Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Women at Augusta

For almost a decade, Jerry Seinfeld rode the wave of a 30-minute sit com. According to Seinfeld, “The show was a lot about nothing.”
The golf world was dominated this week by the announcement that after nearly 80 years Augusta National Golf Club would be admitting its first two female members. On Monday, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore will be the first female members of the club.
Was this a lot about nothing?
The greatest thing about America is that we have choices. That freedom of choice extends to all entities. For years, service organizations, health clubs, sororities, fraternities and many businesses have decided who can be included or excluded.
Augusta National has been highly criticized for its exclusion of women as members. The club allowed women to play, but they couldn’t join. Payne’s announcement came 23 years after Augusta National admitted its first black member in 1990. The PGA of America had an exclusionary clause in our by-laws prohibiting blacks from being members until 1960. Were Augusta National and the PGA overdue when it came to changing their philosophies? No question, yes.
But, when it comes to golf there are many examples of clubs that appeal to certain niches of players. Butler National GC in Chicago and the Connecticut Golf Club are two examples of men’s only clubs in this country. I personally know the head professionals at both facilities. They are good guys. These are outstanding clubs and golfers in their locales have plenty of choices on where to play.
The Ladies Golf Club of Toronto is North America’s only remaining private club for women. Look on their web site and you will read, “Established by women for women.”  The Ladies GC of Toronto was established in 1924 and actual play began August 23, 1926. That is eight years before Augusta National even opened.
According to the club information, “It wasn’t easy for female golfers to get access to tee times and practice facilities. After playing in women’s clubs in the U.S. and Britain, Ada Mackenzie set about creating a women’s golf club in Toronto. After much work and determination, she succeeded.”
Ada Mackenzie was Canada’s female version of Bobby Jones, one of Augusta National’s founders. She won four Canadian “Open” Amateur Championships. She won several Toronto Golf Club ladies’ championships and was acknowledged as one of the best female golfers in North America and England. In 1938 she won every major golf championship in Canada and was named female athlete of the year by the Canadian Press. She continued to play well into her senior years, winning eight Canadian Ladies’ Senior Golf Association Championships. She played her last competitive round at the age of 78. 
It’s interesting that Ladies Golf Club of Toronto has been such a well-kept secret. Eight years the elder of Augusta National and even the best informed in golf circles would have no clue that an “all ladies” golf club existed in North America. I could not resist making a phone call to the Ladies Golf Club and inquire if they were considering a restructure of membership policies after this week’s events.
“Every club has to look at its market offering. We service the special needs of women in golf and their hospitality requirements. Every day is ladies day,” said Julian Cusworth, General Manager. “The Augusta decision will impact golf as a whole. We do allow men to play on our annual playing package.
“It’s really quite simple. Every club services a particular market,” he said. “There are family clubs. There are many all men’s clubs. Every business has to define its market and pursue that.”
While the Ladies Golf Club does allow men access, prime tee times are limited to women. Men are allowed to play before 8 a.m. and after Noon. Men must be sponsored by a female member. The club currently has 420 full golf female members and 110 female social members. 115 men have access to the course through the Guest Card Holder Packages.
I asked Julian if the Ladies Golf Club of Toronto had ever been criticized for its exclusionary policies.
“Actually in 2003, Sports Illustrated wrote a very critical article. It was tied to the Martha Burk controversy at Augusta National. It was quite an article,” recalls Cusworth. “We shouldn’t be compared to Augusta National in anyway. There was some humor to the article and we were certainly a benefactor of receiving that type of awareness through a publication like Sports Illustrated.”
Cusworth indicated that Ladies Golf Club has no intention of modifying its membership policies based on Augusta’s decision.  Everything at ladies’ has been carefully crafted to meet the needs of its Members, from beginning lessons, to the tasteful menu in the dining room and its elegant clubhouse.
So was this week at Augusta National a lot about nothing?
“The National” has been recognized as the most powerful private golf club in America. Its membership roster is dominated by corporate executives who control many aspect of the U.S. economy. Presidential campaigns have been launched inside these hallowed grounds. Monday’s announcement by Payne will only strengthen Augusta National’s position as THE most powerful club in the U.S.
Rice needs no introduction. Moore is vice president of Rainwater, Inc. a private investment company, and founder and chair of the Palmetto institute, a nonprofit think tank aimed at bolstering per capita income in South Carolina. She is also the founder and chair of The Charleston parks Conservancy, a foundation focused on enhancing the parks and public spaces of Charleston, SC.
Chairman Payne’s next difficult decision will be whether or not to add a set of “Forward Tees”. Currently, Augusta National only has Tournament and Member tees. He will no doubt once again make the right call.
This was a lot about something. There’s never been a better week to wear a Green Jacket.         

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

PGA 2012

The PGA Championship is defined by 94 years of traditions. This major championship dates back to 1916 when Jim Barnes won the PGA at Siwanoy CC in Bronxville, NY. The PGA of America was founded that same year by Rodman Wanamaker, a New York City department store magnate, who organized a bunch of club professionals into the PGA of America. Today, the championship trophy bears Wanamaker’s name.
Over the years, the PGA Championship has missed three summers of competition, 1917-18 and 1943. Those voids were created when America was mired in the serious business of war.  The PGA was decided by match play until 1958 when it converted to the 72-hole stroke play format used now.
Keegan Bradley is the defending champion and it will be a tall order for him to repeat. In the 94 year history of the PGA only Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Leo Diegel, Denny Shute and Tiger Woods have been repeat winners. Woods did it twice in 1999-2000 and again in 2006-2007. Shute was the last before Woods to win two PGA’s in a row and did it in 1936-37 demonstrating the greatness of Woods’ modern day golf feat.
As the 2011 champ, Bradley was honored on Tuesday night at the annual PGA Champions Dinner. A total of 16 former Wanamaker recipients were on hand to pay their respects to Bradley. Keegan is the son of a PGA member. He and his dad, Mark, lived in a 15-foot wide trailer for several years and the young Bradley went to work with his dad each day. Keegan was what we call in my business a “golf course rat.”
Bradley has developed a close relationship with Phil Mickelson. At each Champions Dinner, the winner can ask two players to speak. Bradley chose Mickelson and Dave Stockton, two-time PGA Champ and Captain of the victorious 1991 Ryder Cup team in “The War by the Shore” at Kiawah.
Both Mickelson and Stockton talked about what a great champion and example for the game that Bradley is. And they are right. Keegan played collegiate golf at St. John’s University in New York. He was an unheralded college player.
“Three years ago at this time I was playing the Hooters’ Tour and had $1,200 in my checking account,” Bradley recalled. “I’m in better shape today.”
Indeed he is after winning $1.5 million last week at the Bridgestone World Golf Championship at the Firestone CC when he defeated Jim Furyk on the final hole. The victory solidified a Ryder Cup spot for Bradley.
Traditionally, the PGA Champion will present a gift to all of those in attendance at the dinner. Bradley selected a Boston Red Sox #11 Bradley jersey for his gift. As a diehard Yankee fan I will be trying to figure a use for that.
I did have the pleasure of being seated with Tiger, Y.E. Yang the 2010 PGA champion and Tim Finchem, the Commissioner of the PGA Tour. It was a great night and our dinner consisted of Maine lobster, filet, baked potato, corn on the cob and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It was truly a New England evening delivered by the kid who grew up in Vermont.
Our dinner conversation was dominated by Olympic basketball and the art of setting picks. Yang was there with his interpreter and he even offered opinions on Korea’s soccer performance in the Summer Games. It was interesting that these players were spending time away from the course tuning into the London competition.
Woods talked about the difficulty of preparation during practice rounds because of the number of tee boxes that Kiawah has. He basically said that the course would unplayable from the tips. The wind would dictate daily course setup, and with 60 tee stations to choose from, it’s a guessing game for the players in their Monday-Wednesday preparation.
He provided insight to the 12th hole which will probably be setup as a drivable par four on at least one day during the PGA. Tiger indicated that even though he drove it on the front of the 12th green during Monday’s practice round, the obvious play during the PGA will be six iron and sand wedge saying that it’s too easy to lose a par trying to drive the green.
The intermittent showers have produced over 10 inches of rain here in the last week. While the Ocean Course drains well, it has still been soggy and not producing the hard, fast conditions that we look for at major championships. As you can imagine the humidity has been brutal and when there is no wind, the bugs have been feasting on human bodies. There are snakes and alligators here, too.
That being said, the scenery at Kiawah is magnificent. The course sets on the Atlantic Ocean and I have never been to a more spectacular major championship venue. The crowds have been great and the transportation flawless considering that most spectators are coming from Charleston which is an hour away.
As Bradley closed out the dinner he thanked all of the past champions in attendance.
“You will never know how much it means to me that you all came tonight. That being said, I am still going to try and kick your butts this week,” laughed Bradley.
There is a video circulating on the internet that shows Rickie Fowler jumping from a second story balcony in to the swimming pool at the house that he and Bubba Watson are renting together. Both players were posting Facebook pictures during their trip to a local grocery store this week as they stocked up on supplies for the PGA. There will be no dull moments in that house this week!
Coincidentally, Fowler has the same agent as Shaun White, the Olympic Gold snow boarder. As I said, the Olympics are in full force here at Kiawah as well as the ignorance of youth……….

Monday, August 6, 2012

2012 PGA Champ Preview

The 94th PGA Championship will take place this week in South Carolina, at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course located on a 10-mile barrier island that was host to the 1991 Ryder Cup’s “War by the Shore.” In fact, the Ocean course is 2.5 miles long and only 500 yards wide. This course is said to have more Oceanside holes than any other in the North America. Besides the ocean as its primary feature, the famous Pete Dye layout weaves in and out of natural marshes and lagoons.  For you TV viewers Kiawah promises some spectacular vistas.
The PGA Championship scorecard shows the Ocean Course playing a robust 7,676 yards, the longest venue in major championship history. Although more than 60 teeing grounds will afford Kerry Haigh, the man in charge of tournaments for the PGA, many options. The back nine at Kiawah is set to play 3,936 yards if Haigh follows the scorecard.
The 12th Hole is evidence of Kiawah’s versatility. It is 412 yards long, but look for the PGA to make it less than 300 yards one day during the championship. This will entice some players to try and drive the narrow green which is bordered by water on the right and protected by a deep swale in front.
The Senior PGA was played at the Ocean Course in 2007. Four of the final five holes were among the toughest that the players faced. When the Ryder Cup was played here in ’91, Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated scored the event Pete Dye 14 ½ and Rest of the World 13 ½.
Raymond Floyd who played on the U.S. team said, “If you had to play this course with a scorecard, I don’t see how you could finish.”
I had the privilege of walking and playing 18 holes with Dye at the Ocean Course last March during the PGA Championship Media Day. It’s definitely a test that could be very flunkable if the Atlantic winds howl. The Ocean Course it has been softened over the years and history always dictates that some player will find a way to conquer the beast.
Kiawah features a ton of bunkers, none of which will be played as bunkers. In late June the PGA of America made the decision to treat all sand (except in water hazards) as “through the green.” Our Rules Committee noted that because of the unique topography and the number of natural sandy areas on the course, there would be no bunkers. This means players can take practice swings in the bunkers and ground their clubs in all sandy areas outside of the water hazards.
This will be the first time in golf’s major championship history that this has been done. We are clearly trying to avoid the same situation that took place in 2010 at Whistling Straits when Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole and wound up being penalized, thus missing a playoff for the PGA Championship.
Rule 33-8b allows the PGA to do this. It states that a local rule can modify a rule of golf “if abnormal conditions interfere with proper playing conditions of the game.”  So, for the PGA Championship, the silica material in the bunkers will not be considered sand. However, players will not be able to take relief from a plugged lie in the sand or a foot print.
The PGA Championship is marketed as “Glory’s Last Shot” because it is the final major of the year and players will have to wait until The Masters next April to have another crack at a title of this magnitude. Many in golf consider the PGA to be the fourth of the four majors behind The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
“If you polled every PGA Tour player to identify, beside the other majors, a tournament they would rather win than the PGA, you wouldn’t find one,” says Geoff Ogilvy, two-time U.S. Open champ. “The PGA is clearly in the top four. And it should be happy to be part of the elite group. Trying to move up is not a battle really worth fighting.”
Year in and year out, the PGA has the strongest field in golf. This year the top 108 players in the World Rankings will be at Kiawah. One unique component to the PGA field is the 20 PGA club professionals who earned a spot based on their finish in June’s PGA Professional National Championship.
The PGA has provided some of the most exciting finishes among the major championships. In recent years, Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a 2011 playoff at the Atlanta Athletic Club. In 2010, it was Martin Kaymer beating Bubba Watson in a playoff at Whistling Straits. Y.E. Yang became the first Asian born PGA Champion when he took out Tiger Woods at Hazeltine. It was the only major that Woods has ever lost when leading after 54 holes.
Jack Nicklaus won five PGA Championships. Walter Hagen also won the PGA five times including four in a row from 1924-27. His win in 1924 came at French Lick. Tiger Woods is a four-time champion. Of course, John Daly hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy on Hoosier soil in 1991 at Crooked Stick. This tournament was a match play event until 1958 when Lionel Hebert won.  His brother, Jay, grabbed the PGA title two years later in 1960.
This is a Ryder Cup year, so adding to the drama this week will be the fact that the top eight point winners after Sunday night earn an automatic spot on Captain Davis Love III’s team in September at Medinah. As is the case with all majors during a Ryder Cup year, the points are doubled this week. This week’s PGA Champion will almost certainly secure a spot on the team.
Besides the $1.4 million first place pay out, there is a lot at stake this week at Kiawah. Over the last couple of decades the PGA has produced some unheralded and surprising winners including Daly, Mark Brooks, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Yang and Bradley. 
I have been bad at predictions this year. Kiawah will be a stiff test and I don’t see a fluke winner. That doesn’t mean that an unknown player won’t put solid rounds together and win. But, with everything at stake including a Ryder Cup berth, I like experience.
Tiger has played well in the majors this year and he is primed to finish one off. Rory McIlroy says that he discovered something in his swing in the last couple of weeks. Steve Stricker finished Sunday’s WGC event with four birdies in the last five holes. A year ago, Stricker was #5 on Tour in putting and this year was #85 heading into last week. I liked what I saw from him late Sunday at Firestone. He’s my man.

Olympics Wrap

Admittedly, I wasn’t that fired up about this trip to London for the Summer Olympics. Now that it’s over, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. A few months ago, Hoosiers took pride in how Indianapolis delivered a Super Bowl. London performed equally as well and when you consider the expansiveness of the Olympic venue- probably pulled off a feat much greater than we did.
By now, you now that Gabby Douglas, 16-year old gymnast from the U.S. won a Gold Medal in the Women’s All-Around. Her teammate, Ally Raisman, lost a bronze medal by .001 of a point. I was there on Thursday night and witnessed the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. It was incredible joy and heartbreak. That is the Olympic way.
Seated two rows behind me was Shawn Johnson who herself won a Gold and two Silvers in gymnastics at the 2008 Olympics. She was accompanied by Shaun White, U.S. snow boarder, who himself won two Gold medals in the half pipe competition in 2006 and ’10. It was pretty cool to see the two rooting and cheering for American athletes and then standing at attention when the American flag was raised and our national anthem was played.
I had the privilege to see the U.S. win three Gold Medals. Douglas in gymnastics and swimmers Nathan Adrian as well as the U.S. Women’s relay team. In addition, I saw swimmer Rebecca Soni set a world record. I witnessed the duel between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. As an American, it was a perfect three days except for our men losing in the Beach Volleyball competition on Friday.
These memories will last me for a lifetime, but the most heartwarming aspect of this trip were the Brits, themselves. In a country where kings and queens still rule, there is an intriguing sense of pride that stems from the history of this great nation. It’s a quirky culture with a compelling past. High taxes and religious freedom drove people out of England in the 18th Century.
London was founded back in 43 A.D. by the Romans. It has endured all kinds of strife. Plagues, religious wars, civil wars, world wars and pretty much anything you can think of. Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for 61 years. Only Queen Victoria, a ruler for 63 years, has a longer tenure. Believe, it or not, England has only had six Queens over the Centuries and two queens have 124 years of combined service, proving again that when you give women control- they won’t give it up.
I took a break Friday morning from the Olympics and took a trip to Windsor Castle. This is the favorite retreat of Queen Elizabeth II. It is here, where at 86 years old, she still hunts and rides her horses. Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952 upon the death of her father, George VI. The queen’s mum died at the age of 101 in 2002. Prince Charles, at age 64, may never see the throne if his own mum has the family genes.
Windsor Castle was built in 1086 by William the Conqueror. It was the first of nine castles that he built around London. All were 25 miles apart because that’s how far his army could march in a day. Windsor is the largest castle in the world today. It is also home of the St. George’s Chapel where ten reigning monarchs have been entombed over the centuries. There is no better way to brush up on English history than to tour the famed chapel.
St. George’s was built by a chap named Virtue. Thus the term, patience is a virtue, because of the elaborate and ornate stone carvings that took years to complete. Many famous monarchs are buried here, but none more curious than Henry VIII. This king had six wives and ordered wives #2 and #5 to be decapitated. There seems to be doubts as to the validity of wife #2’s fate. She evidently had the bad luck of not delivering Henry a son in timely fashion. Wife #5 was unfaithful.
It seems that Henry VIII was a mammoth figure in many ways. Well over six-feet tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds, he was in a serious accident when his horse toppled and crushed him, both Henry and the horse fully clad in armor. The accident resulted in Henry suffering serious injuries and eventually growing to over 400 pounds and not being of sound mind.
However, the English love Henry VIII for being a great sportsman and introducing fine art to the country. He was fluent in French and well ahead of his time in self-defense. He instituted murder holes above the arches of Windsor. It was here that Henry planned to pour boiling urine, stored in vats at Windsor, on intruders to the castle. He didn’t want to waste fresh water, tar or any other useful commodity so he had residents of Windsor store their urine.
The most bizarre king buried inside Windsor is Charles I. He proclaimed himself as “God’s King on Earth” and if that wasn’t enough, he dissolved Parliament. This prompted his cousin, Oliver Cromwell, to order the king imprisoned. After further review, Cromwell who was also the State Executioner ordered Charles beheaded. On January 30, 1649 King Charles I was marched to the guillotine.
It was a cold winter day and the King requested several layers of shirts so he would not be seen shivering in the bitter freeze and look scared to the public. Upon his execution, his head was sewed back on and he was buried at St. George’s. I asked Maureen, my tour guide, about the logic here.
“Well, King Charles died as a reigning Monarch. So, he was entitled to a proper burial. That’s just how we do it here,” replied Maureen. 
Windsor Castle is beautiful, so much so that Hitler spared it during his 47 day bombing blitz on London during World War II. He wanted to preserve the castle for his own use in anticipation of a Nazi takeover.
Nearby Windsor, hundreds of swans swim the famed Thames River. The swans belong to Her Majesty the Queen and each fall the British perform a task called “Swanupping” and count the flock to make sure that none are missing. And if they are, a search and discovery mission takes place to determine the fate of the missing swans. No doubt Swan poachers are beheaded.             
Greatest Olympic story of the week? GB’s Peter Wilson won the Gold Medal in Double Trap Shooting. The former English snow boarder was injured three years ago and resurrected his career in trap shooting. “It is a dream come true,” said Wilson.
 Henry VIII would have been proud of Wilson. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympics 2

Center court at Wimbledon is a pretty good place to watch your first high profile tennis match. On top of that, seeing Serena Williams, of the United States, depose Vera Zvonareva from Russia 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes made it even better. That’s how my day started on Wednesday.
Believe it or not, this was a rematch of the 2010 Wimbledon Final right there on that same Center Court. But, in this week’s match Williams won the final 10 games and racked up 12 aces in a dominating performance.
I was sitting in the ninth row and one thing that stood out to me was how effortlessly Williams was able to knock out the Soviet star. While Zvonareva was perspiring heavily on the humid morning, Williams never broke a sweat.
The other impressive thing about Williams is the strength of her lower body. Her legs are muscular and resemble that of an NFL running back while her upper body is relatively slight. She would playfully bat the ball back and forth with her racket before every serve, finally picking it up and routinely bounce it 5-7 times with her left hand before delivering her powerful serve.       
I had the privilege of seeing Novak Djokovic, from Serbia in the second match. The top ranked men’s player in the world was matched up against popular Australian Lleyton Hewitt, a 31-year warrior. Hewitt won the first set 6-4 and has hanging close in the second set when Djovovic was able to break serve and win 7-5. Youth and skill prevailed in the third set as the Serb wore down the Aussie and won 6-1.
Greg Norman, famous Australian, golfer was seated in the team box during the entire match. Norman was with his girlfriend and a group of Australian tennis officials. Late in the second set, Chris Evert, Norman’s former wife showed up in the box. It seemed like most at Center Court were more glued on the box than the court for the rest of the Djokovic-Hewitt match. Norman seemed a bit uncomfortable while Evert seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.
Wimbledon is an impressive complex. It is huge with several dozen courts. Center Court actually has a retractable roof. Even the Brits misfired on the weather. They opened the roof before the men’s match, which takes 20 minutes and soon after, it started raining heavily and the roof had to be closed. The result of the wrong read in the weather was a delay of over an hour, which gave me a chance to eat some of Wimbledon’s famous strawberries and cream.
Later that afternoon I headed to the Aquatics Center to watch swimming. It was a great night as the U.S. won three Gold Medals. Nathan Adrian set the tone by winning the Men’s 100 Free by .01 seconds. 17,500 people were packing the steamy venue and it was a raucous atmosphere all night. Most of the crowd was British and they were only able to see one of their swimmers win a medal on a night that the Americans completely dominated.
The highlight of the evening was when Rebecca Soni set the world record in the Women’s 200 Breaststroke semi-final. Soni had held the previous Olympic record in the same event and it was very exciting to be a few feet away when an American set the world record.
The third Gold Medal of the night for the U.S. came in the Women’s 4x200 Relay. The U.S. trailed the Australians heading into the final leg when Shannon Vreeland swam the team to victory, setting an Olympic record. Teenage phenom Missy Franklin swam the first leg of the relay for the U.S.
One of the most interesting events of the night was the Men’s 200 Medley semi-final heat featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Lochte held the Olympic record in the event and Phelps holds the World Record. Lochte bested Phelps by .98 seconds and is gradually taking over as the top U.S. men’s swimmer.
Several things stood out in the Aquatics Center. It was spine tingling when all of the national anthems were played. The jumbo monitors clearly showed the tears in every Gold Medalist’s eyes as their respective flags were raised and anthems played.
At best, uou could label me no more than a casual swimming fan. I did learn from my friends at NBC that the top two seeded swimmers are always in lanes 4 and 5. The next seeds are in the outside lanes and the lowest seeds are in lanes 3 and 6. The reason is that the wake caused by the fastest swimmers creates friction in the water and slows down the swimmers behind it. Consequently, the best seeds get the center lanes.
Another interesting thing was the underwater cameras installed by NBC. They are very visible and you would think they would distract swimmers, but obviously they don’t. Those cameras are set in lanes 4 and 5. NBC also built a tube for a camera to actually drop in during the platform diving so that they could catch the performers at every phase of their dive. That was designed by the legendary Tommy Roy. Who thinks of that stuff?
There was a lot of concern in London about security. The private company hired by the IOC had difficulties and at the last minute, military personnel from all over the world were called in to assist with the Olympics.
An image that I will never forget was the military personnel with machine guns at the entrance of Wimbledon. That seemed out of sorts, but it is the world we live in today. In spite of that, this was one of the greatest sports days of my life.      

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Olympics

The sporting world is being dominated these days by The Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, England. As I write this, I am somewhere over Novia Scotia headed out to the Atlantic Ocean and onto London for a three day stint at the 2012 Summer Olympics. I was fortunate to be invited as a guest of NBC Sports.

This was an unexpected invitation that I received in early July from Mark Lazarus and Jon Miller, the top executives at NBC Sports. The Olympics were nowhere on my 2012 radar. This trip comes on the heels of being at the Open Championship a couple of weeks ago. My first inclination was to decline the generous NBC offer. Work always comes first with me and I was having a hard time justifying another trip to England, especially with the PGA Championship on the horizon in early August.

But, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I accepted the invitation. NBC is the broadcast partner with the PGA of America for the Ryder Cup and the Senior PGA Championship. The network is part of the Comcast family and also owns The Golf Channel. That’s my connection.

The 2012 Summer Olympics have been an early success for NBC as it has racked up prime time ratings of nearly 20 percent. The network has come under criticism and scrutiny for some of its taped delayed coverage. One prominent British journalist actually had his Twitter account closed down after making disparaging remarks about NBC’s delayed coverage of the Opening Ceremonies. The ratings speak for themselves and it’s obvious that Lazarus and Miller know what they are doing.

As a guest of NBC, I will be housed at London’s famous Savoy Hotel, a five star masterpiece that recently underwent a massive renovation in preparation of the 2012 Olympics. The Savoy is located in the West End of London on the historic Thames River. NBC will provide all meals, transportation to and from Olympic competition with preferred seating at the events and tours of London if I get my fill of sports. It should be one of the best experiences of my lifetime.

The network will use this venue as a source for business entertainment. I will be placed in a VIP group with dignitaries from corporations and sports franchises. There is nothing not to look forward to this week. Still, I am hoping that being here and experiencing the Olympics up close and personal will rekindle my enthusiasm for the longest standing sporting event in the world.

I have to admit, the Olympics has lost a good part of its luster with me. Decisions have been made by its hierarchy in recent years that seem to violate the true spirit of the competition. For centuries the Olympics embodied the ultimate in amateur competition. That has all changed today with professional athletes competing in many sports.

Recently, high profile American politicians expressed their ire over the fact that the U.S. team would march in the Opening Ceremonies wearing Ralph Lauren clothing made outside of America. As if those same politicians have nothing more pressing to worry about? I sell clothing at my golf course and it’s virtually impossible to find American companies who produce these goods. Our politicians have played a part in that over years, handcuffing small business with taxes, regulations and policies that forced manufacturing to go abroad.

But, I will say this. Seeing Kobe Bryant and Lebron James in their blue double breasted blazers, white slacks and blue berets seemed out of character. Tyler Clary, a swimmer on the U.S. team talked about how thrilling it was to walk in the Opening ceremonies but his final comment to a teammate was, “Let’s go hang out with the NBA players and maybe we can get on TV.”

Call me old school, but there is something totally out of whack with that whole picture. Bryant, James and all of their NBA buddies looked like fish out of water during that march on Friday night. So, suffice to say, I won’t be attending any basketball games this week in London. I can see professional basketball all winter long in Indianapolis. I would rather see the best college basketball players compete as Olympic underdogs than watch NBA stars win the Gold.

One of the developing stories in London has been the disappointing performance of Michael Phelps. The celebrated American swimmer showed up here hoping to add to his career  medal total and become the most decorated athlete ever. Some critics will point to a lack of commitment by Phelps with his training and preparation.

I call it age. He has been a human marvel and I hope to get a glimpse of him in action. Sure, Phelps is a professionally paid athlete, too. But, in his sport the pinnacle is a Gold Medal not an NBA Championship, a Stanley Cup or a World Series title.

Give me some tennis, swimming and a little track and field this week. Sprinkle in some gymnastics and polish it off with women’s beach volleyball. Misty May-Trainer and Kerri Walsh-Jennings will be trying to win their third Gold medals in beach volleyball. The two are now 33 years old, married and they have kids. Now that’s a story.

Yep. That’s my pick. Give me Misty May and Kerri Walsh instead of Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Did I just say that?