Redskins

Belly putter creator regrets likely demise

Belly putter creator regrets likely demise

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) If not for Paul Azinger picking up a long putter that belonged to a short man, there might not be such a fuss over belly putters.

The USGA and R&A are close to announcing their position on long putters that are anchored to the body. That they have pledged to make an announcement by the end of the year has most believing a ban is imminent.

If that's the case, the guy who started it all thinks that would be a shame.

``Everybody is looking to improve their game,'' Azinger said in an interview last week. ``That technique is good for some, and it didn't work for others.''

What befuddles him is the advancements in equipment over the last 20 years, particularly with golf clubs. He referred specifically to the Great Big Bertha driver, which at the time looked enormous and had a big sweet spot. Azinger was only partially joking when he said that club now looks like a 4-wood.

``It's OK for manufacturers to figure out game improvement,'' Azinger said. ``But if a player figures it out, we're going to ban it?''

For the former PGA champion, it was more of a fluke.

He was putting poorly when he went into the pro shop while at home in Florida in late 1999, grabbing putters of the rack when he came across a long putter that is anchored to the chest. Only this one belonged to someone much shorter than Azinger.

``I grabbed it, was lining it up perfect and stuck it into my belly because of the length,'' Azinger said. ``I hit it all over the pro shop and made everything, and then walked outside and made everything.''

Azinger checked to make sure it was legal, and he was on his way. At the mixed-team event, he says he made 13 birdies and an eagle in two days of fourballs with Se Ri Pak as his partner. Alas, they lost in a playoff to John Daly and Laura Davies. Azinger took his belly putter to Hawaii and won the Sony Open by seven shots.

But here's the other side to this magical belly putter - he never won again. And he was quick to point out that while three of the last five major champions had a belly putter, it took 11 years before someone (Keegan Bradley) won a major.

``Then all of a sudden it's being looked at because some guys have success doing it,'' Azinger said. ``You don't see guys shooting 57, 58, 59 with the belly putter. ... It can help you - there's no two ways about it. But it's not helping everybody.''

In a subsequent text message, Azinger again suggested that the USGA and R&A were concerned about the wrong piece of equipment.

``The belly putter doesn't guarantee you'll putt better,'' he said. ``But today's drivers will guarantee you'll hit the ball farther.''

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WORKING FOR A LIVING: Inbee Park won the LPGA Tour money list and was the only player to crack $2 million. The LPGA had 11 players earn at least $1 million, up from eight players a year ago. But it's a different story toward the bottom.

The top 90 keep their cards, and the final spot went to Jee Young Lee, who earned $68,650. Compare that with Kevin Chappell, who got the last spot on the PGA Tour at No. 125 on the money list with $647,510. Tougher still is that the LPGA has a number of limited-field events, particularly late in the year in Asia, that only takes the top players.

It's enough to make Cristie Kerr preach about the LPGA Tour not being the glamor life for everyone.

``It's hard for a lot of these girls. It really is,'' Kerr said. ``If you're not one of the top players ... unless you're finishing in the top 20, it's really hard to make money. Expenses are high and purses aren't what they are on the PGA Tour. Somebody barely making the cut is losing money every week unless you stay in free housing and can get a free car. It's an expensive life.''

Is there much incentive for women to chase their dreams on the LPGA Tour? Kerr isn't so sure.

``I love to win. I love to compete. And I'm good at it. I'm fortunate,'' Kerr said. ``If you're 70th or 80th on the money list, it's not very motivating.''

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MOVING ON: Those who failed to make it out of the second stage of Q-school last week face an uncertain future if they don't have limited status as a past champion. That group includes Jamie Lovemark, who won the Nationwide Tour money title two years ago, and Hank Kuehne, who made double bogey on his last hole.

Past champions who failed to get through included a former Ryder Cup player (Chris Riley), two former Presidents Cup players (Carlos Franco and K.T. Kim), along with Cameron Beckman, Joe Durant, Jesper Parnevik and Chris Smith.

Among those moving to the final stage next week in California were Todd Hamilton, Robert Karlsson and Kevin Tway, the son of former PGA champion Bob Tway.

Perhaps the most intriguing was Si Kim of South Korea, the medalist at Bear Lake in California on the strength of a 61 in the second round.

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TO THE BOOTH: Former PGA champion Rich Beem failed to make it through the second stage of Q-school last week, leaving him only limited status as a past winner for what would appear to be limited room in a short season. So what's next for the Beemer?

Perhaps a move to the broadcast booth - in Europe.

Beem said he has been contacted by Sky Sports to do commentary for PGA Tour events that are shown in Europe, similar to what Butch Harmon does at the majors and the World Golf Championships. He says his experience is limited, though the job would come naturally to him.

``I've got the gift of gab,'' Beem said. ``I am full of a lot of things.''

Beem worked for TNT Sports at the PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits, with two days for the 3-D coverage on the par-3 11th and par-3 17th, and then Saturday and Sunday covering the marquee group.

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DIVOTS: Titleholders winner Na Yeon Choi has donated $30,000 to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program to provide golf equipment to young girls starting out in the game. ``I want to give the girls my message. Have a dream and achieve it,'' Choi said. ... Of the regular PGA Tour events, the AT&T National at Congressional played the most difficult. Tiger Woods, the winner, was among only 14 players to broke par and the course played an average of 2.046 strokes over par. ... The Players Championship raised $6.5 million for local charities, breaking its record of $5.9 million from last year. ... Five Americans won on the LPGA Tour this year, the most since 2008. ... Only three players in their 40s - Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els - won on the PGA Tour, the lowest number over the last 10 years. ... Gary Player will be co-host of the iGATE CEO Cup on Jan. 12-13 at the TPC Sawgrass. The tournament is inviting CEOs of Global 2000 companies to compete for a $100,000 purse, with all earnings going to their chosen charities.

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(MOST PECULIAR) STAT OF THE WEEK: Phil Mickelson saved par nine times after hitting into the water, the most of anyone on the PGA Tour this year.

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FINAL WORD: ``Congratulations on a successful surgery.'' - Stacy Lewis during her acceptance speech as LPGA player of the year, to Gary Brock, the doctor who inserted a steel rod and five screws in her back 10 years ago because of her scoliosis.

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 


Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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