Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Lasting Message Too Real To Be Corny

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

You might not know who W. P. “Bill” Kinsella is, but chances are you’ve seen the movie one of his books became, a movie released nationwide on April 21, 1989 -- 25 years ago this past Monday.

“Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta and James Earl Jones, began as a Kineslla short story, “Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa.” In 1982, with that story as Chapter 1, “Shoeless Joe” became Kinsella’s first published novel.

As novels-to-books go, this one follows the author’s work closely. Since the novel is 300 pages and the movie is 107 minutes, some things had to be cut or condensed, including a wonderful character called The Oldest Living Chicago Cub. You can meet him if you read the book.

If you liked the movie, you might also enjoy Kinsella’s “Iowa Baseball Confederacy” and a book of baseball short stories, “The Thrill of the Grass.” Good spring reading from the mind of a remarkably imaginative man.

The theme and storyline of “Shoeless Joe” is satisfyingly true on film. Though baseball is a main player, the themes involve injustice, the dynamic of fathers and sons, and how sacrifice is stitched throughout the honest pursuit of any dream.

Often I receive by email a Business Development Thought of the Day from my friend Tom Arceneaux, something you can sign up for by sending a note to (It’s free!) He reminded me in his latest that to see his vision fulfilled, Ray Kinsella, the movie’s main character, had to sacrifice:

“His finances, by plowing under productive acres of corn;
“His time, by taking off on a journey whose end he did not know;
“His reputation, because the folks in his community, and his lenders, thought he was crazy;
“His comfort, because following the vision required him to do strange new things;
“His choices, because once on the journey, he went through doors that limited his options.”

One of the reasons the movie remains popular is because we pull for people who sacrifice to make a worthwhile dream come true.

Plus there is an amount of redemption for Shoeless Joe, unfairly banned from baseball, and for Ray’s father, a catcher whose baseball life for the most part ended  due to unfortunate circumstance and timing.

Finally, there’s the possibility for both a son and a dad to play catch together one more time. That makes some guys cry – unless they’ve already cried because Ray wasted all that corn, cutting it down for a baseball field, way back at the movie’s beginning. Some of us pro-corn people find that hard to deal with, even though we love baseball. Creamed corn, corn on the cob, kernel corn, cornbread, corn casserole … To paraphrase the movie’s most famous line, “If you grow it, we will eat.”

I know Kinsella loved the movie, (maybe as much as I love corn). He told me so on one of the two lucky occasions I got to be around him. Both times he was quiet and kind, humble, an observer and thinker. The second time we talked was not long after the movie was released, one early-’90s spring day when he spoke and read on the Northwestern State campus in Natchitoches on the opening day of the Demons’ baseball season.

But the first was before that, at a book signing in a Shreveport bookstore. I got him to sign copies of “Shoeless Joe” for maybe a half-dozen friends. I bought a couple of his titles I didn’t have. And since no other customers were there at the time, I got him to sign a baseball for my son, who I carried into the bookstore in one of my arms. My boy is 25 now; he was not quite 2 then. Still have the baseball, of course:

“To Casey: Go the distance, Bill Kinsella”


Sunday, April 13, 2014

DOUBLE BUBBA: Watson Cruises To His Second Masters Title In Three Years

By Teddy Allen

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sunday at the 2014 Masters marks the first time a Bubba in north Georgia has ever won a race by going just barely over the speed limit. 

It would have been nice if someone had done something to threaten Bubba Watson Sunday. Hiccupped in his backswing. “Accidentally” broken his pretty pink driver. They like rasslin’ around here, correct? Couldn’t somebody have body-slammed him?

Or even made a birdie?

Oh well. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much now that it wasn’t a photo finish like the most recent two Masters, won in Sunday playoffs at sunset. This one will be remembered more for who won it than for how. Especially in these parts where, for one week of the year, golf is about as important as air to breathe and biscuits and gravy to eat.

Watson, a fan favorite, a University of Georgia product and a son the of the South, broke a tie game just before Turn Four – on No. 9 in Sunday’s final round, to be precise – then put it on cruise control to win by three strokes his second green jacket in three years. In 2012 he won it in a playoff on No. 10, the second playoff hole. Sunday he needed only to tap in on the storied 18th to cap this one.

“A guy named Bubba born in Pensacola,” said Watson, who sort of creates his own fun and drama on the golf course by just being Bubba. “To win one green jacket is a dream come true. To win two is icing on the cake. I never thought I’d get this far…I’m just trying to keep my Tour card every year, and I’m lucky enough to have won two green jackets. I play the game not to be called a great player. I love it and want to grow the game.”

So again, after a no-pressure walk up 18 and a tap-in to win, he cried, as he did in 2012 and as your true Bubbas will do at such memorable moments. Bubba’s sincere tears are quickly becoming, like the Masters itself, a tradition like none other.

He hugged his caddie. Hugged his wife. And this time the popular champion had a toddling two-year-old son, a newborn two Aprils ago, to pick up and carry halfway around the 18th green while he slapped hands with patrons. 

The Bubbafication of America continues.

Tied for second were a pair of Masters rookies, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth of Dallas, the PGA’s Rookie of the Year in 2012, and the steady Jonas Blixt, a Swede who has finished in the top five in the two most recent majors. Spieth (71-70-70-72) and Blixt (70-71-71-71) each shot 283, 5-under and three strokes off Bubba’s pace (69-68-74-69), an 8-under, 280 total.

Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, whose 66 Saturday and ponytail were tournament highlights, finished 4-under and alone in fourth. Ricky Fowler (73 Sunday) and Matt Kuchar (74) tied for fifth at 2-under.

While Watson’s victory was well-earned – he actually trailed by three on No. 4, by two coming off No. 7 and shot a 3-under 69 – the truth is that no one in that group of runners-up put up much of a fight on this breezy, cloudy and comfortable afternoon at Augusta National.  Although he was for a moment dare-devilish  -- even with a 3-shot lead on 15, he chose to hit an iron between pines, over the pond and over the green’s backside – Watson won going away by simply going the speed limit.

“We didn’t put much pressure on him,” said Spieth, who birdied from the sand on No. 4 to take a 3-shot lead. “When he’s driving the ball well, he’s tough to beat. Being able to make pars coming in made it a lot easier on him.”

They say the Masters doesn’t really start until the back nine on Sunday, but this one turned late on the front nine. Spieth led by two walking off No. 7. Then in the next two holes, something called “golf” happened to him.

He 3-putted No.  8 and saw his approach come back down the hill on 9; he bogeyed both. Watson birdied both and walked to the second nine leading Spieth by two, Blixt by four and Kuchar and Fowler by five.
“He started out hot,” Watson said of Spieth. “For me to back it up and make birdies on top of him helped a lot. Gave me a little momentum.”

Spieth’s last attempt to pass Watson came on a notable par save from the sand on 10 as Watson bogeyed. Watson’s lead was a single stroke.

The pair traded pars on 11. But then came 12, the par-3 “Golden Bell,” the heart of Amen Corner and, according to some guy named Nicklaus who won six green jackets, “the toughest hole in tournament golf.” Spieth hit it in the water.

He made a tough putt to save bogey as Watson made par, but then Spieth drove it into the right-side pine straw and could not birdie the course’s easiest hole, the par-5 13th, as Watson did. Watson’s lead was back to three with five holes left.
“All I thought about,” Watson said, “was make pars and make pars.”

Sunday, Spieth played the final three par-3s in 1-over. Can’t get in the passing lane if you do that.
And for the week, Spieth played holes 8 through 14 in 3-over par; Bubba played them in 1-under. 

“Spieth was 20 when this round started, and when it ends he’ll be 40,” said Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins, like Spieth, a Dallas-Fort Worth native. Jenkins has the experience of 64 Masters; Spieth has the experience of 1, plus however many years a Sunday round in the final pairing equals. Whether or not Spieth will turn into some sort of Hogan or Nelson remains to be seen, but his talent and energy for the game is evident.

Blixt, another Masters rookie, fashioned a never-in-trouble 71, but 1-under on the back nine wouldn’t threaten the leader. The more veteran of the contenders – Jimenez, Fowler, Kuchar and Lee Westwood, who finished seven back, started the day too far back to shoot par-ish scores and still contend.

And so, after Watson’s daring and successful approach to 15, and after Spieth missed the same green right, the rookie was out of any serious chances. Blixt, playing in the group ahead, was steady but could score no better than par.

In other words, it was all over but the crying. And Bubba took care of that.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

The (Un)Usual Suspects In Fight For Green Jacket

From 2014 Augusta National: Masters 2014 Third Round

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jordan Spieth -- rhymes with thief -- is a 20-year-old who could steal the 2014 Masters. 

Spieth and 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson, tied at the top at 5-under and 211, make up the final pairing when they tee off (2:40 EST) in today’s final round.

It’s the tightest Masters field since 2006. Only 14 shots separate the top from bottom. Eleven players are within four shots of the lead.

In that group, only Jim Furyk (2-under) and Fred Couples (1-under) have won a major. A familiar Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar and Lee “Anyone Seen My Major?!” Westwood appear, but otherwise the pursuers favor a Jonas Blixt, a Thomas Bjorn and a John Senden, alone in second Saturday morning but tied with four others for fifth now.

Speaking of PGA players we don’t know, can we mention Spieth again? Even though he shot a solid 70 Saturday, you might not know him because he’s been on tour since only last year and on the planet since only July of 1993. He wasn’t born yet when Couples, who played in the group behind him Saturday, won the Masters in 1992, and he’d just turned pro around the time Watson won his Masters two Aprils ago. 
“Oh,” you’re saying. “THAT Jordan Spieth.”

Hey, don’t joke around. This is serious. He became the first teen in 80 years to win on tour when, still 19, he won the John Deere Classic last year and cruised to the Rookie of the Year title. By nightfall Sunday, we could be saying he’s the youngest Masters champ ever, seven months younger than Tiger Woods was when he won his first in 1997 – when Spieth was almost 4.

He’s young, is the point. Had he not joined the tour, Spieth would be a junior on the University of Texas golf team right now. Instead he’s hinting, with all this early promise, to turn into another one of those famous Texas golf legends like Hogan or Nelson or Crenshaw.

Maybe it won’t happen. Probably won’t. Spieth has never played the back nine at Augusta National on a Masters Sunday. But no matter what, he’s certain to remember this, his first Masters. He’ll have no problem focusing, he said, because “there’s just so much that goes into each shot with how hard the course is that you’re not worried too much about … anything on the outside.”

Plenty can happen on the inside, and that’s where Spieth and Company will have issues, the Masters patrons and CBS TV cameras aside. Ask these people:
Blixt and Bjorn would each be a shot or two closer had they not hit into the Rae’s Creek tributary, within seconds of each other, on 13. Defending champ Adam Scott, who began the day in a tie for second, shot 40 on the front to disappear. Gary Woodland shot a sizzling 30 to tie the course record for the front side, birdied 10, then went bogey, double-bogey.

Brandt Snedeker, playing in his seventh Masters, five-putted the par-3 4th – from four feet. It’s a long story of lip-outs and putts past the hole, but he managed it. 

And Watson shot a 74 (38-36) after rounds of 69-68. He bogeyed 1, 4, 6 and 7 on the front, and left several puts short on the back, including an eagle try on 15 that stopped 10 feet short of the cup.

Everyone will have more room than normal to maneuver since 14 of the top 30 golfers in the World Rankings won’t play here Sunday, due mostly to either injury or not making the cut. But don’t forget about Fowler, who shot a 67 Saturday. Or Matt Kuchar, who finished third two years ago, shot a 68 Saturday and will be paired with Blixt in today’s second group. Westwood and Furyk are just three strokes back.

Plus, Augusta National itself will keep everyone busy enough. So says happy Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 50-year-old whose 66 was best-of-show Saturday. He’s played here 15 times and has eight Top 10 finishes in majors.
“Patience,” he said. “That’s the secret to play this golf course. And always keep (the ball) below the hole.”

Good advice for young and old.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bubba Leads Masters, Bertha Leads His Fan Club

Second Round of the 2014 Masters

By Teddy Allen

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Her real name is Bertha Marie Bradford, so you’ll forgive her if she goes by Rebo. “It’s just always been a nickname,” she said. “Who names somebody Bertha?”

Her mom, of course, but that’s another story. The point is, this Southern woman from Monroe, La., has done what thousands of other Southerners have done: she’s fallen in love with self-taught pro golfer Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters champion who holds a three-stroke lead going into the weekend of that very same tournament.

She first felt the tug on her first trip to Augusta, in 2011. “I just loved his hair,” she said. “I saw him walking off 18 and said, ‘Hey, Bubba! You’re my man!’ He gave me like a half nod. But that was enough.”

The scales tipped completely as she watched television the following April when Watson pulled off a historic shot from the trash on the second hole of sudden death, then made par for his first green jacket.

“He cries when he wins,” she said, “and he hugs his momma. How can you not love that?”

She and her husband will roam Augusta National this weekend, in person, rooting for Watson on ground that’s yielded just six rounds in the 60s in the first two days. Watson is the only man with two of those.

He started the day a stroke back, shot even on the front and then caught fire on the back, taking advantage of pins a bit more accessible. He birdied five in a row – the par 3s, the 12th and 16th, were the bookends -- to post a 32 for a round of 68. With Thursday’s opening round 69, that’s a 137 total.

The rest of the leaderboard is speckled with a champion or two, but mostly its half eye chart, half geography quiz.

Alone in second place is Australian John Senden, one stroke ahead of four players: defending Masters champion and fellow Australian Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth of Dallas, and two men with reindeer names, Jonas Blixt and Thomas Bjorn.

Fred Couples, who plays Augusta National with the ease of a man dozing in an easy chair,  is one of three players at 142; since turning 50 in late 2009, Couples, the 1992 Masters champ, has finished no worse here than tied for 15th.

More notable might be all the players who won’t tee it up today. Tiger Woods skipped Augusta because of a bad back, and Phil Mickelson will miss the weekend because of missing the cut by a stroke at 5-over. It will be only the second Tiger-less, Phil-less “major” weekend in the past 17 years. Other notables missing the cut: Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson and Dustin Johnson.

Mickelson said his problem was not the bum back or knee. Nothing health-wise plagued him, he said. It wasn’t even bad golf. “I actually played reasonably well for a majority of the holes, and then the ones that I let slide, I end up making a big number,” he said. Those numbers were a pair of 7’s Thursday and a double-par 6 on 12 Friday, when the three-time Masters champ hit into the front bunker, then into the back bunker, then into the front again.

Louis Oosthuizen, former British Open champ and the runner-up to Watson here in 2012, was in the lead until an 8 on No. 15. Short story: the wind tricked him, both in his approach and, of all places, on the green. But at Augusta, these things happen.

Watson knows. Last year as the defending champ and one stroke off the lead on Sunday, he scored a 10 on the 12th with three balls into Rae’s Creek, including one from the bunker. He hit a knock-down 9 to four feet of the pin on the same hole Friday for the first of his five straight birdies.

The Rebos of the world love it when the Bubbas do something like that.

If he can continue to drive the ball well – he’s third in that tournament at 299 yards – hit greens and pick his spots, he’s got a good chance in a talent-deleted field to get back his green jacket.

At the same time, steady Scott, Australia’s answer to America’s Bubba and only four strokes back, has a chance to keep it.