The Numbers Racket

While there is definitely sandbagging in golf (Branded, Feb. 17),
there are times when strange forces converge to produce
inexplicable results. In 1968 I was a zero handicap golfer in
Kansas City and was asked to play in a member-guest by the father
of one of my children's babysitters. Since one does anything to
keep a good sitter, I agreed. He was a 22 handicapper and had
never broken 95. We played a practice round, and it was obvious
he could hit good shots but knew nothing about playing golf. Over
the next two days I played my round and most of his. I shot
70-71 and he shot 80-82. I would tell him the distance, where
to aim and which club to use. He was a ball-striking robot. He
hit 16 greens in regulation and made five natural birdies and 11
pars. Thank heaven it was his club and his handicap was legit.
I've never played with him again, but his daughter told me he
hasn't shot below 90 since that tournament.
Martin Waller
Garland, Texas

As an annual viewer of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, watching wealthy
sandbaggers is not as dismaying as watching reverse-sandbaggers.
I use this term for celebrity golfers who claim a lower handicap
than they deserve so they can impress people. For example, this
year Maury Povich claims to be a scratch golfer and yet proceeds
to hit shots that can be charitably described as worthy of Connie
Chung. Who does he think he is kidding? Someone ought to tell
Povich he should establish his handicap at a golf course with
grass and trees, not one with carpet and windmills.
Dan Welch, Champaign, Ill.

A Character Issue

The Feb. 10 SI was truly inspirational, from cover to Rick.
Whether by accident or design, you featured roundball players who
inspire us rather than make us cringe: Yao Ming (Sky Rocket),
Earl Boykins (Small Wonder), Ben Wallace (No Kidding), Carl
English (Island Hopper) and Brandon Weems (The Life of Reilly),
the kid who replaced LeBron James. These men exhibit the values,
determination, humility and character often lacking at all levels
of athletics today. Please, give us more of this type of
reporting and less of the bad boys, no matter how newsworthy they
may seem to be.
Bob Henson
Salt Lake City

Man of Action

I am in complete agreement with everything Frank Deford has to
say about the paranoia of professional sports when it comes to
gambling, except his reference to Pete Rose (Scorecard, Feb. 10).
The evidence indicates that Rose has a serious problem that could
easily lead him to bet, not only on his team but against it as
well. From there it is but a short step to trying to improperly
influence the outcome of a game in which his team is involved. In
view of this, I do not believe Rose's punishment has been
"absolutely draconian."
Joel K. Wechsler
Lincoln, Mass.

I can sum up why sports gambling by athletes should continue to
remain illegal in just two words: Art and Schlichter.
Adam R. Geldhof, Bethesda, Md.

Deford is exactly right. Look at England, where you cannot walk
100 yards without a Ladbrokes agent proffering odds on upcoming
football matches. Have they sunk into the muck? Do they have
problems with fixed matches? No. It's high time that professional
sports ease up on the problem of gambling and give the freedom to
choose back to the people.
Michael Guy-Haddock, Weston, Fla.

Cap Problems

I was deeply saddened by the loss of the space shuttle Columbia
and her seven astronauts, and the first picture in Leading Off
(Feb. 10) depicting the Maine-New Hampshire hockey game didn't
do much for my spirits thanks to the person in the foreground
with his baseball cap on. What ever happened to common decency
and respect for the flag and the fallen?
James R. Gerlach, Fowler, Ind.

Dump the Ump

Bruce Froemming (Scorecard, Feb. 10) has displayed bigotry as a
man and incompetence as an umpire. Why then has Major League
Baseball opted for a mere 10-day suspension for his anti-Semitic
and misogynistic remarks? A lifetime ban, rather than a
gratuitous slap on the wrist, would seem to be appropriate for an
individual who has shamed the sport.
Nelson Marans, Silver Spring, Md.

Everyone I know would be fired immediately if they called a
coworker a "stupid Jew bitch," as Froemming called major league
official Cathy Davis.
Phil Wilke, Lawrence, Kans.

Phil's Figure

Phil Mickelson's comment that his considerable paunch is "just
genetics. I've got subcutaneous fat. There's nothing I can do
about it," has to be challenged (THE WEEK, Feb. 3). While there
are recessive genetic syndromes associated with obesity, those
are very rare, and the people who have them do not become elite
athletes. Apple or pear body types do tend to be inherited, but
contrary to what Phil said, people diagnosed with central obesity
(apple type) can do something about it: Lift weights or do other
muscular resistance exercise to maintain or increase their muscle
mass. Eat an optimal diet, avoiding unfavorable carbohydrates and
fat. Since every pound of fat contains 3,500 stored calories,
sweat off 700 calories with aerobic exercise five times a week.
If Phil does that, we'll be able to enjoy his lefthanded magic
long into his Champions tour career.
Dr. Daniel T. Mihalyi, Tucson

Rocket Scientist

Why are basketball fans excited about Yao Ming (Sky Rocket, Feb.
10)? Because he is a purist who plays the game as it was meant to
be played. No showboating, no trash-talking, no traveling on the
way to a dunk and no palming the ball. Just classic basketball
the way it was played when Larry, Magic and Michael led the NBA
to its pinnacle of popularity in the 1980s.
Mel McKee, Ashland, Mass.

Yaouch! Enough, already. Yao has had more exposure recently than
Britney Spears's midriff.
M. Alan Bagden, McLean, Va.

Value Judgments

You couldn't have been more wrong with your selection of
Detroit's Ben Wallace as the MVP of the NBA season so far (No
Kidding, Feb. 10). Kevin Garnett is, without question, one of the
top two or three defenders in the game, and, unlike Wallace, he
does this while also managing to score points. In fact, Garnett
averages a double double, has already had three triple doubles
this season and is single-handedly carrying a franchise that has
been decimated by injuries and would, unquestionably, be a
lottery team without him.
Steve Jackson, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Your claim that no NBA player is more valuable to his team than
Wallace is right, save one player: San Antonio's Tim Duncan.
Operating without complaints or antics in one of the smallest
media markets in the league, Duncan is doing the dirty work
(through Feb. 21 his 2.87 blocks and 12.8 rebounds per game are
each third in the NBA) while distributing the ball (3.9 assists
per game) and averaging 23.4 points a game.
Andy Chu, Austin

So Wallace thinks "anybody can be taught to be an offensive
player"? Fine, go and learn. Until then, Duncan is the MVP.
Jeff Souza, Boston

Even the best offensive player can have a poor shooting night,
but good defense never has an off night. Wallace is a perfect
example of that.
Jerry Schwartz
Chamblee, Ga.

Public Opinion

I enjoyed the fan poll (The Fans Speak Out, Feb. 10), but you
missed an important issue in today's game: the inability of the
modern NBA player to shoot. In the last decade basketball
offenses have regressed to pre-shot-clock levels. There are only
10 players in the league shooting over 50%, and Shaquille O'Neal
is the only one who is a major offensive threat. Twenty years ago
about a quarter of the teams in the league were shooting at this
level, but now there are no teams making half their shots. Fans
want to see scoring, by which I mean a player like James Worthy
getting 30 points while shooting 50% from the floor rather than
someone like Allen Iverson scoring 30 while shooting 38% or
worse.
Tim G. Tyler, Chicago

I find it troubling that 40.5% of middle-aged respondents to your
poll said that more white, U.S. stars would help the game of
basketball. The only thing that should matter in basketball is
skill combined with competitive drive. I think it's sad that so
many people still see only the color of a man's skin.
C.B. Minor, Oklahoma City

Riding with Jeff

After following NASCAR for years, I had many unpleasant words for
Jeff Gordon. After reading your article on him (Speed Demon, Feb.
10), I have two new words for him: class act. Thanks for the
other side of the story.
Lynn A. Urlaub, Bolingbrook, Ill.

Like most Canadians, I have almost no interest in NASCAR or Jeff
Gordon. However, Jeff MacGregor's Speed Demon was one of the most
interesting pieces I have read in your magazine. I love the way
he writes about "Molly Hatchet air guitarists" and French
existentialists in the same article. I hope we'll be seeing more
of his work in your pages.
Andrew Rogers, Newmarket, Ont.

Thanks for the photo of the stupid redneck NASCAR fan who hates
Jeff Gordon passionately enough to make a sign about it but can't
even spell his name correctly. A picture really is worth a
thousand words. At least he got Jeff right.
Carl Asprinio, Cranston, R.I.

Anyone who thinks Jeff hasn't paid his dues has never seen him
wheel a midget or Champ car around Phoenix International, as I
did in the late '80s. If that doesn't get your respect, then take
your lame spectating to the nearest knitting social. I am not an
avid NASCAR fan, but I am and always will be an avid Jeff Gordon
fan.
Douglas Powell, Del Mar, Calif.

Stock Response

SI picks a 2003 NASCAR top 20 (How They'll Finish, Feb. 10) and
doesn't mention Ricky Rudd? Over the last three years Rudd has
averaged a top 10 finish every two races, set a NASCAR record for
consecutive starts and stayed in contention most of each season.
He's been in the top 10 in points in 19 of the past 24 seasons
and hasn't missed a race since 1981. Rudd deserves better than to
be buried behind many of those pretenders.
Frank Gualtieri, Brick, N.J.

A NASCAR preview in SI (Feb. 10)? I thought this was a sports
magazine.
Ben Bromley, Baraboo, Wis.

It is not a sport if you are cheering for a machine and a guy
turning left. This is NAPCAR!
Evan Mossman, Webster City, Iowa

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (LOVE III) COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH GUTTING IT OUT Lefty can get lean. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)