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Archive for September, 2021

Another of the great characters and journalists from the heyday of newspapers in Kansas City has left the scene.

Leo “Ski” Wozniak, who retired from The Star — actually I should say The Kansas City Times because he retired the day The Times stopped publishing in 1990 — died Sunday at his Overland Park home. He was 92 and died in his sleep.

Ski was special to me because he was one of the first people I got to know in the newsroom when I arrived in Kansas City in September 1969, not knowing a soul and starting my first (and only) job at a big-time newspaper.

I was a reporter working the 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. shift for The Times, and Ski was the night wire editor, meaning he monitored the 24-hour-a-day machine that spat out stories from all wire services The Star and Times subscribed to, including the Associated Press, United Press International, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and others. The stories came rolling off the machine, clickety-clackety, on mealy, off-white copy paper that piled up behind the machine until an editor went over and ripped it off with the edge of a ruler.

Ski would then apprise the other editors what stories he had and how he thought they rated. From those discussions, decisions were made as to how to “play” the various stories “offered” for the next morning’s paper, that is, which one would be the lead story, which ones would go lower on the front page and which would go inside.

To some of us young reporters, the wire machine and the entire wire operation was an intimidating curiosity. I certainly didn’t know much about it and wasn’t particularly interested. I was focused on covering the speeches, car wrecks, crimes and other news stories that about a dozen of us nighttime, local reporters were responsible for. It did not escape me, however, that the constant clanking and jiggling of that wire machine contributed to the vibrancy and excitement of the wide-open newsroom. And Ski ruled the wire desk.

My fondest and most personal memories of Ski, however, came from our frequent golf games. Soon after arriving at the paper, I discovered that the afternoon city editor, a dapper little guy named Don T. Jones — not to be confused with the night city editor Don D. (Casey) Jones — had four passes to the city golf courses, courtesy of the Parks and Recreation Department. Free golf! That’s something I’d never experienced before.

So, Ski and I, sometimes joined by one or two other reporters or editors, would use the passes to play at Swope Memorial. We played so often that pretty soon Ski and I each had one of those passes in our wallets. (After Charlie Wheeler became mayor, I made the mistake of telling him we had golf-course passes, and soon after they were gone. Wheeler didn’t like The Star’s editorial page because the editors never endorsed him.)

Ski was very competitive, and, although I don’t recall us playing for money, it was always about who won. Generally, I hit the ball farther then he did, but he was much better around the greens. I really admired and envied his delicate touch, which I’ve never been able to develop despite having played the game for 60 years. In scoring, we were about even, although he probably beat me more times than I beat him.

Of course, you do a lot of talking on the golf course and learn a lot about the people you play with regularly. I remember once, months after we’d been playing, Ski telling me about the time when he and one of his brothers were kids and the brother ran out in front of a passing vehicle and was killed. “I’ll never forget it,” Ski said grimly…Just as I’ll never forget him telling me about it.

Ski had an acerbic wit. One day when we were playing at Swope, I stopped at the clubhouse between the 9th and 10th holes to get a cold beverage. Ski was sitting on a bench on the 10th tee when I caught up with him, and I was chomping away on the ice. He gave me a look of disgust and said, “You sound like a pig eating coal.” I’d never heard that before, and haven’t since, and from that day I cut back on my ice chewing.

Another time, a single player joined us, and when we introduced ourselves, Ski introduced himself by his formal name, Leo. After a couple of holes, “Leo” had slipped the guy’s mind and he began calling him “Lou.” Ski didn’t correct him, and every time the guy called him Lou, Ski and I would look at each other and smile. Thereafter, every once in a while I would call him “Lou,” just for fun.

As I said, Ski was extremely competitive. We also played handball — mostly outdoor handball — and one particular sports-marathon day we played handball, tennis and ping-pong. I think we came out about even, but it was very intense day.

In handball, if one player interferes with another as the opponent is going for a ball, the player who is going for the ball can call a “hinder,” and the point is stopped and played over. I didn’t remember this, but one day, apparently, in a particularly close game, Ski called a hinder on a critical point. Decades later — this would have been about 10 years ago — at one of Laura Hockaday’s KC Star reunion gatherings at the Kansas City Country Club, Ski recalled the incident.

“Do you remember when I called that hinder?” he said.

“No,” I said. “I have no recollection.”

“Well,” he said. “It wasn’t a hinder. You didn’t interfere with me.”

Now there’s a guy you can admire. Love ya, Ski…I hope to see you again someday.

Note: After I posted this column, Ski’s daughter Kate sent me this photo, which she took at the 2010 Laura Hockaday reunion. It might well have been the day of Ski’s “not-a-hinder” confession.

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Last Tuesday, a good friend sent me and several other people a breathless text about a press conference the Kansas City Royals had announced for that afternoon.

And what, pray tell, was so urgent about this press conference? Could the Royals be announcing a new, extended contract with star catcher Salvador Perez? Could they be firing General Manager Dayton Moore? (Which, by the way, I would applaud. Time for fresh blood and new ideas.)

No, no. The text concerned a much more urgent matter…Rumor was the Royals were going to be talking about the possibility of a Downtown stadium. Let me say that again — A DOWNTOWN STADIUM!!!

Now, I love my friend’s enthusiasm; it’s one of his most engaging qualities. But I was pretty sure there was not going to be a definitive announcement about a downtown stadium, and I thought if that was the subject, it would be pretty damned lame.

And that it proved to be.

When Royals’ principal John Sherman took to the microphone, his pitch for a downtown stadium was the equivalent of casting a nightcrawler into the middle of Truman Lake and hoping to catch a record-setting bass.

Here was his blockbuster announcement:

“We are conducting an internal process to help us evaluate our options for where we play, and one of those options is to play downtown baseball.”

That’s it. Nothing about who he might have talked to…because he probably hasn’t talked with any political leaders. Nothing about cost…because that’s the last thing he wants to talk about. And nothing about who would pay for it…because that’s waaaayy too sensitive.

This was strictly a fishing expedition aimed at getting sports talk radio hosts, Kansas city Star columnists and TV sports anchors to start talking about the issue in hopes of applying pressure on political leaders, like Mayor Quinton Lucas and Country Executive Frank White, to start considering a “public-private” partnership to build a downtown stadium for, oh, $1 billion or more.

What Sherman wants, of course, is a public-private partnership that tilts very heavily toward the public side. After all, Sherman put together a group that paid a staggering $1 billion in 2019 for a franchise that was purchased in the year 2000 by the late David Glass for $96 million. To all appearances, the Sherman group significantly overpaid, and the last thing the owners plan to do now is dig a lot deeper to pay the lion’s share of the cost of a downtown stadium.

(Another thing here while I’m putting the magnifying glass on Royals’ owners: If you were doing the math, you know the Glass family made a profit of $900 million on the sale to the Sherman group. And unlike original Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman, whose family set up two huge foundations here, the Glass family took all the money back to Bentonville. It is outrageous and beyond appalling that they have zero interest in philanthropy in KC, where they made so much money.)

**

Now, as recently as last November, I also was caught up in the excitement of the prospect of a downtown baseball stadium. That was when The Star broke its lease on its printing plant, and the plant’s owner broached the possibility of selling the building to make way for a downtown stadium.

But after that initial blood rush, and after talking with people who are clear-eyed about business deals, I have come to my senses.

First, the Royals’ and Chiefs’ leases are not up for another 10 years. Second, it makes the most sense for both teams to renew leases at the Truman Sports Complex, where both stadiums got hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements (financed by Jackson County residents) slightly more than a decade ago.

Do you think people coming in from Iowa and Nebraska — not to mention Lee’s Summit, Leavenworth and even Johnson County — are going to want to drive into downtown (at night, oh god!) and make loop after loop in a huge parking garage or, in the alternative, scout around for an hour or so for street parking?

The answer is obvious…What they want is surface parking that allows easy-in, easy-out access and they’re on their way home, or to the hotel, minutes after the game ends.

But here’s the next, and even bigger, issue: If we are serious about a downtown stadium, Who’s going to pay for it?

And here, fellow Jackson Countians, is where we must put our foot down…The cost should not, cannot, be borne by Kansas Citians and Jackson Countians alone. That was okay back in 1967, when Jackson County voters, smelling the prospect of a new baseball team and eager to find a suitable home for the Chiefs, generously approved a $100 million bond issue to build the first twin stadiums, plus the access roads. (It was and always will be the best stadium deal ever.)

Royals’ Stadium under construction in about 1970

The only fair way to finance a downtown stadium now would be to do it like we did the renovation of Union Station back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That is with a bistate tax, with at least Jackson and Johnson counties sharing the cost.

For the edification of readers under 30, and to refresh the memories of those who were around but don’t recall the details, here’s how that worked. (And thanks to the Mid-America Regional Council’s website for the primer.) The governing bodies in five area counties authorized placing the question of forming a bistate district on the ballot. In 1996, voters in Platte, Clay and Jackson counties in Missouri and Johnson County in Kansas approved the measure forming the district. (Wyandotte County voters turned it down.)

The proposal provided for a retail sales tax of 1/8 of a cent to be collected from within the district until $118 million had been received. The tax proceeds could only be used to renovate Union Station and build Science City in Union Station. From April 1, 1997, to March 31, 2002, $121,393,565 was collected. The tax expired in the first quarter of 2002.

A second bistate effort in 2002 — to benefit performing arts and cultural organizations and to renovate the sports complex — failed.

The good news is the bistate law remains on the books in Missouri, and a new bistate commission conceivably could be rolled out. Just as it was 25 years ago, however, a bistate arrangement could not go forward without voter approval in both Jackson and Johnson counties. Contiguous counties within 60 miles of Johnson and Jackson counties would be eligible to participate, but not one taxpayer dollar could be spent on a downtown stadium without Johnson County’s participation.

Fortunately, Mayor Lucas sees the light on this. In a recent LinkedIn post, he wrote: “If folks are thinking a KCMO-funded-alone model, that would be tough/imprudent. A bistate would be preferred, but would KS play ball?”

He’s absolutely right. And let’s get this straight right now: If our Kansas brethren want to see Major League baseball played downtown, they’d better be ready to pony up. The tailgating can go on, but the riding of coattails has gone on way too long.

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Patty and her sister Vicky and I went to Starlight Theatre for the Doobie Brothers’ concert last night. Kansas City is one of many cities on the legendary band’s 50th Anniversary Tour.

We had not been to Starlight in a few years, and the moment we got in the place I was sorry it had been so long.

Starlight, in Swope Park, is one of Kansas City’s premier attractions. It’s one of those places that makes me feel good about being a Kansas Citian. It projects a big-time, yet relaxed atmosphere. To me, it beats Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums. Arrowhead hardly smacks of relaxation, while Kauffman has been way too relaxed since 2015.

Starlight, on the other hand, is always warm and inviting and seems to envelope one and create an atmosphere of contentment and security.

Moreover, it’s got landmarks. Consider its stage-flanking, oxidized copper towers. Where Churchill Downs has its Twin Spires — the most recognized landmark in Kentucky — Starlight has its own twin spires.

Soon after we arrived last night (about 45 minutes before the scheduled showtime of 7:30), I excitedly began taking photos with my phone. I didn’t realize until I reviewed them this morning that most weren’t very substantive. But that’s how just being there after a long absence got my blood rushing.

The most amazing and gratifying thing to me about Starlight is how its proprietor — the nonprofit Starlight Theatre Association, in partnership with the KC Parks and Recreation Department — has kept the theater abreast of changing times. Upgrades have been almost continuous since the 1980s.

Here’s what Starlight looked like in June 1950 when it opened with the musical The Desert Song.

The theater was an immediate success initially, but by the late 1960s, it was losing money, and by the mid-1980s it was at a critical point. Crowds for Broadway-type shows had diminished; revenue was way down; and the place simply was not very appealing.

At that point, the Park Board, led by the indomitable Anita Gorman, called on the late Chiefs’ president Jack Steadman, to lead a fund-raising effort, which was successful. In addition, executive producer Bob Rohlf, who had been hired in 1980 as marketing director, helped breathe new life into the operation after being elevated to executive producer.

The 1990s also brought big improvements. As the Starlight website says: “To stay competitive with theater companies around the country, Starlight’s outdoor stage would need to be able to host national touring productions. Recognizing this need, the capital campaign was expanded to include the construction of a new covered stage house.”

The campaign was successful, thanks partly to a gift of more than $1 million from Jeannette and Jerome Cohen.

The $10 million stage made its debut in the summer of 2000. The stage is 10 stories tall and covers 12,000 square feet. It is climate controlled and fully enclosed on the top and sides. While audience members occasionally have to endure bad weather, the performers do not. The show goes on “rain or shine,” with the exception of delays or cancellations because of extremely bad weather.

One of the biggest improvements in recent years was the 2018 addition, at a cost of $600,000, of four “mega-fans” in the seating bowl. The 35-foot-tall fans, which look like wind turbines pointing at the sky, create a breeze of about 4 mph throughout the seating bowl.

From the financial standpoint, here are the critical numbers regarding Starlight: The theater cost $1.75 million to build in the late 1940s; it now has an estimated value of about $80 million, according to the Starlight website.

**

Here’s a look at the Starlight bowl (with two of its mega fans) before last night’s show. And, yes, those are rain clouds moving in from the west, but fortunately it did not rain.

As I said, the Doobie Brothers were good. They played all their big hits and a bunch of others, and Michael McDonald, who was with the band from 1975 to 1981, was on stage, playing keyboards and singing during the entire concert. As you would expect from a 69-year-old singer, his voice doesn’t have the same range and vibrancy as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was good enough.

One of the highlights of the night, from the concert standpoint, was watching Patty and Vicky — who grew up in the ’70s — bop to the song “China Grove.” Here they were before the show started.

Suffice it to say, the three of us were pretty close to heaven last night, mainly because Starlight is a heavenly place.

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Just two and a half years after his book Summoned at Midnight, about the last military executions at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas City native and KC Star reporter Richard (Rick) Serrano is back with another outstanding book, this one about the skywalks collapse at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crown Center.

The book, Buried Truths and the Hyatt Skywalks: The Legacy of America’s Epic Structural Failure, will be available for delivery Sept. 28. (Serrano had an advance copy sent to me.) Rainy Day Books in Fairway will have copies.

Rick Serrano

The July 17, 1981, tragedy was one of the seminal events in Kansas City history, and everyone 18 and older in the Kansas City area should read the book. Furthermore, school districts throughout the Kansas City area should order hundreds of copies and make it available to high-school students.

Although neither of those things is likely to happen, that’s how important the Hyatt catastrophe is in Kansas City history.

For we adults who were here then and are still alive now, it was, and will very likely remain, the most stunning and soul-rattling civic event of our lives.

The collapse of the second- and fourth-floor skywalks — a third-floor skywalk was not aligned with the other two — took the lives of 114 people and injured about 200 others. For some of the injured, like Sally Firestone, who was left paralyzed from the neck down, the event was was totally life changing. She went from an up-and-coming businesswoman to an advocate for people with disabilities.

Sally Firestone

Those who died included an off-duty Fire Department battalion chief, John Tvedten, whose son, also named John, was a firefighter who also died tragically after becoming trapped in heavy smoke while fighting a 1999 warehouse fire.

The Hyatt disaster left its imprint on all of us and all around us. It’s hard to believe, but for more than a decade now the hotel has been the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. To that, I say it might be a Sheraton to out-of-towners who stay there, but for us, it will always be the Hyatt. Hyatt skipped town without even contributing to the Skywalk Memorial, which was dedicated in 2015.

At that dedication, which I attended, survivor Frank Freeman called July 17, 1981, the day “that wrenched innocent loved ones from our arms.”

“Mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends, spouses and lovers — all were gone in an instant,” Freeman said. “Gone. Just gone. How could that be?”

Yet it was…And to his credit, Serrano brings more clarity to the event than anything that has previously been written.

If you ask most people familiar with the collapse what caused it, they will tell you it was a mid-construction decision change: Instead of using six sets of long steel rods that were to start at the ceiling and extend straight down the sides of both skywalks, a structural engineer approved a change to 12 sets of shorter rods, with six sets supporting the upper skywalk and six others offset and bolted to the upper skywalk to support the lower bridge.

Tom Tryon, a drywall installer whom Serrano interviewed, said of the skywalks: “They felt solid…But I just didn’t like the idea of those rods. They weren’t heavy enough.”

In this Kansas City Star file photo, you can see the fallen skywalks, as well as part of the third-floor skywalk (top).

There is no doubt that the design change compromised the suspension system, but Serrano’s investigation makes it clear that the design change was part of a much larger problem: a rushed and disorganized construction process spearheaded by a failing general contraction firm, Eldridge & Son, which had done other jobs for hotel owner Hallmark Cards. (Eldridge was fired three months before the project was completed.)

It didn’t help that city building inspectors were essentially AWOL during construction. Serrano wrote: “City records reveal they spent an average of just eight and a half minutes a week supposedly checking the vast foundation, structure, steel, and concrete at the Hyatt job.”

Here are some of the other truths that Serrano “unburies”…

  • The “fast-track” construction method, in its early days at the time, led to something close to construction chaos at times, with the workers waiting on designers to give them their marching orders, i.e., the construction plans.
  • Live load tests (with significant weight being placed on the skywalks) were never conducted to gauge how much the skywalks would comfortably hold.
  • Before the hotel opened a year before the tragedy, some workers and others noticed cracks in the concrete skywalks, and others saw the ends of the skywalks pulling away from their moorings on the walls.
  • There were other clear signs before the collapse that the project was fraught with problems. First, Pauly Nold, an 18-year-old apprentice ironworker from the St. Joseph area, was killed in October 1979 after an 80-pound wooden beam fell from near the top of the building and struck him while he was standing just outside the construction area. Second, a large section of the roof crashed to the floor on an October Sunday morning when, fortunately, no workers were there. Hallmark p.r. man William Johnson then lied about the extent of the problem, saying a single 16-foot beam had snapped loose.
  • After Nold’s death and the roof cave-in, Donald Hall Sr., then president and CEO of Hallmark Cards, which owned and commissioned the hotel, called for the installation of access panel doors near the points where the hanger rods connected to metal box beams holding the walkways together. The panels were installed, but after that no one ever opened the doors to see how the connections were holding up. Serrano wrote: “Had they checked, they likely would have spotted a truth buried inside: The platforms were weakening.”
  • Don Hall (now 93 and living in Mission Hills) spoke frequently about the importance of safety during construction, but, at the same time, he and executives of Hallmark’s development arm, Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., pushed hard to keep the project on budget and open by the target date of July 1, 1980. James Lucas, the final construction project manager, told Serrano: “Don Hall is a nice guy and wanted everybody to be safe and happy. But that was an illusion. A fatal illusion.”

There was another eye-opening “truth” that Serrano unearthed: A federal investigation determined, among other things, that the third-floor skywalk support system had also weakened and that it, too, seemed “very near” to failing.

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Every Labor Day weekend, SiriusXM produces some version of a show in which they play the top 100 songs of the 1960s, “as chosen by our listeners.”

I don’t know exactly how listeners vote on this — and I never have — but it’s always fun, and I try to catch part of it…I wonder, as an aside, if anyone ever plants themselves in their car or residence and listens to all 100.

I don’t have a top 100 or even a top 10, but, as you know, I like to weigh in occasionally with songs I’ve heard recently that I really like. When I happen to have pen and paper with me when I’m driving, I’ll sometimes make note of songs I like and want to pass on to you readers.

This Labor Day weekend I’m going to write about just one song, a song that’s been haunting me for weeks — “You Were on My Mind” by We Five.

I’ve always liked the song, at the same time, never thought much about it or considered it anything special. After I heard it several weeks ago, however, I started gaining a better appreciation of it and seeing its brilliance.

Two things in particular have struck me about this song. First, it’s universally human. Haven’t we all woken up at some time — many times — with someone on our minds? In the song’s context, it’s obviously a boyfriend or girlfriend and most likely (“I’ve got wounds to bind”) an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. And don’t we all know about that!?

The second thing is how the song starts off gently but increases in intensity and then ends in a veritable crescendo, with the final, echoing guitar chord.

The song was written by Sylvia Fricker in 1961. According to Wiki, Fricker wrote the song while sitting in a bathtub in a suite at a hotel in Greenwich Village — sitting in the tub not taking a bath but trying to avoid the roaches everywhere else in the room.

She and her future husband, Ian Tyson, recorded it in 1963 under the names Ian & Sylvia. Their version, which I would call low-key country, bears no resemblance to the We Five version. The Ian & Sylvia original starts off with a guitar lead-in that is very similar to the lead-in to the Rooftop Singers’ 1962 song “Walk Right in,” which is catchy but, to me, irritating and cheesy. And, I’ve got to say, the Ian & Sylvia original version of “You Were on My Mind” also strikes me as irritating and cheesy. Almost worse, it’s flat. Instead of increasing in intensity, it drones along and ends with the anti-climax of a tied soccer game.

In 1965, Michael Stewart, the founding member of We Five, which came out of California’s Bay Area, saw the song’s potential. He slightly changed the lyrics and melody and came up with an arrangement that transformed the song from blah to combustible.

Michael Stewart

Where the Ian & Sylvia original went nowhere, the We Five cover reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 1965. Not only that, but Billboard later ranked the record as the No. 4 song of 1965, behind “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones.

The other key member of We Five was lead singer Beverly Bivens. Although her voice blends in with the voices of the four males, the song would be nothing without her energy and captivating presence.

Unfortunately for We Five, she left the group in 1966, and that was essentially the end of We Five.

Bivens did not sing publicly again until the opening of an exhibition revolving around the rock scene in the Bay area in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. She is now 74 or 75, presumably still living in California.

Stewart, the brother of John Stewart of The Kingston Trio, went on to become a record producer and a developer of music software. He died on November 13, 2002 at age 57.

One of the joys of researching this song was coming across a live, 1965 performance on the TV show Live on Hollywood Palace. If you’re like me, you’ll be jumping out of your chair by the one minute, 20 second mark. It’s sensational. Attesting to that is that it’s had almost 3.5 million views.

Here you go, then, “You Were on My Mind” by We Five.

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Many of you probably aren’t PGA tour followers, but an interesting interpersonal and social dynamic is unfolding in the case of long-drive hitter Bryson DeChambeau.

Partly, at least, through his obsessive-compulsive need to be the best and to be a fan favorite, the 28-year-old DeChambeau has become a lightning rod in the golf world, dividing fans into pro- and anti- camps.

I started following DeChambeau when he was an amateur, back in 2015 and 2016. He was fun to watch because he was so good. In June 2015, he won the NCAA individual championship and two months later won the U.S. Amateur title. He was only the fifth person to win both the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year, joining such stars as Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

His first professional win was the John Deere Classic, in the Quad Cities, in 2017, and he now has a total of eight wins, including the 2020 U.S. Open. The U.S. Open is one of golf’s four major tournaments, along with The Masters, the PGA Championship and the British Open.

DeChambeau has always stood out from other pros for at least two reasons: He sport Ben Hogan-style caps instead of the traditional baseball-type hats, and he appears to want to subject the game to his will.

In his quest to become No. 1, he has taken some unconventional steps. For example, early on he went to irons that were all the same length, dumping the traditional models that get progressively shorter as they get higher in order (that is, 7, 8, 9) and have greater loft angles. A physics major when he was at SMU, DeChambeau started exploring the single-length concept because, in the interest of eliminating as many variables as possible, he was concerned about having a slightly different stance when standing over his iron shots.

The most dramatic change he made, however, occurred in 2019 and 2020, when he added 40 pounds to his 6-1 frame with the intention of driving the ball farther. It worked. He’s now the longest driver on the PGA tour, often hitting the ball 330 yards or more. (For reference, I’ve been playing golf all my life, and I’ve never hit a drive more than 250 yards, even with the wind behind me and the ground hard.)

DeChambeau’s intensity and will to prevail have gotten him into big trouble this year, however. He has earned the wrath of some fellow pros for his slow play, prickliness, obsessiveness and, sometimes, lack of manners.

Another top player, Brooks Koepka, who is as bland as DeChambeau is compelling, several months ago took to needling DeChambeau on social media and on the course for his slow play and penchant for asking for relief, that is, seeking permission to move the ball because of an impediment or a perceived impediment. In July 2020, for example, he sought relief because of a red ant near his ball. A rules official denied the request. The next day, Koepka, after lining up over his ball in a similar location, stepped away and said to his caddy, “There’s an ant.”

Some fans have now started turning on DeChambeau, and at last weekend’s tournament, some were nastily yelling at him, calling him “Brooksie.” Oddly, DeChambeau has responded to the deepening melodrama by refusing to talk to the media. I say that’s odd because media interviews are the best forum tour players have to show their personalities and present themselves as fierce competitors and yet men of dignity and graciousness.

Now, the golf world is torn over whether DeChambeau is an earnest practitioner who has unfairly been singled out for criticism or whether he is a blowhard who is solely responsible for the tumult swirling around him.

I think this situation is unfortunate and bad for the game. It is totally wrong for Koepka and fans to bait DeChambeau and try to get under his skin and thrown him off his game.

Reluctantly, however, I’m in the camp that thinks DeChambeau’s actions have brought him to his current predicament…I used the word “graciousness” three paragraphs ago. That has long been the chief measuring stick of whether a pro golfer is a good sport or a sore loser. The way it should be is you compete like hell, but if and when you lose, you smile, look the victor in the eye, extend your hand and congratulate him.

Well, that’s not the DeChambeau style. Three times, I’ve seen him brush off competitors after being beaten. The first time was more than a year ago. I don’t remember the tournament or the specific situation. All I remember is that DeChambeau either didn’t shake hands or did so ever so fleetingly. I do remember he was asked about it later and gave a denial and apology at the same time.

Then came last weekend, when he and Patrick Cantlay, a picture of composure and icy determination, finished regulation play tied, setting up a sudden-death playoff at the BMW Championship in Bethesda MD.

I was watching closely and wondered how DeChambeau would react when it came time, on the 18th green, to congratulate Cantlay before they headed out to for the first playoff hole. As they approached each other, Cantlay looked directly at DeChambeau and extended his hand. DeChambeau, walking quickly, extended his hand and glanced fleetingly at Cantlay but diverted his eyes even before their hands touched. It was bush, and anybody who was watching closely could tell. None of the TV announcers made note of it, although I think it would have been appropriate, given all the hoopla surrounding DeChambeau and questions about his sportsmanship.

DeChambeau and Cantlay then engaged in an exciting six-hole playoff, which Cantlay finally won by holing an 18-foot birdie putt. Again, I watched closely to see if DeChambeu could muster any graciousness.

The answer was a decided “no.” Once again, he gave the victor a momentary glance and a lightning-quick handshake before while rushing off the green. I found this telling photo by Getty Images photographer Rob Carr.

DeChambeau looks good in those Ben Hogan caps, but as long as he’s going to be a jerk, he might as well outfit himself in black from head to toe because, whether he realizes it or not, he’s on the verge of becoming the Oakland Raiders of golf.

I hope he sees the light before that happens. He could become a good sport. It wouldn’t be hard. It’s just a question of whether he will wise up or whether he will continue blindly, bullheadedly, along the course he has chosen for himself so far. I hope he comes to his senses and finds humility and sportsmanship. It would be good for golf. To take it a step farther, it would be something of a salve for our terribly divided country.

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