State of The Rcok

State of The Rcok
NFL News and Commentary

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Snake Oil and the Light Beneath the Basket

The stories of child prodigies rarely have happy endings. Is it curiosity or jealousy that justifies our holding them to a higher standard? Cast into the spotlight by a god given talent, they are put under a microscope.  The fire that launched their success - is often snuffed out by the media frenzy, deal making, scrutiny and hangers on. The light from that fire can be hidden for years - under a basket of problems that have nothing to do with the game. I was reminded of this as two such prodigies came across my TV screen this week.

I rarely bet on the LPGA. My respect for female golfers and tennis players is immense. Any one of them could easily emasculate the average tough guy at the clubhouse bar. I just don’t follow the women’s game that closely though. I always watch this weeks Major for the jump into Poppy’s Pond.

I saw Michelle Wie at the sports book at 50-1 and couldn’t resist. I knew she was not trending, but she is still an athlete capable of performing miracles on any given weekend. As I tuned in to watch her play, the scenario was all too familiar. She was struggling to keep up with the field. Upon closer inspection, her technique looked more experimental than strategic. She was literally turned backwards at impact. Her demeanor seemed uncertain, almost whimsical. Why?

Michelle first pleyd this weeks major at 13. She turned pro at the age of 16, nearly 9 years ago. She was cast into the spotlight at an early age. Her talent and her body developed early. Like an Anna Kournikova, with a real chance not just to win, but to dominate. Just what the LPGA and the golf industrial complex needed. Her golf swing was almost technically perfect. She was long an accurate. So much so, that she was pressured into competing against the men on the PGA - which I think is awesome! However, it did not sit well with many of the old guard chauvanistic tour pros like Vijay Singh - who helped to make that a harrowing experience. She was 16 for Christs sake. What a bunch of jerks.

When her accomplishments fell short of the media’s expectations, she fell and fell hard. Eventually she left the game and went off to college. She returned to the game and won on tour last year, but she has never dominated the game to the extent her unique talent should allow. Even older female players like Annika Sorenstam have recently taken stabs at her. Golf is a head game. Through no fault of her own, hers is somewhere between swing theory, the mall and the 18th hole at Augusta. We all return to what if familiar though. When you are great at an early age, you are always great. It is jut a matter of finding it again. Unfortunately, there are obstacles and opportunists muddying the waters along the way. 

Randal Chamblee has spoken of opportunists in the game of golf on numerous occasions – most frequently the swing coach variety. They are in his mind and mine, a scourge on the game. They are for the most part - charlatans and robber barons selling snake oil. Michael Jordan didn’t need anyone teaching him how to shoot a free throw at 30. Tiger didn't need a swing coach either. Natural talent and technique gets players to the top. Swing coach’s experiment with them like lab rats in order to promote their latest theory/gimmick and make millions in the process. By the time they are done, the player may have trouble even remembering how to play the game.

I watched Wie’s swing coach working with Michelle her after her round. It was comical and sad. 
Instructors have more to learn from prodigies than to teach. 

He's just another salesman. Not picking on him in particular.  But If he did his job - he would not be giving post game instruction after her round over par. PGA professionals spend a fortune to get certified. They learn everything about golf - but nothing about how to teach it. Michelle is currently 4 over T58. I could care less about the $20 I bet on her. But, watching the industrial golf complex suck the blood out of a brilliant talent is hard to watch.

To be fair - as far as Michelle is concerned, screw the press or what I think, I just hope she’s having fun and enjoying life. Her game may not be where she wants it yet. But she seems to have come through all of this unscathed in her personal life. And is laughing all the way to the bank.

Watching Michelle and her coach did remind me of another child prodigy though, one whose career has taken a similar albeit more calamitous path. He will be teeing it up at The Masters next week.


A star is isolated, often more alone and vulnerable than the average person. Whether it be Scientology or a swing theory – an introduction within their inner circle to a trending mentor can change the direction of their career forever. No recent example proves this point better than the relationship between Sean Foley and Tiger Woods. Woods life was a fire storm of controversy. At that very vulnerable point in his life – he met Foley. In the years to follow – Foley would make millions off Tiger and systematically destroy every aspect of his game in the process. Foley’s need for attention and notoriety was pathological. He would literally follow Tiger to the range during tournaments in an attempt to suck up as much of the spotlight as possible. Man purse in hand, he would continue to instruct - right up to tee time. Golf is not a team sport.  If you have done your job as a coach, you are not needed on game day. 

Five years or so later, Tiger’s chronic injuries (partially caused by Foleys ridiculous swing theory) and failures on tour forced his stubborn ego to finally face reality and he cut ties with Foley. If you try to argue that Foley has helped other players on tour like Justin Rose or Mahan – check those player stats. None of them improved under Foley. He just rode their coat tails. Injuries forced Tiger to leave the game late last year. My advice at the time was for Tiger to go play golf for 6 months– Alone!  Like Jordan, he knows more about the game than any coach on the planet. Perhaps his father’s military influence left him thinking he needed to be structured. He doesn’t. He just needs to play golf.

One problem I knew Tiger would face was getting Foley’s swing thoughts out of his head. After five years of having Foley in his ear, it would be like deprogramming a Moonie. That would take about 6 months Minimum. He needed to get away from all the Gurus. To my disappointment, early this year, news of his new swing coach Chris Como demonstrating one of his theories surfaced. He was jumping off a high dive swinging an iron. The guy was just clumsily falling into the water. That was helpful.  OK, you dropped Dianetics - now you’re at the airport with a tambourine. 

Tiger needs quit listening to salesmen. Breaking Jack's records is a limited time offer. "We can't do this all day."
10,000 hours, TrakMan. Swing Speed, and “It’s a Process” are all bullshit. Simulators can ruin your game – stay off them. They were built to sell golf clubs. You want to know where your game is – play 18 and look at the score card. It doesn’t take a year to change your swing. There are 4 main disciplines in golf:  Hitting, Chipping, Putting, Course Management. Pick a  technique and practice each on a real course. If one isn't working - adjust your technique until it does. Period!

So is there a point to my rambling? Yes. Everyone has been asking me who I like at the Masters. My favorite is Jordan Spieth. One of the few young stars who seems immune to the game outside the game. Even he has to watch it. The American Media is poisonous. All they talked about last year was that he hadn't won again in 2014. He went to Australia at the end of the year. The Aussies never mentioned his lack of wins. It was like watching coverage from a year before when he first came on the scene. Nothing but praise from the Aussie press. He won by 6 strokes, against the biggest names in Europe. He got on a plane, flew for 20 hours and won by 10 strokes over best players in the world at Hero the very next week.
Yesterday in his post round interview - leading by a stroke - NBC confronted him with not converting his last 3 leads into wins. Poison!
Also not true. He actually converted his last two 54 hole leads. Australia and Hero we just not PGA events.  Other than Spieth - I have no idea who I'll bet at The Masters  – until I do the stats. J.B Holmes is due. Bubba hasn't played in a while but he and Walker are threats.

Tiger gave everyone the answer they wanted to hear this week. He’s playing Augusta. To be honest, I have no idea what he has been doing. He shot 74 in a practice round. He feels like he can compete. 50/50 he misses the cut. 


I do know this, when any pro plays a tournament he has won 4 times he has a chance. When the greatest player in history is at 40-1 I’ll take one. You never know when that light may burn through the basket.

-Rick Jansen

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