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Backloading Is For Real

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

If this column stinks, it is because I backloaded it and you just didn't make it to the end.

How can anyone second-guess Curtis Strange for sticking Tiger and Lefty at the end of the lineup in the Ryder Cup singles matches Sunday? No doubt, Monday morning quarterbacks and sports talk shows across the country will chide him, ad nauseam. I can hear it now: How could Strange not give his best players a chance to procure early points? The Ryder Cup rarely comes down to the last two matches, so what was this loon thinking when he put Hal Sutton and Scott Hoch in the early matches.

On, and on and on ...

But Toms was arguably the U.S.'s top performer at the 2002 Ryder Cup, and the gritty LSU Tiger held up his end of the deal. And how was Strange to know that a) Phil Mickelson couldn't whip Phillip Price like Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, b) Davis Love III couldn't bury Pierre Fulke deeper than a politician's secrets, and c) the best player in the world would lose interest in his final match and half it with an eccentric Swede so unsure of his putting stroke, he brought six flat blades with him to the Belfry.

Strange figured that the front side of the lineup might hold its own, or perhaps lose a little ground, and then the Americans could come roaring back at the end of the lineup like the New York Yankees down two runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Instead, in a scene that resembled U.S. Basketball's rollover and play dead performance in the World Championships last month, the U.S. team lacklustered their way to losing the Cup for the third time in seven years.

There was nothing wrong with the plan, folks. There was everything wrong with the effort and intensity level of the U.S. players. Unfortunately, there weren't one million reasons for the damn Yankees to pull off the victory, and thus, they didn't.

Woods always says he loves match play, because on a given day, any player can beat any player. And let us tell ya, "any player" opened up a can that will not be soon forgotten. Have you ever watched a golf tournament in which you feel every putt has a chance to go in? That is the only way to describe the jaw-dropping sensation of watching the European squad on Sunday. Still, it doesn't give the U.S. team the right to play deer caught in the headlights. If Pierre Fulke was driving a Humve straight at you on a dark, deserted road, wouldn't you just get out of the way?

Despite the European's uncanny knack for rising to the Ryder Cup occasion of late, our big names have to win the matches they are supposed to win. The thing is, Strange is probably the best mixture of competitive fire and cerebral depth to captain the U.S. team (yes, Crenshaw is a close second.) To see him come out on the wrong end of the Ryder Cup as both player and captain pains those of us who appreciate his insightful, on-air commentary. Now, if Lanny Wadkins were captain again ...

Backloading is For Real

Examples of backloading abound throughout the sports world. Strange's use of the strategy in the Ryder Cup has finally brought the practice into the forefront of the American sports conscious. Now, we can easily attribute the term to certain sports phenomena.

The St. Louis Rams are backloading. At 0-1, 0-2, and even 0-3, NFL experts still declared the Rams to be playoff material. Now they are, er, immaterial and might even be a "dog" if they lined up against the Texans. But with a grueling, 16-game schedule that features the world's fastest, largest men running into each other at full speed in an attempt to hobble each other, backloading could be key, right? Yeah right ...

Backloading is an essential part of Serena Williams' workout routine. Let's not go there ...

The concept of backloading stands in diametric opposition to what the Boston Red Sox have done every season since time began. They habitually frontload their effort and chemistry in the first part of the season, and then unravel like a cheap sweater when the Yankees throw millions of dollars at free agents after the All-Star break. Without a doubt, the best backloaders in Major League Baseball are the Oakland A's. The Anaheim Angels are a close second, and the San Francisco Giants are a very honorable, honorable mention ...

Some fans might argue that the Nebraska Cornhuskers are backloading by getting the daylights kicked out of them by Penn State and Iowa State in their last two games. Unfortunately for Big Red, they play within the confines of the BCS, the "Backloaders Can't Survive" system, and no late season winning streak is going to land them in a meaningful bowl game...

The 19th Hole Mailbox

According to email responses from the 19th Hole of two weeks ago, most of you are in favor of those GPS units on golf carts that are ruining the pace of play from Myrtle Beach to the Monterrey Peninsula. The people have spoken and technology marches on. This week, the 19th Hole is curious to get your thoughts on whether or not the USGA does enough to promote walking in the game of golf. Email "the Hole" at sharp@travelgolf.com and let us know if you are sick and tired of being forced into a buggy at the majority of America's golf courses.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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