Archive for the 'Sports' Category

The golfer’s dilemmas

Golfer: “How do you like my game?
Caddie: “Very good, sir, but personally I prefer golf.”

I usually answer the question “Do you play golf?” with “I own a set of clubs.” This response captures the tension most casual golfers feel. I can hit 100 errant shots in a round, but, like an addict, I fixate on that one strike that settles down a fairway, on a green or, best yet, in a hole.

Golfer: “Do you think I can get there with a 5 iron?”
Caddie: “Eventually”

Club selection is the bane of a golfer’s existence. I can approach the ball with quiet confidence, execute a flawless swing and strike the ball in the sweetest of spots only to watch it land 20 yards in front of or behind the desired destination. My kids’ bags have four or five clubs. Why does mine have fourteen, all hard to use and easy to lose?

Golfer: “That can’t be my ball; it’s too old.”
Caddie: “It’s been a long time since we teed off, sir.”

Golf’s biggest critique is the time commitment required. I’m not real sure how 18 holes became the standard. Thirteen or fourteen holes would allow me my one good shot without completely exhausting my energy and my wife’s patience.

Five hours away from work and family is certainly a sacrifice. It’s also a relatively undivided time to build quality relationships, assuming you’re playing with the right people. Does anyone have an extra set of left-handed ladies clubs? She’s about five foot six.

Golfer: “Please stop checking your watch all the time. It’s distracting.”
Caddie: “It’s not a watch, sir. It’s a compass.”

Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth pursuit can’t touch my epic searches for a lost ball. In a golfer’s psyche, a horrible shot becomes decent if you locate your ball. Alternatively, a horrible shot becomes respectable if you find someone else’s lost ball. It’s proof you haven’t completely driven off the map.

Golfer: “I think I’m going to drown myself in the lake.”
Caddie: “Can you keep your head down that long?”

The fundamentals of a golf swing seem so simplistic: Don’t over-grip, don’t over-swing, don’t sway, don’t pull your head out, don’t try to kill it. I have executed all this and more in some gorgeous practice swings.

But then, somehow, demons overtake in the 6 inches, 6 seconds and 6 thoughts between a practice swing and an actual one.

When I top, hook or slice a ball into the next zip code, everyone is responsible but me: the cart girl, the president, my parents, the people I’m playing with, my caddie.

Golfer: “You have to be the worst caddie in the world.”
Caddie: “I don’t think so, sir. That would be too much of a coincidence.”

Kevin Thompson is a weekly columnist for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info

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Boerne’s Walker heads to The Masters

After winning $1.1 million and, more importantly, a new pair of cowboy boots at San Antonio’s Valero Texas Open ten days ago, Boerne resident Jimmy Walker is off to Augusta. Is he ready?

“He’s primed and ready,” friend Andrew Tosdevin said after a round with Walker last week at Cordillera Ranch. “He just took $17 dollars off me.”

When he’s not taking on earth’s top golfers as the 13th best player in the world, Walker takes on a close-knit clan at the Jack Nicklaus course ten miles east of Boerne. The group plays up to four times a week when Walker is home, according to Cordillera golf pro Marc DeWall.

“They’re all good players, all have single-digit handicaps,” DeWall explained. “Jimmy seems to enjoy their camaraderie and the banter back and forth.”

“We treat him like one of the boys,” said Tosdevin, an accented Brit who met Walker on the driving range three years ago. The two had struck up a conversation about a shared interest: wine. “We talk trash, but in a pleasant way.”

Golf is, after all, a gentleman’s game. But it’s not for the weak-willed. Walker endured nearly a decade of ups and downs between the Nationwide and PGA tours before recording a PGA victory – in his 188th event.

Walker recently told Golf Digest about a low point on the journey:

“After six years as a pro my career hadn’t gone anywhere. Funds were running low, I’d never had a job outside of playing golf, and I was feeling dead-ended. I phoned my wife, Erin, and broached the idea of the two of us getting real jobs.

“When both people are crying on a long-distance call, that’s rock bottom. The next week in West Virginia was the hottest weather I’d ever played golf in. Just putting one foot in front of the other, I somehow won the tournament.”

Seven years and $16 million later, Walker is a different golfer, thanks in part to the work of teaching pro Brian Gathright of San Antonio’s Oak Hills Country Club and Butch Harmon who coached Tiger Woods through eight of his fourteen major tournament wins.

But Walker is no different a person, say DeWall and Tosdevin. He still enjoys time with his wife and sons. He still enjoys taking pictures of stars through a telescope.

“Jimmy is extremely generous with his time and resources,” DeWall explained. “He gives back in ways people don’t know about. He’s given a lot to The First Tee, a program that helps kids from all walks of life build character, cultivate values and make healthy choices through the game of golf.”

Tosdevin agreed, “The beautiful thing about Jimmy is he is just a regular guy. He always has time for people. He’s absolutely genuine and humble. He is simply a super nice person.”

Such a description was once often par for the course among celebrity types. That’s obviously no longer the case, even with golfers.

So it’s refreshing when you hear it and further proof that someone special will represent Cordillera Ranch and Boerne at The Master’s later this week. As the current leader in FedEx Cup points, Walker will be among the favorites.

“He’s playing beautifully,” Tosdevin assured me. “He has a great chance to win.”

At golf and life.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

 

Here’s to the coaches

“Those who work the hardest are the last to surrender” read the plastic sign next to the locker room door. Coach King never explicitly instructed us to slap it on our way to the court. We just knew.

Coaches have that kind of power. They hold sway over athletes because they have what athletes want: a spot on the team, playing time, scoring and winning opportunities, the prospect of recognition, even fame.

So, when Coach King said to run at 6 in the morning, I ran. When he said to take notes during team meetings, I wrote. When he said to dive for loose balls, I skinned my knees.

Coach had come to Nashville from rural Pennsylvania to be a country music songwriter. When the industry treated him the way it treats most artists, he fell into teaching and coaching.

He wasn’t your average teacher and coach. He quoted Meatloaf and used words like “denouement”. He was probably the only head high school basketball coach in America who also served as the English department chair. All that made him all the more memorable.

Naturally, I remember what Coach King said. For example,

“Nothing great has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances.”

Athletes arguably spend more direct time with their coaches than they do with any other adult, even parents. Sports fundamentals fill much of that time, but life philosophies also shine through. That’s partly what makes a coach’s influence so profound.

“When the Game Stands Tall”, in theaters now, profiles a high school football coach in northern California who prepares young men for life after football. He also happens to win a lot of games. 151 in a row at one point.

Coach Bob Ladouceur preaches love and becoming someone others can depend on. Like coaches across the country, he uses sport as a means to an end.

“The game by itself doesn’t stand tall,” Ladouceur told author Neil Hayes. “Without intangibles, in a certain sense, it’s barbarism. The violence isn’t what attracts me to it. It’s getting kids to play together and get along with each other. The game should be a teaching tool. It doesn’t stand tall on its own.”

Historically, Boerne has been blessed with coaches that inspire excellence on and off the field. Largely credit athletic director and long-time boys basketball coach Stan Leech for this.

I spent a week this summer with one of Leech’s basketball coaching colleagues. Jason Sweatman gave as much energy and effort to coaching underprivileged 10-year-olds as he does to coaching his high school players.

On the gridiron, Boerne High football coach Mike Dormady preaches passion, trust and discipline, the three traits blazoned on his program’s crest.

Dormady’s son, Quinten, plays quarterback for the Greyhounds. He is set to play college ball for the University of Tennessee next fall. One might expect some cockiness from the rising star considering the elevated status Aggie fans now give SEC football.

But while his six foot, four inch frame stands a head taller than most other players, the well-coached Dormady only uses his height advantage for the positive. He’s constantly  slapping the tops of his teammates’ helmets in gratitude for their efforts.

And it’s a pleasure to see. Even in the age of the ego, great coaches remind kids it’s still all about the team.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

 

What a difference a year makes

A year ago we San Antonians nursed our wounds. Tim Duncan’s chance at “one for the thumb” had slipped through the net like a Ray Allen three-pointer. With an aging core, a Finals return seemed unlikely.

Then, Coach Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to the NBA’s best regular season record and a triumph over all Western Conference foes.

And then, Mr Duncan promised redemption. “We’ll get it done this time,” he calmly pronounced after defeating Oklahoma City on May 31.

I had my doubts. The Spurs were again up against the “best player on the planet” and a Big 3 that took its talents to South Beach to win “not two, not three, not four…” but more championships.

Oh, but what joy that basketball inventor James Naismith concocted a team sport! And what a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, San Antonio entered a collective depression. This year, the celebration hasn’t stopped. Not even headfirst fall from a pickup can keep us down (Google “Spurs fan face plant”).

Last year, Manu Ginobili made more turnovers than an English bakery. This year, he dunked on Chris Bosh and resurrected moments of brilliance.

Last year, a once-dominant Duncan knocked hard on retirement’s door. This year, it looked like he could be an effective role player for another five years.

Last year, Patty Mills waived a mean towel from the bench. This year, he threw daggers that put a languishing victim out of its misery.

Last year, Kawhi Leonard was 21. This year, he was 22. And MVP.

Last year, Heat forward LeBron James rejected Spurs center Tiago Splitter in a series-defining play. This year, Tiago sent Heat guard Dwyane Wade packing.

Last year, the Heat’s supporting cast showed up. This year, they appeared tired of the LeBron show.

Last year, the air conditioning worked every game. This year, a warm June night separated the men from those who cramp.

Last year, LeBron swaggered. This year, he whined.

Last year, a yacht-owning Heat owner accepted the championship trophy. This year, a heavy equipment-dealing Spurs owner accepted it.

Last year, the Spurs ran a stale triangle offense. This year, Coach Pop changed to a 1940s weave.

That was about all Pop changed.

He still spoke concisely in interviews. He still graciously hugged LeBron when it was over. He still thanked the fans. (Last year, it was the thousand who greeted a losing team at the airport. This year, it was 75,000 who celebrated at the Alamodome).

Yet again, Pop represents all that’s right with the Spurs and the world. The love he has for his players. The lightness with which he navigates success and fame. The perspective he brings to the game.

When other NBA coaches would be straightening their ties for the championship photos, Pop took his off. It draped casually around his neck as if to say, “Hold loosely to things that pass.” Fittingly, this philosophy had put his team on the championship stage.

During timeouts, Pop would tell his players, “Don’t let it stick,” referring to the ball and the importance of frequent passing.

The principle orchestrated a Mozartian display of team basketball and a fifth NBA title. Pop knows it will orchestrate a fulfilling life, as well.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

 

P.S. Related: An open letter to Pop, July 2013 – https://kwtinfo.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/an-open-letter-to-pop/

 

Onto the Field of Dreams

This week, spring brings the opening of youth baseball and softball season. Hundreds of little leagues will give thousands of kids the chance to hit, run and score.

I’m coaching again, and, accordingly, some youngsters will be suffering again. I’m the perfect combination of intensity and cluelessness. The heart of a champion and the skill of a benchwarmer.

When my middle school baseball coach told me I’d never get to play but that I could still be on the team, I accepted his offer.

“Playing is over-rated,” I likely reasoned at the time. “Practice is where character is born.”

Today, I tell my players and their parents that I “draft for character.” Truth is, I’m not sure we would look much different if I drafted for skill.

Baseball talent is about as easy to evaluate as figure skating. You know if they fall down. Beyond that, it takes a Scott or Josh Hamilton to tell a difference.

Which makes the youth baseball tryout and draft process all the more comical. Twenty-five grown men spending four hours studying how well nine-year-olds field ground balls.

Then, two nights later, gathering in an obscure motel conference room to make their selections. Spreadsheets and algorithms humming in the background.

The intensity is completely justified, I might add. Two months’ worth of self-esteem is riding on these draft picks.

Online fantasy baseball limits ridicule to a small circle of friends. Youth coaching puts one’s knowledge and skills on display for an entire community to see – or at least a batch of local grandparents.

Speaking of grandparents, I am beginning to understand why they love these games so much. There is something mesmerizing, even intoxicating, about watching one’s offspring execute a force out. Oh, the joy of producing the Chosen One who stopped the evil base runner from advancing.

My father loves to tell the story of the time he instructed a player to take “right field.”

“Coach?” the kid queried. “Is that your right or my right?”

My favorite story is the time I told a player to get the catcher gear on. Five minutes later, I found him fully armored but standing next to me near the dugout. All the other players had taken the field.

Through his mask he asked, “Where do you want me, Coach?”

“Catcher, son. Catcher.”

I like a man who makes no assumptions.

The assumption-free atmosphere is what makes youth sports so enjoyable. It’s why the Little League World Series makes such good TV. No contracts, no endorsements, no pouting prima donnas.

Sure, the entitlement mentality creeps in from time to time. But for the most part, it’s just innocent kids trying to find their way home, energetic children trying to get the bad guys out.

It’s still the age where the game ball is more memorable than the final score. The concession stand candy lineup matters more than its batting counterpart. I’ll try to remember this when we finish with 7 wins, 7 losses and 5th place in the tournament.

I would like to win a championship one day. That trophy would look nice in my office. But it would not outshine the faces of dozens of kids who allowed me the thrill of leading them onto the field of dreams.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

An open letter to Pop

[Author’s note: This column also appeared in today’s San Antonio Express-News.]

Dear Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs,

I love sports. I love basketball. I love coaching. I love character more.

As hard as the Heat defeat was, I prefer it to this alternative: Winning without character. More than winning, I want to support teams my sons can look up to. You have delivered both in your years at the helm of the San Antonio Spurs. Thank you.

I hate to lose. I hate missed free throws. I hate turnovers late in games. I hate stars who don’t treat their stardom judiciously. Notables who lord their notoriety over us or, worse yet, embarrass us all with their bizarreness. Celebrities hardly worth celebrating.

But you understand that life is bigger than pro sports, spotlights and fame.

It’s why you don’t say much to the on-court reporter between quarters. It’s why you did speak to the thousand fans gathered at the airport to welcome home a losing team. Your measuring stick of success is different than most, and not completely dependent on wins and losses in a kids’ game.

Pop is an appropriate nickname for you. Seeing you and Tim or Tony relaxing on the bench at halftime is like watching a father and son chilling on the couch. We can see a relationship that is, again, bigger than basketball. More about life after temporary moments of glory.

The irony, of course, is that your teams’ moments of glory have been quite regular. Sixteen straight playoff appearances. Eight Western Conference Finals. Five NBA Finals. Four NBA titles. It’s a story of consistency and loyalty not often published in the age of free agency and super-markets.

Speaking of supermarkets, I bet Miami’s “Big 3” didn’t advertise for their local grocer as you and your Big 3 did for H-E-B. And I bet your Big 3 did so, in part, because of your down-to-earthness. Any athlete can endorse Gatorade. It takes something special to market private label salsa.

Your guys have always had something special. The Admiral, for instance. But you helped elevate him to a championship level. Tim was talented coming in. But you’ve helped him stay competitive long after the critics insisted was possible.

Without you, Tony’s prima donna instincts may have led him astray. Manu would still be whining to the refs as Lebron does. And what a joy to watch Kawhi and Danny and Gary come into their own under your leadership.

We Spurs fans didn’t sleep well during the last week of the Finals. The losses hurt — especially, perhaps, because our Spurs are the only game in town. Plus, it feels like the end of an era, like there won’t be a next year, with this group, at this level.

But you made it easier. The way you smiled when it was over. The way you hugged Lebron like he was your own. You weren’t being disloyal. You were simply saying relationships are more valuable than winning — or losing — even at the highest level. That’s a message we all need to hear.

 

Kevin Thompson is a weekly columnist for The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. Follow him at www.kwt.info.


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