The USA Basketball blueprint the PGA should follow

By John FeinsteinOctober 22, 2014, 3:40 pm

When the 2004 Olympics came to a conclusion in Athens, Greece, NBA commissioner David Stern knew he had a crisis on his hands. Twelve years after the Dream Team had been the talk of the Barcelona Olympics, the U.S. had been humiliated – barely managing to win a bronze medal in basketball. Two years earlier, in the World Championships, the U.S. had finished a stunning sixth, losing three times during the competition.

Not only was the country that invented basketball no longer dominant in the sport, it was no longer very good at it. American basketball hadn’t just taken a beating in Athens, it had been humiliated, with players carping at coaches and vice versa.

Sound familiar, golf fans?

“It was time to do something,” the now-retired Stern said recently, remembering those dark days 10 years ago. “When we first got involved in the Olympics and in international basketball, I thought we should defer to people. We let USA Basketball control things. In fact, we let FIBA (the International Basketball Association) control things internationally. Basically, the U.S. just supplied players and coaches.

“After Athens though, I realized that wasn’t working,” Stern said. “We weren’t in charge, but we were taking the blame when things went wrong. I decided if we were going to get blamed, we might as well be in charge.”

Stern didn’t appoint a committee to study the problem. Along with his deputy commissioner Russ Granik, he decided what needed to be done, and did it.

“I’ve always believed if you’re dealing with a bureaucracy, any bureaucracy, you figure out what needs to be done first,” Stern said. “Then you let the bureaucracy think it has come up with the solution. It isn’t all that difficult to do.”

Video: Basketball analyst Jay Bilas on USA Basketball and Ryder Cup

Stern put Jerry Colangelo in charge of USA Basketball, creating a managing director title for him so that none of the bureaucrats who had been running the organization were displaced. They were just told quietly that Colangelo would be making all the important decisions going forward. Then, Stern, Granik and Colangelo decided that Mike Krzyzewski would be the next coach.

Since the advent of the Dream Team in 1992, the Olympic coaches had all come from the NBA. Krzyzewski was a college coach, having won three national championships at Duke. If Stern and Colangelo had left the selection of a coach in the hands of any sort of committee, there is no way a college coach would have been selected to lead NBA players.

“My thought was that this wasn’t just about picking the next Olympic coach,” Stern said. “We needed a change in culture. We needed to somehow convince players – not just the stars of our league but, perhaps more importantly, young elite players who hadn’t played internationally yet – that, corny as it may sound, representing your country is not only a good thing but is something you should strive for; something that should be a goal.

“That hadn’t been the case in the past. Players took part because they thought they were obligated to or perhaps because it might help their marketing. Those aren’t the reasons you want someone to be on your team.”

Sound familiar?

Stern wanted Krzyzewski for reasons that went beyond basketball.

“He had gone to West Point,” he said. “He had served overseas in the Army. He could talk first hand to players of all ages about what it means to really represent your country in a way that may be a little bit tougher than setting a hard screen or taking a charge. He could take our teams to military bases and to West Point and say, ‘I was a player, I was a coach, but I did this ,too.’ And he could introduce them to men and women who were doing this. Most of all he could bring real passion for the whole thing to the table. He passed that passion on to the players at all levels.

“He got LeBron James to buy in but he also got kids coming out of high school to buy in, too. That’s why we’ve not only been dominant in the Olympics and World Championships (the U.S. has won the last two Olympics and the last two World Championships) but also at the junior levels, 19-and-under tournaments, things like that.

“He and Jerry have built something that should serve USA Basketball well for a long time. We’re dominant again – which is as it should be.”

Solving the U.S. problems in the Ryder Cup may not be nearly as easy. But Stern’s model would seem to make a lot more sense than the notion of having 11 men somehow try to reach a consensus on what is or is not important and on who should captain the U.S. in 2016 and beyond. As Stern noted, any kind of bureaucracy slows down decision-making and often results in wrong decisions made for the wrong reasons.

The PGA of America needs to put someone in charge – the way Stern did with Colangelo – and let that person decide who, as captain, can best help change the culture of American golf.

There’s little doubt that the biggest gap between the American Ryder Cup team and the European Ryder Cup team the last 20 years hasn’t been talent, it’s been passion. The European players grow up believing that there’s no event that’s more important than the Ryder Cup. You will never hear an American player say that, as a kid, he stood on the putting green at sunset and told himself, ‘This putt is to clinch the Ryder Cup.’

American’s dream of the Masters and the U.S. Open. Europeans dream those dreams, too – but they dream about the Ryder Cup just as often.

What needs to be done is not so much about appointing the next captain or even changing the rules for selecting the team, but it’s about the culture. You can’t create passion just by saying, ‘let’s be passionate,’ or by putting a pingpong table into the team room. You have to make Americans understand long before they turn pro, or even get to college, that the Ryder Cup should matter to them every bit as much as the Masters.

Phil Mickelson claimed in his post-singles anti-Tom Watson rant that Paul Azinger’s style as captain had made the players more invested in the Ryder Cup. If a captain has to convince players to be invested in winning, the U.S. is in trouble. Years ago, when Tiger Woods was asked about his relatively mediocre Ryder Cup record his response was: “What was Jack (Nicklaus)’s Ryder Cup record?” The point being that no one remembers you for playing well in Ryder Cups; they remember you for winning majors.

That’s not true in Europe. Colin Montgomerie is in the World Golf Hall of Fame because of his Ryder Cup record. Ian Poulter, who has never won a major, is a huge star because of his heroics in the Ryder Cup.

The best man for that job right now would be David B. Fay, the retired executive director of the USGA. It may seem anathema to the PGA of America to hire someone who spent his life at the USGA, but it would be a smart move. What’s more, Pete Bevacqua, the PGA of America’s CEO, worked for Fay and knows how bright he is.

Fay is pragmatic and would have a plan. His ideas would go beyond picking a captain. Maybe he could convince the PGA Tour to make the President’s Cup into an under-23 event to help younger players prepare to represent their country and to get into the spirit of an international team event after they turn pro and can’t play in the Walker Cup.

There’s no one right idea or an easy or quick fix. But, rather than appoint committees, the PGA of America should pick one leader and say to him, ‘make this better.’

That’s what Stern did 10 years ago. It worked out pretty well.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”