Breakfast Ball, 4/23: Jordan Spieth Could Be The Next… Sergio Garcia?

April 23, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

AP

As we break away completely from the Masters, now a week and a half out, there’s one loose end that needs tying: what should we make of Jordan Spieth’s first trip to Augusta?

While I’ve always been a big proponent of not labeling young golfers “The Next” anybody, Jordan Spieth’s meteoric rise is ripe for public comparisons to some of the best players in the world. The inevitable list of possible Nexts included the usual suspects: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson.

However, the one that rings home with me the most is one I’ve only seen mentioned by Kyle Porter over at CBS Sports’ Eye on Golf: Sergio Garcia.

We all remember Garcia as the baby-faced kid who scissor-kicked his way in a dual with Tiger at the 1999 PGA Championship but the reality is that his first 25 PGA Tour events were as amazing as Spieth’s.

Let’s take a look…

Spieth through 25 events: One win, four seconds, 10 top 10s, 15 top 25s, 20 made cuts
Garcia through 25 events: Zero wins, one second, nine top 10s, 15 top 25s, 21 made cuts

Call it shortsighted, but given Spieth’s recent play at his first Masters, the flashback I kept having was to 1999 at Medinah and Sergio Garcia scissor-kicking his way around the course chasing Tiger Woods. I distinctly remember being in a Niagra Falls Hard Rock Cafe watching that US Open. Similarly, I was in a vacation home in Naples watching Spieth. The comparisons are endless!

In all seriousness, though, at this point Jordan Spieth’s possible outcomes are endless. He’s only played in five major championships (four as a professional) and made the cut in three of them, highlighted by his Masters runner-up. Since we’re comparing, Tiger didn’t win his first major until his 7th major start.

Still, all roads are open to Spieth. He could win a major this year and be “on pace” to be the next Tiger; he could go winless and the Sergio comparison could grow some legs; or, more likely, something completely different will happen. Spieth and his handlers have the luxury — that’s right, it’s a luxury — to see how today’s superstars have handled a myriad of situations, both correctly and incorrectly.

Screen shot 2014-04-23 at 10.56.01 AM

Jordan and his girlfriend, Annie Verret (Instagram)

We’ve seen scandal blow up one of the best careers in the history of the game, tooth aches used as excuses for withdrawal, Twitter rants sink a number of good will beliefs and so much more. Another thing to consider, Spieth has been the next big thing for a long time. He won the US Amateur twice, he played in the HP Byron Nelson when he was 16. His public breakout has been a long process that has been meticulously handled.

Personally, we know as much about Jordan Spieth as Team Spieth wants us to know. We know Ellie, his special needs younger sister; we know Steven, his standout basketball-playing little brother; we know his caddie, a former 6th grade math teacher; we know his main sponsor, UnderArmour, who signed Spieth Durant-like as competitors Nike tied their ship to Rory McIlroy; and we know his girlfriend, Annie Verret, who can often be found outside the ropes following around her high school sweetheart.

Other than that, we don’t know much, and that’s the way Team Spieth likes it. Regardless of who Spieth’s career trajectory jogs memories of, we’re fairly certain that it won’t involve the pitfalls of some of the other top players because his team has learned from those mistakes. The next Sergio or the next Tiger, time will tell, but Spieth is well aware of the stage he is performing on and has assembled the team around him that will use the past as a lesson plan.

In other news today, we have an R&A development, our first reports from Pinehurst No. 2, a Nate-Silver special and a preview of tonight’s In Play with Jimmy Roberts.

-The R&A will have a new face come September of 2015 as The Guardian reports that chief executive Peter Dawson is following in the footsteps of David Letterman and calling it quits next year. Dawson will also give up his post as secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The position, which is to be filled by “international executive search firm Spencer Stuart” will name a replacement with enough time “for an appropriate handover period in 2015.”

If you’re worried you may be overlooked by Spencer Stuart, you can always send in your credentials to TheR&A@SpencerStuart.com.

GolfDigest.com’s John Huggan recapped his tenure, going so far as to label his time at the R&A as the “Dawson Era.” In a good way.

News that the R&A’s first-ever chief executive, Peter Dawson, will retire from his post in September 2015 after 16 years on the job comes as no real surprise. With golf in the Olympics and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews finally set to vote on the vexing issue of allowing female members, maybe the 64-year-old Cambridge graduate felt there was nothing much left for him to achieve. Then again, perhaps it is simply time to be at home more with his wife, Juliet — who has recently not enjoyed the best of health — and working on the swing that made him a 1-handicapper at his best.

-Pinehurst held their US Open Media Day on Monday, April 21 during which the heathen media descended upon Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s renovated masterpiece that will host back-to-back US Opens in June. The divots should be repaired by that time.

We’ve seen and heard about the changes to the course, which was reopened in 2011, but as they ramp the course up into playing shape, some interesting tidbits have been shed to light from GolfChannel.com’s Randall Mell:

Coore is relishing seeing a U.S. Open without the typical, chop-out rough.

“This is going to be the first U.S. Open played without a maintained rough,” Coore said during Monday’s media day. “Yes, the fairways will be bigger, but the uncertainty of shots that are going to be played from the natural rough, we think that is going to be one of the most interesting stories of the week.”

Of course, Coore said, the diabolical turtle-back greens will remain Pinehurst No. 2’s primary defense, but the shots into them will be more intriguing this year. Coore and Crenshaw began restoring the course in May of 2010 with the course re-opening in the spring of 2011.

The restoration means a player who misses a fairway this year may find his ball in a sandy waste area, in wiry grass or in pine straw, or in some combination of all of the above.

“We think you’re going to see some of the most spectacular recovery shots in U.S. Open history,” Coore said.

Mell’s colleague, Will Gray, agreed to an extent, but also noted on Twitter that there is a strong possibility that there may be a few gripes.

 

 

 

Getting into a read for today, we’re becoming more and more enthralled with the Sabermetric-izing of sports, so much so that Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com fame is now employed by The Worldwide Leader. Now, with sports reports coming out of his number-centric brain, we get interesting pieces like this one on income inequality in golf by Roger Pielke Jr.

But those are team sports. With the Masters tournament unspooling this week, I started wondering about income inequality for the PGA Tour, a collection of athletes that doesn’t have a salary cap. Surely, after more than a decade of big purses for Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and a select few others, golf would prove to be an unequal sport.

It is, but increasingly less so. Since 1980, the PGA Tour has been shifting toward more income equality. How that happened, and how golf differs from other professional sports, shows that high levels of income inequality aren’t inevitable, even when individual athletes have different levels of skill.

And finally, today’s video is more of a public service announcement. Find a reair of In Play with Jimmy Roberts and DVR it. It’s on again tonight at 8 p.m.

Breakfast Ball, 4/22: Life After Tiger Can’t Possibly Be as Bad as Advertised, Right?

April 22, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

Getty Images

Stuck in the lull that inevitably emanates from the end of the Masters through the barren stretch of meaningful golf prior to the US Open, things get written. The story du jour following the 2014 Masters was (shockingly) the Tiger Factor. Or more accurately stated, the lack thereof.

Once the numbers were released out of Augusta National — those of woefully low viewership — intrepid writers searching for a different angle to extrapolate settled for futuristic speculation.

One year without Tiger Woods entered, Phil Mickelson on the weekend or any back nine drama to speak of… why, that’s the perfect recipe for the apocalyptic future professional golf is in for once Tiger Woods sails his 155-foot yacht, Privacy, into the sunset.

Now, this all may sound somewhat hyperbolic and doomsday-esque, but that’s what we were left with. The headlines to come out in the days following the Masters included Golf’s Future After Tiger Woods: Bleak and The Coming Tiger Crash: Woods’ Absence Spells Trouble for Golf Industry

Both pieces are written by good writers; Josh Sens is always an interesting read and Jake Simpson has routinely found interesting angles that are usually left uncovered, however this Book of Revelation scenario laid out for professional golf is a bit over the top. The understanding of this, though, need be firmly grounded in one rationalization: golf is a niche sport.

At it’s height, golf is what we’ve seen over the last 15 years: a fringe sport. Given a dynamic character (Woods), golf was able to outreach its small corner in the sporting world and cross into the mainstream. The model, however, is not sustainable. Tiger Woods is a once-in-a-generation talent. Like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer before Tiger and Ben Hogan and Sam Snead before them, greatness transcends its bounds, growing golf’s profile only to find a lull in between Trancendents.

To steal a line from Rust Cohle, time is a flat circle. Picturing golf as a line graph, every time a Trancendent comes along, be it Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods, the popularity of the game spikes. The general public is enthralled and more people are more likely to pick up the game, therefore increasing it’s popularity over a short period of time. 

Now, as these Trancendents fade into old age, the popularity levels back out. It’s easy to see the lull as a dip, but taking a step back, golf looks an awful lot like a set of stairs. Popularity rises, levels off and remains still until the next Transcendent comes along.

Will golf’s popularity suffer once Tiger Woods hangs up the spikes? Without question. Will the game appear, in the short term, to be a sinking ship? Very likely. But the beauty of the game is that while popularity, skill and talent may fade out of the collective consciousness, it’s still going on behind the scenes and when that next kid comes up with Tiger Woods’ records on his wall, hell bent to revolutionize the game, we’ll welcome him with open arms.

Until then, we’ll sustain in our flat circle.

That got a little heavy. 

For those in the industry, accepting the plateau-effect is not an option and their livelihoods depend upon continually growing the game. We’ve been over Hack Golf here before and the idea of a 15-inch cup. Well, they finally tried it at Reynolds Plantation (home of the Bobcat Cup) with Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.

The results were positive, by and large. Faster, more enjoyable and something different. However, the problem lies in getting clubs and courses around the country to give up the real estate and ground to 15-inch holes on a regular basis. A good idea in theory, and to be determined in practice.

It’s deadline Tuesday at the paper, so short and sweet. Plus, I have to get out to the course today so things need to get finished promptly. Talk at you more tomorrow.


Breakfast Ball, 4/21: Digesting a huge weekend in Golf.

April 21, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

Champion Selfie (@themichellewie)

Champion Selfie (@themichellewie)

The long Masters hangover is finally over and Breakfast Ball is back. Just in time, it would seem, as names like Michelle Wie, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez all raised trophies over the weekend. Each of the four seemed to be knocking on the door with none of them finishing outside the top-7 in their first major championships of the season.

Wins validated, impressed and quieted critics around the golf world. All in all, a busy and strong Easter weekend. Let’s jump right in…

Michelle Wie’s win at the LOTTE Championship has to be the overriding story of the weekend. Playing in her native state, the still just 24-year-old Wie shot rounds of 70-67-70-67 to win by two strokes over Angela Stanford and three over Inbee Park.

The win was Wie’s third of her LPGA career and her first since the 2010 CN Canadian Masters (She also won the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational).

Down four strokes heading into the last round, Wie ditched her conservative gameplan that netted her a runner-up finish at the Kraft Nabisco two weeks ago, birdieing three of the first six holes while playing partner Stanford stumbled to a 1-over par 37 on the front. Back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13 put Wie up two strokes on Stanford and they both played the rest of the way in at even par.

2014 has proven to be a big year for women’s golf. Cheyenne Woods kicked things off with a victory at the Australian Ladies Masters, then Lexi Thompson realized some of her potential at the Kraft and now Wie wins at the Nabisco. Lydia Ko is hovering around leaderboards as well. The young stars of the game are playing well on the big stages and with the marketing machine Mike Whan and Kraig Kann are spinning, the LPGA just might find some solid ground this year.

An interesting note to consider how far the women have to go, however, is the purse. Wie cashed a $225,000 winner’s check. By comparison, Scott Brown and Brian Stuard cashed similar amounts at this week’s RBC Heritage. The entire purse at the LOTTE was $1.7 million, barely more than the winner’s share Kuchar picked up. Food for thought.

Speaking of Harbour Town, Matt Kuchar blew another final-round lead only to totally redeem himself on 18 with a hole out from the greenside bunker that proved to be just enough to edge Luke Donald.

Playing a scorching final round, Kuchar found himself in the recently familiar position of having his hands wrapped around the tournament’s neck. Only this time, instead of taking a peek at a seventh PGA Tour win, Kooch actually won the thing, despite his best efforts. 

Coming off a front-nine 30, Kuchar birdied the 10th hole to get to 11-under par and three shots ahead of the leaders five groups behind him. A steady six pars straight got Kuchar to the 17th hole and the first glimpse of the Calibogue Sound. With the wind howling, Kuchar hit the shot of the day (to that point) to four feet. Then something like this happened…

BallintheHole

A three-putt bogey, coupled with a Luke Donald birdie at the 12th, had the pair of vets tied at 10-under with Donald having the more likely shot of carding a birdie on the way in. What happened next, if you haven’t seen it, was pretty impressive from Kooch.

Boom. Birdie. Tournament.

Donald parred in from 12, missing a few looks at birdie and a chip from off the green at 18. Kuchar, watching from the locker room along with his caddie, two sons and wife, Sybi, got the win he so desperately has been seeking recently.

Kooch climbed a rung to No. 5 in the world, cashed $1.044 million and gave way to Jason Sobel getting his Darren Rovell on.

Because it’s a Ryder Cup year that looks destined to be full of new blood, it’s worth noting that Kuchar hops up to third place behind Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker. Nothing’s set in stone quite yet, but after Captain Tom calling Bubba “a lock,” one has to think that the top-3 right now can begin to make plans to travel to Scotland.

While Kuchar had to travel roughly two and a half hours up the road to Hilton Head, Lee Westwood chose a more involved travel itinerary that would take him nearly 10,000 miles away to Malaysia where he would capture his first title of 2014.

Coming off of a solo 7th-place finish at Augusta, Westwood shot rounds of 65-66-71-68 to run away and hide from the field at the Maybank Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur. While his major championship window seems to be getting closer and closer to locked shut, the Englishman proved he can still beat down the competition when he’s on his game, winning by seven strokes over Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.

Westwood’s conspicuous 2013 season saw Westwood drop from as high as No. 4 in the world down to No. 37 before his win this weekend. Westy’s back up to No. 30 and looks to be in good form heading into the bustling summer/major season.

John Bazemore / AP

Last, but not least, every golfer’s favorite golfer, Miguel Angel Jimenez won his Champions Tour debut at the Greater Gwinnett Championship. The Mechanic out-tooled (pun not intended, but intended) Freddie Couples, Bernhard Langer and Jay Haas to win by two strokes in his lone Champions Tour start of the season.

One reason why Miguel may not be teeing it back up on the senior circuit? He fell in the OWGR this week even with a win. While the check was nice, for the 50-year-old Spaniard trying to make the Ryder Cup team, it simply doesn’t pay much dividends to play three-round events against those fields. Currently, Jimenez is 33rd in the world and just outside looking in on the automatic qualifiers on both the European and World Points List.

Anyway, it was fun to see him come in and win. Arguably, the Gwinnett was the best golf viewing on Sunday, especially early on when things were tight in Duluth and looking like a runaway on Hilton Head. Either way, the obligatory winner/cigar shot is always money.

Something light to finish off the day today comes as a revisitation of the great Arnie doc that aired last week on the Golf Channel. One story not involved in the three-hour series? This one from Gary Player. Enjoy.

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Breakfast Ball, 4/14: Bubba Golf Returns at Augusta.

April 14, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

Harry How / Getty Images (via Huffington Post)

Maybe it was the back-to-back two-shot swings Bubba Watson picked up on Jordan Spieth on the back end of the front nine, but it was moon shot Watson hit off of No. 13 tee with a two-shot lead that seemed to slam the door on Spieth and the rest of the field.

Watson had the honor on 13 tee after Spieth couldn’t manufacture a Freddie moment on 12; the 20-year-old’s ball peeking at the green before retreating back down the shaved slope into Rae’s Creek. To his credit, though, the Texan made an admirable up-and-down for a bogey 4. This was Go Time and Bubba let one go on 13 tee.

“I knew it. When it took off… it was cutting a little too much,” Watson said. “I knew I hit it really hard. Obviously, when you get a roar on your tee shot, you know it’s pretty good. I could start breathing again once I heard them clapping and roaring.”

The roars that reverberate around Amen Corner on the back nine on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club usually come from stuck approach shots or ticklish putts that find the bottom of the cup, but Watson’s 360-plus yard drive was enough to get the patrons on their feet.

Your move, kid.

AP Photo / Charlie Riedel

After a sizzling start, Spieth’s wheels were wobbling around the middle of the golf course. Now, looking at a demanding tee shot with the guy he was chasing sitting with a wedge into the par-5, Spieth needed an answer. Alas, a mediocre tee ball that left one hand on the club after impact put him in the right pine straw and he was blocked out from reaching the green in two. A punch out and he was only 25 yards in front of Watson’s drive.

A gap wedge from Watson and a two-putt birdie stretched the lead to three strokes with five holes to play. The door was cracked for a bit of Augusta magic over those last five holes, but solid play, along with a couple Bubba Golf moments and Watson was slipping into his second green jacket in three years about an hour later.

On a day when you would have thought that the final pairing featured Bubba Watson and “20-year-old Jordan Spieth,” the new master of the Masters showed that experience was key around the famed Augusta property. Lest we forget, Spieth hadn’t played in a Masters before this year. All he had was solid tutelage from the likes of Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson, good preparation in the weeks leading to the tournamnt and a game that was better than all but one man when it was all said and done Sunday evening.

While Watson and Spieth separated themselves early in the afternoon on Sunday, others like Jonas Blixt, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Miguel Angel Jimenez kept the pressure on. Blixt and Jimenez were arguably the most impressive.

The 29-year-old Swede and the 50-year-old Spaniard both shot 1-under par 71s under the gauntlet that is the final round of the Masters. Blixt, a little-known grinder who played his college golf at Florida State, has won twice on the PGA Tour although it was the Greenbrier breakthrough that punched his ticket to Augusta.

Not a great driver of the ball, Blixt’s short game was on point and on display all week at Augusta, redeeming loose drives with a deft touch around the greens. Blixt said it was his iron game that held him back, not giving him enough opportunities, but in just his third major championship start he carded his second top-5 finish.

“I love majors,” Blixt said. “I love when it’s tough. It’s not a shootout, so the harder the better.”

The T2 finish grants him entry into next year’s Masters field. At No. 33 in the world, up 23 spots from last week, Blixt should gain entry into the US and British Opens by virtue of a top-50 in the world ranking on May 26. He’s already in the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

Jimenez was his usual self: solid. From tee-to-green, or as he calls it, tee-to-flag, and more interesting than anyone else on the grounds, Jimenez again found himself in primetime Sunday afternoon at a major. After making the cut by a stroke on Friday, Jimenez made his move with a Saturday 66 to vault him into contention. A poor front nine on Sunday, coupled with a good back nine earned the Champions Tour rookie the second-highest finish (solo 4th) at a Masters by a player aged 50 or above, bettered only by Sam Snead’s T3 in 1963.

Fowler and Kuchar cemented their top-10s with good Saturday rounds as well — 67 and 68, respectively — but couldn’t get anything going on Sunday, finishing in a two-way tie for fifth.

Lee Westwood hung around all week, shooting rounds no lower than 70 and no higher than 73. The Englishman’s solo 7th-place finish was 17th top-1o in a major, his ninth in the last four years and his fourth in the last five years at the Masters (the other was a T11). Something’s got to give, doesn’t it?

Rory McIlroy, Bernhard Langer, Jimmy Walker, John Senden, Kevin Stadler and Thomas Bjorn made up the eclectic group that rounded out the top-12 players, all tying for eighth place at even par for the championship. McIlroy and Langer were the only past major winners in the group, while Walker, Senden and Stadler were all making their first Masters starts.

The 2014 major season is officially underway and while you got a little piece of everything here, Geoff Shackelford did a nice job rounding up more in-depth pieces on nearly every golfer mentioned above. Pick your guy and find his wrap-up story.

You have more than enough to read today in the aftermath, so how about a preview article of an up-and-coming Bubba Watson. I love these stories that showcase guys before they make it like Damon Hack did for the NY Times in 2006 on Bubba from Bagdad.

The future of the PGA Tour hails from a village called Bagdad, a small town on the Florida panhandle that produced a golfer named Bubba.

Bubba is 6-foot-3, swings left-handed and hits the ball so far that drives byTiger Woods, John Daly and Phil Mickelson may be considered puny in comparison.

And for good measure, a similar piece from Alan Shipnuck on Jordan Spieth, buried in the pages of SI’s Peyton Manning Sportsman of the Year issue from December 2013. Crazy that the up-and-coming story on Spieth came just five months ago.

Spieth (rhymes with teeth) has always been an old soul. He was raised in Dallas to be a Texas gentleman—sir andma’am were built into his vocabulary, and community service was stressed through school and church. He developed a broader perspective at age seven when his sister, Ellie, was born with a neurological disorder and spent her first month in the NICU. Jordan visited her every day. “He saw firsthand how some of those kids never got to go home,” says his father, Shawn. By his teens Spieth was golf’s can’t-miss kid, but he never took himself too seriously because, he says, “in my family it’s never been about me.” He and Ellie have a very sweet, especially close relationship. She attends a school for developmentally disabled kids, and when he was in high school Jordan regularly volunteered in her classrooms. Now that he has gotten his first taste of fame and fortune, he is not shopping for Bugattis but rather talking about setting up a foundation to benefit special-needs children.

Get your tiny violins ready, here’s Tom Rinaldi with Bubba Watson. 

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2014 Masters Fantasy and Betting Picks

April 9, 2014 in Golf by Chris Chaney

Fantasy golf is hard; information overload is easy. Once you have you’ve done your research and hitched your wagon to a certain player on a given week, depending upon what format of fantasy golf you play, *your guy* could be no longer available, running low on starts or too expensive. You need options. You’ll find get them here. Here’s who we love, like and need to show us something this week.

The first major is upon us and now is as good of a time as any to make some money in the process. Most of you are in some kind of league — fantasy, salary, draft, selection pool — for the Masters, so let’s get some insight and a few groundrules laid straight out of the gate.

First rule of Masters picking: no first-timer has won here since 1979. Augusta National is a course that requires a bunch of local knowledge. As Craig Stadler said in his pre-tournament press conference, “there are a lot of places on this course that you don’t know are dead until you get there.”

Sure, there’s the argument that this year’s crop is better than in year’s past, and maybe that’s true, but until one of them bucks this 35-year-old trend, stick with what works.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, don’t fall in love with an oldie. Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, even Tom Watson. Someone over the age of 50 might just steal one of these majors soon as we’re beginning to see guys play well into their AARP years, but again, until someone bucks that trend, don’t count on it.

Those two rules of thumb roughly eliminates nearly a half of the field. There’s a reason why people say the Masters is the easiest major championship to win by comparison. Only 97 players tee it up and maybe 60 have a legitimate shot at the green jacket. Cut out rookies and hold outs and you’re looking at around 40 real contenders. Let’s get into a who we have on our radar this week.

**Just a heads up, for majors, things go a little differently. The Love ‘Em section is the contender list. You’ll find our winner at the very end; the Like ‘Em list is guys we expect to make the cut and maybe even contend, but not win; and the Show ‘Em section is specifically rookie-centric for this week, so you’ll find our five favorite rookies this week that could reverse the curse.**

MastersLove

MastersLike

MastersShow

Alright, you got 15 good looks this week. So, who’s going to be wearing the green jacket this Sunday?

SnedGJ

Brandt Snedeker

Sneds is a Masters die hard. This is the title he hangs his hat on and the one he would trade his healthy bankroll in for. He’s solid around Augusta as shown by past results, including last year’s top-10. He blew a lead last year and hates himself for it. Worried about recent form? He T6′d at Bay Hill, but recent history proves form isn’t needed coming in. One week. One shot. One jacket. It’s Sneds’ year.