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.