How to Save Your Child from Little League Baseball
Except to practice, of course.
Anyone who loves sports has athletic dreams for his or her kids. Those who deny it are kidding themselves. And its fine to want your kids to enjoy sports and competition as much as you did ' or hoped to. But things can get out of hand.
For Exhibit 1, let us turn to Williamsport, Pa., a quiet mountain hamlet for about 50 weeks per year ' and a madhouse of over-intense competition in a boys game for the other two. As one TV sports reporter said Friday morning, If you dont love the Little League World Series, justget out!
Well, I dont love it, and Im not going anywhere. And Im glad golf hasnt contracted Williamsport Syndrome yet.
The idea of the Little League World Series is great: A national stage for the best young ball players in the world. But the execution is flawed ' not fatally, but enough to make me uncomfortable with the whole thing.
If its not a birth certificate scandal, we have people checking addresses, and Little League baseball officials sweeping that under the rug to avoid another fracas. By that time, who cares if the kids live in Harlem or the Bronx, or whether a rule was actually broken? The taint is there like a cabernet stain on white carpet.
And just watch these games. The Little part is mostly ceremonial. Some of these 12-year-olds are bigger than I am at 41. What do they do, work for movers in the off-season?
More troubling than that, though, are the game faces you can see on the TV coverage. Focus is admirable, a good habit to get into for adult competition. But I wonder how many of these kids are having fun. I suspect an informal survey would get a lot of positive responses on the fun side ' but a little more digging would reveal that for some of the players, the Just win, baby attitude that got them to Williamsport has sucked a lot of the joy our of the game. I suspect that at least some of the kids who claim a good time do so to avoid parental retribution.
Junior golf has been mercifully free of such parent-generated, media-driven problems ' but not completely free. We hear far fewer stories about meddling parents, compelled by the complex psychological need to revive dreams of athletic glory vicariously through their progeny, essentially ruining life for the kids and anyone who comes with 500 yards. But theyre out there.
In my travels as a parent and an industry guy, I see the full range of parental emotion that we see in any other sport, said Wally Uihlein, chief executive of the Acushnet Co., which owns Titleist and other brands, and father of Peter, a successful player on the International Junior Golf Tour. Uihlein Senior has also coached inner-city basketball and (voila) Little League baseball.
Golf offers more opportunities than ever before, Uihlein says: Kids who grow up in the game can aspire to be touring pros, club pros, industry executives, or simply to use golf as a tool in a successful business career. And more people see in Tiger Woods the kind of over-the-top achievement any parent would want for his or her kid.
Everyone has to get mentally prepared as the demographic of the game changes and we bring in last years Little Leaguers, basketball players, and Pop Warner football veterans, said one junior golf parent. Bigger, stronger, more intense.
But even with golfs increasing popularity among sports-minded juniors, we rarely hear about bad behavior by junior golfers. Sure, its not front-page stuff. But even those of us who cover the game every day hardly ever run into a bad actor.
That may be because of the nature of the game, says junior golfs answer to Tim Finchem.
People say golf is the last bastion of civility in sports, and I think thats appropriate, said Stephen Hamblin, executive director of the American Junior Golf Association. To Americas 10 million-plus junior players, the AJGA is junior golfs PGA Tour.
Golf is such a humbling game. You cant hide behind a teammate or a coach, Hamblin said. And, he notes, golf has good role models throughout its ranks. The majority of players, from children to senior pros, behave well.
But just to make sure, the AJGA has a code of conduct for its tournaments, and every player has to sign off on it. Toss a club, take a penalty stroke. Use foul language, add strokes. You get the idea.
But its golfs nature that keeps most participants in line, both kids and parents, Hamblin said. And to be fair, he says, its not right to blame the media attention for the antics of the kid who taunted his opponents from second base in Williamsport.
It wasnt TV, Hamblin said. Likely thats a behavior that was tolerated before, and thats why he was doing it again. Hmm. Which is worse?
Whats wanted is balance, and junior golf, despite some episodes of bad behavior that any junior golf parent can recount, seems on an even keel so far. Winning is great, fun is great, balance is better.
I dont think junior golf is just about fun, said one parent. That would be nave. As soon as you put humans in a competitive environment, its competitive.
But ' and the same parent said this ' Sometimes you learn more when you lose than when you win.
Right. So bite your lip, tap in the miss, take your medicine and go on. And when you get the next 30-footer to fall, smile, but downplay the end-zone theatrics.
Believe me, Ive seen Williamsport, and golf doesnt want to go there.
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.
Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member
Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.
Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:
Matt Kuchar— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 17, 2018
"It's been a passion of mine to explore & see the world, and I'll now be joining the European Tour as an Affiliate Member, which is very exciting." pic.twitter.com/7wDbuGXz8j
As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.
Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.
Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early
The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...
Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.
McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.
Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.
“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.
And that was an offseason event.
“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.
As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.
So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.
“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”
Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson
Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.
His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.
It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.
There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.
There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.
While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.
There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.
Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth
Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.
He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.
Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.
CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):
Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)
Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.
Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.
Notables in the field
* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.
* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.
* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.
* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.
* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.
* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.
* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.
* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.
* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.
* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.
* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.
* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.
* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.
* This is his first start of 2018.
* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.
(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)