Archive for May, 2009

Propping Up a Loser

May 27, 2009

by John Furgele

I really can’t believe what I read.  This week, John Daly’s six month PGA suspension comes to an end, and as usual, there have been several columns trumpeting his return.  Among the descriptors, “he is a draw, “he has appeal,” “he brings a spark to the PGA tour,” and “he is the everyman.”  While Daly does do that, the fact that he gets hyped up is beyond comprehension.

I hate to say this, but John Daly is a low-life, a loser, and is not good for the game for the golf or the PGA tour.  Maybe that is a bit strong, perhaps too strong.  Unlike other pro athletes, he didn’t kill anybody, drive drunk and injure anybody or electrocute dogs because they didn’t do well in a fighting ring, so maybe I am being a bit too harsh on the insecure and childlike Daly. 

Daly is admired because he is a fearless player.  When people describe him, they often use the term “grip it and rip it,” as he drives the ball 300 plus yards.  In 1991, he was the ninth alternate and he drove through the night to play in the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick and shocked the golf world by winning a major title.  Four years later, at Royal St. Andrews, he did something that was even more unexpected:  he validated his first major title by winning the British Open in a four hole playoff no less.

As fearless as he is on the course, he is fearful off it.  The drinking problems, the marital problems, the arrests and most importantly, the arrogance he shows toward these problems are his cross to bear.  He admits he is an alcoholic, yet he brags about continuing to drink.  He brags about his sex life, the three packs of cigarettes he smokes and the case of Diet Coke he drinks each day.  This is a man who lived in excess, yet thumbs his nose at those who wish he would get help, real help.  This is a man who after finishing rehab celebrates by going to a bar.

Daly is going through his third divorce and he strikes me as a guy who meets a woman on Thursday and marries her on Sunday.  There is a good chance that he will marry again, and a better chance that he will divorce again, yet America roots for this man because he plays with reckless abandon on the PGA Tour.

He is lauded for being a regular guy, but dogs it in tournaments.  He has walked off the course and quit, and has shot 16s, 14s and 11s for individual holes.  He has almost as many rounds in the 80s as he does in the 60s.  When out of contention, he’ll play 18 holes in two hours than brag about with a drink afterwards.

Despite all this negativity, he remains an intriguing character.  He is 43, and this is probably his final chance to right himself and to give golf an honest chance, perhaps the first time in his career.  There will be people rooting for him.  These people say that he reminds them of themselves, but most 40 year olds I know are not professional golfers, do not smoke three packs a day and do not have the issues that John Daly has. 

I will remain neutral on John Daly.  I won’t root for him; I won’t root against him.  I also don’t care if he gets his life in order or wins another major title.  John Daly is John Daly, and that’s both a comedy and a tragedy.

The Problem With Horse Racing

May 26, 2009

by John Furgele

May is a great month for sports.  It starts of course on the first Saturday with the Kentucky Derby.  Despite the decline of horse racing in American sports, the Derby still draws over 150,000 people to Churchill Downs and more importantly, draws a 10.7 television rating.  There has to be some interest in this event, as 12.2 million TV viewers would indicate. 

Mint That Bird, at 50-1 pulled off a monumental upset and headed to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore to see if he could win the Preakness and head to Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown.  Waiting for him in Baltimore was the fabulous filly, Rachel Alexandra, and she would get the best of  the game gelding with over 77,000 watching at Pimlico and another 7 million watching on NBC.

If the filly and the gelding head to Long Island for the Belmont, look for another strong television rating and 50,000 plus fans to head to the track to watch.  What does this say about horse racing?  It says that Americans generally care about big events, and the Triple Crown and even the Breeders Cup are big events.  The Kentucky Derby is the Kentucky Derby and will always be covered and followed by sports writers and sports fans.  But, what about the rest of the horse racing season?

The major problem with horse racing is that there are too many tracks and too many races and frankly too many days of racing.  Every year, there is always the story that centers on broken down Pimlico and that this year could be the last year that the Preakness will be run at the second oldest track in America (Saratoga).  Pimlico only races on 20 days and even though nearby Laurel picks up after the Pimlico season, the average attendance is dreadful.  There is nothing special about horse racing anymore.  When there are 160 days of live racing, how unique can it be? 

If horse racing wants to grab a bigger slice of the sports landscape, the tracks have to offer less, as in more is less.  Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post suggests that Laurel be closed and Pimlico enhanced to have a 30-35 day meet ala Saratoga to make sure fans make plans to get to the race track at least one time.

Saratoga Race Course remains the model, or what every other race track aspires to be.  The Upstate New York haven is only open 36 times per year and averages about 25,000 fans per day during the meet.  Saratoga is special.  The quality of racing is good, the purses are good and people know that it is only going tobe around for just 36 days.  There is no fall, spring schedule for those who miss the 36 day summer meet.

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) operates Saratoga and also runs Belmont and Aqueduct, so in essence, they offer year-round racing.  But only the diehards would venture to the Big A for racing on the first Saturday in February, but rather than close, states insist that horse racing live on, day after day after day. 

More tracks should follow the Saratoga model or the Beyer model.  By operating on fewer days, you make the product more special.  The NFL is the blurprint.  There are 16 games, just 16 chances to see the product, and frankly, even though expanding the season by two games is tantilizing, the NFL would be better served by not doing it. 

Beyer thinks Pimlico could be saved by offering a high quality 35 day meet with quality races from early April through Memorial Day.  He also suggests closing Laurel and refurbishing Pimlico into a must go to venue, both for horseman and fans.   A ritzier Pimlico with only 35 dates could be appealing for Marylanders, who still take pride in breeding horses. 

It costs a lot of money just to open a track and why open the track 160 times for 750 fans when you can open it up 35 times for 10,000 fans or more?  Americans prove each May and early June that they like horse racing; that they like to watch a big time sporting event like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.  But, after these three races, they don’t really care about the sport anymore, and they certainly don’t care about the other 250 days of racing in America. 

The industry, because it varies widely from state to state probably won’t change, but each state should consolidate.  Maryland doesn’t need Laurel and Pimlico and certainly doesn’t need 100 days of racing.  New York probably doesn’t need winter racing at Aqueduct, but that doesn’t mean it will change. 

Most want to see horse racing stick around, but the best way to do it is to cut down on the product, because we all know that most of the time, less is more.

Kentucky Derby 135

May 2, 2009

by John Furgele

May could be the best month of the year with everything that’s going on, but the month starts with the Run for the Roses, and for what it’s worth, here are my selections.

Win:  Freisen’s Fire

Place:  I Want Revenge

Show:  Hold Me Back

We’ll see how that works out.