Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

British Open

There are a lot of things to take from this year’s British Open (The Open Championship to the rest of the world). First, they play some pretty good golf around the world, not just on the PGA Tour. There’s no question, as a whole, the best golf is played in America where the money is better, the golf course conditioning is better and three of the four professional major championships are held. But The Open Championship brings more elements into play.

The weather, for certain, is a factor. Played along the coast (usually) in the UK, one day it can be 50 and raining, the next 68 and sunny. Saturday and Sunday this year are perfect examples.

The courses are different, allowing the game to be played as it was intended, along the ground if necessary. No forced carries, just lots of risk and reward. Muirfield was just over 7,000 yards long, yet the score that got four players into a playoff was just six under. How does that happen? Through good planning and a solid setup, the Royal and Ancient created a scenario that rewarded solid ball striking, good chipping and bold putting. The greens weren’t overly fast, yet if you missed on the wrong side of the hole it was difficult to two putt. A wayward drive was penalized whether it traveled 275 or 350 yards. The penalty was the same for not hitting it in the fairway. Subsequently, guys who were playing well were rewarded, regardless of how long they were.

Augusta, USGA, were you watching?

Extending the “hazard line” makes a lot of sense. Saturday’s weather equalized the field. Guys who were hitting it solid survived, guys who weren’t paid the price. I thought it was funny how the players all just shrugged their shoulders and said “that’s just the British Open.” They would have howled if that happened at a regular tour event. And the R&A was right to continue play. The course wasn’t holding water, and the ball was staying on the green so why stop playing?

The fact that Tiger Woods shot 81 was shocking because he’s never done that before. At one point, he was on track to shoot the highest score of the day. Tiger? The one with the perfect swing and the mental toughness and focus to overcome anything? It just proves it can happen to anybody, no matter how together they are and how tight their game is. When it goes, especially when the weather is bad, it goes.

Woods is a tremendous player, the best in the world, and a contender for the best of all-time but he’s neither infallible nor invincible. He’s also the most commercially successful golfer of this era, and his game is tailored to the way courses are currently built. Would he be as dominant if all courses were set up like Muirfield? Tiger might win as often, but there would also be more contenders.

Ernie Els victory has to give him some confidence. Even though he’s won four times this year all around the world, have you ever heard somebody who seems to fight demons so often? It’s like he has a little devil standing on his shoulder saying, “you can’t do it,” followed by an angel on the other saying, “it’s OK Ernie.” They guy is a fabulous player who was doubting he would ever win (meaning beat Tiger) in a major again. David Duval also said he found hope and confidence playing at The Open Championship. If that’s the case, it should be a fun finish to the year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Baseball Strike

Just the mere talk about a baseball strike raises the ire of most sports fans. The average salary is more than 2 million a year, they say, and they’re going on strike? “I’m not doing it for me,” said Nomar Garciaparra, “I’m doing it for that little leaguer who will get here and say ‘I wish I played in that era.” I laughed out loud when I heard that one. Both sides have inordinate greed and selfishness, only to be outdone by their hatred for each other.

Since 1972, baseball owner and the players union have never resolved a labor disagreement without a work stoppage. When free-agency became a reality, it truly freed the players from what had been years of indentured servitude. When you were drafted by a team, you belonged to that team until they said you didn’t. The “reserve clause” was invoked by owners at the end of players’ contracts to keep them in the organization. When challenged, the reserve clause was struck down by the courts, and quickly. Players then bargained as a union for the terms of free-agency and salary arbitration and the incredible rising salary became a part of everyday baseball life.

“It’s not free-agency,” George Steinbrenner once told me, “It’s that damn arbitration that’s killing us. Second-rate second basemen don’t deserve that kind of money.” George was right, in theory, assuming that all owners were dealing from the same deck, operating on level ground. Which we know is not the case.

Steinbrenner’s local television package dwarfs anything else in baseball, and enables the Yankees to pick and choose players as they please. (see Mondesi, Raul and Weaver, Jeff in the Baseball Guide) The Yankees raiding other teams talent is nothing new. The Kansas City A’s served as an in-season farm team for the Bronx Bombers for years. Sharing their wealth for the good of the game is what the Yankees (Steinbrenner) have to be convinced of.

Although we’ve seen recently that money isn’t the final answer, just check out the Orioles recent record compared to their monstrous team salary. But without a lot of cash, you’re just not going to compete year after year. When the current contract runs out, there will be talk of a salary cap, which the players won’t agree to, and revenue sharing, which the owners won’t go for. And that’s why they’ll strike or be locked out, depending on which side you want to listen to.

Attendance figures can be pushed all over the place, but it’s pretty apparent that not as many people are going to major league ballparks. If they stop the season, and call off the World Series, like they did in 1994, the casual fan will walk away from the game and not come back. Ever. Sure, they’ll have a passing interest in the pennant races, and probably watch the playoffs and the World Series, but they’re not going back to the ball park. There are too many other options to spend their money on. Baseball doesn’t own the consciousness of the sporting public anymore. It’s part of the sports landscape. If they stop playing, that part is going to look pretty barren.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com


I was at Wimbledon on Friday, seats at Centre Court and the whole bit. Wimbledon is very different than just about any sporting event there is. A cross between the Super Bowl and the Masters. The Super Bowl atmosphere, with people everywhere and a lot of excitement, the Masters feel because of the reverance afforded the event by the spectators and the competitors.

Getting there is pretty easy, just a subway (tube)ride from the center of London and a 15 minute walk to the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. It’s huge! There are two main stadiums, one holding center court, the other houses court one, and there are plans for another to house court 2. What a difference between the center court and court one and everywhere else they play. The two show courts house thousands of spectators, while courts two and three can hold a couple of hundred, max. The rest are like any courts you’d see at a country club. Just lined up side by side with players on every one.

They’ve got plenty of atmosphere at Wimbledon. There’s a long line down the left hand side of the street as you approach the club, and I mean long. Like a mile long, with everybody camping out trying to get one of the daily tickets available. The All-England club reserves some tickets fo rthe general public every day, a really good idea. There’s another line on the right for people waiting to get in in the afternoon when tickets are returned. There are signs all over the club saying to turn your tickets back in when you leave. They collect them, then re-sell them to people standing in the second line after about 4pm. The money goes to charity, another good idea.

I saw three matches at center court, including Greg Rudseski beat Andy Roddick. The English are very vocal in the support of their own, and it was apparent, Rudzeski was feeding off that. Roddick is a good player, but not very patient. Perhaps because he’s just 19 years old. I can see where you can spend all! day there, but if you don’t want to, it’s on the BBC for most of the day.