"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

TIGER WOODS IS OUT FOR THE YEAR: NO SURPRISE, BUT WHAT ABOUT 2017?

Will He Ever Make it Back to the Tour? Tiger Woods says he can come back, he says he can compete for titles with the current crop of players, he says he has the desire to tee it up again and be a part of the PGA Tour. The question really isn't whether he thinks he can, or even if he wants to. The real question is, after spending most of the last 35 years or so swinging violently at a golf ball, will his now surgery wracked body be capable of supporting him? Of course no one really knows the answer, probably not even Tiger himself. In a week when arguably the most dominant individual athlete in history during his unbelievable stretch from 1999 to 2008 announced through his agent that he wouldn't be competing in 2016, the golf world was saved from his absence and the Olympic debacle by the incredible performances of Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at The Open Championship at Troon. But Mickelson is 46, Stenson 40. It's unlikely that this past weekend's dual will spark any kind of lasting rivalry. But since it's been over eight years since Tiger's last major, perhaps the ship has sailed on anyone counting on a miraculous comeback by him to rejuvenate the game.

I've written a lot about the dominance of Tiger and about the fact that when it was happening, we didn't necessarily realize how historical his run was. I believe it's because he was chasing numbers, such as Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships and Sam Snead's 82 career victories, that were accumulated over decades of play. Nicklaus won his last major at the age of 46 and Snead earned his final tournament win at 53. At the time of his last major win and 65th overall, the 2008 U.S. Open that he won on basically one leg, Tiger Woods was a mere 32 years of age. By the end of 2009, he'd pushed that total to 71, but without an additional major victory. In eleven seasons (1999 - 2009) he managed to chalk up 13 majors and 64 tour wins. That's a major tournament winning percentage of an unbelievable 29.5% over that span! The closest any of his contemporaries has come to that is Mickelson himself, who stands at five majors. Contrast that to Nicklaus' competition over his career: Palmer had 7, Player 9, Watson 8 and Trevino 6. Other than Player, very few international golfers competed on the PGA Tour, so while there were some good players at the top, the depth that exists today just wasn't there. There were no World Golf Championship events, where the fields are stacked with the top players in the world. And by the way, Woods dominated those as well. This isn't to diminish Nicklaus' accomplishment in any way, but to further illustrate just how good Tiger Woods was relative not only to his playing peers, but to all time. Will we ever see that kind of dominance again? Perhaps for shorter periods of time, as we've seen recently from Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith and Jason Day. But to sustain that level of play for more than a decade is highly unlikely. And just to add to the resume, from 1996 - 1998, Woods won seven times with a major, and continued in 2012 - 2013 with eight more victories.

Will Tiger Woods play tournament golf again?  I sure hope so. Will he win another tournament? His history would indicate that if he plays, he'll win. Will he ever win another major? It's highly doubtful, but a lot more players are winning majors in their forties, and I have to believe he'll only come back if he can compete. Does it really matter to his legacy? Not so much, unless we somehow think he could do something no one has ever done, and win four majors in their forties. Do I think, regardless of his return, if the state of professional golf is in good hands? Judging by the enthusiastic crowds I witnessed firsthand at the  U.S.Open, I would have to say yes, but the game in general is suffering (that's a topic for another time). Am I more likely to watch a golf tournament when Tiger Woods is playing? Absolutely, and I'm pretty sure that's a sentiment shared by a lot of golf fans, whether they're willing to admit it or not.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.





Tuesday, July 19, 2016

FIFA AND IOC CORRUPTION: HOW FAR DOES IT GO, AND IS ANY SPORT IMMUNE?

Does it Just Exist at the Top?: It's not exactly news that there is almost certainly some amount of corruption in the two most global of sports organizations, FIFA and the IOC. FIFA runs soccer at the international level and is involved in a number of criminal cases stemming from bribery scandals related to the awarding of World Cup sites. The International Olympic Committee suffers from a similar malady, much to the chagrin of the United States, which despite having the best sports facilities on the planet, last hosted a World Cup in 1994, a Summer Games in 1996 and the Winter Games in 2002. In the meantime, Brazil has been awarded both the Summer Games and the World Cup for 2016 and 2014 respectively. Qatar, with no soccer stadiums and a climate more suited to competitive sidewalk egg-frying, will host the World Cup in 2022. Russia has secured the Winter Games for 2014 in a city that barely existed and the World Cup for 2018 where the games will be far flung with a questionable infrastructure in place. It's fairly well-documented that these awards were bought, not earned. So I'll move on from those issues and dwell instead on something more troubling, even if it's pure speculation.

If an organization is so corrupt that it will jeopardize its very existence to maintain that culture, how are we to assume that the bribes couldn't be used to affect the results of the competition itself? Just think about it. The entire Russian Olympic contingent is currently banned from competing in Rio due to widespread PED use. That's called cheating. That's called trying to gain a competitive advantage. This from a country where bribery, extortion and corruption is an institutionalized art form. Of course, given the health and security concerns in Brazil, they may have pulled off the coup of the young century by not having to show up. Think about soccer, where the referee has immense power and discretion during the course of a match. In just the past month, there have been gross inconsistencies in matches. The U.S. was called for a hand ball in the box against Colombia, resulting in a penalty shot, essentially ending the American's chances. Yet earlier this week, an almost identical play by Portugal was ignored by the referee in the UEFA final against France that would have surely settled the match. Instead, Portugal, after a flurry of yellow flags against France, scored in extra time to win their first major tournament title. Call me cynical, but because the culture of the United States doesn't embrace greasing of palms, we generally get the short end of the stick when it comes to international organizations, especially in the last ten years or so.

It seems like ancient history now, but back in the 1970's it was generally considered fact that the judging and officiating in the Olympic games was grossly in favor of then Eastern Block nations, primarily controlled by the USSR, or Soviet Union. In the 1972 Summer Olympics, the men's basketball final was such a travesty that the officials literally gave the game to the Soviet team, resulting in the U.S. runner-ups refusing to accept their silver medals. In gymnastics, diving and figure skating, three of the more prominent events that determine their champions through judging, the U.S. continually received lower scores for what appeared to be comparable performances. So some forty years later, why should we think the competitions aren't still suffering from similar indiscretions?  Haven't we learned anything from cycling, track and field, and even the steroid era in Major League Baseball?

Another aspect of all of this that I don't understand is that we now have major league sports leagues beginning to embrace the idea that creating a closer relationship with legalized gambling will somehow result in little or no impact on the results on the field or court. I still maintain, although there is a lot of difference of opinion on the matter, that daily fantasy operations are gambling. Many proponents of the companies define them as a game of skill. Really? Is anyone putting a fantasy team together catching a ball, scoring a basket or draining a putt? Are they putting the game plan together that allows their player to get mismatches against the other team's defense? I have played fantasy sports for almost thirty years, and I can't even begin to make the case that it's a game of skill. At best, it's educated luck. In the case of baseball and other sports that require daily attention, it's usually just a case of having the time to pay attention. And if a group of NFL officials put a team together with $1,000,000 payout on the line, it's more than plausible that they have enough influence over the course of their games to influence the outcome enough to impact their fantasy team's performance.

The business of sports is huge on a global basis, and that popularity is due in most part because fans believe that the results of the competitions are not tainted by corruption. However, when the ruling organizations themselves are rife with scandal, isn't it reasonable to at least be concerned that there is a trickle down effect? I wholeheartedly think we should, and we're being naive and irresponsible to think otherwise.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.



Monday, July 11, 2016

MONDAY MUSINGS: THE USGA BOGEYS AGAIN, REPLAY IN PENALTIES, AND WHERE HAVE ALL THE OLYMPIC GOLFERS GONE?

USGA U.S. Women's Open Controversy I: For 74 holes, the Women's Open was compelling and unpredictable, with a wave of terrific Korean players trying to hold off a field that was a dynamic international assortment of wonderful golfers. The tournament was played on the beautiful and challenging CordeValle in the foothills of Northern California near Silicon Valley. The USGA did a great job of setting up the course in a way that rewarded accurate shots, punishing poor ones, without brutalizing the players in the process. When American Brittany Lang bogeyed the seventeenth to set up a playoff with Anna Nordqvist, we were going to be treated to something the men don't do: Award the championship on Sunday with a three hole aggregate playoff. After both players parred the first two holes, or at least we thought they had, a high definition replay of Nordqvist's bunker shot on seventeen showed that she had barely grounded her club in the sand, a clear rules violation. but then things got a bit squirrelly. Even prior to the players teeing off on the final hole, it was apparent that a violation had taken place and that it would result in a two stroke penalty for Nordqvist, potentially  eliminating her from contention. But the eighteenth at CordeValle is a reachable par 5 and if the Swede had known about the penalty before her tee shot, she probably would have chosen to hit driver instead of three wood in an effort to put her in position to go for the green in two. Instead, she wasn't notified until after her third shot. But wait, this gets better. Lang was told about the penalty on Nordqvist before hitting her own approach, creating a clear competitive advantage for the American. In fact, Lang changed clubs after the notification, choosing to play a safer shot knowing that a par would win the tournament.  Now it isn't as if the USGA hadn't just been through a very similar set of circumstances at last month's Men's Open at Oakmont. Dustin Johnson and his pursuers had to play seven holes knowing that a penalty might be assessed for a possible ball movement infraction on the fifth hole of the final round. Fortunately for the ruling body of golf in the U.S., Johnson made the penalty, which was in fact assessed post-round, irrelevant by leaving the eighteenth green with a four shot lead. In the USGA's defense, the two situations were a little different. Nordqvist clearly was guilty of the infraction while Johnson's case was much more subjective. Of course, the consensus of the golf world is that they got the decision totally wrong, even to the extent that Johnson's playing partner agreed that the ball had not moved due to anything that Johnson did. In addition, the timing on Sunday's infraction was tricky in that the playoff was moving quickly and the decision makers really needed to get it right, because the outcome of the championship would almost surely be determined by the ruling. The mistake was in the timing of the notification of the players. One got notified before her third shot, the other after. That's clearly a mistake, and one that easily could have been avoided by better communication and thought. Johnson was able to overcome the bungling and still get his first major win. Nordqvist had no chance and thus lost out on an opportunity at her second major victory. Unfortunately for the USGA, the controversy totally overshadowed what was a great tournament, one that had a great chance of increasing interest in women's golf around the world.

USGA U.S. Women's Open Controversy II: It's impossible to write about the ruling itself without discussing whether high definition cameras should be used in the infraction determination process. Especially for the women, it is an uneven playing field, as there are fewer cameras on the course, with just a handful of groups having television coverage. In Sunday's case of course, both players were subject to the same scrutiny, as they were in the same group in the midst of a playoff. But it seems patently unfair that some players are subject to greater scrutiny because they happen to be on television. I've been playing golf now for over fifty years (I started very young...) and one of the unique aspects of the game is that players police their own adherence to the rules. In some cases, their playing partners are another set of eyes, but it eventually comes down to the player to assess a penalty on themselves. There have been instances through the years where television viewers spotted an infraction, called into the network and influenced the outcome of a tournament. One famous instance was when Craig Stadler used as a towel to kneel on in muddy ground so his pants wouldn't get wet. Well, it just so happens that using the towel could be construed as building a stance, even though his fellow competitors in his group, as well as Stadler himself, didn't see it that way. Unfortunately, the PGA didn't take his side, and to make matters worse, Stadler ended up signing an incorrect scorecard because the ruling was made well after he'd finished his round. Now in the PGA's defense, they no longer take calls from viewers as a basis for a ruling, but they still can use selective camera shots when reviewing possible infractions. I understand that the use of technology is a forward thinking way of officiating sports, not just golf. The difference in golf is that it's spread out over eighteen holes and fourteen hours of inconsistent availability of the very technology used to review a ruling. I say if it can't be consistently applied, then don't allow it. That includes making sure all competitors' shots are equally accessible to camera angles. Would that have changed yesterday's situation? Maybe, especially if during the course of a hole there are instances where the club position at the address of the ball is not fully visible to a camera. So the bottom line for me is it shouldn't be used and rely on the integrity of the players and the sport.

Golfers Already Over Par at the Olympics: Whether it's the threat of the Zika virus, the compressed major schedule due to the Olympics, the fact that it's a Ryder Cup year or just the amount of money up for grabs on the PGA Tour, but many of the golfers eligible to represent their countries at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are opting to stay home. Golf has not been an Olympic sport for close to 112 years and is only approved for two appearances. At this rate, the IOC may pull the plug on any future engagements before the first medal is awarded. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson of the United States, Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Jason Day of Australia have all declined to participate. However, the American team of Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar is still a great representation of American golf. On the women's side, the U.S. will be represented by an impressive trio of Lexi Thompson, Stacey Lewis and Gerina Piller, who qualified with a gutsy top ten performance at the U.S. Open that completed on Sunday. Unlike other sports, the lack of some top players hardly diminishes the product. Point of reference is the World Match Play, when the results never follow the seeding. The difference on any given day between the top ranked player and the one ranked 70th in the world is fairly negligible, especially on the men's side, where most of the AWOL players come from. The subject of golf's place in the Olympics is another topic, one that I'm fairly ambivalent about. Unlike a lot of Olympic Sports, where competitions are limited to annual World Championships or even to the quadrennial Games themselves, golf is already a global game with numerous competitions pitting players from all over the globe.  Add to that the Ryder and President's Cup for the men and the Solheim Cup for the women, and it almost makes the Olympics a redundant affair. On the other hand, it gives these players a chance to play for their country in an environment most will have never experienced. Having attended the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, I can attest, at least from a fan's perspective, the sheer scope and international flavor provided by the two week event. Overall, I don't think the absence of a few top golfers will hurt the competition at all and it actually provides the players that have a true desire to be there an opportunity to represent their countries on the golf course in a way no one alive has been able to do.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.




Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NBA FREE AGENT KEVIN DURANT GOES TO THE WARRIORS: WHAT'S THE CONTROVERSY ALL ABOUT?

KD Takes His Talents to the Bay Area: So former Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant decided to exercise his right under free agency to shop around for another team. After nine years, four conference finals and one NBA Finals appearance, he might just be thinking that time is running out on his chances to win a championship ring. Commentators such as ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and TNT's Charles Barkley have soundly criticized the player for making his move to Golden State Warriors, a team that came back from three games to one down in the Western Conference finals to defeat Durant's Thunder this past season. From the reaction, you'd think that he had committed some heinous act, like perhaps vacationing with other players from different teams or maybe working out at a prior club's facility, or...oh, wrong dude. I had him confused with Lebron James there for a second. But seriously, Durant has spent nine years on a small market team, with about as much success as you can expect. Sure, they almost got to the Finals this season and probably had a decent chance of derailing the eventual champion Cavaliers had they made it. So he's leaving a pretty good team, one that many feel would have still had a chance at a title had Durant stayed in OKC with running mate Russell Westbrook.

But in order to clear some space for KD, the Thunder made a couple of moves in anticipation of his return. However, the biggest factor in the equation is probably Westbrook, who still has another year on his contract. Without him, even if Durant stayed, OKC would still need a lot of help to remain near the top of the league in the future. So if Westbrook informed Durant of his intent to leave after next season, it could clearly have had a huge impact on Durant's decision making process. His choice of the Warriors has spawned a lot of criticism, many accusing him of taking the easy way to a potential title. While I understand the criticism, I totally disagree with it. First, unless anyone has been in his shoes, it's very difficult to take shots. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago regarding Lebron James, very few people on the planet have ever found themselves in the situation a few of these top players are. Just think about being considered one of the best at your profession, highly compensated, entering potential free agency, but not appreciated unless you can somehow win an elusive title. James was there six years ago, Durant is there now and Westbrook will be there in less than a year. Now imagine the team that had the best regular season record in the NBA and fell just one game short of a second consecutive crown comes courting your services. Do we expect him to say no? I mean really Stephen A. and Chuck? Didn't Charles Barkley go from the Philadelphia 76er's to the Phoenix Suns, a team that came tantalizingly close to NBA title? And Stephen A., it doesn't look like you're toiling for a home town station instead of having your face all over the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports".

I would also argue that a Warriors title is no slam dunk. Golden State, with the exception of Steph Curry's leg issues in the playoffs, has enjoyed a fairly injury-free run the past two seasons. In addition, they lost Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes to a trade and free agency in this off-season. Bringing in Durant, while probably a no-brainer, is still a bit of a risk and will no doubt take some time to develop a new chemistry with a different lineup. And as the Cavaliers showed in the Finals, the Warriors can still be vulnerable inside and they've done little to address that need. Despite his size, Durant doesn't play a traditional center position, so there is a chance Golden State will find more teams figuring out a way to defend the splash brothers and get the ball down low on the other end of the court. If we look at the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers, both teams took a season to really get their star-studded lineup to gel. It's probably realistic to expect the same type of adjustment in Oakland. But don't get me wrong here. If they add the right big man in the middle and get it going, the Warriors could be a juggernaut. James better be glad he has his three rings already.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.