Tiger Woods/Arnold Palmer; Tim Linecum/Pablo Sandoval; Reggie McKenzie/Mark Davis; Bill Walsh/Jim Harbaugh
THIS WEEK, the Olympic Club will host its fifth U. S. Open. Iíve been at the last four, and the first one, 1966, was the most enjoyable one for me for the usual reason: I was a young man. As I have to remind my older readers who are baseball fans, itís not that the game was better when you were young, itís that you were better. Everything experienced for the first time seems better in retrospect.
In 1966, I was golfing regularly; that basically stopped when I got married the next year because I wanted to spend my spare time with Nancy, not on the golf course. For a time early on, we played a lot of tennis together, mixed doubles at our swim/tennis club in the Oakland hills, but she has always regarded golf as the silliest sport going.
The í66 Open gave me a chance to see the golfers I had only read about; televised sports were just in their beginning. I followed Ben Hogan for a time and saw why he had been so good Ė and why he no longer was in the top rung. From tee to green, Hogan was as good as ever, hitting his drives down the middle, his approaches dead on to the pin. But he had the ďyipsĒ when he putted, giving away too many strokes after he got to the green.
I also followed Jack Nicklaus for a time. It wasnít the first time I had seen Nicklaus. When I was still working in Watsonville, he had won the U. S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, a short car ride for me. (I had also watched the Crosby while I was in Watsonville. One time, I was sitting on a hill above the green when I looked to my side and saw Bing Crosby. I was too awestruck to say a word.)
Nicklaus was not an attractive figure at the time because he was in his fat period. He was the longest driver on the tour but I thought that was no big deal. With all that weight behind his swing, of course he could hit it a long way.
There were other stars in that field. Gary Player, probably the most underrated great golfer ever, for instance. But the big star was Arnold Palmer. For anybody who didnít see him, itís hard to realize how exciting a player he was, always taking a chance with his shots, talking to his fans as he walked down the fairway to his ball. He was truly loved.
All the top players at the time were also very cooperative, even friendly with writers because they were trying to promote their sport. Thatís definitely not true of Tiger Woods, who is still the biggest name on the tour now. His problems, all of which he brought on himself, have not mellowed Tiger. In a group interview yesterday, which I wrote about in todayís Examiner, he got very angry when a writer asked him if he thought he had to win another major to regain his position as the top golfer. Thatís a question everybody, writers and fans alike, want to know, but Tiger thought it was totally unreasonable. What can I say? Heís a jerk, who needs to look in the mirror if he wants to know the real source of his problems.
That said, Iíd still like to see a return of the Tiger who strode so confidently down the fairways at Pebble Beach in 2000, another Open I covered. I didnít follow Tiger, because I didnít want to be mobbed, but The Chronicle had rented a building overlooking the sixth green, so my wife, son and I watched Tiger, his mother and Phil Knight, head of Nike, walking down the fairway with thousands following.
For that Open, and the three Iíve already seen at Olympic, I walked the course with the golfers, close enough to see them hit their shots. Iíve always thought that was the most enjoyable way to do it but youíd be surprised by how many writers just choose to stay in the media tent, watch on television and wait for the golfers to come in and talk about their rounds. Dan Jenkins used to hang out in a bar near the end of the Crosby, when he covered it, but Jenkins was such a colorful writer, he always wrote the best stories coming out of the tournament.
GIANTS FUTURE: I stayed home last Sunday to watch the Giants game on television because I wanted to get the best look at Tim Lincecum. For enjoyment of the whole game, being at AT&T Park is much preferable but for watching a pitcher, television works better with all the closeups and replays.
My conclusion: Linecumís problems are primarily physical. His mechanics are screwed up. He doesnít know where any of his pitches are going. Buster Posey was on the move the entire time Lincecum was in the game, blocking pitches in the dirt. Lincecumís velocity is also off, down to 88-89 mph at the end, which is probably also a problem with his mechanics.
Lincecumís father designed his approach to maximize the torque in his slender body. As Iíve mentioned before, he reminds me of former Aís pitcher Tim Hudson, who also generated a lot of power from a slim body. But those bodies are vulnerable to injury, as certainly been true for Hudson. In Lincecumís case, itís been too easy for him to get out of sync, and pitching coach Dave Righetti canít help him. He needs a session with his father.
Another thing that really became obvious watcing on TV: Pablo Sandoval is really fat. He looks like he gained a pound a day while he was on the disabled list. That weight really hurts him in the field, too, because he isnít able to bend much.
That presents the Giants with a problem. They badly need Sandovalís bat because he can hit home runs, a lost art for the rest of the lineup. Thereís often been talk about shifting him to first base but then, youíd get no hitting from the third base spot. Joaquin Arias, who has a great glove, is not much of a hitter, which is why heís better as a reserve infielder. At second, Ryan Theriot has fallen off while playing regularly, too. Theriot was once a very good player but heís declined with age, both at bat and in the field.
Meanwhile, first base is still a problem. Brandon Belt finally hit a home run last night, so maybe heíll start hitting the way he should. Brett Pill has been sent back to Fresno, which is probably where he belongs. Aubrey Huff should be released so he could retire and work on his marriage, but Brian Sabean wants to squeeze something out of him because of his contract.
The Giants made a nice run on the Dodgers while playing bad teams, but the Rangers, who will be in the postseason, beat them two out of three at AT&T, and really made them look bad in that Sunday game. If they get to the postseason Ė and I still regard that as a big if Ė they wonít be playing patsies like the Cubs and Astros.
Ah, but thereís no reason to worry. Bruce Jenkins has already declared the Giants the winners in the NL West. I donít know why the Dodgers havenít given a concession speech yet. Sore losers, I guess.
DUH RAIDERS: My visit to the Raiders practice turned out to be an abort. I had scheduled an interview with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp but when I arrived, I learned they had changed the schedule, with coaches interviews in the morning. I had planned to write on Knapp and the Raiders for The Examiner but when I returned home, the sports editor ask me to write on Sandoval, which was a more timely story. Iíll do Knapp later.
Despite all that, Iím really happy with the changes in the Raiders organization. They actually have a professional public relations director, Zak Gilbert. Mike Taylor, who had the job previously, was there only to call writers and TV/radio people who had said something which angered Al Davis, not a difficult task. For years, weíve dealt with the No. 2 man, Will Kiss now. Will put me back on the media e-mail list last year but I didnít tell anybody because that was probably a firing offense for Davis.
Everything Reggie McKenzie has done as general manager is an indication that he thought the way Davis had operated in the last 20 years or so was wrong. Only the true kool aid drinkers among the Raiders fan base would disagree with that. On a personal basis, Iíve noticed a big difference when I walk through the parking lot before and after games. Earlier, fans would pour beer on my car and throw things at me as I walked through the lot. Now, they stop me to say pleasant things, and one Latino family even took pictures of me with them at a game last fall. Quite a change.
Mark Davis said when McKenzieís hiring was announced that he knew what he didnít know, and that was football, so heíd stay out of his general managerís way, and heís done that. McKenzieís actions, starting with the fact that he gave new coach Dennis Allen a four-year contract, are clearly aimed at the future. Itís barely possible that the Raiders could win the AL West, which figures to be weak again unless Peyton Manning turns the Denver Broncos around, but even thatís a longshot. I think itís more likely that McKenzie will build a team which will be a regular contender in the near future, instead of trying frantically to have a winner for the next season.
The coaches seem to be working in the same way, building a foundation with good systems, which includes a serious effort to stop all these penalties. The present may be dimmed but I believe the future is bright for the Raiders.
Itís still possible that the Davis family will sell its interest because Alís free-spending ways in his last years have depleted the familyís finances, one reason McKenzie got rid of some of the bad contracts that Al had made, desperately seeking a winner before he died.
If thereís no sale by the Davis family, theyíll need to get into a new stadium, with all the means of generating revenue that doesnít exist in older stadiums.
Oakland/Alameda County canít afford to build a new stadium, and Oakland Mayor Jean Quanís plans to refurbish the present Coliseum are as unrealistic as most of her plans.
I donít believe the Raiders are looking to move back to Los Angeles, where thereís a hole in the ground waiting for a stadum Ė but no plans yet for building one.
There is a stadium being built in Santa Clara, though, by the 49ers, who have always provided room for another tenant. The Raiders wonít say anything before their lease is up with the Coliseum but Iíd be very surprised if they donít join the Niners in the Sana Clara stadium.
THE 49ERS surprised everybody, including me, with their great season last year. This year, they face a much tougher schedule. John Madden was the latest to predict they wonít match last yearís 13-3 record, though he thinks theyíll be in the postseason.
When Bill Walshís 1981 team shocked everybody by going 13-3 and winning the Super Bowl, they fell apart the next year, a strike year, and didnít make the playoffs. A distraught Walsh publicly debated whether heíd come back as coach.
There were some problems with that team, primarily drug use (recreational drugs, not steroids), with one player even dealing to his teammates. Walsh wanted to get rid of the players using drugs.
He also wanted to make a change at defensive coordinator. Chuck Studley had been his friend since they were both assistants in Cincinnati, but Walsh wanted George Seifert to take over. So, he played his Hamlet role until Studley (and a couple of other assistants who werenít Walsh favorites) had left. Then, with great fanfare, Walsh announced that he was returning as coach, and Seifert would be the defensive coordinator. As usual, Walsh knew what he was doing. Seifert was brilliant as a defensive coordinator, as creative as Walsh was on the offensive side.
Thereís no such drama with the current 49ers. Harbaugh put together a great staff last year, some of them coming over from Stanford, and they remain in place, with the advantage of having offseason workouts.
Harbaugh and Co. are building for long-term success. Just as Walsh did. Itís a good time to be a 49ers fan.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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