A Leg Up?

Ladies and Gentlemen, your FedEx Cup points leader, John Peterson. Or Michael Putnam. Or [insert another Web.com Tour graduate]…

The 2013-14 PGA Tour season starts this week. Yes, a new season. A season, historically, generally reserved to start with the (Insert Car Brand) Tournament of Champions that has become synonymous with a new year of golf… in January. It’s always been a toe-dipped-in-the-water start to the season. Winners. Guys we know. A small field playing a birdie-fest course in paradise. Welcome back, golf.

But, not anymore. By the time Dustin Johnson defends his title in Hawaii, there will be six (yes, SIX, 6) PGA Tour events in the books. The lack of a “traditional” offseason didn’t really hit me until I recently read a tweet from Billy Horschel proclaiming his excitement to get back at it with the Frys.com tournament. Normally reserved for players chasing their future stability, the extinct ‘fall series’ now had big Tour ramifications. There are two major impacts from the new configuration of the PGA Tour season:

1)   These fall events now receive the attention they deserve. Frys, Vegas (I miss you, J-Tim), McGladery, etc. are solid Tour stops. Instead of serving as a desperation playoff for career survival, they are now sitting at the same table as the big boys. A win this week in California is no different than winning down the road at Riviera in February. 500 FedEx Cup points? Check. Ticket to the Masters? You betcha. Tour winner? Always.

2)   There are 50 players who, literally, just earned their Tour cards. Normally, this would lead to a celebration of what was to come. But, that celebration preceded a wait through November and December to the Sony Open in Hawaii. Now, it’s almost like a battlefield promotion. You made it, now play!!

I want to focus on the second point because I think it has been under-reported and undervalued. Golf is a fickle game. Success on the PGA Tour has as much to do with natural ability as it does with rhythm. The stories of players getting on heaters and making their year in four starts are as prevalent as those of players stuck in a funk because the timing of the swing is off by an unrecognizable millisecond.

Before, Web.com graduates had months to wait for their turn with the big boys. Russell Henley won last January in his first start, the first to do so in about a million years (give or take). He was the exception. You grind and grind for your chance, and then have to sit. I was trying to think of a good analogy: Imagine a professional soccer player busting his butt in practice and scrimmages for months, sitting on the bench in an important game and then having the coach tell him to go take a game-winning PK. No game flow or opportunity to build rhythm. Just get out there and produce, cold.

Now, Chesson Hadley walks from his Web.com Tour Finals Championship victory straight to the first tee at Corde Valle. He doesn’t even have the time to bask in the glow of his accomplishment. Just play. I think that is a huge advantage. Not only does he have the blinders on, but he just won a tournament, yesterday for all intents and purposes. Chest puffed out, putter still sizzling. Own the tee, young man.

That momentum also applies to those from the season, even more so. I remember watching Michael Putnam (Web.com season money winner) in that Finals Championship. I think he smiled after every shot, including the bad ones. He played so loose and confident because he had nothing to lose. Certainly, his position this week is different, but he had no time to pucker up during an offseason of sitting atop the priority perch of new graduates. What is there to prevent his consistently solid play from transitioning over immediately? Nothing. John Peterson won the Finals money title. Now, he was going to do well on the Tour no matter what (he’s stupid good), but a guy who has Top 5’d it in five straight events gets a crack at the big Tour immediately instead of waiting. Advantage Web.com Tour grad.

Take it one step further: what does a Web.com Tour graduate have to lose over the next six weeks? Play well and you could position yourself (and your career) before we ever flip the calendar to 2014. Play poorly, and you have two months to iron out the kinks and reconvene for play in Hawaii the second week of January.

We will all take November and December off. And, while we do, there will be a FedEx Cup Points list waiting to reshuffle in Hawaii. Who will be on top? I can’t say for sure, but I am willing to bet that the Web.com graduates (not to mention the Tour players that salvaged their card in the Finals) will be more prevalent on that list than their predecessors have been in January of previous seasons.

Crossroads

It’s October?! Wow, that snuck up on me. I blame September for only having 30 days after those prolonged months of July and August. Nevertheless, seasons are changing, which means sports of focus become a bit blurred for me. I’ve been all golf since April, and that will stay the same through the end of this month. From there, time to start thinking hoops!

So, here I am this week prepping for the Presidents Cup (catch me as part of the SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio coverage on Saturday), while filling out my Horizon League preseason basketball ballot at the same time. I like to think I am in the “now” business as a play-by-play guy, but the world of sports is in the prediction/reaction business. Okay, I’ll bite…

Presidents Cup
There is something about putting the colors of your country (or region, or continental combination) on that brings out the best in anybody. My men’s club has a Ryder Cup type event every summer that is the highlight of my “competitive” year. We eat up the ability to chant ‘USA USA USA’ or bellow “ole, ole ole ole… ole, ole” at the top of our lungs. (I don’t know which of those chants I like more, honestly). But, will the Prez Cup 2013 be interesting? I don’t know.

When the competition was started as I was starting to cling to golf tighter than Kuchar and Lefty to their ping-pong paddles this week, I honestly thought the US was doomed. Between South Africa, Australia and Asia, it seemed like the pool of potential players was greater than anything Europe could even throw together in the Ryder Cup. Boy was I wrong! (Cut me some slack, I was 13-years-old)
Since then (outside of an International rout in 1998 – transitional time for US golf), it has been a red, white and blue beatdown. Simultaneously, Europe has rain-gripped its hands to the Ryder Cup. If you had to Power Rank the three international professional groups, it would be 1) Europe 2) USA and 3) International – no debate.

Why? Because of team unity. I am totally convinced. Europe views itself as the underdog even when they are not. They take career-defining joy in winning the Ryder Cup. I think it is impossible every-other year for the United States to ever match the emotional level of a European Ryder Cup team. Combine it all together and you have ridiculously good golf to watch. A year later, normally licking their wounds, several members of that US team gather again to take on a team comprised of guys who live dozens of time zones away from each other. It’s more laid back (advantage US), spread out (advantage US, deeper) and carries less pressure (advantage US).

Having said all of that, and given that the good ol’ USofA is a favorite this weekend in Muirfield, who knows what to expect. I can’t, in good conscience, make predictions, but you have to like where the US is coming in. Its hottest players (Strick, Spieth and Zach) aren’t named Tiger or Phil. There is a TON of familiarity in that USA locker room. In the other room, a Presidents Cup record 7 rookies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if not for the fact that the veteran international players aren’t exactly in top form. Plus, the United States has the top 4 players ranked on Tour in all-around. It’s going to be a fun weekend, but I hope it has some drama.

Horizon League
If you read everything above hoping to get my Horizon League preseason men’s basketball picks, good for you! (Sorry to make you wait this long)

It looks like my first broadcast of a Horizon League game will be on January 2nd in Valparaiso when the Crusaders host UIC on ESPN3. Between now and then, all I have is two pieces of paper I just filed with the league office, giving (the country’s best league communication director) Bill Potter my best guess at what will take place between now and early March. I hate filling these out! This year, it was really tough. More than half of the all-league teams from a year ago are gone. The top 2 teams from a year ago (Valpo and Detroit) lost about 32 players and 267% of their total scoring, by my calculations. On top of that, we lose a team (Loyola – I didn’t get the move for either side, but I digress) and gain another (Oakland, howdy).

How did I vote? Here you go:

Individuals

PoY – Kendrick Perry (Sr. Youngstown State)
I picked him over Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes because he is taller. Well, not really, but that makes me feel better in justification. No, it doesn’t. I saw both players in person a lot last year. I like Sykes heart and motor a bit more, but think Perry’s defense and surgical approach to the scoring-point position is amazing to watch. He won’t have as much around him this year, and it’s time for him to lead, and I think he will.

PoY Runner-Up – Keifer Sykes (Jr. Green Bay)
Look, he does it all from a diminutive frame. And, he’s got the tools around him to lead the Phoenix to a league championship. You can’t lose with either choice, and he will be the preseason player of the year next year (and could very well be defending his postseason PoY award)

Rest of my 1st team – Alec Brown (Sr. Green Bay), Cole Darling (Sr. Wright State), Travis Bader (Sr. Oakland)
Brown isn’t a surprise to anybody. He should be player of the year, but he needs to put it all together. Darling is here because he does a lot for a deep Wright State team and deserves the attention. Bader can shoot, and then make deeper shots after he shoots. The first-teamer from the Summit League last year should have no trouble scoring in the Horizon League this year

We vote on an additional five players, but there were more than five worthy of that, so I won’t disclose out of fear of retaliation.

Teams

I like the Big Ten’s way of disclosing its preseason poll. Just the top 3. Works for me…

1. Green Bay – Based on talent, it’s a no-brainer. Best big man. (Arguably) best point guard. Glue guy (Fouse). Super Athlete (Mays). A little offseason drama to internalize the focus and drive of a coach and team. Why not Green Bay?…

2. Wright State – … that’s why. Best “team”? Quite possibly. Best coaching? Hard to argue. Added scoring? (Chrishawn Hopkins is eligible after sitting out a year)

3. Cleveland State – Biggest gainer with some of the top teams losing so many guys. Anton Grady is back from injury to pair with Bryn Forbes. I’m not big on recruiting classes, but I heard Gary Waters pulled in a solid class. And back to my question above about best coaching: if there is an argument, it probably starts with Waters.

Please tip off soon so this blog is forgotten!

32 And Real Life

Those of us in broadcasting joke a lot about how fake the business is. I wear makeup. Often. I use product in my hair. Often. I worry about the Midwest winters ruining whatever white-boy tan I have. Does this suit make me look fat? Does my analyst make me look like a midget? Sounds silly, but we think about this stuff.

So, you could imagine the thoughts racing through my head the last couple of weeks after it was discovered that I had a tumor growing inside my jaw bone. After today, I am one step closer to being rid of it. But, there is no good way for a person who makes a living off his face/voice to tackle this problem. Scar on the face, swollen tongue, hot pink hair, all but one of those are possible end results of this.

All signs point to this being a benign growth, but how do you look your doctors in the face and say, “Yeah, we need to handle this, but I need to be on camera next Tuesday?” To me, broadcasting is life. It’s what I do. To my nurses and doctors, it almost sounds foreign. I thought about the CPAs, lawyers, servicemen and others who could easily return to work and deal with minor discomfort and some swelling. I hate the fact that my job can literally be inhibited by (almost) superficial byproducts of the body’s healing process.

So, here I am pondering the harsh realities of family, health and career. I’ve been on this Earth for 32 years and only thought about the day in front of me. Then, you lay there with a sexy hair net and a gown that ties in the back and you see your future. (Speaking of which, is there anything more cruel and unusual than the hospital gown? ‘Hello, we know you are a little concerned about today and perhaps not feeling well, so here is a human Rubik’s Cube of dress. You wanna tie it in a bow? Hahaha, good luck. The nurse will be right with you.’)

As I have grown older, I’ve learned to rally around a few key philosophies:

1) Life takes care of itself. If it weren’t for a recent move and the need to get my 2-year-old to a dentist, I never would have used a coupon that led to the X-Ray that discovered my ailment. Call it divine intervention or what you want. I call it a Master Plan. Respect life (and others) and trust its course.

2) Recognize what is important. I am broadcasting the Presidents Cup next weekend. I’ve booked some solid work through 2013. Last night, I read my son two books and fell asleep holding his little hand. Two of those points are irrelevant and one is everything in the grand scheme of things. And, hugging my wife this week has never felt better.

3) Don’t complain and kick butt. Nike got it right with the “Just Do It” slogan. It’s weird. This recent diagnosis has actually made me realize how blessed I really am. Not unlucky. Not damned. Lucky.

I’ve got one more procedure to go, and perhaps some treatment. And I won’t miss a beat. Why? Because life is too short and I’ve been given too much in 32 years not to repay life by taking full advantage.

Sticking to My Pick

It has been a wonderful 2013, complete with my first full season on the PGA Tour, largely with SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio. My colleague, Fred Albers, who writes as an insider for PGATour.com made his mid-season predictions while we were all gathered in New Orleans in late April. It was Friday night and he asked the following questions (amongst many):

1. Name a first-time winner on Tour the rest of the season. My answer: Billy Horschel (did it two days later) and Harris English (did it in June)
2. Predict who will win the FedEx Cup. My answer: Matt Kuchar

So, here we are, just hours before the start of the Tour Championship, and I am sticking with my pick. Thankfully, Kuuuch (there is no appropriate way of spelling his nickname, btw) is inside the top 5 of FedEx Cup points heading into East Lake, which means he can win the tournament and win the cup. Our margin for error is low, however, as any finish outside of a T2 and the math doesn’t add up very well. So, why my confidence? Given his top 5 standing, I give you the top 5 reasons:

1. “Did Somebody Say 59?!” – I was with Matt on Saturday morning at Conway Farms during the third round of the BMW Championship. Birdies at 16 (nearly holed his shot from the fairway) and 17 put him in position to shoot the magic number for the second time in less than 24 hours. Of course, he needed an albatross on the closing par 5. No big deal, right? Well, he damn-near did it. hopping the ball on the green from 250+ and rolling it by the cub by a dimple or two (he 2-putted for a 61). Afterwards, when I spoke with him, he said he knew he needed to hole it for a 59, so he tried. That just shows how dialed in his game is right now when he needs it to be. [Yes, I am ignoring the 74-73-73 in the other 3 rounds. Call it hopeful blinders]

2. In that same interview, I asked Matt about knowing where he stood for FedEx Cup positioning. His answer was expected. Paraphrasing, he said he didn’t understand how anybody could play well focusing on all of that. Okay, I agree. Keep it simple. This week, win and you win. There, mind cleared. Good for Matt! Plus, he didn’t even know he was in the top 5, until Keegan Bradley told him. Energy boost!

3. He was a star at Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets count East Lake as one of their home courses (in rotation; wow, tough life). Last 3 times at the Tour Championship: 25th, then 20th, then 10th last year. Can somebody say trending?!

4. Brandt Snedeker won it all last year and entered the week in the #5 spot. You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?

5. So, Matt has struggled a bit in hitting fairways (128th on Tour), which is a must at East Lake. Don’t fret. It all comes down to the putter. We’ve left the bent grass of the Midwest, and Matt will take his 18th rank in strokes gained (putting) and 1st in 3-putt avoidance to the quick, Bermuda greens and laugh at those missed fairways while putting himself to a title.

Did I convince you? Well, I don’t know if I convinced myself, but a man sticks with his pick. Here we go, Kuuuch!

Back To My Roots

I was born in Indianapolis. I went to school in Indianapolis. I live in Indianapolis. I work… everywhere BUT Indianapolis. That has been the way life’s opportunities have shifted over the past few years. In 2013, I will have broadcast sports in roughly 20 states and every-sized city imaginable. When I come back to Indy, I miss being engaged in the local sports scene (beyond being a fan), so I did something about it.

IHSAA LogoStarting next week, and throughout the school year, I am pleased to be a part of a new show on Fox Sports Indiana and Midwest: The Chevrolet Indiana Prep Zone. It’s a magazine/feature type show that airs weekly on Thursday afternoons at 5:00 p.m., and while I won’t be reporting very often, I will have a weekly segment of high school news and notes. Who’s injured, who set a record or who has committed to college. Any sport, any school. It’s all fair game.

My role is nothing fancy or spectacular, but it gives me a reason to be engaged with central Indiana sports, and that is important to me. I got my start broadcasting for North Central High School, and it has been 14 years since I last needed to pay close attention to the best in the prep ranks of the IHSAA. I can’t wait to learn about some of the best stories.

Ready to Work

It’s been a few weeks since I last talked for a living. And it will be a few weeks more. I’m not complaining about having six weeks off, but broadcasting (for me) is like a drug. You just want more. I want to call shots, or chat with somebody about sports. So…..

I am looking forward to September. I’ll be with the fellas on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio covering the third of four FedEx Cup playoff events: The BMW Championship, this year at Conway Farms in Chicago, will have 70 players vying for 30 spots in the Tour Championship. Can’t wait to head up I-65 and call some golf.

From there, some things brewing with golf on ESPNU and maybe the Presidents Cup. Also, something local with Indiana high school sports (and FOX) will be formalized shortly. Stay tuned…

BMW Championship

A Bittersweet Business

The launch of my new website aims to serve multiple purposes. It’s a way to organize. It’s a way to share. It’s a way to talk. But, let’s be honest: The website serves to improve my business. While I am blessed to call sports, I do it for a living. Promoting the brand of my business is crucial in a brutally competitive marketplace.

The timing of creating this site came at a very interesting time for me. With golf season (and work with the PGA Tour) winding down, looking forward to college sports season was next. And that means college basketball!

For the third time in the last seven years, there is an opening at my alma mater. The beloved role as ‘Voice of Butler Basketball’ is on the open market. And, it pains me a bit to say this: I have turned down the opportunity to handle those play-by-play duties for the 2013-14 season. It really boiled down to timing and circumstances. It was a dream job for me, especially after spending six seasons alongside Chris Denari and Ralph Reiff on the Butler Radio Network.

But, this is a business. I had to weigh all of the options for both my career and my family. It wasn’t easy, but it was the correct choice. It also helps to have such great support from the Horizon League and the good folks at Webstream Sports. I look forward to another full college season with both of them, while I watch/listen to the Dawgs as a fan.

UPDATE: I was not surprised to learn that Mark Minner got the job, and I am thrilled for him. As somebody who served in his previous role for six seasons (and did not get the promotion to the big chair), it was awesome to see somebody get rewarded for that work and loyalty.

Let’s talk sports.

To say I’m an enthusiast puts it mildly.  On the green, behind the mic and in print, I’m really a storyteller.  I tell the stories of players and their sports alike– sometimes from 288 feet above field or court, others from within reach of the athletes. Regardless of my position in the event, I get to tell its story. And I can help tell yours. Welcome to my site!