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.
After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On the Nelson's future ...
If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.
Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.
The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray
On Jordan Spieth's putting ...
Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.
He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.
Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.
Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta
On golf and gambling ...
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.
Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.
Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard
Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win
DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.
Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.
He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.
Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.
With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.
As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.
“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”
Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.
That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.
“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”
Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.
“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”
Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.
The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.
“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”
Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.
“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”
Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62
DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.
“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”
Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.
“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”
Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open
DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.
Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.
Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.
“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”
Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.
“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.