A long and fun day of sports

I almost never miss my life as a sports writer. That’s been pretty well chronicled in other spots on this blog.

But I do kind of miss Final Four Saturday. In part for the atmosphere, but also in part for the fun. It was kind of my unofficial start to the golf season.

With the first game of the day beginning at 5 or 6 p.m. (depending of the time zone of the host site) and no pregame access, there’s a good bit of time to kill. So what to do? Make a day in which I would have to cover two games on deadline (even the first game was a deadline event because of Sunday state edition press times) even longer by getting up early and playing golf.

So the goal was to tee off around 9-10 a.m., play 18 holes, grab a quick lunch afterwards, zip back to the hotel, clean up, head to the game, cover two games, write two game stories and finish about 11:30 p.m. At that point, I’d meet fellow reporters in the hospitality room, have a few cold beers and fall into bed totally exhausted. I did this for five consecutive years.

Most years, we played again on Monday morning (though not as early) before the national championship game. A couple of years, I played on Thursday afternoon before things really got going on Friday or I played Tuesday morning before catching a plane back.

In 2003, I played a place called Willowdale CC in Lulling, Louisiana before a night at the Superdome (Kansas crushed Marquette in one semifinal and Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony beat Texas). We were going to play on Monday, but it poured that day. On Tuesday, I played the very solid Money Hill Golf and Country Club across the lake in Abita Springs, LA. I also had a nice lunch at the Abita Brewery brewpub before catching a flight back.

In 2004, my friend Herb and I played a very solid public course in San Antonio called The Republic before heading to the Superdome to see UConn and Georgia Tech win games. I think UConn beat Duke and GT beat Oklahoma State, but I’m too lazy to look it up. I remember flying to Austin instead of San Antonio that year because I got a better fare. I played The Golf Club at Circle C in Austin on Thursday, we played the very strong The Bandit (Keith Foster design) on Monday and I played Briggs Ranch (a Golfweek top 100 modern) before heading home.

2005 saw the Final Four in St. Louis. I played GC at Pevely Farms after landing, Stonewolf GC Fairview Heights, IL on a cold Saturday and Gateway National (which is quite good) on Monday afternoon before North Carolina beat Illinois.

In 2006, the weather was a little sketchy in Indianapolis. I played the quite good Trophy Club just northwest of Indy on Thursday afternoon. On Saturday morning, my buddy Herb and I joined some of the people from AP in playing at Brickyard Crossing, the upscale public course that has a handful of holes inside the track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That was a really cold round. There was no golf on Monday or Tuesday because of cold and rain. That was a bummer because I had a hookup to play at Crooked Stick on Tuesday.

The trip to Atlanta in 2007 was my last Final Four and I got three rounds in. I played  Cobblestone GC, a pretty good public course in the northwest suburbs on Thursday. On Saturday morning, we joined the AP guys and played a place called Eagle Watch GC, which is one of the Cannongate clubs. On Monday, my friend Herb and I played at Wolf Creek, a pretty decent public course near the airport that was designed by Mike Young.

So I’m not going to lie, I kind of wonder where I would be playing if I was in Houston right now. I’m sure I’d be knocking it around somewhere. That doesn’t mean that I wish I was in Houston right now. I’m in a much better place.

 

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In honor of the Sweet 16 starting: The greatest team photo ever

I don’t care what anyone says, if there is a contest for greatest team photos ever, everybody is competing for second place.

Why? Because of the 1977 Marquette Warriors.

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any better than this. Because not only are the tuxes awesome (especially the baby blue), but for you youngsters out there, this team also won the national championship.

I don’t anticipate Marquette winning the title this year (sorry, DeRusha), but I’m not going to miss a chance to post this photo.

Two reads in honor of tonight’s start of the NCAA tournament

If you didn’t know, the newly expanded NCAA men’s basketball tournament begins tonight. These two stories won’t help you win your bracket pool, but it will get you up to speed and make it appear as if you’ve been watching ball all season.

Do you know what three-goggles are? What started in the NBA has made it to the college game. And I’m guessing that flashing the three-goggles will be this year’s version of popping one’s jersey. So, you had better read this story from The Wall Street Journal on the latest trend.

And while I know that CBS considers Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr to be the voice of the tournament, that is a bunch of hogwash.

The voice of the tournament is none other than Gus Johnson. I mean did you hear him scream “COLD BLOODED” after Washington guard Isaiah Thomas dropped the three-pointer to beat UCLA in Saturday’s Pac-10 championship game?

Anyway, here is a good New York Times story on Gus. It talks about his excitment level, his creative way of calling games and his background. I’m not going to lie, I will sometimes watch a game strictly because Gus is on the mic. He just has so much fun. After you read the story, make sure you check out Gus Johnson sound board.

In the words of Gus, it is “pure”.

A random college basketball rant

Welcome to February, the time of the season in which college basketball fans across the country complain and complain about the quality of officiating.

Earlier this week, there was much complaining about a call Tim Higgins made in the Alabama-Vandy game. I’m not going to lie, I pretty much only saw the chatter and didn’t see the call. Maybe Higgins blew it, maybe he didn’t. That’s not what I’m writing about, however.

He was frequently referred to as a SEC ref. Gophers fans talk all the time about Big Ten refs. And it is all hogwash.

There is no such thing as a SEC ref or a Big Ten ref. They are all free agents, independent contractors and work all over the place.

According to bbstate.com, a site that logs where officials work, Higgins has called conference games in the Big East, Big Ten and SEC this season. A guy I know reasonably well who is an official has worked in the Mountain West, Missouri Valley, WAC, MAC, Summit and Big Ten of late.

So that’s it, that’s the rant. There are no conference refs. And I also don’t believe they are out to get certain teams. I truly believe they try to do the best job they can. They are professionals who care about the job they do. That’s why the put up with the nonsense they put up with — the screaming coaches, the crazy fans, the bad travel.

They make mistakes at times. That’s what happens when guys have to make split-second calls and only get one chance to look at it. There’s no HD or slow motion or replays on most plays.

So that’s it. A random rant on a Saturday night.

Lionel Hollins is my new favorite NBA coach

OK, that might be a bit of an overstatement. But I do love his honesty.

Before Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies played the Timberwolves on Wednesday night, Hollins was asked if he was going to be able to sneak a look at a TV and watch his son, Austin, play for the Gophers.

At that point, Hollins basically called college basketball — especially the Big Ten variety — boring.

Pat Reusse wrote his entire column for Thursday\’s paper on this topic.

I was working at the Wolves-Grizz game last night and heard about the pregame quotes. And while I covered college hoops for a long time, many of Hollins’ feelings mirror how I feel about the game.

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Required Reading: How Raf prepares

I feel almost guilty posting this story. I am a fan of Bill Raftery, the college hoops color guy who has a knack of being interesting, informative and fully as hell at the same time.

The Wall Street Journal brings it with a nice and interesting piece on Raf\’s preparation for the games he works.

And it is work. I don’t think many fans and viewers understand the challenge that is live TV. It is tough work describing what you see in real time with your own eyes and providing instant analysis.

Anyway, it’s worth a read.