THE END OF FOOTBALL?

A letter sent to a writer at The Wall Street Journal who wrote a sports-section feature on whether football was on the verge of becoming obsolete in America:

“Well, have to give you credit for touching the third rail of our culture.  The part you neglected, though I am confident you did so for a good reason, was the part about how football is metaphor for life, especially American life.  Not in its presentation of recurring gigantic entertainment spectacle, like a weekly fireworks display with the 1812 Overture as soundtrack, but in its representation of the warrior spirit that allowed us to defeat the British, prevail in two major world wars, and generally scare the pants off people thinking of messing with us.  I am among the millions who consider football a way of celebrating those who are sufficiently strong and fearless that we can depend upon them to keep us safe and secure.  I want my soldiers, airmen, fire-fighters, and policehumans to be fit and strong and brave, willing to give up their bodies and their lives to protect us.  I want my football players to remind us that we have a culture that still has a martial spirit, that can still lead us in important ways.

“In my opinion, if we neuter football, emasculate it, we make a huge mistake.  Yes, there are ways to continue to reduce its risks.  Helmets could be better, or as some suggest, we could outlaw face-masks and make the helmets less safe; lots of former players suggest that the weaponization of the helmet (i.e., the head) resulted from improving the helmet to a point where people were willing to use it as a weapon.  For that matter, we could instantly cut the risks dramatically by strengthening the rules against spearing and by consistently and uniformly and rigorously enforcing such rules.  But in the end, I want football to involve risk, a lot of risk.  Even if one wanted to live in a country without football, we would not exactly be living in paradise; we would be living in a way-less secure nation, one our enemies would quickly re-assess.”

GOLF MUST CHANGE ITS POSITION ON RULES

The nonsense with delayed action on alleged violations of the Rules of Golf, the Lexi Thompson/Dustin Johnson/Tiger Woods syndrome, must stop.

The problem:  people are looking at the wrong problem.  Everyone complains about the rules, but the real problem lies with the enforcement of the rules.  Example, drawn from watching the live telecast of the women’s tournament last week:  the first time I saw a replay of Ms. Thompson’s re-placement of her ball on the green, I thought, that is a clear violation, she could have been changing the placement in order to avoid having to putt from – or over – a defect in the putting surface, a bump or spike-mark or something.  In other words, she deserved to be penalized.  The rule is a good one, as it is designed to prevent people from giving themselves a more-favorable lie.

So why did she do it?  After watching the replay several more times, I realized that Ms. Thompson’s mistake could have been based on geometry and viewing-angle, not on trying to game the system.  By placing her marker and then lifting and re-placing the ball from aside the marker rather than from behind, she had made it much harder to identify a spot in front of her marker, because from the sideways perspective, you are not placing the ball on a line with anything.  Also, the putt was less than a foot and there were no visible imperfections in the turf.  Probably the violation was innocent, probably she was not even aware she did it.  But all of that is beside the point.  Intention is irrelevant; motive is not a part of the rule, nor should it be.  Tournaments do not leave time for lawyers to cross-examine players.

The problem is not with the Rules of Golf, it is with the enforcement of them.  You can’t wait until the round is over (the Woods situation) or until the back nine of the next round (the Thompson debacle) before making a ruling.  In cases where a player seeks a ruling before hitting a shot, the ruling by the attending rules official should be final, not subject to further review or appeal.  In cases where a fellow competitor, a rules official, a TV viewer, or anyone else claims that there has been a violation regarding a shot already taken, pro golf needs a time-limit and an NFL-style instant replay and booth review . If no one makes such a claim within, say, 5 minutes after the alleged violation occurred, case closed, it is too late for anyone to present a claim.  If someone does present such a claim within the 5 minute period, play halts for the player and the others in his or her group.  The booth review people have, say, another 2 minutes to make a ruling, and unless they rule “guilty” within that time, the case is closed, the player is permanently exonerated.

Why so fast?  Because justice delayed is justice denied.  You cannot require the player, indeed the entire field, to continue play without knowing where everyone stands.  Mistakes will occasionally be made, but it is more important, more fair, to maintain pace of play and keep everyone fully informed than it is to spend a lot of time in pursuit of perfect rulings.  Just like football and other sports.  You cannot get to the end of a game and say, wait, we blew the call, we must either replay the entire 4th quarter or declare that the losing team has become the winning team.

Why the USGA cannot figure this out, is a mystery.  Are they trying to avoid the expense of employing more officials and more technology?  Given the egg on their faces after all of these fiascos, is it good business to continue to dodge the problem?  And by the way, golf should be encouraging TV viewers to present claims, not  alienating viewers by being hostile to their actions.

 

 

Could We Play Golf a Little Slower, Please?

The essence of a message I sent to a golf writer in response to a piece he wrote on the subject of Jason Day’s lament that he opposes efforts to make him play faster, because he feels the slower he plays, the better he plays:

Interesting comments by Day.  Two thoughts:  (i) I think he is correct in his assessment that he is a better player when he takes longer.  I have the same feeling in my Sunday Nassau game – I wish I had a half hour on every putt, so I could look at it from every angle, try the read-thru-your-feet technique, try Stacy Lewis’s thing with the finger-counting, read the grain, read the grass around the edge of the cup, look for the drainage direction of the green, read the wind, do a plumb job, and then maybe ask my playing companions for their opinions, based on their local knowledge.  For that matter, I wish I had one of those topographical charts that the Tour pros get from their caddies, so I could get the last word on every single slope at any location on the green.   However, if I tried all of that crap, I would quickly find myself trying to remove a pitching wedge from my forehead.  (ii) This might be a good time to remind Mr. Day (and others with similar habits) that they are in the entertainment business, not trying to cure cancer.  Sure, he gets better with more time, and some guys (Snedecker) would benefit more than others by the tour’s installing a shot clock, but what difference would the Day-model make if the result were that everyone played at Day’s pace and eventually no one gave a damn about watching TV golf – which is already at the threshold of wearing out the audience’s patience.  The point of pro golf is not to “identify the best golfer”, as the USGA insists, it is to entertain the viewing audience sufficiently that they will continue to pay for the Jason Days of the world to live like a Saudi prince.

Of course, some day soon, we will have an electronic device, perhaps built into our GPS distance-finder, and all you have to do is say, Hey, Siri, how does this putt break?  And by the way, how’s my launch angle with my driver?  Boy, would that ever make must-see TV.  Of course, Jason Day might still find a way to take 6 hours to play his round.

 

NOT-SO-GOLDEN GLOBES

Apparently Meryl Streep, Jimmy Fallon, and others used the stage at last night’s Golden Globes awards presentation to remind us of their political beliefs.  As though we needed reminding.  Not that one keeps a formal list, but nowadays when I grit my teeth and tackle the menu at Netflix to seek a movie worth blowing a beer and a couple of spare hours on, I employ a trolling technique that has been refined to where there are two categories where I automatically skip whatever the movie might be, no matter how many stars it has been given:  (i) anything in which I recognize none of the featured actors, as that is a dead-giveaway that the movie has been made-to-order by Netflix, meaning it is complete trash starring terrible actors and produced, directed, and written by incompetents, seemingly inspired by some kind of polling data supposed to indicate the kind of junk the stupid masses, even the deplorables, would buy; and (ii) anything starring Meryl Streep, Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, or any others among the dozens of uber-lefties who have gone out of their way to proclaim their political views and to find roles that allow them to flaunt those views.  Dare one hope that we are nearing a tipping point where the entertainment world, including the sports world, will start to realize how much money this gratuitous politicization is costing them?

THE USGA BLOWS IT AGAIN

Just when we were starting to forget the incompetence of the USGA in causing the Dustin Johnson fiasco at the men’s U.S. Open, the blue-blazer boys provided an unforgettable reminder of it, by ruining the women’s U.S. Open.  As in the men’s Open, the USGA took way too long to make the call on an alleged rules-violation, and then compounded their error by botching the timing of the notifications to the players.

The infraction in the women’s Open, a grounding of her club in a bunker by Anna Nordqvist (for which the penalty is 2 strokes), occurred during the three-hole playoff, midway through the second of the three playoff holes (#17).  But the USGA did not make its decision on the penalty until later.  The players were not notified of the infraction until each had hit her second shot on the third playoff hole (the par-5 18th).   Sounds innocent enough, fair and equal, but the timing of the notifications had a decidedly unfair and unequal impact upon the players.

The timing meant that the penalized player, Ms. Nordqvist, who has sufficient length to have reached the 18th green in two, had to play her second shot, had to make her critical strategic decision – to go for broke or lay-up – before she knew the pertinent facts, before she knew that reaching the green in two had become the only possible way for her to avoid defeat.  She elected to lay-up, which would have been a prudent strategy had she not sustained the penalty but certainly would not have been her strategy had she been aware of having been penalized.  By laying-up, Ms. Nordqvist was unwittingly forfeiting her only opportunity to overcome the deficit that had resulted from the penalty. On the other hand, her opponent, Ms. Lang, had neither the ball position nor the power to try to reach the green in two, so her ignorance of the real score did not affect her decision to lay-up on her second shot.  In fact, Ms. Lang, by being told of the penalty before having to play her third shot, was allowed to forget about pin-seeking and hit a super-safe approach shot that would allow her to win with even a bogey.  In effect, the USGA handed the tournament to Ms. Nordqvist.

Clearly, the USGA botched the whole thing.  Had they made a prompt decision, the players could have re-set their strategies much earlier, perhaps as early as the middle of the second playoff hole, taking into account the penalty.  But even if it had been impossible to make the call that early, they still owed it to the players (especially Ms. Nordqvist) to make the call at a good time, one that minimized any prejudice based upon the length of the delay.  In other words, make the call before the tee shots on 18, or make it after the tee shots but before the second shots, or wait until both players were done with the three holes.  The single worst way to notify the players was to announce the call at a time when the announcement would harm one player while helping the other.  In their clumsiness, the USGA gave an unfair advantage to Ms. Lang, tainting her accomplishment.

Is there any reason why Major League Baseball and NFL Football are able to review the videos and make the call within no more than a few minutes, while pro golf takes forever?  Granted, some golf violations are not spotted until later, but why not a mandated time limit on reviews, even a limit on the time within which an infraction can be called?  Football and baseball have wisely decided that it is more important to maintain the pace of play and keep everyone up-to-date on controversial calls, than it is that the calls always be perfect.  Somehow, they find the money to deploy enough officials and sufficient technology to minimize their mistakes.  Would that golf were as well-run as baseball and football.