U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy and more: Ask Boswell

Jun 20, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about baseball, local D.C. sports and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

U.S. Open, Rory, the Nats, whatever suits your fancy! Lets go.

Bozinator, All the bellyaching about how easy Congressional played is total bunk to me. Only 22 of the 72 who made the cut played a soft Congressional under par. One dude obliterated the place. Phenominal! This was a good and solid test. Better than that crap fiasco @ Shinnecock. What say you?

Congressional stood up just fine considering that the weather prevented traditional "firm & fast" conditions, especially hard greens. I'll write about some of this for tomorrow, I suspect.

The USGA, however, did screw up. They mowed the rough then ASSUMED healthy growth until the Open date. We'll, we had a week with 100 degrees, etc. The rough never "came back." As I mentioned in my column today, the USGA has stats you can use to figure out how much the "cost of rough" is. It "should" be .500 strokes at an Open. At CCC, because they cut the rough too low __not because they "graduated it"__ the cost was only .306. Since 40% of all tee shots landed in the rough, you can figure it out __5.6 drives per round should land in the rough at a cost of 2.8 strokes per round. Instead, the cost was only 1.71 strokes a round. So, if the rough had been cut correctly _-with hindsight__ the average player would have scored and 4.5 strokes higher. And nobody would be fusing about CCC.

Tom, When I watch the Nats now, I can reasonably expect all but one position player to have a good at bat. Unfortunately the exception is the one getting paid the most. The guy watches batting practice fastballs for 2 strikes and then swings at a breaking ball in the dirt. All the opponents appear to have doen their research. Has Jason Werth peaked? Do we have 7 more years of Mr. Rally Killer? In his defense, he did hit that all important home the other night to make it 10-0.

Werth just looks confused and "in-between" most of the time at the plate. And his OPS is still around .750. A lot of big names or big contracts have had bad seasons so far, like Dunn and Crawford. Werth is quietly having a pretty poor season, but not a really bad one. He draws his walks. It's obvious he cares. Maybe too much. I suspect, by the end of the season, we'll look back and think: Because he still had semi-decent numbers in the first half, his strong second half got him back where you'd expect him to be. But the Nats thought they'd bought a .900 OPS, 30 homer, 95 RBI guy. Mostly, Werth just plays tight right now. Like the bobble in RF yesterday. Being a little too quick, anxious, in everything he does. He needs to find his laid-back play-cool zone, with the fire hidden underneath it. He's a 'hard' player. But he also likes a cool exterior. Give him time. He's clearly willing to do anything that's asked __bat first, bat second, steal bases. Good in the clubhouse. Thoughtful when he feels like talking. He's not a great player, but he's a very good one. Maybe very, very good once we get a chance to see him when he's hot. And very good players return to form. 

The 8-game winning streak was such a great thing for the Nats and their fans. It shows what this team can be, either right now or in the future. I feel Riggleman deserves credit for how the team has played, but his postgame comment bothers me on several levels. There was a perfect time to pinch hit for Gorzelanny in the bottom of the 4th: 2 men on, with Gorzy limited in his effectiveness and in his pitch count. Riggleman's comment (which I read about in the gamer) was "“those starters, they go to hunt for you.... “You don’t give them a chance to get through five and do their thing, the repercussions of that are not favorable.” Of course, Gorzelanny made the third out, and didn't make it through the 5th. Did the encounter in Baltimore with Marquis (when he made the right decision) really scare him to the point that it forced him to make a bad decision yesterday? Was he a victim, again, of "sentimental" managing?

Interesting. I hadn't seen that comment. Things change. Managers can't "manage for the 25, not the 1" as much as once did. That's a shame. But the more established managers can do more of what they want. Don't think Joe Torre had to worry about this too much. Still, whenever possible, a manager needs to be aware of what keeps his players happy __reaching a contract incentive level like 200 innings or such__ as long as it has no impact on the team. Baseball is both an individual and a team game. But the team has to come first. That's not always the case these days with many teams.  

No real question but a comment. I was at the game yesterday and after I believe Ramos popped out to end the inning I was watching the Nats come on the field to loosen up. While Ramos was putting on the gear I looked out and saw Pudge warming the pitcher up. Not a coach, not the fourth outfielder or utility infielder but a future hall of famer!! It has been said before but is worth repeating, Class Act! Man I would love to see him get his 3000th hit in a Nats uniform.

Nice point. I've seen him do that many times last year when he had a day off. Nobody works harder. He just loves everything about the game.

Why do so many players now wear the long pants instead of the more traditional long socks? I see that Ryan Zimmerman, who was a long pants guy before his stay on the DL, is now wearing socks. Does anyone have any say in who wears what? What teams are more likely to wear the socks nowadays (Yankees?)?

It's all individual choice. Some, like Jim Thome, want to make an old-school statement with the sox visible up to the knee. Jordan Zimmermann has that look. However, I liked the high stirrups; the look of  'good enough for Mantle, good enough for me.' Got to admit I don't pay much attention to uniforms, uniform styles, etc. Some just love it. 

In the interest of balance I was wondering if we could take the article that would have been written about Tiger Woods if he finished 23 shots back and swap in Phil Mickelson's name. Or the one that would have been written if he missed the cut, and swap in Fowler. Unless Tiger comes back is there any chance an American wins another major in the next 2 years?

Tiger wouldn't have quit on the back nine on Saturday and shot 35-42__77 once he knew he couldn't contend. Nicklaus wouldn't have. It's not a crime, but it's one of Phil's weak spots that he fades when he's out of it. Partly, that's because he has to grind so much when his swing is off and he's hitting it wildly. Tough to grind when there is no reason (well, in a sense).

I take it back. Phil is 41. When Jack was 40-to-45 he had the same problem and faded pretty fast in some of the few majors when he fell out of the picture. B ut I never remember a 35-42__77.

Tiger quit at the Players because he was really hurt. If he could play, he'd keep grinding. That's part of the extra pride, ambition, that the very best have.

Along those lines, my sense of McIlroy is that his drive, while very high, isn't in the off-the-charts category with Jack or Tiger. I really like McIlroy and hope he has a wonderful career. But I suspect he's more like a 4-5-6 major guy, not somebody who eventually gets compared with either Nicklaus or Woods. Also, that stuff about "the best swing since...(Hogan, etc)...Take that with a grain of salt. Plenty of new stars who shoot low numbers suddenly have the "greatest" swing rather than just a wonderful one. The definitions of such things change.

When McIlroy's heart speeds up,as it did at the Masters, his tempo gets too fast and that perfect swing doesn't look as good. Talking with Tim Finchem on the course yesterday, he said that Rory's "max" was incredibly high but that the question was what percentage of the time he'd be consistent enough to put that max effort on the scoreboard. Maybe a lot. But you have to wait and find out. That's a poor paraphrase and partly me. So, don't be hard on Tim.

So the Commish comes to you and asks you to propose an idea on how MLB can re-align to have 15 teams in each league. What would your suggestion be? 3 5-team divisions in each? 1 15-team table in each league? Or would you call this a stupid idea and tell the commish, no, thanks?

I can't figure it out and have no "plan." And I've thought about it. But I don't think the whole sport should tie itself in a knot to make sure that the Orioles and Blue Jays have a better chance. Life and baseball aren't fair. And things change. The Yanks and Red Sox have had bad periods __including some pretty long ones for the Red Sox. The Yanks have so many terrible contracts that '2013-to-2018 may not be pretty for them.

Remember, perfect is the enemy of good enough. Adding a second wild card team __in whatever manner they do it__ should be enough.

If I ever get a good idea __doubtful__ I won't keep it a secret!

I recall a few chats ago you said you wanted to write a column bashing poker (in response to a Norman Chad column bashing baseball). Looks like Mr. Chad fired the first shot in his column defending poker players...to wit: "Poker is as American as baseball and apple pie, and the game involves math, psychology, money management and a variety of other nuanced skills that make hitting a 90-mph fastball look simple." Response?

Oh, please. Poker?

 

You're a father. Now, let's say you have a son with unlimited promise like Rory McIlroy, for whom multiple majors, if not Tiger's 14, or even Jack's 18, are outside of contemplation, at least. What do you tell him, with Tiger as the cautionary tale? Or LeBron? Or any other? How do you protect greatness?

You mean, perhaps, how do you help keep a person with great talent __in any field__ grounded in normal reality.

There's certainly no formula. But Cal Ripken, jr., managed it. So did Nicklaus. I suspect that your fate, in that regard, is already formed by your genes, your family and your own values by the time you are 8 or 10 or 12 and "the gift" makes you a star.

The sports world is FULL of athletes who are really fine people. And, when they were teenagers, or younger, every one of them was told that they were going to be fabulous, millionaires, "different." The superstars who are jerks have no special excuses just because their talent __in the end__ actually proves to be as great as the hype they've listened to all their lives.  Their experience of the world as they grow up isn't so different than the athlete who ends up being the 20th man on a MLB team or the ninth player on an NBA team.  

If Rory McIlroy doesn't win the next 10 tournaments straight, how long until the media starts to tear him down with the "what's wrong with Rory?" columns? We need someone in the media to write a "stay medium" column instead of comparing a 22 year-old kid to Jack, Tiger & Seve. Now, if he doesn't win 19 majors, he will be a complete failure. Thanks a lot.

Why do you think I included Seve in my column, rather than sticking with the Jack/Tiger theme that you see everywhere today? First, because Seve belongs in the group of megas at 21-22. But also because Seve "only" won five majors, but not 14 or 18. He had a bad back and didn't do much past his early 30s.

I certainly won't be one of those damning McvIlroy for just being wonderful. We'll have to see, over time, which majors suit his game the best. This US Open played VERY MUCH like a typical PGA Championship __good rough, but not terrifying rough, fast but not crazy fast greens and no greens that run at 14.

Tom, It is great to have a group of golfers in their twenties contend in and win majors. Rory, Jason Day, Swartzel, Oosthusthien are all top-notch golfers. With fan favorites Phil, Furyk, Love, and Els all over forty, it is a comfort to know that we will be following this group for the next twenty years. When Els won the Open at Congressional, he was the top young player. Now Rory has taken that mantel after an Open at Congressional.

Very well put. Nice to see Day grab his second straight runner-up in a major. McIlroy told him afterwards that he was "close." With Watson, D Johnson, Fowler, Oost, Schwartzel, McDowell __on and on__ there are a LOT of players who have great talent or won a major or have very appealing personalities (or all three). I hope McDowell stays in the picture for years. He's a prince. With Manassero and Ishikawa in their teens, too, I don't think we have to worry about The State of Golf. Tiger will come back strong or he won't. Or, more likely, he'll fall in the same "in-between" range that Nicklaus did from 36-to-43 when he finished in the top six in majors 18 times but won only three of them. Even before we "sort out" Tiger's place in the future, I think it will be clear that the game is solid no matter his outcome.

Got to say that after watching EVERY great golfer in the world this week, it really underlined how much stronger and deeper the non-Tiger field now is. I'd have to stay that I doubt he'll get to 19. That's a changed guess from me. (Since, come on, it's all an educated guess when it comes to prophecy. ) 

Hey Tom, I was out at the open yesterday and I couldn't help but notice how short the rough was on a lot of the holes. Normally the Open rough is the toughest of them all. Was there a reason for it being so short? Seeing the scores some players put up it didn't make a lot of sense.

We'll do a piece tomorrow on how CCC stood up as an Open test. Some courses really can't be toughened up very much. But the not-tough-enough rough at CCC was the only big problem. And that's easily solved in future __probably the 2026 U.S. Open for the 250th anniversary of the nation.

CCC has so much space that the course could be lengthened and tweak more easily than the Masters. I talked with Ben Brundred yesterday and he said, before the round, that if the winning score was "-17 with a bunch of players at -16, -15, then that indicates a problem. But if the winning score is -17 and nobody else is under -7, then there's no problem and you can bet the Open will be comiong back here."

Ben also noted that parking and traffic __which terrified everybody associated with this Open__ was much better than expected. Given the Washington area's traffic problems in general, I'd say that this aspect of the Open __remote parking with shuttle buses__ was a real success. The exception would be those who came from Virginia and parked at Dulles. That worked, but it was a 45 minute shuttle haul and maybe more at some times of day. Still, believe me, that's lot better than they feared. And they appreciated all the help from the Montgomery County police and other officials. I'm sure there were individual problems, but not ONE person complained to me. And, believe me, when there were logistical nightmares at Avenel for PGA Tour stops __and that happened about every other year__ I heard about jammed muddy parking lots, traffic delays, towed cars, etc., a lot more than I heard about the golf.      

Do the Nats move Rendon to first base if he hits like everyone is anticipating?

Or do they move Ryan Zimmerman to first base if he keeps throwing anything like the way he's throwing right now. I assume Z'man is going to get a LOT better. Because right now he's having about as much trouble figuring out how to make ANY throw to any base as I've ever seen a good third baseman have. I know it's related to the stomach muscle surgery. Maybe he comes out of all this with a BETTER more overhand motion that improves him in '12 and beyond. But if it stays anything like this...

Hello Tom, can we please talk some UVA BASEBALL! Thank you.

I've been a little busy! But it's been my impression that we're doing a good job of covering it.

But a big tip of the hat to UVa. I''m sure Z'man and certain lefty from St. Albans who just gotten taken overall in the MLB draft are very happy. I've got a lot of catching up to do and that'll be one of the most pleasant parts.

Do you think Bernadina is part of the foundation for the nats for the next 3 to 5 years? How does Morse range/defense at first base compare with Laroches's? Dunn? Thanks

It appears that Morse's "range" is 3w5 homers and 110 RBI a year. Ooooohhh, you mean his defensive range! He still gets confused, turned around at 1st sometimes, but he also shows his ex-shortstop hands and moves a lot better than Dunn. He's no LaRoche, one of the best, but FAR better than I thought.

Here are Michael's #s as a Nat in three seasons: 522 at bats, 69 runs, 28 doubles, 31 homers, 94 RBI, slash of .293/.348/.533/.  However, he's even better than that indicvates because, since he walks so seldom, he's only had 572 plate appearances. In a normal full season with 145-150 games, he'd have enough ABs for about 35 doubles, 36-38 homers, 110-115 RBI __IF he hits like he has so far once he's in the l;ineup every day.

Obviously, this guy HAS to play. Riggleman's always been in his corner in the internal discussions. So, give him credit for spotting one and speaking up about it. (Of course, he and his staff also like Chad Gaudin and Brian Broderick. Hope you enjoyed watching them.)

Morse's recent hitting surge suggests he can be an every day player and he seems to play much better defense at 1B than in LF. Is he the first baseman of the future? If so, what happens with LaRoche next year? If not (yet), what does Morse need to do to be penciled in as an opening day starter for the next few years?

Morse just needs to keep doing what he's doing __INCLUDING the slumps. When he's hot, bat him 4th or 5th. When he's col;d, bat him 6th or 7th. But BAT HIM SOMEWHERE. He sure looks like a piece of the puzzle.. Maybe a big stolen one! And he might be a slightly
"plus" 1st baseman in time.  LFer isn't his best spot. But he can do fine out there with LaRoche at 1st base in '12. Then you have nice problems in '13, assuming LaRoche comes back fine. The Nast have an option on LaR for '13. Morse is still under team control in '13. And maybe Harper is ready to start __somewhere__ by Opening Day of '13 when he's still only 20.

Having Morse, LaRoche and Harper __a crowd__ is GOOD. It opens up trades and it means you can relax with Harper. He probably wants to be up tomorrow. So what? For $9.9M he knows the team wants him  to be a huge success and is doing what it thinks is best for him. So if he has to wait somewhat longer than he wants, then that's just what happens. But if he keeps hitting as he m oves up the ladder he'll solve it for himself.

Put it this way: Morse's .293/.348/.533 isn't far from what I'd guess/hope will be Harper's level someday. Maybe more walks for Bryce and a better OPS. But as much as he strikes out, I doubt Harper hits much above .293 or slugs much more than .533. So, in a way, if Morse continues like this, the Nats already have the equivalent of a "young Harper." What will Harper be in 5-6-7 years. You just can't know.    

Nice to see Nats Park nearly full this weekend. What are the odds of a Beltway World Series in the next few years? Both teams seem to be building a solid young core with a few key veterans. Which team do you expect to see first in the postseason?

Whoooooa!

The Nats have a higher ceiling because Guerrero and D Lee __on one-year deals and old__ will be hard to replace. Also, Matusz' physical problems are a small problem. Britton may be their J Z'mann, but who is there Strasburg? They don't have one, even potentially. And the DC market, if it takes off, is bigger and funds a team in a less brutal; division than the AL East.

On attendance, a few points are being overlooked a little. MLB attendance, in general, is down a bit. So the Natys, it appears, will go above their '10 gate in a year without Strasburg. The Seattle series should be about as weak as anything we see the rest of the summer. Not a surprise. The Nast have moved up to 20th in attendance, ahead of 10 teams, while they are still under .500.

Right now, I'd say the fan base is growing nicely and about a year ahead of where I thought it might be. But we'll see. Stay around .500 and people will buy in faster. ead toward 90 loses and they'll wait for '12. BUT plenty of people see that Ramos, Desmond, Esponosa, Z'man, Z'mann, Werth, Storen, Clippard, Strasburg, maybe Morse, maybe H Rpodriguez, probably Lannan can all be part of a team that tries to win 90 games. And there should be a couple of significant free agents coming over the next off-season or two. The window is opening. The Nats HAVE to take advanatage of it. They can't say, "Hey, we're going to be pretty decvent, why not stop spending as well as developing." You need to keep doing all three things: developing talent, trading and buying the right free agent at the right time. All easier said than done. But something unual happend on a golf press shuttle Saturday. There was a general conversation about the future of the Nats. Of course, eight straight wins tends to do that. (And 0-8 would shut it up fast.)  

Is it a good idea for the Nats to put Marquis, Livan, or Gorzelanny on the trading block? At a certain point, don't you have to go with pitchers who are winning games NOW? Considering the progress the Nats have made in 2011, I'd sure hate for August to bring back the depressing rotation of Stammen, Atilano, etc.

That's going to be a tough call. Luckily, nobody will give much for Livan because they are all idiots. So, he stays. Marquis is seen as solid pennant-race value even though he isn't as useful now, as much an innings eater, too, as experienced in post-season, as good a clubhouse guy as Hernandez. Would be entertaining to see Marquis win 15 and help a push to .500. But tough to justify if you got a young MLB ready prospect.

I just don't think the July 31 market is as strong as it once was. So, I expect the Nats get low-balled and they all stay. Marquis the most likely to go with Detwiler most likely to come up. If it's a close call, that's when being a No. 6-overall pick helps.

Not too much left to be said but , WOW what a swing, apparently with demeanor and level of maturity to match. I've looked youtube footage of a few of the greats (Woods, Nicklaus, Snead, Hogan, Nelson), but Mcilroy seems to combine a powerful, full move with complete balance and control in a way that seems unprecendented. For me the closest parrellel was Bobby Jones at impact and follow through, though Jones has a much busier backswing. Do you see McIlroy's swing as following another great's model, or is he unique? Thanks.

I liked Tiger's swing in '00 better than McIlroy's now. It's going to be hard to keep that wrap-around follow through as he ages and his body perhaps thickens. It's not exactly a stress-free swing. Tiger had that perfect balance "snap" to a high finish, too, but did it with a shorter backswing, which helps ypou repeat the swing.

I''m not ready to put McIlroy's swing above Hogan or Snead or Woods. The swing "experts" know more. But they are incredibly influence by the heard mentality and the desire not to look like they don't "get it" when it comes to the latest hot thing. They're like stock gurus jumping on the hot idea. I can't even fix my own swing, but at least I don't have to agree with the mood of the moment. Beautiful swing. Will it last 10 years? What happens if it doesn't stay so perfect if he grows and he has to rework it? Oh, I get it, he's the only golfer in history who wakes up at 16 with a swing he never has to change again and that never betrays him. Good, good, that'll be fun the watch.

Boz, The Nats have been maddening this year (especially Jason Werth) when it comes to first pitch hitting -- the streak notwithstanding. The contrast this weekend spoke volumes. I loved the Os approach. It was simple -- throw a first-pitch fastball for a strike and they're all over it. Too many Nats seem to take all away on the first pitch and start out in a hole -- no wonder they strike out so much. On Saturday Desmond struck out without taking the bat off his shoulder. Werth is the worst offender. Hetakes first-pitch fastballs for strikes then gets nothing but breaking balls afterwards. The stats are there -- start out 0-1 and the average hitter struggles. Working the count should be the result of a good approach not the object of a good approach. What do you think?

They take a LOT. That helps vs the Phils when you want to get the Four Aces out of the game before, say, the 12th inning. When you face a guy with 24 letters in his name who started as an independent league HITTER before switching to the mound, maybe it would be a good idea to just crush a couple of his first-pitch fastball strikes and force him into a bit of a re-think on the day's activities.

Boz, What is the longest you have seen a team employ the pitcher-batting-8th concept that Riggleman and the boys have been utilizing. If the Nats run with this lineup for the rest of the year, would that be unprecedented?

If the Nats stick with their current batting-order concept for the rest of the season, with a $126-million leadoff man, my sanity, always fragile, might be severely endangered.

Since hitting leadoff, Werth is batting .182 with a .270 on-base percenatge,four runs scored and only four RBI in eight games, despite two home runs. The team is winning __despite the lineup, not because of it. Unless you think a leadoff man with a .270 OB% __worse than what they had before__ is helping. (Z'man is back. Stop the madness.)

Well, I think I've gotten myself in enough trouble for one day. See you all next Monday. Thanks for the great questions.

Seems to me that Rory is just a very normal and likeable guy. Not guarded the way Tiger and for that matter Jack always seemed at the height of their careers. It's not just his golf; he seems like a guy you would always want to root for. Agree?

Nice. He sure seems that way. Jack started out guarded (I'm told) then opened up. Tiger started guarded, then went to total full-court defense. Now, he's trying to loosen up a little. Ironic.

I get a laugh every time I look at McIlroy as he looks so much like the teenage golfer in Caddyshack. But boy does this Rory have some skills!

Aaaargggh, how could everybody miss that!

Great, thanks.

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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