Breathing Golfs Cleaner Air
Major League Baseball lurches along to the halting beat of Barry Bonds pursuit of Hank Aaron, Americas all-time home run king.
Bonds, a San Francisco Giant, was one of the least popular superstars in baseball even before words and phrases like allegations, perjury, performance enhancing drugs, grand jury and indictments began circling his career curriculum vitae like so many verbal vultures.
Now the national pastime faces the prospect of Bonds breaking Aarons record of 755 home runs on the road, which could mean Bonds will be booed while rounding the bases. Nor is there a whiff of a convincing argument, in any precinct outside of San Francisco, that we should consider Bonds a sympathetic figure in any sense.
All of which has wedged MLB commissioner Bud Selig between a rock and a hard place. He was joined there recently by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who didnt have to wait long after replacing Paul Tagliabue as the czar of professional football, before the unholy Michael Vick mess landed in his lap.
Vick, once a massively talented college quarterback at Virginia Tech and more recently something of an underachiever for the Atlanta Falcons, actually IS under indictment on multiple counts in a U.S. District court in Virginia.
The indictment alleges, among other things, that Vick and two friends drowned, hanged and otherwise abused trained fighting dogs that didnt kill other dogs that Vick and his friends had pitted them against.
We should go no further here without emphasizing that neither Bonds nor Vick has been convicted of anything. But the point of this column is not to debate their innocence or guilt. It is to point out the dark clouds following them that have settled in over their respective sports.
And then theres NBA commissioner David Sterns latest nightmare: Allegations that one of his officials, in this case Tim Donaghy, was coerced into shaving points in games he officiated. This revolting development, if true, strikes to the very heart of the integrity of Sterns league.
All of which brings us, in a roundabout way, to professional golf.
All of a sudden Hall of Famer Gary Players recent charge that he knew of certain top golfers using performance enhancing drugs doesnt sound quite so ominous by comparison.
Player declined to name names last week which infuriated many of his games best players, including fellow South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. But it spotlighted the discussions, already underway between golfs governing bodies, aimed at establishing an anti-doping policy and a random testing mechanism.
Nobody, to my knowledge, has yet gone public with hard evidence of drug use in golf or convincingly explained exactly how performance enhancing drugs can benefit golfers.
That is not to say Player's information is wrong. But it is to say PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchems tempests these days are contained in a small teapot compared to the feeder bands of scandal coming in waves at Stern, Goodell and Selig.
Best I can tell is that Player, as much as anything, did Mike Weir a favor. Heres how:
Because of the backlash from golfs inner circle resulting from Players scattershot charges, Player is now aware he must placate his critics. And that probably means Player wont want to increase his enemies list by leaving popular Canadian Weir off the International Presidents Cup team he will captain against the Americans in September. The matches, after all, will be taking place in Canada.
Meanwhile back at Camp Ponte Vedra the generals remain vigilant. Player said this week PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem has told him an anti-doping policy will be in place the end of the calendar year.
This wont be a minute too soon in the world of big money sports where it becomes more imperative by the month to attempt to keep ahead of the moral turpitude curve.
Sterns worst nightmare was always going to be a scandal that involved Michael Jordan, the games shining knight. Similarly, Finchems would involve Tiger Woods. Jordan had a gambling itch he managed (happily for Stern) to scratch away from the basketball arena. Woods'and this is where Stern, Goodell and Selig have to be privately envious'remains clean as a whistle on all fronts.
All sports commissioners live with the knowledge that they are just one days news cycle away from full damage control. The world is smaller and that means things are somehow more inter-related. Author Thomas Friedman offers the best explanation of this in his book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.
There are fewer degrees of separation. Consider that Vick been replaced as the Falcons quarterback, for now, by Joey Harrington. Joey Harrington is a distant cousin of Padraig Harrington. Padraig Harrington just won the British Open in golfs most drama-filled Sunday of the year to date.
And the beats go on. Blood doping has reduced the Tour de France into a tour de farce. And the Olympics are about half a dozen positive tests away from losing their credibility as well.
The Roger-to-Padraig connection is nothing more than a happy accident (unless youre Vicks spin doctors in which case nothing is very happy these days).
But the R&A, meanwhile, might want to look into the opportunity that - unbelievably - still exists in the UK for players, caddies, friends, fans and assorted low-level creeps to walk into a bet shop during Open Championship week across the street from the golf course and place a wager on (for or against) pairings they can directly influence.
Its no coincidence that the PGA TOUR has long kept Las Vegas casino interests at arms length when those establishments have flashed their swag and offered title sponsorship.
Which is just part of the reason why Im guessing that Finchem, who watches all of these latest developments with keen interest during the day, sleeps better at night than Stern, Goodell or Selig.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.