The USGA really outdid themselves this time. They usually make a hell of an effort every year to make the U.S. Open course as difficult as it can be ... they move the tees back, they dry out the greens, narrow the fairways, and let the length grow to roughly the same length as Anderson Varejao's hair.
But his year at Oakmont, they've taken things a step farther. In addition to the 300-yard par 3, the fairways as wide as bowling lanes, the world-famous church-pew bunkers, the wrist-breaking rough, and the greens like greased glass, they've also added live alligators on every tee box, replaced all greenside bunkers with sarlacc pits, and have stationed unshowered escaped convicts off of every green, ready to rape and murder the entire family of every player who makes bogey or worse.
Personally, I think that last one is going a little bit too far.
Tiger Woods says Oakmont's greens will be the toughest he's ever played. Paul Goydos says when you finish the round, it feels like you've just gone 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali. Sergio Garcia describes the course as "not too bad for a par-78." Most expect that the winner of the tournament will be somewhere between 5 and 10 strokes over par.
What is it with this recent obsession with making every major golf championship so difficult? It's like the course designers are just trying to top one another with the brutal nature of their tracks. "Hey, the average score at my course was 78." "Oh yeah? Well Fred Couples went into a severe clinical depression when he saw the rough at my course." "Big deal! Craig Stalder imapled himself with the 18th pin after a round at my course. I rule."
I understand that adjustments need to be made to compensate for advances in golf ball and golf club technology, but when is enough going to be enough? If things carry on the way they are, we'll probably never again see someone catch fire and shoot a 31 on the back 9 to stage a dramatic comeback in a major tournament.
People like seeing those things. There's nothing wrong with spectators enjoying themselves at a golf tournament. There's nothing wrong with birdies.
The winners these days are the guys who avoid the huge mistakes, and generally screw up the least. They taking victory laps around the 18th green anymore, high-fiving fans like Hale Irwin did. These days, the winners look morose when they pick up their giant checks, exhausted from four hours of scrambling for par. They're just happy to be getting the hell out of there. We may never see the bull dance again.
And don't get me wrong, every now and then, it's fine to have a ballbreaker of a tournament. For a change of pace, sure, let's make the course impossible for even pros. But this should be the exception, not the rule.
Zach Johnson just won the Masters at +1, the highest score to ever win it. Oakmont's scores will be considerably higher. The British Open is being played at Carnoustie, where the last winner finished at +6. The PGA is tentatively scheduled to be held in a secluded part of the African rainforest that has yet to even be seen by human eyes. It's the kind of place where Bear Grylls doesn't even have the stones to go. Upwards of 20 golfers are expected to die.
Watching major golf in 2007 is like watching Fear Factor. The show's contestants are young, attractive, and athletic ... and people tune in to watch because they hope that Joe Rogan is going to make these pretty people eat sauteed gorilla turds. On some sadistic level, it appeals to us to see the more fortunate among us, even if they're perfectly nice people, suffer.
But that gets old. At some point, I'd like to see them go the other way. Play a major tournament at some dumpy municipal course in Iowa with 400-yard par 5s, 280-yard par 4s, and greens that are perfectly flat and soft. The course plays the same for everyone, be it +10 difficult or -60 easy.
We watch sports to see phenomenally-talented people do things that normal people can't do. I don't know anyone who can throw a sixty-yard strike to Marvin Harrison. I don't know anyone who can take Larry Hughes off the dribble (actually, I might). And I don't know anyone who can shoot 65 on a Sunday of a major golf tournament.
And this weekend, that lat statement would still be true, even if I knew Tiger Woods.
If I want to see someone putt the ball off the green, duff it 20 yards out of the rough, and throw his golf bag into a pond in a tearful fit of anger, I'll call up my buddy AJ.
There is only one sport where it's appropriate to add this kind of degree of difficulty, and that's women's wrestling. A tub of baby oil, KY Jelly, lime Jello, or creamed corn can only serve to make it a fair, beautiful, and natural competition.
At the end of the day, golf shouldn't be about punishment, it should be about dealing with pressure, shotmaking, and scoring. It should be about harnessing in the good energy ... blocking out the bad. Harness, energy; block, bad. Feel the flow. Feel it. It's circular. It's like a carousel. You pay the quarter, you get on the horse, it goes up and down ... and around. Circular. Circle. With the music, the flow. All good things.
This weekend's U.S. Open will be nothing like that beautiful carousel ride, and that's a shame.
David Robinson, Taylor Hicks, and Bill Walton all pose together for a picture in Cleveland's Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, a place where, I firmly believe, they should never even let Taylor Hicks in the door. I guess an exception could be made if they were having some kind of a dork contest. By the way, just because I'm curious ... how high do you think Bill Walton is in that picture?
|Finally, Mike Nolan Will Be As Dapper As Mike Nolan Has Always Deserved To Be ...
For fans of such a big, tough, macho league, we NFL appreciators do spend a lot of time worrying about what our coaches wear. Belichick looks like a hobo! Mike Nolan wants to wear a suit! Look at me, I subscribe to GQ!
Personally, I don't care if Norv Turner shows up every Sunday in a yellow sun dress or a Ghanaian dashiki. As long as he wins (which is always the rub with Norv), I don't care. The fashion sense of my head coach means very little to me.
That said, though, I've always felt like if Mike Nolan wanted to wear a suit on the sidelines to honor his father (who I guess really loved suits), they should let him ... and now they are. The Reebok people are creative enough to brand his suit, his tie, his wingtips, his cufflinks, whatever they want, and they'll end up making themselves even more money.
It's so awesome when we can honor fathers and cash in on corporate branding at the same time.
|This Is Just Unfortunate ...
The fine folks at Baseball Prospectus derive the URLs for individual player pages by taking the first five letters of their last name, and then tacking on the first two letters of their first name. In the case of Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, a practicing Jew, the end result is this unfortunate URL.
Many thanks to the eagle-eyed gang at Fire Joe Morgan for the find.
|Is Houston Big Enough For Mike Jones AND Mike James?
The Houston Rockets made a little bit of a move yesterday, acquiring point guard Mike James from Minnesota in exchange for Juwan Howard.
Either Houston's counting on Chuck Hayes completely taking over the 4-spot (which I doubt, because I don't think anyone other than Jeff Van Gundy would ever give Chuck Hayes a starting position) , or they have plays to address the 4-spot in some other manner.
Mike James is a talented guard ... I'd say he's a better version of Rafer Alston, but the downside to that is that he's still a version of Rafer Alston. He shoots too much, he thinks he's better than he is, and since leaving Detroit, he has not shown the ability or willingness to accept a role that's in line with his actual talents. Unless Rick Adleman can perform a miracle with him (and I wouldn't totally rule that out), he's the opposite of what Houston needs.
Just goes to show, once again, that good -- scratch that -- decent point guards are hard to come by these days.
Meanwhile, Juwan Howard heads to Minnesota with 2 years and $14.3 million left on his deal ... which says to me that Minnesota just really, really wanted to get rid of Mike James. At this point, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Juwan Howard are all expendable enough that some team should reunite them all just for kicks. Jimmy King and Ray Jackson have gotta be out there somewhere, too.
|Sorry, Mark Kiszla, But You Can't Pin This on Tupac ...
There's not much to say on top of what Marcel Mutoni and Bethlehem Shoals have already said, but I'm also struggling with Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla's assertion that listening to hip-hop had something to do with Smith being involved in a traffic accident that tragically killed his friend.
I could maybe see this column, if Smith had done a drive-by on someone who owed him money in a crack deal. But he ran a freaking stop sign. Opera fans don't run stop signs?
Maybe Smith is immature. Maybe he's a bad and dangerous driver. Maybe he hasn't fully grasped the good fortunate life has thrown at his feet. But he could just as well have developed this attitude while listening to Mobb Deep and wearing baggy jeans as he could have while listening to Maroon 5 and wearing lots of hair gel. This column ends up saying a lot more about Mark Kiszla than it does about JR Smith.
|Damn You Michael Vick, Leave Justine Henin Alone ...
French Open winner Justine Henin is a fine, fine, tennis player ... probably one of the most underrated of all time. And to think, she's accomplished all this while battling a debilitating disease. Her response when someone asked her after her French Open win if she was concerned about her emotions running over:
No, I didn't panic. I knew I was not starting that match well. I can tell you, I had a horrible night. My herpes came out again, and I said to my doctor, "Well, I see everything is fine, it's great."Henin's career would probably be held in a higher regard, and this is a shame, if she was as attractive as, say, Maria Sharapova. And this ... well, this doesn't help.
"I never looked at it one way or another. . . . Of course, dog fighting is much more extreme, but you can equate it to horse racing. You have animal activists that don't condone horse racing. They feel that the horses are being tested brutally or whatever the situation is. For me, I'm not an animal activist and it's to each his own."
- Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma on WFAN (courtesy of Pro Football Talk), thinking along the same lines as The Debriefing ... sort of, if The Debriefing thought both horse racing and dog fighting were perfectly acceptable.
Pacman Jones. Congratulations, Pac, on the very special accomplishment of not biting anyone. I don't like to brag, but I didn't bite anyone yesterday, either. See your left arm, and how there are no human bite marks on it? Yep, that's my doing. It just a natural gift that I have.
Pacman had been suspected of biting someone during a scuffle in the now-infamous "making it rain" incident outside of that Vegas strip club. And at this point, with Pacman ... any small victory is worth celebrating.
Dan Wheeler. The Astros held a 3-2 lead over the A's heading into the 8th inning, until Dan Wheeler made his presence felt. He gave up 4 hits and 4 earned runs in 2/3rds of an anning, and then topped it all of by shoving Houston starter Chris "I Wanna Talk To" Sampson in the dugout afterwards. I bet Wheeler listens to rap music.
7:00, VS. NHL Awards.
8:00, TBS. MLB. Atlanta Braves @ Minnesota Twins.
8:00, ESPN. Golf. U.S. Open, Best of First Round.
8:00, ESPNU. Northwoods League Baseball. Green Bay @ Madison.
9:00, VS. Boxing. Hasim Rahman vs. Taurus Sykes.
9:00, ESPN2. MLS. FC Dallas @ Real Salt Lake.
9:00, NBC. The Office. It's Diwali!
9:00, ABC. NBA Finals. The End of the 2007 Basketball Season.