Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Maybe it’s time for Tiger to take extended break; ESPN book; Thoughts on the Jordan Williams and Scott Van Pelt story; Notre Dame follow-up

I’m not really sure where to begin today but let’s start with Tiger Woods because, well, he’s Tiger Woods and my phone began going crazy the minute he announced on Tuesday that he wouldn’t be playing in The U.S. Open here at Congressional next week.

I was so hoping he’d come by the house for a cookout one night.

It is hard for me—or anyone—to judge the soundness of this decision because, as is always the case with Woods, we’re reading tealeaves. His doctors have told him playing next week would be a bad idea. Makes sense. But he hopes to play in the event he ‘hosts,’ in two weeks. Does that make sense? If his knee and Achilles injuries are bad enough to keep him from playing a tournament he once won on a broken leg, they’re going to heal enough in two weeks for him to tee it up at Aronomink? Makes very little sense.

Here’s Tiger’s problem right now—in my opinion: He knows that all the various sponsors for his event, notably AT+T which is putting up about $8 million, aren’t going to be happy if he no-shows no matter how legitimate his injuries may be. There was a good deal of whining in 2008 when he couldn’t play after his knee surgery although Woods didn’t help things by not making the effort to get on a private plane and even make an appearance just to shake a few sponsor hands.

In truth, that was unlike him because the one and only group of people he’s ever been loyal to at all are those who pay him. Of course AT+T and the other sponsors weren’t technically paying him, they were paying to put on a tournament that benefits his foundation. Maybe that was the difference. Who knows?

Now Woods has those same sponsors wanting to know if he’s going to play or not. To them, showing up in Philly is a lot more important than showing up at Congressional or for The British Open or The PGA Championship this summer. Woods shouldn’t think twice about that. His skipping the Open is the first time I’ve had any sense that he’s looking at the big picture—which isn’t the next three months but the next three years, five years, ten years.

Early this year I thought he needed to play more golf. He kept talking about the ‘process,’ of working on the new swing Sean Foley has been teaching him. Fine. You can’t find true swing keys on the range. You have to take them to the golf course and see how they hold up under pressure. My friend John Cook was quoted back in March as saying Tiger was hitting it as pure as he’d ever seen on the range.

The range is irrelevant. Even hackers can hit good shots on the range. My thought was that Woods should go play four weeks in a row, even if that meant changing the schedule he has been so wedded to for years. Of course he didn’t do that and then he got hurt at The Masters.

Why he tried to play at The Players I have no idea. He doesn’t care about the event—nor should he—doesn’t like the golf course and clearly wasn’t close to 100 percent. For all of Tim Finchem’s claims that Woods looked completely healthy during the practice rounds, the fact is he was carted almost everyplace he went—which he doesn’t normally do—and other players saw him limping during the 18 practice holes (total) that he played. Does that sound healthy to you?

He obviously hurt the knee and the Achilles again trying to play there. So now I’ve come 180 degrees the other way: I think Tiger should just pack it in the rest of the year. Stay home and rest his mind and his body. Hang out with his kids, get some real rehab to be SURE he’s 100 percent before he tries to play again and just RELAX. I mean seriously, when was the last time in his life he did that for more than a week or two?

It wasn’t right after the infamous accident when he was in hiding and then in some kind of rehab and then making speeches to try to convince sponsors who were running for cover that he was a new man. A real break—not one forced on him by injury or public humiliation—might do him a lot of good. He might come back fresh and eager to play, rather than feeling he HAS to play. It might recharge him. Staying home for awhile might (though I doubt it) give him a chance to do some real reflecting on his life and his future. He should bring in a crisis manager—because the guy is still in all sorts of crisis—to tell him how he should deal with the media, with fans, with sponsors and with his travel schedule (Dubai et al should go away; play to be a champion, not to get richer). It should be someone who will tell him what to do not what he wants to hear the way his current ‘team,’ does.

Woods can still break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles. He’s that talented and, when he isn’t in crisis, that mentally tough. But he needs to take a deep breath before he starts back up that mountain.


I try very hard to steer away from ESPN-related subjects. My opinions on the people who run the network are pretty well known even if Tom Shales and Jim Miller didn’t call me for their book.

A note on the book: I don’t intend to read it if only because I haven’t found any of the excerpts particularly compelling. I mean, seriously people don’t like Chris Berman? That’s news? Keith Olbermann was crazy? Film at 11 stuff there, right? There were sex and drugs at parties in the 80s? No kidding, really? I’ve certainly never been to a party like that in my life.

The fact that the book is getting the attention it is getting is a tribute—unfortunately—to how important a part of our culture ESPN has become. There’s just no getting around that fact.

In the meantime, Scott Van Pelt has been in the news because of his Maryland connections—again. Van Pelt and I had a disagreement last year because I commented on his behavior while sitting in the stands at a Duke-Maryland game in College Park. He took offense to my saying that, as a public figure, who at times talked about college basketball on TV and radio, he needed to show some decorum, even while sitting in the stands. I wondered how people would react if say, Jay Bilas or I sat in the stands at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Duke gear and yelled at officials during a game.

Scott took offense and called me and we had a good talk and ended up, I think, agreeing to disagree. (He also took a shot a my brother during a speech at Burning Tree last summer since my brother had been the one who told me how Van Pelt behaved. For the record, my brother is close to Gary Williams and was sitting in front of Van Pelt because—like Scott—he’d been given tickets by Gary. Anyway, Scott, did you think someone wouldn’t report your crack back to me? I do have other sources).

No big deal actually. The other day Jordan Williams, the now ex-Maryland center who put his name into the draft after his sophomore year, told reporters Van Pelt had played a major advisory role in his decision. Then, after he and Van Pelt talked, Williams sort of withdrew that statement, said only that he had asked Van Pelt to get him some feedback from NBA people before making his decision and that the media—it’s always the media isn’t it?—had blown the thing out of proportion.

I don’t doubt it was blown out of proportion—what isn’t? And I’ve had coaches and athletes ask me for advice. I remember Eric Montross’s dad asking me years ago if I thought Eric should go to Indiana and play for Bob Knight. I was careful to limit my answer to what I had written in ‘A Season on the Brink.’ I did almost the same thing a few years later when Alan Henderson asked me the same question after I had spoken at Five Star. Knowing Henderson was being recruited by Duke, I was even more careful in how I answered the question.

So, I understand Scott’s dilemma. That said, I think he should have told Williams that the person he should be talking to is his college coach and to the NBA advisory board that gives a player an objective opinion on where he might go in the draft. It wasn’t Scott’s job to be Williams’ go-fer. I’m a little amused by Scott’s claim that he had, ‘crossed paths with Jordan while doing games.’ The truth is, they first met when Gary Williams asked Scott to speak to the team before a game at Duke two years ago. He was there as a Maryland grad who is a celebrity and a friend of Gary’s. Actually he was a Friend of Gary (FOG), an official support group of Gary’s.

It’s never easy to decide where you draw the line between being friendly with someone you are covering and becoming their friend. After all these years I’ve learned it is impossible NOT to be friends with some of the people you cover, especially if you know them for a long time.

I think Van Pelt made an innocent mistake not telling Williams he wasn’t the one he should be coming to for information or feedback. If I were him, rather than try to downplay the role he played, I’d just say, ‘yeah, I should have told him to talk to Gary or the advisory board and wished him luck and left it at that.’

One last thought for the day to those who (surprise) thought I was too tough on Notre Dame last week: I have read the report on Declan Sullivan and I am familiar with Father Jenkins’ pre-Notre Dame biography. Neither changes my opinion on him or on how Notre Dame has handled the situation. Oh, and I see where Michael Floyd has been cleared to get ready to play this season. Gee, what a surprise.


Anonymous said...

John - are you feeling alright this morning? You seem to be lightening up on Tiger these days. I think a ghost writer may have taken over your Tiger sections!

Anonymous said...

The only reason that you or Bilas would be skewered for sitting in the Duke student section is that those screaming loudest would be Maryland fans. Sounds a bit hypocritical if you ask me. Scott Van Pelt has been held up by Maryland fans in the past as some sort of "media hero." Maybe they are re-evaluationg after his advice to Williams...

Gunnar said...

No majors won in at least 3 years for Eldrick, going back to 2008 US Open. It was interesting to see IMG not really fight for keeping Tiger as a client. His star is fading.

Anonymous said...

Tim Finchem = standard by which sock puppets are judged

Van Pelt = OK but in danger of being more Carmen Electra, but without the gravitas, than an actual sports journalist

Woods = Boswell said it best

Notre Dame = same tier as OSU on the ethics scale

The Gunnar said...

Ohio State started their downfall, when they insisted on being "The" Ohio State Buckeyes. "The" is arrogant, and it lead them to rules violations.

Anonymous said...

I’m a little amused by Scott’s claim that he had, ‘crossed paths with Jordan while doing games.’ The truth is, they first met when Gary Williams asked Scott to speak to the team before a game at Duke two years ago.

First of all, you misquoted him. Scott said, "Because I know Jordan some just from crossing paths at games"

"At games" and "while doing games" are two different things. Then you go on to explain how he crossed paths with Jordan at games. But you make sure to begin your statement with "The truth is...", implying that Van Pelt's statement was untruthful or misleading, which it absolutely was not. Why are you "a little amused" by a completely accurate statement (or "claim", as you put it)?

But you got one more click on your blog, which is probably what you were after anyway. After reading this petty whining, I'm pretty sure it will be the last one you get from me.

Crabhands said...

Wow, the comment right above, deconstructing the inaccuracy of a quote, blows his whole false-lecturing posture to bits.

Brian said...

I think people misread Tiger's situation: I think that if he gets healthy, the only thing he really needs to get over melting is Sunday of the 2009 PGA. That was the day that other golfers began to believe that they could beat Tiger on Sunday at a major. Health and consistent reps might bring the aura that Tiger lost that day back, but people who think his marital issues are affecting his play are overreading the situation. People aren't afraid of Tiger anymore, his swing is being rebuilt, he has a bad achilles, and I think his putting his been affected by how sporadically he has played since 2008.

Tom said...

I think a healthy Tiger can win again. There is really not anybody stepping up and showing that they are the dominant player right now. The alleged best in the world right now, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have not even won a major. The "young guns" don't seem to be much of a threat either.

So come on back Tiger, all is forgiven...