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The Whims and Foibles of Sports...

Integrity of golf verifies my first hole-in-one

by J.W. Miller on 07/16/18

You’ve heard the question: “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” There’s a similar enigma that affects golfers - not all golfers but some golfers - including yours truly. That question is: “If a golfer who is playing by himself gets a hole-in-one does it count?” I am happy to report that I faced such a dilemma last Thursday when I recorded the first hole-in-one of my golfing life. 

Normally, I play with a regular group, but on Thursday our tee-time was too early for me, at 7:50 a.m. I prefer tee times at least an hour or so later so I can have a cup of coffee and get in a  morning workout that includes core stretching and a 3-mile run/walk. The golf shop is on my running route, so on Thursday I passed by and looked at the scheduled tee-times. Looming large was a huge open gap between a 10:54 a.m. group and a 1:02 p.m. group. That would be perfect for me to go out alone around 12:30 p.m. and speed through 18 holes in about three hours. 

The first three holes were not memorable when I came to hole No. 4, a par-3 over a pond that is notorious for claiming errant shots. I have fed the fish there on occasion, but I am not particularly fearful of the shot. The hole was 122 yards from the tee, so I pulled out my pitching wedge and took a mighty swing. I hit the ball well and watched as it arced high and slightly to the left of the hole. I am not one who spins the ball at will, but for some reason the ball hit the green about a yard in front of the flag and took a noticeable twist to the right … and straight into the hole! 

I couldn’t believe it. Not me, the avid but average 15-handicapper! I am not worthy! As I was driving toward the green, I knew I would spy the ball hiding behind the flag, with its tongue stuck out, its thumbs in its ears in perfect razz posture. But when I walked hesitantly toward the hole, I didn’t see that. I peered into the hole, like a climber peeking over a ledge into the Grand Canyon. Indeed, I saw my beloved ball at the bottom of the cup, putting on lipstick in front of a mirror and combing her hair in preparation for a lifetime as a treasured relic of one unlikely swing. 

You can find all kinds of advice on how to act after you hit a hole-in-one. Obviously, you let out a shout and jump around and don’t forget to take a picture of the ball in the hole. I did all of those things, but there was nobody to share them with. So what was I to do next? I wanted to call my golf-crazy brother and brothers-in-law and my kids and the Lovely Miss Jean and tell them … what? 

Yeah, I did it but nobody saw me. I began to panic. My exaltation turned to trepidation. Did my first - and maybe only ever - hole-in-one even count? I remembered the haunting words of George Costanza who once told Jerry Seinfeld: “It’s not a lie, Jerry, if you believe it!” My hole-in-one wasn’t a lie, but as Ronald Reagan suggested, it is a truth that needed to be verified. But how?

 According to the website of the U.S. Golf Association: “The Rules of Golf do not address the issue of the validity of a hole-in-one.” However, the USGA recommends that the validity of a hole-in-one be measured by five conditions, including “If attested by someone acceptable to the Committee.” So I figured the “committee” in this case was the course administrators who uphold the Rules of Golf and any local course-specific rules. I drove to the pro shop and laid it all out. 

I told them I was playing alone, that it was the first hole-in-one of my life, and I wanted to know if they recognize it in the absence of a witness. The director of golf looked me in the eye and said: “You witnessed it, didn’t you?” I nodded my head. “Then it was witnessed by somebody acceptable to us.” Huzzah!

Golf is said to be the only sport built on integrity of the participants. The athletes police their own play and call fouls on themselves such as penalizing an out-of-bounds shot. For non-golfers, that means if you hit a ball into the water on No. 4, you can tee up another ball after you penalize yourself one stroke. So although you are back on the tee, you are essentially hitting your third shot for scoring purposes. I count all my shots, good or bad, and assess all required penalties.  I feel comfortable that my first hole-in-one is legal, validated and an achievement that I can sharing with you! 

And for the record, I was so shook up by the experience that I got two pars and six double-bogeys the rest of the round! Honest!

Bravo! NBA, union appear ready to scrap "one and done!"

by J.W. Miller on 07/12/18

It should be welcomed news to college basketball fans that the NBA and its players union appear ready to scrap the controversial “one and done” rule that requires prospects to play at least one year of college ball before jumping into pro ball. “My personal view is that we are ready to make that change,” Commissioner Adam Silver declared this week at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBA Players Association, concurred and suggested that the decision to change the age limit and when could come in the next few months. Bravo to them! 

Whatever plan emerges, implementation could come as early as the 2021 NBA draft, which means it would first affect players in the college recruiting classes of 2020-21. Kentucky’s John Calipari already is two steps ahead with his 2019-20 class, having signed five-star players Tyrese Maxey and D.J. Jeffries with surely more to come. What happens beyond that will depend on the mechanics of just how a new system would work. They shouldn’t have to look too far. 

Several months ago, I offered a plan that still makes sense to me, and I repeat it herein for your edification and NBA adoption. No charge! First, any high school player would be eligible for the NBA Draft, but with conditions to prevent chaos. Under my plan, any high school player may declare for the draft and may be invited to participate in the NBA pre-draft tryouts. If a player who applied is not invited to the tryouts, his NBA application is dismissed and he is eligible to be signed by a college. 

Utilizing the pre-draft tryouts is much like current NBA and NFL services that provide college players with an educated prediction on how high – or low - they could be drafted. Some so-called five-star players who go through the tryouts might discover they are not as ready for the NBA as they thought and can pull their names from draft consideration. Those who remain in the draft would be prohibited from signing with an agent until they are drafted, to protect their college eligibility in case they are not drafted. 

Any high school player drafted would receive a guaranteed contract of not less than three years. This puts the onus on NBA teams to make a commitment to the young players, although they may send the player to the G-League for development. If a team decides in the first three years the player is not what they thought, the player could be traded or cut, but the player still gets paid. Any high school player who participates in the pre-draft tryouts but is not drafted would not be eligible for the NBA draft until three seasons have passed since his high school graduation, like the current MLB rule. The player may be signed by a college which must guarantee the recruit a scholarship until he graduates, however long that might take. Some colleges, like Kentucky, presently offer this benefit to all recruits. 

This plan does not prevent the young player from exercising overseas options if he is not drafted or signs with a college, which is the case now. But unlike the current system, a player going overseas out of high school would not be NBA-eligible for three years. The three-year wait is not unlike the NFL and MLB systems, so the NBA can rely on precedent to adopt the same plan. Hopefully, good sense will prevail and more young men will realize that while the NBA may not deem them ready to play now, three years of college ball would give them a better opportunity to be prepared. 

This plan would open the draft to the almost-certain stars – a dozen or so? - and then improve the draft pool with more experienced players down the line. The plan also would improve college basketball with the continuity of more players staying in school longer. Most importantly, it would protect the college signee by giving him three years to prepare for his NBA aspirations and guaranteeing him an education. And isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about?

A memorable night with a legend who paid the bill

by J.W. Miller on 07/09/18

I am not sure if there is another city in the nation that has gotten more sporting attention in the past month than Las Vegas. You might not have watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but you probably know that the Las Vegas Golden Knights became the most successful expansion team in history when they not only became the first to post a winning record but make the playoffs and advance all the way to the championship round. In the past week, the NBA moved in with its Las Vegas Summer League games that allows pro basketball fans to see if the draft choices or other new players have a chance to make the team and contribute. Then last night, Vegas hosted yet another major sporting event in which a young athlete achieved a feat that once almost killed a legendary figure. 

Yes, sporting fans, while you were tuned in to “America’s Got Talent” or “NCIS Los Angeles,” (it was a repeat) I was watching the History Channel’s presentation of motorcycle daredevil Travis Pastrana, who was attempting to succeed where the greatest daredevil of them all had failed. Hey, this is not only big stuff but a little personal, because I once spent a long night drinking with Pastrana’s obvious hero: Evel Knievel. I will elaborate later, but let me tell you about Pastrana’s Vegas victory last night. 

The 34-year-old Marylander attempted the “Big Three” jumps that made Knievel famous and damn near killed him. Riding an Indian Scout FTR750, which any fan of “American Pickers” will know, Pastrana first sped up a ramp, went airborne and jumped 143 feet to clear 52 crushed cars. In his second jump, he sailed 192 feet over 16 Greyhound buses, which topped Knievel’s best of 14 buses. And in his mondo stunt, Pastrana jumped 149 feet to clear the fountains at Caesars Palace, an attempt that nearly killed Knievel when he lost control of his Triumph Bonneville T120 then nosedived into the ramp and concrete parking lot. He suffering broken ribs, a hip, a crushed pelvis and various other cuts and scrapes that kept him hospitalized for 29 days. But he looked hale and hearty about ten years later, when my story begins. 

The Baltimore Evening Sun had sent me to Seattle to cover the Colts’ preseason game with the Seahawks. That was a day when we wrote stories on a Neanderthal computer that resembled a big electric typewriter. On top of the machine were two cups into which you jammed an old cradle telephone if you  could find one. But whenever we weren’t writing, the four or five of us usually were out together measuring the alcohol content of a local establishment. 

It was in the lounge of the Sea-Tac Hotel where our group included the dean of Baltimore scribblers, John Steadman, the sports editor of the rival News-American. John was typical of writers in that era whose writing style was straightforward and not flashy; reminiscent of Peter Finney or Bob Roesler in New Orleans or Billy Thompson of the Lexington Herald and Dean Eagle of the Louisville Courier-Journal. But their knowledge and contacts – they knew everybody - made their daily columns must-reading. 

Well, we were sitting at a large round table when all of a sudden, Steadman sees somebody he knows. He stands up and shouts loudly across the busy room: “BOB, BOB!” Into the room, ahead of a small entourage, strode Robert C. “Evel” Knievel, in tight leather pants, western shirt open to the navel and roach-killer cowboy boots. He saw Steadman, and you could see his blue eyes light up as he shouted back “STEADY! Where the hell have you been?” 

Knievel strode over, sat down with us, and as best as I remember, the next four or five hours were spent listening to Evel Bob Knievel tell stories about his most famous jumps but also the ones you never heard about. His first jump was at Moses Lake, Washington, in 1965 over a cage that contained two mountain lions. His jumps over a stack of cars or buses or pickup trucks became a standard part of his act, and occasionally he would pull off something spectacular like jumping over a pit that contained 100 rattlesnakes or a pool of sharks. Of course, we wanted to hear about his 1974 jump over the Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket which required him to parachute safely to the ground. 

The only other thing that I remember about that night was the guy who stayed close to Knievel’s side. He wasn’t a bodyguard, but he was probably just as indispensable to the star. The bagman. Whenever our glasses were close to empty, our friend Bob directed the server: “bring “another round,” and when it arrived he directed his bagman: “pay the girl.” Those are nights that young sports writers remember: drinking with a legend who was free with his stories and picked up the bill.

LeBron’s roadshow should leave Pelicans alone

by J.W. Miller on 07/02/18

So LeBron is taking his periodic road show to Los Angeles to help revive a moribund Lakers franchise. By the way, “moribund” is an oft-used word by writers who want you to think they are smarter than you are because they use words you never hear in daily use. I don’t think I’m smarter than you, it’s just that I have a website whose sole purpose is to enlighten and entertain my readers. That’s why I use words like “moribund,” which brings us back to the Lakers’ franchise.

 According to my Word thesaurus listing for “moribund,” LeBron James joined a franchise that is “past its prime,” “seen better days” or is “on its last legs.” That’s why they signed LeBron James to a contract that gives him four years to do what he did in his first travelogue with the Miami Heat, and also in his second, his redemptive return to Cleveland, where he did it again. Damn, there I go again with words like “redemptive,” which Word.doc tells us that LeBron’s many services to his original franchise include the fact that he “rescued” the Cavaliers franchise, “redeemed” his own honor in the eyes of his hometown fans and “delivered” what he said he would, an NBA championship.

His task now is that his new team has not had a winning record in six seasons, has sustained infighting, turmoil, bad contracts and snubs in free agency while a vulture hovers overhead named LaVar Ball. In February, Ball issued an ultimatum to the team that his son and then-rookie guard Lonzo Ball would walk away from the Lakers when he is eligible for free agency unless the team signs younger brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo. Thankfully, Magic Johnson threw Ball’s threats on the stack with the other distractions he’s had since threatening his reputation as maybe the greatest Laker ever to become the team president of basketball operations. 

What Johnson did do more recently to redeem his record was to drive over to James’ Brentwood mansion Saturday night and for two hours pitch him on how they could make the Lakers great again. [Insert local hook!] Yeah, I got that, so now it’s time to see if the Magic and LeBron plan to take over the universe includes any Pelican free agents. 

LeBron has taken it on faith that Magic will sign at least one more high-profile star to help bring instant credibility and, more importantly, victories. This concerns the Pelicans because DeMarcus Cousins is a free agent and might make an attractive pairing with LeBron. In normal times, signing Cousins would be a logical move, but these are not normal times for Big Cuz after he shredded his Achilles in January. The uncertainty of Cousins’ ability to bounce back will likely turn Magic’s attention to other players such as the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. That increases the likelihood of Cousins returning to the Pels, even on a short-term, show-them-you’re-healthy, deal. I doubt any team would take a chance on Cousins and pay him more than the Pelicans can. 

The other task for Pelicans’ management is to bring back Rondo, whose presence calmed an often helter-skelter offense as well as contributing double-digit points, assists and rebounds. Another year or two of running his own team in New Orleans could be his stepping stone to his expressed goal of a head coaching job, and it could help the Pels take the next step in their evolution.

Stay tuned, and my next report will try to eschew big words. Damn, there I go again. I should have listened to my favorite Journalism professor at Kentucky, who had a  No. 1 rule of effective writing: Never use any word longer or more complicated than “watermelon.” 

Don’t expect me to write about the World Cup

by J.W. Miller on 06/25/18

I have written before about this friend who is such a basic sports fanatic that I call him “Coach.” You probably know him. He’s the guy who walks up to you and throws out a non-sequitur that has nothing to do with anything in your sphere of interest, but exposes the fact that you didn’t watch the same college football spring game that he did. That’s not intended to reflect a fault as much as it is the fact that we live amid various denominations of the Church of Football and Some Other Stuff.

I saw him this week, and his opening comment to me was “Man, there is nothing going on now!” I had to think about that for a moment, but I knew what he meant. The basic sports fan has entered the annual hibernation period, commonly known as the “slow season.” Spring football practice is over. The NBA Finals and Draft are over. The Triple Crown of racing is over. The Saints have adjourned off-season training and won’t be seen until late July. Local teams were shut out of the College World Series and nobody can get too excited about Major League Baseball before the All-Star break. “Coach” is going to bed now and will pull the covers over his head until the Saints report to training camp. 

The eclectic sporting fan out there might be questioning Coach’s very narrow focus, especially in a week when the World Cup is about the coolest thing going in the rest of the world and is even drawing some attention from sea to shining sea. But I am with Coach on that subject. Don’t expect me to spend much ink on the World Cup. About this time in 2014, I wrote a rather pithy column about the USA’s advancing to the World Cup’s Round of 16. That column drew the lowest click-in rate of any column in the eight years I've been doing this thing. "Click-in rate" is cyberspeak for "nobody gives a rat's patoot!"

The column sounded like a good idea at the time. USA soccer fans finally had a legitimate reason to join the World Cup party. Alas, I suspect that such professed excitement was more out of patriotism than because they were soccer fans. The same fans probably would have cheered the USA just as avidly if it were a donkey basketball tournament. 

But this year, with “USA” sadly missing from all participating sweaters, nobody I know is rushing to watch the next group match between Senegal and Colombia. I even once made a reference to “Brandi’s Bra Moment” in a headline – citing USA soccer star Brandi Chastain’s stripping down to her sports bra while celebrating the USA Women’s 1999 World Cup victory. Still no interest. Sex might sell, but not with soccer. That’s not to cast basic American sporting fans as classless rubes, but, like “Coach,” the sports interests of my audience are drawn in a very narrow focus. 

This time of year is a No Man’s Land for the basic sporting fan. Drew Brees and his family is probably in Maui. The Pelicans brass are trying to decide what to do about impending free agents DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. Ed Orgeron is having a beer while sticking pins in his Nick Saban doll. Les Miles is having a Shirley Temple while sticking pins in his Ed Orgeron doll. Death Valley, the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center are all idle, deserts of disinterest for the basic sports fan.

And I won't bore you with any more mentions of the World Cup. 

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One bounce and in! The ball sits at the bottom of the hole after Miller records the first hole-in-one of his normally dismal golfing career!