The Port Arthur News
Even the best of golf vacations can include a triple bogey. Mine came two weeks ago in French Lick, Ind. Well, actually, it was a couple of miles down the road in West Baden. Yes, there is amazing golf to be found in Larry Bird country. So there I was sitting in a hotel room, my round on a fabulous Pete Dye course having been rained out, when I realized there was a silver lining. Chris Stroud was making a serious run at his first PGA Tour victory. Since I’ve been chronicling Chris’ golf exploits dating back to when he was maybe 10 or 11, it was obvious God produced a thunderstorm because He didn’t want me to miss the moment of glory. On the other hand, not being in a position to write about it didn’t seem quite fair. You, of course, know the rest of the story. Stroud forced a playoff with Ken Duke by dramatically chipping in for birdie on the 72nd hole, then was trumped by Duke’s birdie on the second hole of sudden death. Bottom line, I could not have been prouder of the PN-G and Lamar ex for the way he handled pressure down the stretch. By his demeanor, and the way he executed shot after shot with no room for error, you’d never have known this was Stroud’s first time in such a pressure-cooker situation. Duke, a guy who has been through incredible adversity in his life, was seemingly destined to win. It happens in sports all the time. And it’s important to remember Duke won, Chris didn’t lose. For those who may have doubted if he’s good enough to be more than a guy who occasionally posts a top 10 finish, I think the question has been answered. His day is coming and I sure hope I’m not on vacation when it does.
Next best story I missed out on while teeing it up in Missouri, Indiana, California and Oregon was Dwight Howard landing with the Rockets. I’ve got mixed feelings on Howard because of his immaturity, but I was happy Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey was able to pull off the signing coup of 2013. Houston is an improving young team, but it couldn’t seriously challenge for an NBA championship without adding a player like Howard. He’s definitely been blessed with immense talent and should have the world’s biggest chip on his shoulder after the insults unloaded on him by Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the LA media and even rapper Ice Cube, an ardent Lakers fan. Among other things, most of them unprintable, Ice Cube called Howard a “bitch” and referred to him as Dwight Coward. Superman definitely won’t be welcome when the Rockets play in LA next year . . . The addition of Howard, by the way, jumped the Rockets odds at winning the NBA title next year from 25/1 to 12/1. Only Miami at 5/2, Oklahoma City at 8/1 and Chicago at 11/1 have a better number. San Antonio is also 12/1 while the LA Clippers and Brooklyn Nets are 14/1 . . . Count me among those who were happy to see the Miami Heat win another title. Although I almost always pull for the underdog, and hated to root against the Spurs, I wanted to see LeBron James shut up the relentless critics who apparently can’t judge him as a player because of the way he left Cleveland. Admittedly, the “Decision” was a bush league stunt, egged on by ESPN, but if that’s the worst thing James ever does he’s a saint by current pro athlete standards. He’s also by far the most dominant player in any sport, a fact that’s all the more impressive because of what a great team guy he is.
As most Jamaal Charles fans probably know, the NFL Network recently tabbed him No. 20 in its player poll of the Top 100 Players of 2013. The only three backs ranked above him were Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Houston’s Arian Foster and Baltimore’s Ray Rice. I’d take Jamaal over everybody but Peterson and I think a lot of other folks will too, if he stays healthy and maxes out in Andy Reid’s offense this season. Here’s a stat on the Chiefs’ big-play man I’ve never seen before that fairly screams what an amazing player he is. The average distance on Charles’ 18 NFL touchdowns is 47 yards. Digest that figure for a minute. It’s a Pop Warner-type number accomplished against big, fast professional defenders who key on Jamaal whenever he steps on the field. I doubt he averaged 47 yards a touchdown at Memorial . . . If you’re an NFL fan you had to love the NBC Sports Network’s “Faces of the Franchise: Who’s on Your Team’s Mount Rushmore” project. Fans on each team were encouraged to vote on the players they would put on their team’s Mount Rushmore and, as you would suspect, it generated non-stop debating. Dallas’ final foursome was Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. In all honesty, there’s not much room for argument with that, although I’m guessing Bob Lilly backers wouldn’t agree. The Texans’ Mount Rushmore was pretty clear cut, with Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, J.J. Watt and owner Bob McNair.
Imagine my surprise at picking up the St. Louis Post Dispatch sports pages two weeks ago and seeing former Lamar basketball great Mike Olliver pictured on the front of the section. The story with the photo was not about Olliver but University of Missouri guard Jon Sundvold, the player challenging Olliver in a 1981 NCAA tournament game in Austin. Sundvold, one of Missouri’s all-time greats, went on to be taken 16th in the 1983 NBA draft. One of his teammate’s that year, 6-11 Steve Stipanovich, was selected No. 2 behind Ralph Sampson in the first round of that same draft. And another teammate, Ricky Frazier, went No. 26 to the Chicago Bulls in 1982. So why is all this relevant? Because Olliver and Lamar, in one of the Cardinals’ finest NCAA moments, stunned that Missouri team with three No. 1 draft picks, 71-67 . . . Texas A&M fans should get out the prayer beads, keep their fingers crossed and hold their collective breath in relation to QB Johnny Manziel this week. Manziel, who loves bright lights and life in the fast lane, figures to be traveling at the speed of sound when he rolls into Los Angeles with LeBron James and scores of other big name athletes and movie stars for Wednesday’s ESPY Awards. The Aggies Heisman Trophy holder is up for two ESPY’s — Male College Athlete of the Year and Breakthrough Athlete of the Year — and a team award for Best Upset of the Year. He should win College Athlete hands down and has a puncher’s chance against 49er QB Colin Kaepernick, Dodger rookie Yasiel Puig, Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson for Breakthrough Athlete. A&M’s competition for Upset of the Year is Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown in the NCAA tourney, Louisville over Baylor in the women’s NCAA basketball championship game and Juan Manuel Marquez’ knockout of Manny Pacquiao.
Forget the struggles of the current version of the Houston Astros. The past week has even been worse for two of the greatest players in franchise history. Less than 48 hours apart, Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, who were seeking one last hurrah, got placed on the DL by Colorado and the Texas Rangers, respectively. Oswalt, 0-4 with a 7.64 ERA in 17 2/3 innings since signing with the Rockies in May, is down with a strained hamstring. Given his numbers, you wonder if that might be the end of the line. Berkman, meanwhile, who was hitting just .189 in his last 29 games, had a misstep deplaning from the Rangers charter that caused an old knee injury to flare up. A day later he was felled by a torso injury while running the bases . . . All the news involving the Astros wasn’t bad. Baseball America announced its top 50 minor league prospects last week and the list included five players expected to play a role in Houston’s revival. SS Carlos Correa was No. 9, CF George Springer No. 20, 1B Jonathan Singleton No. 22, RHP Mike Foltynewicz (No. 31 and RHP Lance McCullers Jr. No. 46. Help is definitely on the way. ... Being a Cleveland Browns fans isn’t easy, as recently deceased Scott Entsminger made clear in his obituary. The 55-year-old Entsminger dictated the following closing line be placed in the obit. “He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns as pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time.” Jethro should be thankful a frustrated Cowboys fan didn’t think of that one.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.