Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tiger Woods is Back

With Tiger Woods coming back from injury, and the Master's just around the corner, it brings to mind to me, some comparisons between golf and basketball, which is really in full swing.

While statistical analysis of baseball and basketball, is all the rage in sports now, golf seems to me, in many ways, almost impenetrable to comprehension.

Even Tiger a few years ago seemed to have lost his swing. Overnight, seemingly, Tom Watson lost his putting stroke, only to re-gain it years later as a Senior.

The other thing that I wonder about is the equipment. I don’t understand why golf and tennis did not mandate stasis in their hitting instruments. Would basketball allow flubber shoes?

In terms of mathematical analysis, one thing that I find very interesting is a comparison of the careers of two of the greats of golf and basketball, respectively, Greg Norman and Jerry West.

These guys were very similar in many ways. Both served as the masculine image of rugged good looks for his sport for years. Both were generally recognized to be among the top three or four talents in their sports. Both of them seemed to be virtually always in competition at the very end, which for Norman, was on Sunday, and for West, was in the Final Four and NBA Finals.

And both of them usually lost. West lost in the Final Four with West Virginia and then lost in the NBA Finals.

Seven straight times, West lost in the NBA Finals to Boston, and then the N.Y. Knicks, as a member of the L.A. Lakers. In 1972, West would finally win a title with the Lakers, besting the Knicks, but then the Lakers would go on to lose one more time in the Finals against the Knicks in 1973.

All told, West played in 9 Finals and his team lost 8 of them.

I won’t do a detailed sketch of the Aussie Norman, except to note that his career resembles West’s in a lot of ways.

My question about Norman is, was the man really a choker, or was he simply on the bad end of some of the worst luck, some of the most unfortunate random events in golf history?

Like John Thompson of Georgetown, who with a gentle nudge of help from the Furies, would have won three college basketball titles in four years and been acclaimed as an all time great coach, was Greg Norman really an all-time great golfer whom fate simply disdained?

Jerry West ended his career as successful general manager, became the insignia for the NBA logo, and was acclaimed by all as an all-time great, and recognized by all by his nickname, Mr. Clutch, in spite of his team's failures so many times on the big stage.

Greg Norman at the height of his career was to play in a pro-am with President Clinton, in the mid-1990s. In preparation, Norman invited Clinton to his home to talk golf and prepare for the match together, and the president ended up falling down his backstairs, which required surgery and a cancellation of the match.

That kind of luck pretty much epitomized Norman's career. And no, Greg Norman's nickname is not Mr. Clutch.

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