THE BRITISH OPEN: LEFTY IDEOLOGY
Frank: Your least-favorite golfer, Phil Mickelson, won the British Open with a brilliant stretch run. Surely you can't begrudge Lefty some kudos.
Artie: I can stand it. I really enjoy watching that event because it's over by midday, and I caught most of the weekend rounds. The weather changed so much Sunday, with the wind kicking up, that it threw off a lot of guys. Lee Westwood, who was leading, spent the day hacking out of the heather. Tiger Woods could easily have won, but he missed too many easy putts.
F: But Mickelson, five shots behind to start the day, birdied four of his last six holes.
A: He caught fire all right. He mastered the conditions and deserved to win. But then, holy mackerel, was I surprised to see that he has a family! Where did they come from?
F: Here we go, into your eternal issue with Lefty. Weren't you touched at all by his group hug with his wife and kids?
A: Yeah, a hug that lasted longer than the Hundred Years War while everybody in the world was snapping pictures from three feet away. I think Phil was calculating in his head how long it would take before everyone in the media had what they needed.
F: So he's just a considerate guy, working with the press.
A: And reaping the adulation, you betcha. And by the way, how do I know those were really his kids? They could have been hired from Central Casting for this oh-so-perfect family scene that Mickelson specializes in. Who would really know?
F: Well, there were three of them, which is the right number.
A: You sure? Seems to me I counted four!
F: I'd thought he had all daughters, but it turns out his son has long hair.
A: I'd like to get some DNA tests done. The real kids could be back in Arizona at summer camp, and these could have come from some local revival of Oliver!
F: As in, “Please, sir, I want some more hugging”?
A: Exactly! The kids may vary from tournament to tournament. I think this is a case for “CSI: Someplace.”
F: We went through this, sort of, a few weeks ago when Mickelson skipped some U.S. Open practicing to go to his daughter's eighth-grade graduation. Then he led in the late going but wound up with his sixth runner-up finish. But no sympathy from you!
A: I just think he's highly aware of what that family stuff does for his image. He's kind of the “anti-Tiger,” and it endears him to the press and the fans. But I see calculation there.
F: That's always a consideration with any athlete's image; how much is genuine, how much manipulated by both the media and the celebrity. I'll say this: I saw a lot of other players coming up to Mickelson with hearty congratulations.
A: But I've read that some players don't care for the guy because of the whole image thing.
F: Well, no one is universally liked. But another reason for Mickelson's popularity is that he's a daring golfer, willing to “go for it” the way Arnold Palmer did.
A: He's a gambler for sure.
F: And that swashbuckling has hurt him, like in the '06 U.S. Open when he blew up on the 72nd hole. But this time the bounces and putts went his way.
A: I think he was lucky this run came so near the end; he didn't have time to gamble himself out of success this time.
F: But you will give him some “props” for a nice round of golf Sunday?
A: OK, OK, he's a terrific player. But I think he plays the media too.
F: There's nothing that says someone has to be a good person to be a great athlete. But in terms of rooting interests, it sure doesn't hurt. For instance, I can acknowledge Woods' athletic greatness while still believing that he's not an especially nice guy.
A: No argument there.
F: The same applies to Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, although they're probably tarnished by other considerations.
A: I'm not saying Mickelson isn't mighty smart. He's got an image that's highly marketable.
F: And whether it's genuine or not, I guess that's a “judgment call” for any fan.
A: But anyway, it was fun to watch the British Open. I like it more than any other major because it reminds me that they don't have any trees in Britain! I wonder how that could happen; did St. Patrick drive out the trees with the snakes?
F: Different island, and you must realize...
A: I guess they have some trees, but not on their golf courses.
A FEW LAST SWINGS
F: In the Miller Park press box Sunday I ran into Bob Buege, a lifelong Milwaukee educator and the author of the book, The Milwaukee Braves: A Baseball Eulogy. While we were chatting some tape of Mickelson's victory came on a monitor, and I asked Bob what he thought of the guy. Bob said that at first he didn't like Mickelson because he seemed like a spoiled rich kid.
A: I like that analysis!
F: But he said that as Mickelson's career progressed and he became the latest “best golfer never to win a major”—besides being a gambler like Palmer and apparently a nice guy—he began to root for Lefty. I mentioned your resistance...
A: Thanks so much.
F: And I suggested that Bob “grew” in his view of Mickelson. He replied, “Phil evolved and so did I.”
A: Not me! And I don't think Phil evolved either; he just got sucked into the media whirlpool that he knew would benefit him. It's like Phil Mickelson quicksand!
NETTING THE FISH
F: As it turned out, our pal Rick Horowitz and I did not see the walk-off homer by Caleb Gindl that completed the sweep of Miami. We stayed for only 12 of the 13 innings. But from Bob Uecker's description, it sounded like the homer was, um, a mite fluky.
A: Well, it was kind of heaven-sent. I was watching on TV and when it left the bat it looked like a high, lazy opposite-field fly to left. But it kept drifting, drifting, and it made it just over the wall and just fair.
F: Hey, who's gonna know that from the box score? And who in this town will care? What's more, the Brewers shut out the Marlins for the weekend—31 innings to be exact. Yeah, Miami has a crummy record, but no major-league team is so bad that you can expect to do that.
A: I'm ready to order my World Series tickets. Four games against San Diego, three in Colorado, then three against the hated Cubs before they face the supposedly good Nationals... Who knows how close to .500 they'll be by then?
F: The pitching has been looking fine, and that's where everything starts.
THE COFFERS ARE PACKED
F: With the Packers' opening their training camp this week, I was very interested to see the Journal Sentinel reporting franchise records for net income, revenue and “profit from operations,” whatever that technical term means.
A: It ain't a coincidence that the team colors are green and gold.
F: And it's only looking better with the 7,000-seat addition to Lambeau Field ready to go this season. Here are the numbers for the fiscal year that ended March 31: Net income up 1% to $43.1 million; profit from operations up 26.4% to $54.3 million; total revenue up 2% to $306.1 million.
A: And, let's not forget, ticket prices going up for the fourth straight season.
F: I don't want to sound like I'm getting up on a soapbox, but to me the numbers hammered home the fact that these ain't your grandpa's Packers, or even your dad's. Part of the fans' devotion to the Pack is the charming legend of “the little franchise that could”—the smallest market in the NFL somehow raising a David to take on all the big-city Goliaths. But these numbers show that David has grown up into a huge business operation that just happens to be located at the base of Wisconsin's “thumb.”
A: Still, it's a miracle that the location never changed.
F: True, and the fan base can share in the credit for that—along with the NFL's wisdom in deciding, way back in the 1960s, that the league needed some degree of revenue sharing to prosper. I'm not saying fans shouldn't root for the Packers, just that they're a mighty big corporation.
A: As any sports franchise has to be to survive.
F: And that means ever-rising prices for tickets, team merchandise, everything. The latest ticket-price increase kicks the range from $74 to $97. There's an organization called Team Marketing Report that monitors prices for the four major sports and puts out a “Fan Cost Index” that estimates the total costs of a game for a family of four. The 2013 report for the NFL isn't out yet, so I went to last year's.
A: And how does the Pack stack up?
F: The report listed their average ticket price as $78.84, which was 46 cents above the league average. The ranking in the Fan Cost Index was 10th out of 32 teams.
A: And what does this index include?
F: Of course every family's choices would be different, but this includes four tickets, four small soft drinks, two small beers, four hot dogs, two programs, parking and two adult-size caps. For 2012 the Packers were 10th out of the 32 NFL teams with an FCI of $448.24, about five bucks over the league average.
A: Well, I can see right there that the caps and programs have to go.
F: But maybe the beers would increase? As they say in the fine print of commercials, “Your results may vary.” But whatever choices you make, a Packers game ain't likely to be cheap.
A: But remember, there are only eight home games every year, plus a couple of exhibitions and, I hope, a couple of playoff tilts.
F: As a point of comparison, the Brewers—with 10 times the home games, remember—rank 21st out of 30 major-league teams with an FCI of $176.80 for this season. Their average ticket price is given as $24.95, almost three dollars under the MLB average of $27.73.
A: When we go to Miller Park I use my own index, the “High Life Meter.” Right now it's at eight bucks per brewski, and I know it won't be dropping.
F: Which brings up the other thought I had in reading the Packers' fiscal report. Yeah, we all grouse about the high prices for beer or parking or loge-level seats, but we keep paying 'em if we decide the entertainment is worth it. And that's all we're paying for, entertainment that is hardly essential compared to the basic needs of survival. But you seldom hear the outrage, the fury that explode over paying something else that really DOES provide essential goods and services for all of us.
A: You mean the dreaded “T word”?
F: Taxes, you betcha. I'll bet a lot of the same people who gladly pay whatever it takes to immerse themselves in pro sports are the same folks who go nuts at the very thought of tax increases. I'm just sayin'...
Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has never won a golf tournament.