Celebrating the King

Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard - Preview Day 2
Photo courtesy of Richard Heathcote, Getty Images

This week at the first Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, since Arnold Palmer passed last year, has a different feel to it. It may be a bit somber at times, but golfers and fans alike are there to pay homage to the king, and celebrate a life well lived. Just in time to kick off the tournament last Saturday, the 13-foot, 1,392-pound bronze statue of Palmer was unveiled behind the first tee.

Arnold was a man of the people. He loved interacting with fans while on and off the course. For this reason, you will not see ropes or security around Arnold’s statue. He would have wanted his fans to be able to take pictures with the statue placed in his honor. Palmer’s golf bag is also there, positioned on the far-right corner of the range, his favorite spot to dig it out of the dirt. His cart, with two sets of clubs on the back, as usual, is stationed behind the 16th tee, his favorite spot to watch golf. And that’s not all. Some of the trophies and medals from Palmer’s office are available for viewing throughout the course.

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Photo courtesy of ftw.usatoday.com, Getty

Palmer’s habit at Bay Hill was to greet each player after they completed the 18th hole. However, he won’t be there this year for the first time ever. The players may feel some sadness, but they also understand Palmer would have wanted them to celebrate. At the press conference on Wednesday, there was also some sadness, but many told stories, and shared their memories of Palmer. This weekend the players are playing in his memory and to honor him in the best way possible.

Many players have chosen to wear merchandise with Palmer’s name or image. Some players have put the umbrella on their caps, shirts or golf bags for the week. Player Rickie Fowler is wearing custom handmade golf shoes this week during the tournament in honor of Palmer.

Palmer played his final game in the Bay Hill invitational in 2004. He magically made a hole-in-one. A very fitting finish for the King.

Palmer won seven major titles in six years and 62 tour wins overall. He elevated the game with his humble attitude, appreciation for the fans, and changed the game of golf forever. He started his career in 1954 as an amateur, and we can say the rest is history. Even if you don’t golf, you know his name.

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Photo courtesy of Rex Haggard, Golfchannel.com

Can the Ducks Fly Into the Final Four

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Photo by Richard Brian for The Oregonian/OregonLive

The Ducks entered Saturday’s game against the Arizona Wildcats with one of their top players out for the season. Senior forward Chris Boucher tore his ACL during Friday night’s win over Cal during the semifinals.

Boucher was injured in the first half of the Cal game, but still played the remainder of the game. It was confirmed after the game that he had torn his ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

The Ducks entered the court ready to play Arizona for the PAC-12 tournament title. While they didn’t start off strong, they came back from a deficit during the second half. Unfortunately, they still lost to Arizona 83-80 in the final minute of the game.

Arizona clinched the PAC-12 tournament championship with their win over the Ducks, and had a chance of being the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  However, once other games were determined, Arizona placed as the No. 2 seed against No. 15 seed, North Dakota. That game will be played March 16 in Salt Lake City.

The Ducks are placed as the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, playing against No. 14 seed Iona, and will play on Friday, March 17, in Sacramento. If the Ducks win that game, they will play the winner of No. 6 Creighton vs No. 11 Rhode Island game on March 19.

If the Ducks play Creighton, it will somewhat of a homecoming for Head Coach Dana Altman. Before Altman accepted the head coaching job at Oregon, he helped build up the Creighton program.

There are currently four PAC-12 teams in the NCAA tournament, No. 2 seed Arizona, No. 3 seeds Oregon and UCLA, and No. 11 USC.

Oregon Duck Basketball Teams Aim High

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Oregon’s Jordan Bell goes in for the dunk over Oregon States Drew Eubanks. Photo courtesy of Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard

This weekend the Ducks men’s basketball team clinched the PAC-12 title by beating the Oregon State Beavers 80-59 at Gill Coliseum. The No. 6 Ducks finished the regular season with a 27-4 record. Last night’s game was the 348th meeting between the teams, making it the most contested rivalry in college basketball.  Last year, the Ducks clinched the Pac-12 title but were eliminated from the 2016 NCAA Tournament in the Elite Eight.

This season the Ducks posted the best record in school history. Oregon’s preseason ranking was fifth and were picked to win the conference this year for the first time in the preseason media poll.

As the Ducks have the top seed, they have a bye for the first round and will play in Las Vegas in the quarterfinals against either Stanford or Arizona State. Currently the PAC-12 is the only conference in the nation that has three teams in the top 10, No. 3 UCLA, No. 6 Ducks, and No. 7 Arizona.

The Oregon women’s basketball team also had an exciting year. On March 3, the No. sixth seed Ducks upset the No. three seed, University of Washington Huskies, in Seattle 70-69 during the PAC-12 quarterfinals tournament play. The team then advanced to play the Stanford Cardinals on Saturday, but lost that game 71-56. The No. 10 Cardinals play No. 6 Oregon State this Sunday in the PAC-12 Tournament title game.

The Ducks women’s team is expected to earn the first berth since 2005 but must wait until March 13 when the bracket is released. Two records were set for both their games played on Friday and Saturday. When the Ducks played the Huskies on Friday, it was the largest crowd for the PAC-12 quarterfinals in tournament history with 9,686 in attendance. On Saturday when the Ducks played the Cardinals, they set another PAC-12 record with 8,348 in attendance for the semifinals.

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Oregon’s Lexi Bando and Sabrina Ionescu celebrate their win over Washington. AP Photo courtesy of Elaine Thompson

National Anthem Controversy

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Photo courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle, Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

As many avid sports fans already know, the national anthem controversy began in August 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced he would not stand for the anthem in protest of racial discrimination against blacks in the United States. A handful of players in the NFL and a few other sports also refused to stand for the national anthem in support of Kaepernick. Since then, many performers are now rethinking offers to sing the national anthem.

In September 2016, Kaepernick, CBS Sports and a handful of Twitter users noticed that Kaepernick had been wearing practice socks that depict little cartoon police officers as pigs. This did not sit favorably with local and national law enforcement members and their unions. The San Francisco Police Officer Association (SFPOA) even invited Kaepernick to one of their training academies so he could experience how law enforcement works. The SFPOA sent Jed York, President and CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, and Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner a letter denouncing Kaepernick’s actions.

This last Thursday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Kaepernick will stand for the national anthem this upcoming football season. He is opting out of his contract with the 49ers and will be a free agent this week. I believe the reason Kaepernick is saying he will stand for the national anthem is because many players, football organizations, and team owners disagreed with him kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem. Obviously, now that he’s a free agent, he wants to make sure he gets the best contract possible.

Yesterday, March 4, 2017, the U.S. Soccer Federation passed a policy that players must stand during the national anthem. The bylaw says: “All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.”

Last fall, Megan Rapinoe who was on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, kneeled during the national anthem during a game against Thailand. The U.S. Soccer Federation at the time said they did not agree with her decision.

Since the rise and fall of Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the anthem, the NFL’s television ratings dropped 14 percent in 2016 during the same period as the previous year. Some blamed it on the presidential election, while others say it was all about Kaepernick protesting the national anthem. Overall, the final regular season was down a total of 8 percent from 2015.

My take on this situation is firm. I can’t stand individuals like Kaepernick and other athletes who refuse to stand during our national anthem, and use their celebrity and fame as a crutch for such issues. In my opinion, I see them as social justice warriors, which I do not support. These individuals talk about oppression and whatever other issues they want, while getting paid millions, if not tens of millions of dollars a year. If I was an owner, I would have fined Kaepernick the maximum legal amount for every game he refused to stand at, and would have restructured his contract as much as possible to withhold pay. I would have also made him a free agent as quickly as possible. In addition, I would make the recommendation to NFL Commissioner Goodell to fine players the maximum amount possible. A player getting hit with fines from owners and the commissioner could easily total six-figures a year, if not more. This would make players think twice before embarrassing the organization, and being disrespectful towards the individuals who wear the uniform, and protect our freedoms.

Some athletes and celebrities use their fame and fortune for good. For instance, actor Gary Sinise earned the title “Honorary Marine” in 2012 due to his commitment to veterans and their families. I am a Marine Corps veteran myself, and served in Iraq. I still have friends who are in the military or law enforcement, and whose parents before them were in law enforcement or the military as well. These individuals deserve the upmost respect from us all. I grew up during the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice era and have been a San Francisco 49ers fan pretty much since the day I was born, but I cannot support Kaepernick’s disrespectful decisions.

Dillon Brooks – Another Big Three

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Photo courtesy of USA Today

As the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team prepares for their last regular season game against Oregon State at Gill Coliseum, Duck fans and basketball fans across the nation are still talking about Junior Forward Dillon Brooks’ second three-point buzzer beater shot this season to win against Cal a few days ago.

Preseason the Ducks were ranked fifth in the nation, but they dropped down to 24th after a few losses. Earlier in the season when they were ranked 21st, the Ducks hosted No. 2 ranked UCLA at Matt Knight Arena. With one second left in the game, Brooks hit his first three-point buzzer-beater of the season, clinching the win for the Ducks.

The win against UCLA helped put Oregon back in the spotlight, and they have worked their way back up in the rankings. During a rematch with UCLA earlier this month at Pauley Pavilion, the Ducks lost by three points in the final minutes of the game. The Bruins got their revenge.

The Ducks bounced back in mid-February by beating Colorado, 101 – 73, at home. I believe that’s when the Ducks got some of their confidence back.

When the No. 6 Ducks played Cal at Haas Pavilion earlier this week, Cal lead the game until the last 1:51 when Chris Boucher’s layup gave Oregon the lead. Then with .02 seconds left on the clock, Dillon Brooks hit his three-pointer to win the game. It was déjà vu for Brooks, the Ducks, the fans and anybody in the sports industry.

The Ducks are currently 25-4 with one game left in the regular season. If the Ducks pull off another solid win to end the season, then it’s off to the post season. The question is, how will Oregon surprise the rest of the nation? Will they dominate teams? Or will it come down to the final few minutes where Brooks will pull off another amazing buzzer beater to clinch the win for the Ducks to advance?

Brooks is a fascinating player to watch, so only time will tell. I had the opportunity to interact with him on Veterans Day, November 11, 2016, when the Ducks hosted Army. I was privileged to take part in Military Appreciation Night as one of 12 military veterans, all who are U of O students. We were invited down to the court during half time to get our photo taken.

After the game we returned to the court where each veteran exchanged a symbolic item from our time in the military with one of the Duck players. The player matched with me was Brooks. I gave him my Marine Corps Eagle Globe and Anchor (EGA) pin, which signifies the right of passage in becoming a United States Marine. I explained the meaning behind the EGA so Brooks would know the symbolic significance to those who have earned the title of United States Marine. In return, he gave me his jersey from that night’s game, which had been custom made just for that game and not sold to the public. Brooks was a very polite young individual, who had nothing but kind words to express. We veterans all appreciated the honor and respect shown by the Ducks basketball players and staff.

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Will Tiger ever bounce back?

PGA: Farmers Insurance Open - First Round
Image courtesy of Progolfnow.com

Ongoing back issues have plagued Tiger’s golf career over the past three years. Since 2014, Woods has played only 10 weekend rounds and has more back surgeries (three) than top-10 finishes (one).

Right before the season kicked off this year, Tiger committed to four tournaments, including the Farmers Insurance Open, Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Genesis Open, and the Honda Classic. Tiger and golf fans worldwide thought he was going to kick off the 2017 PGA season with high hopes and no hiccups. That didn’t happen.

First, Tiger missed the cut for the Farmers Insurance Open. Just an hour before he was scheduled to tee off for the start of the second round at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Tiger withdrew because of back spasms. Then just this past Wednesday, he injured his back and had to withdraw from the Genesis Open, which is being played this weekend.

Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, said that after a visit to one of his doctors, Tiger was advised to “just stay horizontal.” He even cancelled a press conference slated for Wednesday because he couldn’t sit in a chair, let alone play golf.

What does this mean for Tiger and the PGA?  With all the hype at the beginning of the season, ticket sales received a boost for the tournaments that Tiger committed too. Unfortunately, excitement is now lagging. Most fans would like to see Tiger come back and finish what is left of his career on a high note, but it remains to be seen if he can accomplish that.

Even though Tiger withdrew from this weekend’s tournament to recover, I think the real question on every fan’s mind is “Will Tiger be healthy enough to play in April at the Masters, and possibly win another green jacket?!”

Competing Interests

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Mojave National Preserve, California. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The LA Times recently reported that the nonprofit group, The Mojave Desert Land Trust, had donated more than 3,000 acres of desert land to the Mojave National Preserve. The preserve is located on federal land and managed by the National Park Service (NPS), an agency within the Department of Interior.

While it is a stretch to relate this story to my blog about sports through the eyes of a fan, a story like this does have significant interest for sportsmen and women who use federal public lands to hunt, fish, and recreate.

This story grabbed my interest because I have one parent who worked in a federal land management agency for nearly 40 years, and another parent who is an avid outdoor sportsman.

There has been much attention given this last year to the subject of federal land ownership within the United States. For example, an armed group led by Ammon Bundy took control of the Malheur Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. They demanded the federal government relinquish the land to local officials so it would be more accessible for ranching, mining, and other uses.

Then, there is the official Republican stand. At their convention last summer in Cleveland, they included a provision in the RNC platform calling for the transfer of federal land to states. However, the new Republican president apparently differs from the official party position.

An editorial director of Field & Stream and Outdoor Life interviewed Donald Trump prior to his election, asking him how he felt about transferring federal land to the states. Trump said “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?”

So, what’s the deal? These are obviously many competing interests at stake here.

The federal government does own large portions of the west. In fact, about 53 percent of Oregon is federal land. Most of it is under control of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Advocates for state ownership think states will be more responsive to the people who wish to use the land. But studies have shown that it would be very costly for states to administer these lands, collecting rent and issuing permits. Can states support those kinds of costs? Many are worried they can’t, including President Trump.

The battle over management of federal land has been going on for decades, and will likely continue for a long time to come because of all the competing interests. This is why it’s nice to see someone happy about more land coming into federal ownership. As explained in the LA Times article, the nonprofit Mojave Desert Land Trust has turned over about 23,000 acres of land to the National Park Service. Greg Gress, regional realty chief for NPS happily stated “Scenic views, sensitive habit and historic resources that might otherwise be lost are now protected in perpetuity for all to appreciate and enjoy.”