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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Golf has changed its look over the years and that’s a good thing

Brooks Koepka walks on the 17th hole during the first round of the Masters  on Thursday  in Augusta, Ga. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Brooks Koepka walks on the 17th hole during the first round of the Masters on Thursday in Augusta, Ga. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Most professional football players don’t look like average folks. Neither do professional basketball players. Or, even, folks in the major leagues. But pro golfers. Now that’s an eclectic group. Read on.

••••••••••

• Golf once was the purview of the rich and, well, rich. Still is, for the most part, though the non-country-club crowd has taken over the sport in the play-for-fun ranks.

It’s at the top level where egalitarianism has really taken over, though. At least outwardly.

The thought expressed above hit me yesterday afternoon as I watched the final hours of the Masters’ first day.

The guys on top were a diverse-looking group. Oh sure, white Americans still dominate, even decades after Tiger Woods changed the face of golf, but we’re talking body types here. Just about any boy (or girl, for that matter) can become a successful golfer. You don’t have to be 6-foot-4 or really fast or really well built. All athletic builds, all body types, all everything are welcome.

Not everyone can look like Brooks Koepka, sure. He seems more suited to playing outside linebacker for the Jets than hitting a wedge shot to 3-feet, but his physique, as admirable as it is, is not the only one needed to be atop the leaderboard.

(As an aside, Koepka, who went to bed tied atop the leaderboard after shooting a 66, has won three of the last six majors he’s been physically capable of playing. That’s Tiger-like, for sure, but don’t give me this baloney about being underappreciated. He’s so “underappreciated,” Jim Nantz spent a half-hour or so talking about how no one ever talks about him.)

Bryson DeChambeau is tied with Koepka and he doesn’t look as if he could be the Jets’ ticket guy, let alone play pro football. He actually looks – and talks – like a guy the Dodgers would hire to figure out the co-efficiency of spin rate and how it relates to left-handed hitters. And his swing looks like the one Uncle George used to use when playing back in 1966. It’s just a bit more successful.

Phil Mickelson is also near the top of the leaderboard and though his swing is smoother, he just looks like Uncle George, if Uncle George was related to one of the Walt Disney cartoon characters. C’mon, admit it. Phil has always sort of reminded you of Goofy, but in a nice way. He seems like a fun guy who would say “aw, shucks” a lot.

Appearances, as they say, can be deceiving. Phil is known as a gambler’s gambler – as well as having a competitive streak as wide as the second fairway. He may not look all that athletic – outwardly he seems best suited to run the Jets’ P.R. department – but he is.

However, there was one player near the lead yesterday that reflected my build more than any other.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat is 5-foot-8. He weighs, well, more than he probably should. (Who among us doesn’t feel that way ?) And he hits the golf ball a long ways. And accurately. He’s from Thailand, but he seems a lot like the guy you played with last weekend at Downriver. Except, you know, he actually hits greens and makes putts.

He’s won four European tournaments in his career. He’s been a fixture in majors recently. And he shot a 3-under 69 at Augusta yesterday. All the while looking more like Engelberg from The Bad News Bears than, well, Brooks Koepka.

And that’s what so impressive about golf at the highest level.

Koepka is a chiseled 6-foot, 190 pounds. Mickelson is a softer 6-3. DeChambeau fits in somewhere between. But size really doesn’t matter on the course. Francesco Molinari, who won the British Open last year, is 5-8 and less than 160, but he can shoot under par as easily as a guy who towers over him.

When I was young, my dad watched me run and told me, if I ever wanted to be a professional baseball player, I would have to be a catcher. That’s the only spot someone as slow as I was could have a chance.

He was wrong. There was no position that I was suited to play. Golf, on the other hand, doesn’t care if you can run a sub-5 40. Or can lift a Ponderosa pine over your head. It’s about making a little round ball go where you want it to, consistently. Just about anyone, of any build, can work hard enough to be successful at it.

The leaderboard yesterday at Augusta drove that point home like one of Koepka’s 5-irons.

•••

WSU: After a few days of quiet in Pullman (except for the weather), it poured news Thursday. Theo has stories ranging from basketball – one of Ernie Kent’s recruits decided he didn’t want to play for Kyle Smith – to football recruiting – an Arizona high school offensive lineman committed – to spring football practice – the Rush linebacker spot seems to have been claimed. … He also has videos from after practice, from Mike Leach to Eric Mele, from players Ron Stone Jr. to Kassidy Woods. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 football, Washington has quite a few openings to fill in its secondary. … Arizona seemingly has filled a spot there. … Oregon’s newest receiver has a lot of experience. … UCLA’s spring game looms after 11 practices. … A grad transfer should help Utah’s defense. … Colorado's kicking game should be fine. … The conference’s basketball prospects will have to overcome the loss of Stanford’s best player to the pro ranks. … Utah is losing an assistant coach. … Arizona will too, but because it wants to. … Not only is Bobby Hurley probably not leaving for St. John’s, he may sign an extension. … Mick Cronin is learning his way around UCLA. … Washington should still be a contender next season.

Gonzaga: The Zags are in the transfer market again and are one of seven schools under consideration for shooting guard David Jenkins Jr. Jim Meehan has more in this story. … Zykera Rice has been invited to the Seattle Storm’s training camp. … Around the WCC, not only is new BYU coach Mark Pope looking at his former assistants, he may pick up a transfer from his old school.

Idaho: There were a lot of women who played sports collegiately before Title IX tried to even the playing field (my older sister pitched at UCLA in the mid-1960s, when the Bruins played junior colleges more often than not). John Blanchette has the story of one swimmer, Nancy Monroe, who came to Moscow not knowing what she was getting into but left a Hall of Famer. Or will be soon.

CCS: The Sasquatch have a pitcher who will be a trailblazer for Boise State. Ryan Collingwood has more on Reed Harrington in this college baseball notebook.

Chiefs: Eli Zummack has been on fire for Spokane. Dan Thompson introduces you to the 18-year-old who has helped the Chiefs win one series and lead 3-0 in the next.

Preps: Another busy day in the high school sports world, with roundups from softball, tennis, baseball and soccer. … Dave Nichols chats with Larry Weir for the Press Box pod.

Mariners: The M's have homered in all 15 games this season, a Major League record. They are 13-2, which is unexpected, just like yesterday's 7-6 win at Kansas City. And they seem to be having fun. … Gene Warnick has his Out of Right Field summary of the victory.

•••       

• Golf isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. It’s hard for an inner-city kid to be introduced to the sport let alone find a place to practice. But once on the course, it’s pretty simple. If you are better at it than your peers, you play and you win. The golf ball doesn’t know who hit it. Doesn’t care. That’s one of the beauties of the sport. Until later …

Wordcount: 1407

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