ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Gabe Neitzel
By: Gabe Neitzel
The US Open isn't a golf tournament. It is the highest test of patience in sports. Golfers who are used to shooting under par, are going to be over par, and in some cases, well over par. This year the US Open had Rory McIlroy turning his 9 iron into a Nike swoosh, made Tiger Woods look like a mere mortal, and saw Steve Stricker hit a hosel-rocket out-of-bounds, ending his day (in terms of being in contention) sooner than most (including me) would have hoped. I saw a tweet on Sunday saying something to the effect of “Merion is tough, but it doesn't make the players follow through with one hand on the club.” I would beg to differ. The margin for error at the US Open is so small, that by Sunday, most of the players are mentally exhausted. The mental pressure of a US Open final round is enough to make the best players in the world second guess themselves to the point where they make some of the most horrid swings we see all year long on the PGA Tour.
Our national golf championship doesn't have a winner, it has a survivor. It has one man left standing after a four day grind-a-thon, that has the casual golf observer saying “If I wanted to see someone play like me, I'd head out to my local course.” I get the basis of the argument. Casual golf fans want to see low scores, see incredible shots. They just don't appreciate the nuances of the game. There were plenty of amazing shots and putts last week. They just didn't result in birdies. If these people actually wanted to see “great golf” then watch this weeks Travelers Championship, when the winner will likely be 15 under par or so. Seeing how most of these people aren't going to be watching this weekend, I don't think they actually want to see they perceive as “good golf.”
This years survivor was Justin Rose. Its always nice to see someone who has been close in the past, who has had success, finally break though in one of the majors. Rose is that guy this year. He jumped onto the scene with a top 5 finish at the British Open in 1998, turned pro, missed 21 straight cuts, before really getting his career going. Seeing him finally fulfill potential was a good thing to see.
However, the narrative after every major now, is “What's wrong with Tiger?” Woods is back to being number 1 in the world, but it has now been 5 years since his last win in a major. I know he has cooled off the incredible pace that he set, but it is still completely possible for him to catch Jack. Some are wondering, and even predicting that he won't win another major in his historic career. I feel as if I'm one of the lone people out there, in my thinking that Tiger will win another major. If not for his approach shot hitting the pin on Friday on 15 at the Masters, he would have won yet another green jacket. I'm not positive that he'll catch Jack's 18 anymore, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. Look, Tiger will win another major. And the reason for thinking this is simple: There is only one player in the world, who can show up and say “If I play my best, I will win.” And that player once again, is Tiger Woods.
By: Gabe Neitzel
Bud Selig can't win. First he was too lenient on PEDs. Now, with some of the reaction via social media this past week, he is being too hard; he is performing a witch hunt. I'm not sure what I think of yet, of the new MLB pursuit of Alex Rodrigez, Ryan Braun, et all. I do feel that Selig and his office might be over-reaching, trying to get 100 game suspensions out of this situation. But I don't know what side of the fence I am on.
I've always been a defender of Selig. I thought he took too much heat for the PED issue, and way too much heat for the All-Star game tie in Milwaukee. Selig is set in his ways, and apparently before he retires, he wants to make one last push, to let everyone know how tough he is on Performance Enhancing Drugs. If he is successful in this endeavor, it would be the biggest PED bust in North American sports. However, he does need more than just the word of Tony Bosch to be successful. Bosch has told so many lies to this point, he can't keep them straight. Who knows what he would say to try and save himself from the feds?
I don't know how much I can support Selig in this case. This thing does seem a little witch-hunty to me. First MLB put out a lawsuit that they knew didn't have a chance of standing up in court on Bosch and some of his associates. Technically, their strategy worked, as Bosch didn't have the money left to defend himself or his former company, so instead, he ended up flipping and trying to help baseball against some of his former clients. To me, its pretty clear. Selig's office is not happy that Braun beat their system, and they want to have him suspended. If Braun's name wasn't in Bosch records, I wonder how hard baseball would pursue this.
So does this make Braun a victim in all of this? If he is innocent, yes. But there is just too much smoke coming from this Braun situation for there not to be a fire. So I don't think he is a victim here. MLB is going after him, and maybe he'll have to pay for any alleged baseball crime he may have committed.
This is why I am so confused on this situation. There are no winners. If baseball does get the 20 or so players in Bosch's records suspended, they may feel like they won. But everyone will question they went about it. If Braun doesn't get suspended, and avoids a suspension, again, there is still a huge cloud around him, and one that he may never be able to escape for the rest of his career. Either way, I don't think any outcome here is going to end up being good for baseball.
By: Gabe Neitzel
I know not everyone pays attention to golf each and every week like I do. But I do know that when Tiger plays, people pay attention. He won the Players Championship for the first time since 2001 (and only his second time overall) on Sunday, thus proving that anyone who asks the question, “Is Tiger Back?” is just plain stupid. Seriously. I don't want to hear “but he hasn't won a major since 2008.” He is the number 1 ranked player in the world, and has won 8 of his last 22 events. You know that 8 wins in a PGA career is spectacular, right? He's won the World Golf Championship events, and the Players field is as strong as any major. So lets go ahead and look back to see how Tiger took the Players with a Retro-Diary. We pick up the action with Tiger on the Back 9.
Hole 10-Tiger makes the turn at -13. He hasn't had to hit driver much at all this week. Although, when you hit a 5 wood around 300 yards, why would you even think about pulling the driver out of the bag?? He has a two shot lead, which is a dangerous proposition on the back nine. The back side at TPC Sawgrass plays easier than the front, and the way he has been hitting the ball all week, he can just make par after par and make other players try to catch him. Tiger has been better than anyone ever in this position. He stings an iron into the fairway to validate everything I just said. Meanwhile, on 17, Martin Laird is two shots back, but is on the wrong side of the green. Thanks for playing Martin. Last time we mention your name in this blog. Back to Tiger, where he hits a “Mediocre at best” shot into the green. But he is still on the putting surface, and I'm willing to bet he two putts. By the way, I love this NBC broadcast crew. Good mix of teaching, praise, and criticism (Most of the criticism comes from Johnny Miller). And to no one's surprise, Tiger two putts. Lets move on.
Hole 11-Ageless Jeff Maggert (age 49) just made birdie on the green, before Tiger even tees off. He is now in solo second at -12. Back at 10, Sergio is trying to play out of a fairway bunker. He misses the green. Short tangent on Sergio Garcia. I get he is a little fire-y. He plays with passion. But doesn't he know better to not try and accuse Tiger of anything? Do you really want to try and make Tiger mad? He is already the best player in the world, and we know that he plays tremendous when angry. Just ask Stephen Ames. I understand Sergio was upset, but probably shouldn't try to create controversy when there isn't any. Doesn't end well for anyone but Tiger, usually. Meanwhile, Tiger drills his drive on 11. First time he's hit driver all day, unfortunately, he pulls his iron and now has a tough 3rd shot coming up. Side note: I love NBC's slow motion camera, where they show the divots that these pros take. Fun to watch the dirt explode out of the ground. Tiger can't get up and down for birdie, so settles for par. Ho-hum.
Hole 12-Another iron off the tee for Tiger. No need to be aggressive. He is clearly telling the field to “come and get me.” There is a lesson for all of us amateurs out there (and yes, I am including myself). If the number 1 player in the world keeps the driver in the bag more often than not, why do we all feel the need to hit driver all the time? I get that we aren't as nearly long as Tiger is, but at the same time, positioning and finding the fairway are more important than out-driving your buddies. Nice Wedge by Tiger, and he has a good birdie look, that he rattles home. Seriously, if you ask the question “Is Tiger Back?” You should never be allowed to talk about sports ever again, because you aren't paying attention. Tiger now at -14, and two clear of the field.
Hole 13-Safe tee shot by Tiger, as he misses the green, but is on the fringe. Stays clear of the water on the par 3, as NBC shows yet another feature I love: the pro tracer. Seeing how the pros shape their shots is another fun tool to give insight on how these guys play. Good speed on the first putt, and Tiger makes another par. For being must see TV, Tiger can get a little boring when he has the lead.
Hole 14-Uh-oh. Tiger pulls his tee shot into the water. Maybe this will get interesting after all...Peter Jacobson is almost speechless while calling the action. He can't believe it. Sergio hits a good shot on 13, and suddenly he may be back in the picture. Tiger has a drop upcoming, and every golf troll out there is going to be paying super close attention as to where he drops this. I know there has to be someone out there looking through the rule book, trying to find some rule Tiger is violating. After Sergio hits his putt back on 13, 3 players are now at -12, and Tiger is going to drop at least one here. “Heckuva shot” is about the highest praise you can get from Johnny Miller, and that is how he described Tiger's recovery shot that leaves him just short of the green. Tiger can't get up and down, cards a double bogey 6, and we have a four way tie for first at -12. Yikes, Sunday at TPC Sawgrass just got a lot more fun.
Hole 15-Tiger bounces back nicely. Drills his 5 wood down the right side. Some people always do the club twirl after every shot (I'm looking at you Rory), but you know Tiger likes a shot when he a) twirls the club, b) starts walking after the shot or putt, or c) never looks at the ball, and just picks up his tee. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the universal sign for “I hate this shot” is dropping the club, like Ryan Palmer just did on 16. I don't think we'll be hearing from him the rest of the day. Tiger's iron play is now betraying him, as he misses the green. Tiger really looking at this one, as he knows he needs to get up and down for par. He hits as good of a shot as he can, and makes the par putt coming back. Meanwhile, at 17, we can say good-bye to co-leader Jeff Maggert. He just dunked his tee shot short of the island green into the water. This looks like a two man race between Tiger and Sergio.
Hole 16-This is a fun stretch of holes to close the tournament. 16 is a scoring hole in a par 5, while 17 is an easy hole, but is visually intimidating. 18 is a great closing hole, with water all the way down the left hand side. It feels like anything can happen. Tiger not happy with his tee shot, as he couldn't get it to draw, and is now in the rough. Back on 15, Sergio misses a long birdie putt, and it comes down to who will play these final 3 holes the best. Tiger gets aggressive in hacking out a ball that was buried in the rough, and finds a bunker short of the green. For a moment, it seemed as if the NBC announcing team thought Tiger could find the water. If he gets up and down, he has a one shot lead. Back on the tee, Sergio splits the fairway. He should be able to go for the green in two. Tiger will make birdie, as he splashes a sand shot to within gimme distance. The thing that has separated Tiger from the rest of the field in his career is his short game. No one can scramble or putt like Eldrick. Sergio, though, isn't going away, as he finds the green in two.
Hole 17-Realistically, this is not that hard of a hole. Its 122 yards to the front of the green, and the longest it could play to the pin is 150, if that. That is a wedge for just about everyone on tour. However, when you visually intimidate the players, that is when this hole become hard. You can't miss the green. If you miss the green, your ball is wet. There is no room for error. On top of that, this is one of the biggest tournaments of the year, with one of the best fields of the year. Now try to hit that 135 yard wedge shot. No pressure or anything. Tiger safely finds the green, but now has a massive two putt to make par. Back on 16, Sergio two putts for his birdie, and we are tied once again. Somehow, Tiger has a perfect lag putt, and will make par. Its now on Sergio to try and birdie 17 to take the outright lead. And before Tiger can even tee off on 18, it feels like the tournament is now over. Sergio got aggressive, and hits the ball short, and finds the water on 17. He is going to drop at least a shot. Meanwhile, David Lingmerth just stuck his tee shot, and has a birdie putt for the tie. He is the only one who can catch Tiger, as Sergio just took himself out of the tournament for sure. He elected to re-tee, and hitting three from the tee, he finds the water once again. Roger Maltbie, who is following the final group, just called Sergio's third tee shot a “little Tin Cup” as he refuses to go to the drop area. After he finally find the tee, the sarcastic cheers erupt from the croud.
Hole 18- Tiger pipes his drive on 18. If he doesn't make par, I would be shocked. Legitimately stunned. Back on 17, Lingmerth can't convert the birdie, and you can't help but think that was his best chance to catch Tiger. Speaking of Tiger, remember what I said before about him liking a shot? Well he starts to follow his approach on 18. Easy two putt for him, and now its up to Lingmerth to try and catch him with a birdie on the last, which seems unlikely seeing as Lingmerth just found the rough. Tiger could just wrap this thing up in style, by making this birdie putt, but alas, it was not to be. He is in at -13. Lingmerth actually finds the green, but leaves himself a putt that Miller calls a “one in fifty.” In other words, this is over.
And of course, it is. And I don't just mean this tournament, I mean this golf season. Seriously, Tiger has never played well here, other than the year he won in 2001. There is no way he doesn't win major number 15 this year. What is cool about this win, is that Tiger has now won his 100th, 200th, and 300th start on the PGA tour. I guess those things have a tendency to happen when you win over 25% of the tournaments you enter. Tiger has now won 4 tournaments, and just told Steve Sands of NBC that he is “getting better.” Getting better??? Yikes. If you like watching golf, I hope you like Tiger, because you are about to see a lot more of him.
By: Gabe Neitzel
I know that this isn't the sexiest NFL draft that you can remember. However, it doesn't mean it is less important than any other draft. In fact, as Packers fans, this might be an incredibly important draft. No one seems to have a clue as to what Ted Thompson is thinking, or who he is going to draft. But his philosophy of “Draft and Develop” becomes even more important, considering what has happened this off-season.
The Packers haven't been overly active in the free agent market, which hasn't been a surprise to some, but has been the cause of outrage to others. I wasn't expecting the Packers to go nuts this off-season, just because they had to re-sign Clay Matthews (5 years, $66 million), and Aaron Rodgers (Yet to sign, but will likely get north of $23 million). This year, the NFL salary cap will be $123 million. It was also $123 million in 2009. So, its not as if the cap number is just skyrocketing right now. So working under the assumption that Rodgers only gets $23 million per year, Matthews and Rodgers will take up roughly 29% of the team's salary cap next year.
Look, the Packers needed to spend this money on these two players. Matthews is the highest paid linebacker in NFL history. Is he the best linebacker in the NFL right now? I would say no, but we all know at this point that Joe Flacco isn't the best QB in the NFL right now, even though he is the highest paid player in league history. The Packers needed to sign Matthews. He is the only proven consistent play maker on the defense right now. The team needs Matthews, more than Matthews needs the Packers. When you are in a situation like that, chances are a guy will get a little more money than he may be worth.
The Packers have to pay Rodgers as well, mostly because if you let the best player in the league just walk away, that is a little embarrassing. He will be the highest paid player, and he should be. Its worth noting that Rodgers would take up 18.7% of the cap if he were to sign for $23 million per year. (Its also worth noting that in 2010, the GDP of the City of Green Bay was $14.7 Million. So no matter what, Rodgers will make more than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the city in which he resides during the season. Crazy.) Of teams that have won the Super Bowl since 2000, the QB who took up most of his team's salary cap is Eli Manning, who accounted for 11.3% of the Giants cap in 2011. The second highest? Brad Johnson, who took up 9.6% of the Buccaneers cap space in 2002.
So whats the point of everything I just told you? No, it isn't that the Packers shouldn't pay Rodgers, because they have to. Same goes for Matthews. The point is, that when you commit that much of your salary cap to two players, you need to draft and develop. Its only in the draft where you can lock up players to decent priced contracts for four to five years. When money is tight, you need to squeeze as much value as possible out of young players who aren't making as much as the veterans.
We all knew that this day would come. Thompson has been saving up cap space for years, knowing that if he hit on players in the draft, eventually he would have to make tough decisions, and let some players walk away, while locking up others to be franchise cornerstones. Those two cornerstones are Rodgers and Matthews, while other players, such as Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, and potentially Jermichael Finley, have been or will be allowed to walk away. And the Packers can't afford to go after big money free agents, as long as they have Matthews and Rodgers locked up.
So, while this draft isn't the best, it is deep. And that is why it is important that the Packers hit on a number of their draft picks. I know some will moan if Thompson trades out of the first round. However, especially in this draft, there isn't much difference between a late first round and early second round pick. Except for the money. Thompson has always wanted to compile draft picks, and he may want to continue that strategy, to give himself more opportunities to hit on that cheap, young talent that the Packers will need to fit under the salary cap.
By: Gabe Neitzel
Lets face it, College sports is broken. It seems just about every other day you hear of a different scandal. And just about every major program, whether it has been secondary or major, have some sort of violations to their name. Mike Rice shouldn't have been allowed to berate his players with homophobic slurs, or allowed to throw basketballs at them. Auburn is now dealing with accusations of academic fraud, as well as paying players under the table. Miami is a mess with the Nevin Shapiro situation. And to top it all off, the NCAA is under scrutiny because of their handling of the Miami/Nevin Shapiro situation.
Something needs to be done. The NCAA is setting a double-standard of what they expect of their members. The NCAA expects coaches of their respective programs, to know what is always going on with all players, at all times. If they don't, they lack “institutional control” and will face discipline. However, the same standard isn't set or followed by NCAA president Mark Emmert. He is allowed to claim not to know that NCAA personnel paid Shaprio's lawyer in order to get information for its investigation into Miami.
Look, I'm not saying that Emmert deserves to be fired. He should be held to some sort of standard, and there needs to be some sort of discipline, as long as he continues to hold coaches to the standard of being omni-aware. (Emmert doesn't do himself any favors with his demeanor.) Emmert, though, has almost an impossible job. Running the NCAA, which seems like it is a crumbling organization, doesn't seem to be all that glamorous. Coaches and athletic directors are constantly showing they are willing to either break rules, or look the other way when it comes to violations, as long as it means they can win. (And in turn, by winning, make more money). The NCAA isn't staffed to be able to investigate every institution at all times, so they usually start looking into situation after its been reported in the media. Emmert is in a position where it seems like he can never win.
The way the NCAA is run very well could change, and change soon. There has been talk of potentially paying players a stipend for a while now, and there is the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit that could make changes soon. (The O'Bannon lawsuit is fairly complicated, but to try and put in its simplest terms, O'Bannon and other plaintiffs are suing the NCAA and EA Sports for using player likeness in video games. The suit has also been amended to say that players are entitled to 50 percent of revenue generated by the NCAA and conference television contracts.) The way that college athletics are run could change, and change drastically.
I've fought with myself over whether or not I feel that college athletes should get paid. I understand that the idea of amateurism is romanticized. Its an idea that really doesn't exist anymore. Universities are taking advantage of athletes, by signing huge TV deals, and then not having to pay the athletes. The counter-argument is the players can take advantage of the university, by getting a free degree, and leave college debt-free. But, I get why players feel they should get more. Major Division I Athletes aren't allowed to have jobs, partially because too many times those athletes have been given cake jobs by boosters, where they just show up and get paid well above what the average employee should get. I think they deserve something, just so they can go out and grab a pizza, or take their significant other to dinner and movie. How much should they get, though? That is where the slippery slope begins.
There is a part of me that is worried about what happens if athletes get 50 percent of TV money. Again, I may be romanticizing the idea of college athletics, but there is a bond between the coach and players in college athletics. And this isn't fabricated. Watch this speech that Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall gave after his team lost in the Final Four. That is pure, raw emotion. He clearly cares about the team he coaches, and not in terms of wins and losses. He cares about the young men on that team as individuals.
And that is what college sports can be about. That is what college sports, at least to me, is all about. I know there is money to be made, and there are people who are debating who should have that money, but to me, that is all periphery. Deep down, at its core, there is something bigger than wins and losses. There is a bond that can be formed, between teammates, between players and coaches, that can teach.
That's what college sports did for me. For the most part, I was a shy kid when I arrived on the campus at UW-Platteville. I played 4 years of baseball there, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I always wore sunglasses when I played, and apparently teammates called me “Shades” because no one knew my name. Over 4 years of being on a team, bonding with teammates and coaches, that all changed. There are still some things that I keep to myself, but college sports helped me come out of my shell a little, and helped me get to where I am today. I have no doubt that it has done the same for others. But when you start getting money involved, I wonder if those bond, those teaching lessons will still be the same. If you start paying players, will actions like the ones Mike Rice pulled off at Rutgers become acceptable? Because once money starts getting involved, is it really about teaching life lessons? Or will it just complete the journey the NCAA is currently on, and become completely about money?
Florida Gulf Coast is the story of the week. As they should be. They are a fun to watch, and they are making history. Their run over the last weekend is a reminder of what puts the “madness” into March. Its a reminder that anything can happen in this tournament, and its why many of us love taking three weekends out of our lives to watch this true version of reality TV unfold.
We love upsets, unless it is our team that is upset. We realize that anything can happen, but become irrational if it is our team that anything is happening to. The Wisconsin Badgers were such a team this year. They fell victim to one of the “Cinderella” teams in the tournament. They obviously did themselves no favor by having their worst shooting day of the season. But people were upset after an early exit, and all of the Bo Ryan haters came out of the woodwork on social media.
“Fire Bo!” They were all proclaiming. “He can't get it done during the tournament.” What they seemed to forget is rule number one of March Madness: Anything can happen. (Well just about anything. I mean the only thing we haven't seen at this point is a 16 beating a 1 seed. Or a team lower than an 8th seed winning the whole thing. But you get the point.) If you are a Badgers fan, you have every right to be disappointed, or mad, or angry about their loss to Ole Miss. I get it. But at the same time, can we please stay rational?
Building a college basketball program takes time. UW basketball history more or less starts with Dick Bennett, and continues with Bo Ryan. The Badgers hoops program is still in its infancy. They are in a spot where they are consistent contenders now in the Big Ten, and they are ready to take that next step. So the question has somehow become, has Bo Ryan taken the Badgers as far as he can?
I understand the question. Some fans are thinking that UW can have more than just one Elite Eight appearance over the last 8 years. And sometimes this is just the case in sports. One coach lays the groundwork, but then it takes another coach to put the team over the top. The best, and most local, example I can come up with is Ned Yost. He was a hassle at times to deal with. Most fans were pretty sick of him and relieved when he was shown the door late in 2008. He technically never led the Brewers to the postseason, but he does not receive the credit he deserves. The Brewers were a mess when he took over, and he helped change the culture, the mindset of the club. The Brewers haven't been consistent playoff contenders, but they are a competitive team, and Ned Yost deserves and earned some of the credit behind the teams turnaround.
I do not believe that is the case for the Wisconsin Badgers just yet. Bo has gotten the team this far, and I think he can continue to elevate the program. It helps that the talent inside the state of Wisconsin has gotten better over the past 5 years, and now he has convinced Sam Dekker and his AAU teammate Bronson Koenig to stay in state. But the true sign of growth is that Ryan and his staff were able to get Nigel Hayes from Toledo, Ohio, to pick UW over his home state school of Ohio State.
Paired with Dekker, the 5 players that are going to be coming to Madison this upcoming fall have the potential to be the most talented group Ryan has had to date. Before we decide to run him out of town, lets see what he can do with this group first, shall we?