Retire to what? All I do now is fish and play golf.”

So, we ask, why quit, Annika?

Both of these fine athletes cited almost identical reasons: they still enjoy playing the game, but the mental strain of preparation, and the battle to stay physically and emotionally on top of your game got to be too much.

I think it comes down to a kind of stubborn pride that you need to have to be a top athlete for an extended number of years. Some athletes demand from themselves nothing less than being the best in their particular sport—and they demand that they constantly improve. When they see that holding on to that top spot is becoming more difficult each year they, perhaps wisely, choose to walk away.

For Green Bay Packer fans, one of the things they have dreaded most is the day when Brett had a poor performance on the field and the coach replaced him with the second string understudy. Now, that will never happen. He exited the game as the starting quarterback of one of the greatest sports franchises in the United States.

Annika says she’s looking forward to other things, including business ventures and getting married. I think she’s also looking forward to not having to look behind her and see the younger players catching up. And they will.

But both of these star athletes will soon see that there’s nothing that can really replace the sound of cheers when your name is announced prior to the game or on the first tee.

And they may not admit it publicly, but they will both have thoughts that they retired too soon.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Not An Easy Gig

Many newspapers with online editions now have a place at the bottom of articles where readers can post their comments about the article. Like everything else about the anonymous world of the Internet, this brings out lots of nasty people making nasty comments. It seems to me many people just use these forums to vent their anger over the sorry state of the their own lives, rather than contributing any thoughtful comment about the newspaper article in question. I much preferred the “old days” when if you wanted a letter to the editor published, you had to give the newspaper your real name and phone number so they could call and verify you were who you said you were—and you had to have your name printed with the letter. This cut down on some of the seriously deranged commentary that otherwise would have occurred.

My father’s motto was: “Let’s all be nice.” He usually meant that in the form of an order rather than a suggestion. The subtext was, “If you can’t say anything pleasant, just be quiet.” He’d be shocked to see the rudeness that passes for “discussion” on the Internet. I also doubt he’d waste his time reading any of it.

I’ve been noticing in some of the NFL articles in various newspapers that the comments being posted have a common thread: “This article is so boring.” “This writer has nothing new to say.”

It’s called the offseason, people. The writer doesn’t have anything new to say because nothin’ is happening. We bring this situation of weak content on ourselves because we visit our football web sites every day, the newspaper takes note of the huge number of visitors and assigns writers to come up with “fresh” content every day. Maybe we should be a little more understanding of the struggles these writers go through.

Being a newspaper writer or columnist is not an easy gig, even when exciting things are happening. News-wise, the NFL is in the doldrums this time of year. There’s nothing the writers can do about it. Maybe we should cut them some slack. How about posting things like: “Great grammar in that article! Congrats” or “I always learn new vocabulary words when I read your stories. Keep up the good work.”

Imagine that, a kinder, gentler Internet.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nothing Better than a Refreshing Draft

NFL Draft, that is. It’s amazing how much the annual selection of college players by the NFL has grown in popularity. When I get my new calendar in December, I make sure one of the dates I mark down first is when the April draft will be. I get a little more addicted to it each year.

The NFL owners have meetings several times a year where they get together, discuss issues the league is confronting, make decisions about rules improvement, and generally socialize with one another. For NFL fans, the draft is kind of our annual meeting. All the fans from all the teams gather around the TV to watch their favorite team’s grand strategy unfold.

The excitement builds in the week before the draft. I study all the draft guides every evening, trying to predict who my team is going to choose. This involves considerable work, because I don’t follow college football very much, and the names and accomplishments of the players to be drafted are pretty much brand new to me. Regarding my choices, I’m invariably wrong, because I think it’s unfair my team doesn’t get 3 or 4 selections in the first round. Someone should look into this and make appropriate changes to the rules.

The Draft is also a well of endless hope. The new players on our team will of course be much better than the players we have there now. These new players have never fumbled, never thrown an interception, never missed an assignment or blow a coverage. There’s almost a feeling of euphoria that comes over us, as though fans believe if their team’s General Manager is enough of a genius in the Draft this year, their pathetic 4-12 team could vault to 12-4, or the mediocre 8-8 team could sprint to the championship game. There is apparently an element of magic to this player picking business.

And it also appears this genius stuff is of a temporary nature, though, because if we look back at who our GM chose the last few years, we quickly can recall what a large percentage of the picks were duds. But this year will be different, for sure.

The NFL Draft also provides us with the adrenaline rush of a game show where the contestants can win millions of dollars. The reality is that it’s ludicrous to hand a fortune to a rookie who may be a total bust when he has to face NFL level competition. But it’s also satisfying, and uniquely American. We root for our fellow citizens to succeed and get windfalls they don’t deserve.

Not as much as we root for ourselves to get windfalls we don’t deserve, of course. But we root, nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Favorite Week in Golf…

…is Masters week. I’ve been fortunate to have had the chance to attend the US Open five times, the PGA Championship twice and the Masters once (I still hope to make it to the British Open someday). Each “Major” has it own character, its own atmosphere. The US Open always seemed extremely serious to me, perhaps because of the rather grim gentlemen in those dark blue USGA blazers who run the event. They take their golf very, very seriously—they even call the event an “examination” of the best players. How fun is that: Let’s all go watch an examination! The golfers seem more on edge right from the first tee the first day.

The PGA? It always seemed like simply an amped-up version of the typical event on the PGA Tour. The fans are more focused on the golf and less on partying perhaps, but it never seemed quite as formal as the US Open. Not quite as much pomp and circumstance. The PGA always seemed a bit underrated in terms of fan interest. I had a great time at both PGAs I attended. The PGA has over the years typically had a more geographically diverse roster of venues as well, although in recent times the US Open has opened up to different courses beside the usual Eastern seaboard based rotation of Baltusrol, Oakmont, etc. If you go way back in time to the 1930’s you can see that the PGA was once played at the course in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up and one my first golf trophy (one of at least two)—Bluemound CC. Gene Sarazen was the winner that year.

Then we come to the Masters. All I could manage to say the first time I stepped foot on Augusta National was WOW! The best way I can describe the Masters is that it is as though a kindly old, and extremely wealthy, gentleman has invited you to his magnificent estate, and offered you the most gracious hospitality imaginable. All that he asks is that you behave with dignity and don’t litter the grounds. In fact they have a small army of custodial workers who pick up everything but the fallen leaves from the dogwood trees.

My Augusta adventure began inauspiciously because my secretary had booked me into a really horrible hotel in a small town not far from Augusta, the kind of dump where you can’t quite place the odor embedded in the carpet and the locks on the doors look they might fall off any minute. I ventured to the diner across the street from the hotel, and when they served me chicken fried steak with “mystery gravy” about the consistency of the paste we used in middle school art class, I decided to get back on the road and find another hotel. This wasn’t the elegant Masters experience I had in mind.

The closest I could get was a place in Columbia, South Carolina, but the accommodations and food were much better. That worked out fine except for the long commute across the Georgia border and over to Augusta National.

So late Tuesday afternoon I found myself walking the hallowed grounds of Augusta. The practice round was over for the day and I walked the back nine pretty much by myself, encountering only the occasional groundskeeper putting the finishing touches on the verdant masterpiece. That was an incredible experience, so thrilling it is still fresh in my mind years later—and that was before the tournament even started. So you can imagine how exciting it was on Thursday when the tournament actually began.

Experiencing that magnificent course, where all those legends were made, was as memorable as any of the golf I watched that week. It finally occurred to me after the tournament was over on Sunday, and the crowds began to leave, that Augusta National is the star of her own show each year, and unlike some of the Hollywood stars, her radiance never fades. She draws the crowds, just as much as the golfers themselves.

That’s why Masters week is my favorite week in golf.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Online Shopping for Golf Equipment Part II

One other great thing about online shopping for golf equipment is that you can quickly compare golf equipment prices from various online stores, all over the world including the United Kingdom. If you’re doing a golf equipment comparison UK, there is even an emerging online service that helps you do side-by-side comparisons from various online merchants, called HaabaaPrice ( At the present time, this service allows merchants to list their products or services for free. You can compare golf equipment prices quite easily.

Planet Golf UK is one of the first golf equipment merchants utilizing this service. A comparison shopping site like this makes it easier to save money and find exactly what you’re looking for, almost as though you are visiting several online stores at once. For the merchant, the comparison shopping site gives them another method of reaching potential customers.

You may be reluctant to buy golf equipment online because at a brick-and-mortar golf equipment store you get to pick up the clubs, and get a “feel” for them. Some stores even have a net you can hit practice balls into with the clubs you are considering. I’ve bought clubs online and at the golf equipment stores, and haven’t really noticed any difference in which clubs work out best for me. In either case, it takes several rounds of golf to really get used to the clubs.

With online shopping, then, you can find the best deals on your favorite brands. I have found that there are several brands of clubs that I have had better success with over the years. My dad was the same way. He always played “Walter Hagen” brand clubs because he admired Hagen’s style and his pure enjoyment of life. He thought playing those clubs might help him find more easygoing enjoyment and less frustration in the typical round of golf. When I was in college and playing a lot of golf, I liked “Ben Hogan” brand clubs because I hoped some of Mr. Hogan’s precision and accuracy was manufactured into the clubs. But of course, it’s difficult for even the best manufacturers to incorporate “athletic ability” in their products.