They say it’s healthy to laugh at yourself. My theory is that’s why God gave us golf.
For a long time I spent more hours on tennis courts than golf courses. When I started dating the woman who would become my wife, she got me interested in golf after a long reprieve from the sport.
Golf was something we enjoyed together, and Jeanne confesses she liked having a better score than I did. These days I usually have the lower score and at times I hear some salty language from her. “You use salty language, too,” my wife said the other day.
Okay, I do let loose with a “gosh darn it,” or something more dramatic. I occasionally get pissed while playing golf and if I wasn’t so cheap I probably would hurl a club into the woods, or (gasp) break an iron over my knee.
As I have “matured,” I spend more time laughing at myself than swearing at the game sometimes referred to as a “good walk spoiled.” Golf just gets the best of me and I’ve come to realize it. I have been trying to score in the upper 90’s since Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were in the White House. I will probably still be trying to crack that target when Chelsea Clinton is announcing a run for president.
This time of year I am always optimistic about improving my game. “My best golf season is just ahead,” I say to myself again and again. To start the hoped-for improvement, I read a tattered card that has all the wisdom I’ve gathered about how to play the game. Handwritten notes with stuff like shoulder and hip turns, following through with every club, and imagining where I want the ball to land. I might even have something pretty drastic on that card like promising the Lord I will go to church every Sunday if He could help me par the last three holes on the back nine.
All this preseason optimism and planning sounds good until I hit a few shots at the driving range, or play that first round of the season. I notice at the range a lot of strangers are friendly and try to engage me in conversation. I suspect seeing my swing makes them feel better about their own games. Kind of an odd way to be of service to others, I guess.
People tell me to keep my head down when swinging. I finally have caught on as to why they give me that advice. With my head down, I can’t see them laughing.
My swing is somewhere between Charles Barkley’s grotesque mechanics and your average adult hacker who takes up the sport at 40 years old. Get the picture? I know it’s not a pretty one.
I can put a few good holes together now and then. Conditions, though, have to be right. It has to be hot outside but not suffocating. There has to be brilliant sunshine but no wind. God, no wind! And I need certain playing partners.
I can’t be playing with someone who crowds you on the tee box, or tells you the ball you just hit into the swamp was from a pretty good swing. Playing golf with my sons gives me the optimal opportunity to have a decent score.
My explanation is they make me more relaxed, and because we seldom play together my mood is jubilant. I am in kind of a different zone when in their company, and it reminds me somewhat of an experience I had years ago playing tennis. For about 15 minutes I was making serves and ground strokes that were light years better than my usual game. I was hitting the tennis ball so well John McEnroe would cower in a corner before taking the court against me.
Although I mostly struggle on the golf course, my math is accurate when I keep score. This is not true for all golfers when they record their scores hole by hole. Some players, for instance, can’t count beyond three or four. If appropriate, I can count much higher.
A friend of mine once played in a televised pro-am tournament. He totaled 11 shots on one of the holes, is how I remember this story. A few days later my hacker friend encountered a neighbor who mentioned he watched the tournament on TV and saw the struggles. My friend replied he had “nine blows” on his Titanic hole. “No, you had 11,” the neighbor corrected.
Through the years I have been tempted to improve my score “through creative means.” There was, for example, the Father’s Day card that suggested “new golf rules.” Courtesy of Tomato Cards and my son Bill, it suggested that:
“Every drive is a practice drive until you get one you like.”
“Chipping on the green will be replaced by an underhand toss.”
“If in a trap, your sand wedge may now be replaced by your sand shovel.”
Those “strategies” are tempting to a guy who watches golfers that have recorded more eagles over the years than I have pars. But I will stay on the straight and narrow. After all, 2017 is going to be my best year on the links.
Jim Dutcher disagrees with those who think the Gophers, a No. 5 seed, are going to lose their opening NCAA Tournament game on Thursday to No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State.
The Blue Raiders are an upset fave after being a No. 15 seed last year and taking down No. 2 seed Michigan State. Charles Barkley, talking on the CBS TV tournament selection show yesterday, said the Raider upset was “no fluke” and argued that the 2017 Conference USA champions, with a 30-4 overall record, should be seeded higher. Seth Davis, also part of the CBS analysis crew, had bad news for Gophers fans: “The Blue Raiders are going to win this game.”
Dutcher, the former Gophers coach who led Minnesota to the 1982 Big Ten title, isn’t buying Davis’ prediction. “I look for the Gophers to win the game,” Dutcher said.
Dutcher is optimistic because he says the facts show Minnesota is better than the Blue Raiders, and what MTSU did last year needs to be put in perspective. The Gophers, 24-9 overall, played a much more difficult schedule than the Blue Raiders, a team that hardly played a “whose who of college basketball.” MTSU’s signature win was over Vanderbilt, a team the Gophers also defeated, and Minnesota counted impressive wins over Big Ten champion Purdue and four other league teams who earned their way into the NCAA tournament. Minnesota’s strength of schedule is No. 42 while the Blue Raiders’ is No. 120, according to Teamrankings.com.
Yes, the Raiders had a Cinderella tournament win against Michigan State but Dutcher remembered that was followed by a 25 point loss to Syracuse. “They’re a 12th seed (this year) for a reason,” he said.
Dutcher called MTSU a “bracket-busting darling” to some tourney followers, but he points out the Blue Raiders got that Michigan State win when there were no expectations. Some of the basketball world is looking for an encore performance against the Gophers. MTSU had bad losses, including to Georgia State and UTEP, but odds-makers figure the Minnesota game is about a toss-up. Dutcher concedes the Blue Raiders are a “good team” but just doesn’t expect history to repeat. “They’re not going to sneak up on anybody (this year),” he said.
Tournament games are typically close in score, with the margin of victory often 10 points or less. Dutcher believes Minnesota will win by six or seven points. “I would be amazed if they don’t beat Middle Tennessee State,” he said.
The NCAA selection committee couldn’t have been kinder to the Gophers, sending them to Milwaukee for Thursday’s South Region game and giving them a surprising No. 5 seeding. Milwaukee is the nearest site to Dinkytown of any tournament host city in the country. A six hour drive from Minneapolis to Milwaukee will maximize the turnout of Gophers fans for Thursday’s game like no place else would have.
Other than Purdue, who received a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, the Gophers have the highest seeding among the seven Big Ten teams invited to the tournament. That’s a two hands head scratcher to Wisconsin followers who saw the Badgers beat the Gophers twice and finish higher in the Big Ten final standings. Former Badger All-American Frank Kaminsky took to Twitter last night to blast the selection committee not giving more value to Wisconsin’s second place regular season conference finish and runner-up placement in Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament. Kaminsky tweeted: “AND MINNESOTA GETS A 5 SEED?? HAHAHAHA….”
“If I was sitting in Madison, I would say we really got hosed with an eighth seed,” Dutcher said. “An eight was way too low for them.”
The tourney selection committee, though, must have looked long and hard at Wisconsin’s RPI of 36. Minnesota’s position on the Ncaa.com/rankings is No. 20.
Part of the seeding story for Big Ten teams is not only who you play in the first game, but also in the second and beyond. If the Gophers beat the Blue Raiders, they likely will play a good but certainly beatable 23-8 Butler team from the Big East. Butler is a No. 4 seed.
If the Badgers can win (no certainty) their opener against No. 9 seed Virginia Tech, they can expect to play No. 1 overall tournament seed Villanova. Purdue is likely to play Iowa State in a second tournament game, and the Cyclones are among the hottest teams in the country and just won the Big 12 Tournament. If they advance after opening games, Northwestern will likely play No. 1 West Region seed Gonzaga; Michigan State will probably meet up with No. 1 Midwest Region seed Kansas; Michigan could have to face that region’s No. 2 seed in Louisville; and Maryland may have to take on Florida State, a No. 3 seed in the East Region.
“On paper the Gophers got a very favorable seeding with not only who they play, but where they play,” Dutcher said.
Dutcher is optimistic about the Gophers but there is a limit. He doesn’t see them in the finals next month. He predicts the Final Four teams will be Arizona, Louisville, UCLA and Villanova. The national champion, he said, will be UCLA.
“I saw a game where they beat (basketball blueblood) Kentucky in Lexington and dominated the game,” Dutcher said. “I thought, ‘Holy cripe.’ To beat Kentucky is a handful anyplace. In Lexington is near impossible.”
Barkley’s Final Four teams are Arizona, Louisville, North Carolina and Villanova. He predicts Arizona, a Pac-12 team like UCLA, will win the national title.
The Timberwolves, led by a roster of players 27 years old and younger, could make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Even casual NBA fans recognize the talent on the roster and the possibility of the team contending for championships within a few years. Part of the uncertainty, though, is whether owner Glen Taylor can keep the best players on the roster long term by signing them to richer contracts in the coming years.
Among the team’s starting players only power forward Gorgui Dieng, 27, is contractually committed to the Wolves beyond the 2018-2019 season, according to figures from Basketballreference.com. Dieng’s deal, agreed to last fall, goes through the 2020-2021 season when he is paid $17,287,640, per the website. Point guard Ricky Rubio, 26, is an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season when he will earn $14,800,000.
The often referred to “Big 3” of the Wolves are small forward Andrew Wiggins, 22, center Karl-Anthony Towns, 21, and shooting guard Zach LaVine who turns 22 today and is sidelined after ACL surgery last month. All are working for rookie contracts and will be in line for much bigger compensation in coming years. Wiggins and LaVine are reportedly restricted free agents after next season. Towns reaches that status in 2019.
Taylor is hopeful he will be able to keep the “Big 3,” while knowing he will also have salary obligations to another dozen or so players. “I am not sure,” he told Sports Headliners earlier this week. “Is it a concern I have? It is. Do we have a full answer? No. Are we laying out some scenarios? Yes.
“But we’ve signed ‘G’ (Dieng) and we’ve signed Ricky (new deal in 2014). We need some other good guys to come off the bench. In the end, you have to figure out what’s your priority.”
Dieng and Rubio are the top paid players on the roster with $65,148,783 and $42,600,000 multiyear deals, according to Basketballreference.com. Neither of those players is considered a superstar but Wiggins, Towns and LaVine have potential to earn that description.
Taylor has asked the Wolves’ front office to crunch numbers to provide various options in shaping future payrolls. Part of the consideration will be the size of the salary cap allowed by the NBA for its teams, and what Taylor is willing to expend, including a possible willingness to pay a penalty (“luxury tax”) for exceeding the league’s cap.
Taylor has often lost money operating the team but said the large number of rookie contracts on his payroll (including first and second season guards Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones) will allow the franchise to turn a profit of a few million dollars this season, regardless of whether the Wolves make the playoffs.
As of today, the Wolves have 19 games remaining during the regular schedule. Their record right now isn’t good enough to qualify for the playoffs and Taylor said it will be “very difficult” to earn one of the eight postseason spots in the Western Conference. Minnesota is 2.5 games back of the eighth place Nuggets.
“I want the guys to work towards it,” Taylor said. “I don’t want them to give up at all because I just think that’s part of the learning lesson here, that we’re going to play some tough teams this week and we gotta come out and battle every one and try to win…some of these upsets.
“It’s difficult (to accept) when you can see how close we are (in the standings), and it’s difficult when you see how we lost so many of those games early in the season that we could of and should have won.”
Taylor likes the performance of first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. The two speak frequently, usually by phone. “We talk a lot about basketball. I am impressed that whatever (past) play I talk about during the game, he really knows exactly what play I am talking about.”
Taylor said Thibodeau has a five-year contract that includes incentives for the team making the playoffs.
The Wolves drafted LaVine and Towns but made a 2014 trade for Wiggins who was acquired for power forward Kevin Love—Minnesota’s most popular player when he played in Minneapolis. Love, an NBA All-Star, helped the Cavs win the NBA title last June. Wiggins has scored 20 points or more in 42 games this season and ranks with the NBA’s high potential players. Would Taylor trade Wiggins today to reacquire the 28-year-old Love?
“No, I would not because I just think he (Wiggins) has even a lot more upside (than he has shown),” Taylor said. “I think Wiggins has a lot to learn yet. Just from experience, he will improve and become even better.
“Then I think he is (also) an end of the game type of guy if he can learn from experiences how to use his (skills to help) everybody on the team.”
The late Flip Saunders, who three years ago was the Wolves’ basketball boss, scouted and liked Wiggins before acquiring him. “He just saw in him kind of what we are actually seeing,” Taylor said. “A person with all kinds of talent, he could just do things that a lot of other people won’t be able to do. …“
Taylor said Thibodeau has talked to him about Wiggins. “Thibs really likes him. He wants him to play better defense. If he is going to be critical of Wiggs it’s generally in the area of defense.
“He’s saying that he’s got a lot to learn. Yes, he makes mistakes but…it isn’t because he is selfish. He (Wiggins) doesn’t anticipate certain things developing soon enough. He (Thibodeau) says experienced guys anticipate. They see movement by the opposition and they sort of know where their players are…”
Rubio will meet the public at the Twin Cities Auto Show on Sunday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Lexus display in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The St. Paul Saints will provide giveaways to the first 1,000 auto show guests that day.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen will be at the Hyundai display March 15 from 6 to 7 p.m., and Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will appear at the same location March 18 from 6 to 7 p.m. Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant Scott Stevens will be at the Toyota display from 4 to 6 p.m. March 17.
NBC televises the Wild and Blackhawks as its game of the week on Sunday from Chicago. Minnesota and Chicago have the two best records in the NHL’s Western Conference. One point separates the Stanley Cup contenders, with the NHL regular season schedule ending early next month. The Wild has won its last four games in Chicago but the Blackhawks have a two-game winning streak in the season series that ends Sunday.
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk leads the NHL in wins and save percentage. Chicago wing Patrick Kane is tied for second with four other players for most points in the league.
The Star Tribune announced Eden Prairie High School forward and Gopher recruit Casey Mittelstadt as its prep hockey Player of the Year on Tuesday. Since 1985 only two players from the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools have won the award—Southwest’s Tom Chorske in 1985 and Johnson’s Tom Pogreba in 1996.
Minnesota natives Mitch McLain and Michael Bitzer are first team All-WCHA selections as announced by the Edina-based league office yesterday. Bowling Green’s McLain, a forward from Baxter, Minnesota, is joined on the team by Bemidji State goalie Bitzer who is from Moorhead, Minnesota, and is a Hobey Baker candidate.
High school football coaches have until Monday to submit information to the Minnesota Football Coaches Association regarding their class of 2018 college prospects. The MFCA is sponsoring a recruiting combine for prep players to gather data about them on April 29 at the Braemar Dome in Edina, and the organization is also coordinating a recruiting fair May 1 at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park where high school coaches can meet with college coaches to discuss prospects. For details click the MFCA ad on this page and visit the organization’s website.
An online Monday article from the Las Vegas Journal-Review reported Nevada sports books lost $8.25 million in January, according to figures from the state’s gaming control board. Much of the revenue was lost on football including the college national championship game won by underdog Clemson over Alabama, and NFL playoff games where the public beat the spread. The loss was historically unusual and the newspaper noted: “The house doesn’t always win on football.”
Gregg Wong, the former Pioneer Press sportswriter, will again work as an official scorer for the Twins, sharing the scorer responsibilities this season with Minnesota sports author Stew Thornley and Rochester-based physician Kyle Traynor.