Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger’s Open (Or Was It Rocco’s)

I was rooting for Rocco. Nothing against Tiger, in fact, I think this win solidifies his spot as the best ever. All that’s left is for him to pass Jack Nicklaus with 18 professional majors and to call him “the best” would be indisputable.

But still, I was hoping Rocco could pull it off.

“He had to birdie 18, again, to tie me, and he did it. That’s why he’s so tough to beat,” Rocco explained in an emotional post-round statement.

You can’t say this was a walkover by any means. Rocco fought and fought and fought and by the time they got to 18 he had a one shot lead. The lead you knew he needed because Tiger was going to birdie the par 5, the last hole, and the one he birdied or eagled all week long. When he hit his drive in the fairway, you knew he’d at least hit it on and two putt for birdie.

But Rocco also “has his name on his bag,” as Fuzzy Zoeller used to say about guys you’ve never heard of, noting that they’re professionals as well.

“Rocco can make birdie and win,” I thought before he hit his drive into the bunker.

The usually reliable driver got him in trouble on 18, not giving him a real chance to go for it in two and win with a two putt. But he still had about a 15 footer to win it. “I might never have this chance again, so this putt is not going to be short,” is how he described his thought process to Roger Maltbie while he was walking to the playoff.

But somehow, you knew that Tiger would prevail.

Which got me wondering if his opponents, Rocco, Bob May and others somewhere in their minds aren’t thinking the same things.

The thing about Tiger that spooks these guys is the fact that he makes so few mistakes. When he needed to hit the ball in the fairway and knock his second shot on the green on 18, he did it. He didn’t over-try, or do anything differently. He just did his job.

“I figured if I did my job then what happens, happens,” he explained after making a 12 footer on Sunday to tie Rocco for the lead at 18.

Which is another difference between Tiger and the current crop of players on the PGA Tour. He’s confident in his own talent and just figures if he goes about his business, he’ll be fine. And what happens, happens. But the rest of them are scurrying all over the place trying to “elevate” their games and it just doesn’t work. That’s why I think it’ll take a whole new set of players, guys like Anthony Kim, to supplant Tiger (if ever).

Tiger has shown the kind of money that can be made in golf, and the level of fame that is also available. So the top athletes of the next generation will be considering golf as an option.

But for now, Tiger has shown that he’s capable of the focus and the execution to win under any circumstances.

Plus he’s the best putter, period. He’ll make it from anywhere, and you should expect him to make everything. Because he probably will.

But like a lot of people, I was still rooting for Rocco. I know him a bit and despite the “everyman” storyline they were following, Rocco is much more than that. When he lived in Ponte Vedra (right off the second fairway of the stadium course) he invited me over. Gave me his cell phone and his home number. Introduced me to his wife. In other words, was just normal.

An upper tier player with 8 wins on tour, Rocco just didn’t accept the “star” lifestyle. He lived in a nice house and enjoyed the perks that go along with the status of being a PGA Tour player, but he just was who he was.

I saw him this year at Bay Hill and he immediately stopped practicing and walked over to say hi. Actually we embraced like old friends and talked about how long we’d known each other.

He explained that he was healthy and expected to play a lot on Tour this year. He was working with Jimmy Ballard on a whole new swing and what was interesting to me was how Rocco was listening and reacting to the “coaching.” He was really trying and it was working.

Just normal.

If he had won, it wouldn’t have changed him, and the fact that he didn’t win won’t change him either. He’ll be known as the guy who extended Tiger to the max and a lot of people will know Rocco and more about him.

Which is good.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jim McKay Encounter: Long Ago

I met Jim McKay once, when I was in college. I had a late class but ran over to the theater he was speaking at promoting his book “My Wide World” on college campuses.

My first impression was that he was tiny! I got there after he was finished speaking but I was determined to hear something that he had to say so I hung around the exit to the stage and he walked out with the promoter, an on-campus administrator I happened to know.

McKay had a little bit of a beard if I remember correctly, and he couldn’t have been nicer. We shook hands, and he asked me if I had heard his presentation. I said I did not, I was in class but I wanted to get over here just to say hi at least. McKay said “Oh,” when I told him I wasn’t at the speech, but was very interested in hearing about the fact that I was majoring in communications.

I went to Clemson as a freshman as a pre-med major, and actually did quite well. But when they called us together after my first semester to tell us they were phasing out the pre-med program, I needed a change.

Political Science made a short appearance but after taking Introduction to Broadcasting 101, my professor suggested I look into majoring in that discipline. Citing that Clemson lacked a Broadcasting department, he gave me a list of seven schools where I could gain my degree. Luckily, Maryland was one of those and I transferred to get my degree in Radio, Television and Film, the Terp’s equivalent to Telecommunications.

I was already planning to transfer, and McKay encouraged my move, saying that the field was wide open and it was going to even get better. Remember, this was a time that was before cable, before ESPN, FOX and CNN. There were only the three networks, but McKay had an inkling that was going to change.

We spoke for just a couple of minutes, and I thanked him for making it seem so interesting to go around the world and experience different sports. I think I might have even mentioned barrel jumping and he laughed. We shook hands again, he wished me luck and he was off. But I remember how pleasant he was, and how encouraging he was about a career choice that seemed to be at the top of everybody’s list.

Obviously I’ve been thinking about McKay since he death on Saturday and I’ve read and heard what a lot of the different national “voices” have been saying. I do know he was a very good writer. He was plainspoken and occasionally Spartan, which is always best. A lot of “voices” want to wax eloquently about somebody else who waxed eloquently. But that seems kind of cheap to me.

McKay was a real guy. I met his son, Sean McManus the President of CBS News and Sports once here in Jacksonville and commented that his Dad had a very positive effect on my career. “He did that a lot,” was McManus’ response. Which was correct.

But what I realized in the last couple of days is that McKay fueled my wanderlust. As much as Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Orioles made it seem fun to me, McKay opened my eyes to a true “Wide World.” Since I was a kid I’ve been as interested in barrel jumping as I have in NFL football. Sure, I understand the difference, but perhaps because of McKay and his globetrotting I understand the similarities. The dedication, the sacrifice and the sheer joy of the competition, no matter on what scale.

McKay also represents another layer of professionals who are now gone, who shaped my interest in what I decided I’d put my life into. McKay was a little smarter than the average bear, a little more interesting than the everyday play-by-play guy, a little more well read and well traveled than just about anybody else in the room. He spent his retirement at home, with his family, knowing he had done it all.


But he didn’t flaunt it.

He was it.

We should all be so lucky.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Big Brown: Bust?

Just like everybody else, I follow horse racing as a casual fan, focusing on the Triple Crown. I do follow some of the other races during the year, the Florida and Arkansas Derby, the Travers Stakes and the Breeders Cup. I watch the races and read a bunch about the different competitions. I’ve been to the track to see races in person, a must when it comes to that sport. The horses are so impressive and for the most part, the people involved are totally committed to the sport and the animals involved.

We’ve been talking about the next “Super Horse” for a while, from Spectacular Bid to Smarty Jones with 30 years gone by without another Triple Crown winner. It’s the longest stretch in history without a winner of all three races. I thought Afleet Alex was that horse in 2005, but he just didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby but went on to win the Preakness and the Belmont. Three races in five weeks seem like a lot, and it is when it comes to 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

I’ve heard that the sport has changed in the past couple of decades with breeding turned toward speed instead of endurance. That might explain some of the failures in the Belmont at 1 and a half miles but Saturday’s race with Big Brown was different.

Big Brown looked like a super horse in the Derby and the Preakness. Whenever Kent Desmoreaux asked him to run, he took off like he was turbocharged. When he broke from the gate at the Belmont though, he didn’t look right from the start. Big Brown has a beautiful stride and great gait but it wasn’t on display in New York. He looked uncoordinated during the whole trip. Even though he had a smooth ride and was sitting in the right spot at third coming to the final turn, he was already laboring.

It didn’t have anything to do with the distance; something was going on with the horse. There had been a lot of talk about Big Brown taking Winstrol, a steroid about once a month. It’s legal for horses in most states. Big Brown’s last injection was on April 15th, two weeks before the derby. Who knows if that had a negative effect on his run after it was out of his system but he just didn’t run?

“When I came to the final turn and asked him to go, I just didn’t have any horse,” Desmoreaux said immediately after the race. When he went to let him out, nothing happened. In fact he went backwards.

The weird thing is, Big Brown looked the part. He looked different than the other thoroughbreds. He looked big and strong, kind of like Secretariat. But he didn’t run like a Super Horse. He just didn’t run.

Have you ever gone for a run and just felt completely uncoordinated the whole time? It looked like that from the start. I don’t think Desmoreaux had anything to do with the ride. In fact, I thought he was masterful; especially when he pulled Big Brown up once the cause was lost.

Maybe the answer is to spread the races out since the breeding habits have changed. Maybe a standardized drug program is the right way to go. But whatever it is, the sport needs a fix up.

Affirmed, and even Alydar seemed like Super Horses and maybe they were bred to win the Triple Crown but there’s nothing like them out there now.