Monday, August 23, 2010

Wide-ranging morning ---- Haynesworth, Strasburg, Zack Bolno, US Open tennis, Arjun Atwal, and the last note on rules officials

There was a lot going on this past weekend in sports. Lou Piniella retired. Vin Scully did not. (Thank God). Stephen Strasburg felt a twinge in his arm and everyone in Washington writhed in pain. Roger Federer won a tennis tournament. Serena Williams and defending men’s champion Juan Martin Del Potro withdrew from the U.S. Open. Fred Funk won an alleged major on The Senior Tour. (Are there any events on that tour that AREN’T ‘majors?’). Arjun Atwal, who was involved in a fatal accident in Florida three years ago won on The PGA Tour, the first player since Fred Wadsworth in 1986 to come through a Monday qualifier just to get IN to the tournament and then win.

Oh, and Albert Haynesworth is whining—which was apparently enough reason for the Washington Redskins to fire their PR guy on Sunday.

What a world.

Let’s start with the ridiculous—which is always the NFL team here in Washington. The Redskins should have conceded the folly of signing Haynesworth before training camp even started. It’s not as if Haynesworth was the first god-awful Dan Snyder free-agent signing, he was just the most recent and the most expensive. The minute Haynesworth refused to show up for mini-camps (or OTA’s or whatever the NFL calls them) that should have been a clear sign that he learned nothing from his embarrassing season a year ago, could care less about his teammates and was going to try to battle Mike Shanahan’s authority. Last I looked, Shanahan has pretty good credentials as both an authority-figure and as a coach.

We all know what’s gone on since. Haynesworth couldn’t pass the conditioning test he was required to take when he finally showed up for camp. He finally passed and began working out—occasionally. Then last week he didn’t work out, refused to speak to the media and the team said he had headaches. After he didn’t play until the second half in Saturday’s exhibition game, he whined that the team wasn’t telling the truth about his headaches and that he should have started the game.

I have two words for Haynesworth: SHUT UP. I have two words for the Redskins: CUT HIM. Sure, they’re going to take a huge financial hit but there’s an old saying about being penny-wise (okay in this case $21 million-wise) and pound foolish. The Redskins are trying to be good again; trying to get past all the embarrassments of recent seasons. This guy is a pox, who is likely to be unproductive. The sooner the Redskins get rid of him, the sooner the team can move on and focus on the future.

In the meantime, after Haynesworth mouthed off on Saturday, Redskins PR director Zack Bolno got fired on Sunday. For the past two years, most people who have to cover the team will tell you Bolno has been a voice of reason and (gasp) cooperation in a sea of stonewalling built by Snyder, former GM Vinny Cerrato and martinet-bully PR guy Karl Swanson. Cerrato and Swanson are finally gone but Bolno is being made the scapegoat for SOMETHING and it is clearly the team’s loss. Of course if the team wins, no one other than the people who know Zach (I got to know him when he was the Wizards PR director) will care.

The other Washington story is, of course, Strasburg. When he clutched his arm after pitching 4 and one-third shutout innings in Philadelphia on Saturday, you couldn’t help but go, ‘Oh God no, here comes surgery.’ It is now likely that bullet has been dodged but the Nats are also likely to shut him down for the rest of the season. After all WHY take any risk with him? The team is going nowhere, he’s proven he can pitch very well at the big league level already. The only reason to pitch him at all would be ticket sales and the Nats are smarter than that. If you pitch him now and God Forbid something happens, you will regret sending him out there forever.

On the tennis front: I think there’s a very good chance Roger Federer is going to win another U.S. Open. Del Potro has been hurt most of the year, so his withdrawal is no surprise. Rafael Nadal, as always seems to happen this time of year, is struggling on U.S. hard courts. Andy Roddick has had a so-so summer at best. In fact, the hottest player on tour this summer has been Mardy Fish, who lost a very good three set match to Federer in Cincinnati yesterday after beating Roddick for the second time in the last few weeks in the semifinals. For once, the Open is wide open. Someone like Novak Djokovic could get hot or Roddick could get on a roll in front of the New York fans.

As for the women, I don’t know, I think Chris Evert is the favorite now. Maybe Martina Navratilova or Steffi Graf? With Serena Williams out—foot surgery after she stepped on some glass—Venus Williams having been invisible all summer, Maria Sharapova who-knows-where with her game, Justine Henin out hurt (again) and defending champion Kim Clijsters looking shaky ANYONE can win. Billie Jean King maybe. Now that would be a story.

Arjun Atwal is a remarkable comeback story—sort of. Certainly coming back from injuries that caused him to lose his PGA Tour card and to go through a Monday qualifier—players call it a ‘four-spotter,’ because there are four spots in the field open, often with more than 100 players trying for them—to win his first tour event is remarkable.

But Atwal’s story is a little murkier than that. He had made a very good living playing around the world after leaving India as a teen-ager and had moved to Orlando, where he often played at Isleworth with Tiger Woods. On a March afternoon in 2007, after playing nine holes with Woods and John Cook, he was driving home on county road 535 when a car—driven, as it turned out by another Isleworth resident—fell in behind Atwal.

The police believe to this day that Atwal and the man began racing. Apparently CR 535 was infamous for street racing. Atwal has admitted to going 85 miles per hour. The police say it was more like 94. The other man apparently got up close to 100. Both lost control on a curve. Atwal lived. The other man did not. Police wanted to charge Atwal with vehicular homicide but the Florida attorney general decided that making a case in court that Atwal was the CAUSE of the accident would be difficult.

There seems to be little doubt that Atwal was guilty of stupidity and was incredibly lucky to live and not go to trial—or to jail. He has told other reporters that as bad as he feels about what happened he knows he “did nothing wrong.” Maybe he’s talking—as instructed by his lawyers—about the death of Mr. Park, the other driver. Clearly he DID do something wrong based on the speed he was going so it is difficult to make his win on Sunday as much of a feel-good story as it might otherwise be.

I mean, good for him, hanging in through the injuries and the Monday qualifiers and the guilt he must feel after the accident. But, on a wholly different level, like his friend Woods, Atwal must bear some responsibility for the difficulties he went through after his accident. Totally different story—obviously—in fact one far more tragic.


One final note: I couldn’t help but notice that some posters STILL think that there are waking rules officials only with SOME groups at majors championships. That is flat out wrong: At the U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA every group for all four days is assigned a walking rules official. The Masters does not assign a walking rules official to ANY group because of its tradition that no one goes inside the ropes except caddies, players and TV camera and sound men. Dustin Johnson had NO advantage over anyone on the golf course last Sunday. In fact, he had a disadvantage because David Price, his rules official, failed to warn him he was in a bunker as a good official would have done. I am really tired of hearing the apologists say he wasn’t ‘obligated,’ to do so. No he wasn’t. Often in life what is right is not what you are obligated to do it.

Even if you disagree with that opinion, let’s keep our facts straight. Everyone had a walking rules official that day. Johnson just drew the short straw when he was assigned Price.


Mr. X said...

As I tuned in Sunday to watch the GGO (or whatever it is called these days) I was surprised to see a non-Major tennis event preempting the golf coverage. I didn't know tennis could preempt anything these days.

Paul said...

Atwal is fortunate that Florida law is more lenient than other states. In Maryland, for example, the state would only have had to prove that Atwal was engaged in a race ("speed contest" in the Md code) in order for him to be charged with the death of the accident victim.

It is something akin to the felony murder rule: if you are participating in a crime that constitutes a felony, if one of your accomplices kills someone then you could be charged with murder as well.

PeteWill said...

John, it is amazing how many people think that a rules official is not supposed to be proactive in offering guidance on potential rules issues. I have had this discussion with many people in my club, some very good golfers, who just don't get it. Glad that you do.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me how the caller at home gets through to an LPGA rules official on the phone and not get an answering machine? Is there an email address that one texts or emails to? Julie Inkster should have just picked up two irons and loosened up, like my Dad used to do in the 50's and 60's on the first blood-shot tee box at dawn, before baseball and golf donoughts were in existence. It's a great rule. It's okay for Adan Dunn, but no good for Julie Inskter. She HAS to have known that! Though I never heard of it.

Anonymous said...

This Golf Digest article clarified a few things for me:
It wasn't like Price just nonchalantly took a peak and walked away; he stopped and asked if there was anything he could do to help. DJ asked him to clear some space so he walked ahead to do that. Like Price said, I could see how some golfers might get rather persnickety with a rules official who approaches him to explain basic rules that every golfer knows when he's trying to focus on his next shot. In this case it would have helped, but where do you draw the line? Should officials constantly be interjecting themselves whenever THEY feel they are needed? It's hard to know when you will be considered a help and when you will be considered an annoyance.
While Price may deserve some criticism, the majority still rests with DJ and his caddy. I still don't understand why neither stopped to wonder why the ball was sitting on sand instead of grass, and ask for some clarification.
One other point: Some of the blame lies elsewhere. The local rule on bunkers also had the following note, "Note 2: Where necessary, blue dots define the margin of a bunker." Where were the dots? IMHO, they were needed in this case and someone dropped the ball (PGA, grounds crew?).

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