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3M Open Pursuing Phil Mickelson

May 26, 2021 - (0) comments

 

Phil Mickelson is the biggest name in sports this week after becoming the oldest player ever to win a major golf championship on Sunday.  Hollis Cavner, who runs the 3M Open, is optimistic the 50-year-old Mickelson will be part of the field at TPC Twin Cities July 22-25.

What are the odds? “I’d say very good,” Cavner told Sports Headliners.

Cavner and his company run various golf tournaments in the United States.  He and his team are on the road much of the year recruiting players including the now hottest golf name in the world. So far Mickelson is noncommittal about the 3M, a regular stop on the PGA Tour. “He’s pretty direct,” Cavner said.

Cavner and Mickelson have a long friendship.  In 2010 the two played together in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, with Cavner participating as an amateur. “He’s a helluva good guy,” Cavner said.

Hollis Cavner

That relationship will be helpful in continuing to pitch Mickelson but winning the PGA Championship Sunday is a game changer for “Lefty’s” schedule.  Cavner said Mickelson might receive an invitation to play for the U.S. in the Tokyo Olympics scheduled in late July and early August.  Even if that doesn’t happen, the British Open is just a week before the 3M.  He won the Open in 2013 and his appearance in Scotland would be important to his international fame and brand.

Mickelson’s life is a whirlwind now and over the next few weeks with various requests including TV and personal appearances.  Cavner said Mickelson will be “inundated” with opportunities after shocking the golf world by winning the PGA.  He entered the tournament ranked 115 in the world and Fox Bet had him at 400-to-1 odds to win in Kiawah, South Carolina at the Ocean Course.

Cavner runs the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.  He saw Mickelson in comeback mode at his tournament.  With a slimmer and stronger body, more relaxed mental approach and willingness to play safer shots, Mickelson was re-engaged.

He was on a mission to improve his performance the week of the Wells Fargo, with Cavner observing Mickelson “working his butt off” in practice hitting buckets and buckets of balls at the range.  “…He was really working on his game that week and I guarantee he beat more balls that week than anybody out there,” Cavner said.

Mickelson shot a round of 64 at the Wells Fargo and although he didn’t win the tournament, the resurgence in his game was evident to insiders.  “He was gearing for this (excelling at the PGA),” Cavner said.

Sunday was remarkable, with Mickelson shocking the sports world at almost 51 years of age and winning his first golf major event since 2013.  “He is so driven to be good,” Cavner said.  “He doesn’t want to be second ever.  He’s always been that way.  When you’re that good, some people are going to love you, some people are not.”

Critics have said Mickelson is cocky but Cavner doesn’t see it that way and views his friend as a great athlete who believes in himself and has done a lot to help others including through charity. “It wasn’t cocky.  He was good at what he did, and he knew it and he tried to prove it every week,” Cavner said.

Cavner can see Mickelson contending for more major titles this year and in 2022. “If he continues to play like he is, it wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Cavner said.

In his 40s Mickelson didn’t want other players to hit longer off the tee than he did.  The result was trouble on the fairways, sometimes hitting 50 yards off target.  “It hurt his game,” Cavner said.  “Now he’s dialed it back. (But) he’s still hitting it tremendously long.”

Mickelson has now won six majors, something that will secure his place on the Mount Rushmore of golf legends.  “He’s definitely in the top 12 of all time,” Cavner said.

Ticket sales via the 3M Open website were to Cavner’s liking even before Mickelson’s historic Sunday.  Despite possible COVID restrictions, crowds of 20,000 per day are predicted.  With or without Mickelson, the tournament field will have appeal.

“There’s a lot of guys who played in the PGA Championship that are coming,” Cavner said.  “Some of them that were on the leader board (at the PGA) in the last couple days.”

Worth Noting

A hockey authority, speaking anonymously, sees the Minnesota Wild as “50-50” in earning a win tonight against the Vegas Golden Knights.  A win ties Minnesota and Vegas at three games each in the best of seven playoff series.  The source believes the Wild need to take an early lead to win the game at Xcel Energy Center.  “I don’t see them coming from behind to win.  They need momentum out of the gate.”

The Wild received an unexpected lift from veteran Zach Parise in Monday night’s win.  He scored a goal after mostly being a non-contributor of late.  “They need a spark (tonight) like Parise,” the source said.

Don’t be surprised if Parise is playing elsewhere next season.

With COVID-19 restrictions, the Wild has been limited to 4,500 fans for first round playoff games.  That might translate to about $450,000 in gross ticket receipts, much different than capacity crowds generating revenue of $1.2 to $1.5 million. If Minnesota could advance to the second round of the playoffs and stage sellouts, it would help the franchise’s finances that have taken a major hit because of the pandemic.

Deep condolences to Mike Wilkinson following the death Sunday of wife Susan Wilkinson, 76, who struggled for years with muscular dystrophy and asthma. Mike is a passionate Golden Gophers football follower and author of the Murray Warmath biography, The Autumn Warrior.

The Minnesota Twins, a preseason favorite to be 2021 AL champions, are No. 26 in MLB.com’s latest power rankings of 30 teams.

Speculation: Tampa Bay Rays interested in acquiring Twins’ Nelson Cruz; Toronto Blue Jays looking at Minnesota’s Jose Berrios.

Outfielder Matt Wallner, the Forest Lake, Minnesota native, is the Twins Minor League Player of the Week. The 23-year-old played in six games last week for Single-A Cedar Rapids, hitting .400 (10-for-25) with two home runs and four RBI, including a four-hit game on Thursday against Beloit. He was drafted by the Twins in the first round (39th overall) of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Southern Mississippi.

 

 

Bud Grant, 94, Not Big on Exercise

May 24, 2021 - (0) comments

 

Bud Grant turned 94 years old on May 20. Awhile ago I interviewed the legendary former Minnesota Vikings head coach who was a superb athlete at the University of Minnesota and after his college career played in the NFL and the NBA.

Grant on living a long life: “The main thing is you gotta have the right parents. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t swear. I don’t believe in a lot of exercise. I think you wear yourself out.”

Grant is still enjoying life including family, who all live near his Bloomington home. “I’ve got 19 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, and they all live within a half hour of my house. They didn’t go very far. They didn’t want to get very far from their mother.”

Bud Grant (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings.)

Grant’s devoted wife Pat passed away in 2009 from Parkinson’s. Nine years later he lost son Bruce to brain cancer. Grant can occupy a lot of his time attending activities of the younger members of his clan, but he sets limits. The kids are involved with baseball, hockey, soccer and the like. “I don’t go to all those little league games. A lot of grandparents do all that. I’ve done enough practices (games). I don’t have to do that anymore.”

At 94 Grant’s mind is sharp, but his body has limitations. ” I enjoy my lifestyle. I got a place on the lake (in Wisconsin). I fish and hunt; (but) not as much as I used to because my mobility isn’t as good. I can’t go chasing pheasants across a plowed field anymore but I hunt things that come to me. I sit in a deer stand. I call turkeys. I call ducks and things that come to me. Now is that hunting? Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s shooting instead of hunting. I am not traipsing through the woods anymore.

“Same with fishing. I used to be a trout fisherman, wade down streams. Well, I can’t do that anymore but I can fish out of a boat. I can fish through the ice. I can do things that don’t require the mobility that I used to have.

“But I also enjoy good health except for my aging and body. I am stooped. I got a sore back now and then. I am not as mobile as I used to be, but I am interested (in things) and…I really enjoy doing nothing now days.”

Grant is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Canadian Football Hall of Fame because of his coaching career. He was the first person ever to achieve that distinction. He coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for 10 seasons, winning four CFL titles. He led the Vikings for 18 seasons, establishing the franchise as an NFL power that went to four Super Bowls.

For those who have known Grant, his success is no surprise. Minneapolis sports columnist Sid Hartman, who knew Grant for more than 70 years, used to say his calm and poised friend had more common sense than anyone he ever knew. Hartman was Grant’s presenter at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 1994, and sometimes the target of Bud’s practical jokes.

Although Grant had a reputation for being cold and calculating during his coaching career, he was a prankster behind the scenes. That sense of humor and how to use it made an impression on Pete Carroll, a Vikings assistant coach who worked for Grant in 1985. Carroll, who has gone on to become a college national championship coach and Super Bowl winning coach, writes of his admiration for Grant in his book, Win Forever.

Carroll said Grant “…taught me more about the art of coaching, leadership, and the importance of observing human behavior than any graduate class ever could.” He observed how Grant had “…an awareness of the signals people give off and understood how to use that information to spur them to play at their best possible level.”

Carroll was struck by Grant’s extraordinary intuition and ability to foresee what could happen in football. In the book Carroll writes about the Vikings preparing for an opponent that had been winning games with ease. Grant told his team that if the game was close in the fourth quarter, the Vikings could win because the other team would tighten up, not accustomed to last minute pressure. Then late in the game Grant instructed his kicker to kick the ball to “No. 26,” predicting the return man would fumble. He did. The Vikings recovered the football and went on to win the game. “Everyone went berserk (after the fumble recovery) except Bud, who just stood there with a satisfied smile on his face, as calm as ever,” Carroll wrote.

“Whatever you do to be successful, I did it, and I worked harder at it than most coaches that I talked to,” Grant said. He recalled once asking a coach what he was doing that day and learned his rival was in the Bahamas. “I was never down in the Bahamas,” Grant said. “I was out recruiting, or looking, and talking, getting an idea of players, and analyzing.”

Then Grant thought about safety Paul Krause who still holds the NFL career record for most interceptions with 81. “We got him for almost nothing from Washington, but I had seen him play in college and I followed him and I knew him. So we got players that played great for us but were not recognized by other teams. We didn’t have one player who went to another team who had any great success. We didn’t miss on any of those and that was just because we (the coaches) spent a lot of time analyzing the best players.

“I’ve always said this, coaches don’t win football games. Players win football games. Coaches are a dime a dozen. You get all kinds of coaches that know X’s and O’s. You gotta accumulate (players), manage and put them in the right places and recognize their talents. That’s what wins football games, not coaches. Lots of great coaches out there.”

When Grant coached he understood the job entailed more than finding talent and instructing players how to block and tackle.  “I think I could probably pass some kind of test in marital relations and drug therapy. You know all the things we dealt with, and they deal with them today, but they have more people to deal with them. At my desk everyday (it) was who is in some kind (of difficulty). …I had many wives come in and talk to me about what they could do to straighten out their marital life and their financials. There’s so many things we dealt with. Well, now, I don’t know that (head) coaches do that so much because they’ve got so much help.”

NFL teams have three or four times the number of assistant coaches that Grant had when he started out with the Vikings in 1967. They also have almost countless numbers of support staff and interns. In Grant’s first season the coaching staff numbered five.

“We did all the work, and all the film work and everything,” Grant said. “And now, God, you got assistant to the assistant. I don’t know what they all do. I mean you gotta be chairman of the board instead of coach now.”

Grant is too smart and too much in the present to contend players of the past can match those of today. “Today’s football players are better than they were 20 years ago, 40 years ago, however far (back) you want to go. And there are more of them. All those kids aspire to be great football players from the time they are 12 years old. Well, some of them make it. I think if I could make $25 million a year, I’d aspire to it too. …They got better coaching. They’ve got 20 assistant coaches.”

Grant talked of his admiration for one of his greatest players, defensive end Jim Marshall who once held the NFL record for consecutive games at 282. “Jim Marshall is the most overlooked player in terms of recognition,” Grant said. “He played 19 years. He never missed a game. He never missed a practice. Even though he would have certain injuries, his recovery period was very short. Some guys with a twisted ankle, they’re out for three weeks. Jim Marshall came in on Mondays, he could hardly walk but he played on Sunday again.”

The 1985 season was Grant’s last as a head coach. He was only 58 but felt it was time to move on. He and Pat had decided when their last child graduated from college he would put away his whistle.

“Not all your plans work out but one of our plans was we wanted to get all of our kids educated,” Grant said. “I got six kids, they all graduated from college. They all got good jobs, and they have all been successful in their lives. …”

 

Glen Taylor Should Rethink Wolves Sale

May 12, 2021 - (0) comments

 

I called Glen Taylor Monday but haven’t heard back from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx owner. If I talk to him soon I will tell him not to sell his teams. Full disclosure here: I consider him a friend.

In early April came news Taylor was negotiating a sale to billionaire entrepreneur Marc Lore and baseball legend turned businessman Alex Rodriguez. Part of the story was a 30-day negotiating period would ensue to finalize details. The exact start date of the period isn’t known but it probably ends soon, if it hasn’t already expired. The best guess is the deal is still alive with NBA authorities meticulously looking at the potential new owners.

I hope the deal falls through because my opinion is that will benefit both the public and Taylor. It’s best that the NBA Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx have local ownership. Plus, Taylor might be positioned to have the pleasure of watching an exciting young Wolves team on the rise.  He has experienced great success with the Lynx and that team continues to be an important part of the Minnesota sports menu.

The Mankato-based Taylor saved the Wolves franchise for Minnesota more than 25 years ago after the original owners more than flirted with relocation. Taylor is a lifelong Minnesotan who knows the importance of his franchises to the state’s culture and well being. Sorry, Lore and Rodriguez are outsiders whose long-term loyalties aren’t known.

Taylor has assured that Lore and Rodriguez won’t move the Wolves to another city. Is language saying the franchise can’t be relocated ironclad? In the world of litigation, is there such thing? If new owners eventually make a case that financially the franchise is unsustainable in this market, a judge might rule the team can be relocated—despite language to the contrary.

Taylor celebrated his 80th birthday last month. It’s understandable he would want to sell his teams. Without success his representatives have pursued local buyers for the teams, but with more time that could change. Future Minnesota ownership minimizes the likelihood of whispers or nightmares about the Wolves and Lynx relocating.

The improved on-court performance of late by the Wolves creates the possibility of a more attractive sales price in the near future. Lore and Rodriguez are rumored to be willing to pay $1.5 billion for the franchises. The Wolves were all but unwatchable earlier this season, losing most of their games and experiencing seven and nine-game losing streaks. With player disinterest in defense and a “me-first” approach on offense, the Wolves were an embarrassment.

From December 27 through March 3 Minnesota won a total of five games.

But the Wolves, with a 22-47 record this season, are 8-5 in their last 13 games and worth watching. There is developing talent on the roster, even star power in center Karl-Anthony Towns and rookie guard Anthony Edwards. This team has the look of a group coming together and teases followers that a failed franchise on the court for much of its existence could become a consistent playoff team within a year or two.

If that happens, ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorship and other revenue streams jump. This is a basketball market that neither the Timberwolves nor University of Minnesota have come close to pushing toward its potential in fan following and money making. Better days on the court for the Wolves will mean more cash flow for the owner and higher appreciation of the franchise value.

Glen Taylor

Taylor has witnessed so much miserable basketball with the Timberwolves, he deserves a run of at least a few seasons in the playoffs. He might have in place the best general manager and coach that have ever worked for him. The conclusive results aren’t in yet on Gersson Rosas and Chris Finch but there’s reason for optimism.

Rosas was hired two years ago and since then has acquired much more personnel that rates a thumbs up, not a scowl. Edwards, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt are young talents who are here because of Rosas. Veteran Ricky Rubio is another Rosas acquisition that has benefitted Minnesota.

Rosas fired coach Ryan Saunders earlier in the season and hired Finch who had worked as an assistant for Nick Nurse, Toronto’s talented head coach. Taking over during the season, without an offseason and training camp, is less than ideal but Finch has impressed. He has stepped into a losing culture, working for the first time with a core of young players and at least a couple of challenging egos, and shown them the X’s and O’s, built confidence and developed a willingness (at least sometimes) to play for each other.

At 51 and as a basketball lifer, Finch just might be the right combination of experience, smarts and disposition to get the most out of his roster for years to come. Certainly he is motivated to prove himself after many career stops and now having his first NBA head coaching job.

For me the NBA in Minneapolis is personal. I was on the Governor’s NBA Task Force in the 1980s that created interest in bringing a team to town. At that time I was also a promoter of successful NBA exhibition games at Met Center including with the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Those games encouraged Minneapolis businessmen Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner to buy an NBA expansion team, paying $32.5 million to create the Timberwolves.

The NBA deserted the city after the 1959-1960 season when the Minneapolis Lakers relocated to Los Angeles. The Lakers won five world championships here. In three decades the Wolves have never played for an NBA championship and have missed the playoffs way more times than they qualified.

Maybe starting next year Minnesota can start a five-year run of postseason trips. NBA playoff basketball is appointment viewing—compelling entertainment on the court, with emotions pouring out from every corner of the arena. Glen, you deserve to see that as the Timberwolves owner. Put the sale off for awhile.

 

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