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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

 

A Great Fifty Something - Tom Watson

Tom Watson has always epitomized the best in golf - a really great player and competitor who always carried himself with dignity and class, popular with spectators and fellow competitors, a good and available interview for the media, a stickler for the rules (his occasional tiffs with Gary Player over rules interpretations were legendary), and an athlete who avoided controversy away from the golf course. He did not use his sports celebrity to advance dubious political causes or for other kinds of self aggrandizement. He simply performed, consistently and fairly. So it was natural for everyone, and I mean everyone, to get caught up in Watson's brilliant and unlikely run at the British Open Championship last week, that saw him make a truly unlucky bogey on the 72nd hole to fall into a playoff he then lost to a fellow American in the prime of his career, Stewart Cink.

The Golf Channel interviewed the greats who competed against Watson in his prime about the tournament, notably the Big 3, Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. As usual, Nicklaus hit the right note, talking about how much he wanted Tom to win, the disappointment that he didn't but the awesome accomplishment in coming so close at age 59. I thought Palmer largely missed the point, repeatedly saying how awful and sorry he felt for Watson that he had lost. Perhaps Gary Player, of all people, who had the most testy relationship with Tom, had the best perspective. He said it was a credit to the talents of the senior golfers on the Champions Tour that their games remained at such a high level that they could still compete, and that we should all take joy and heart in Watson's accomplishment, and not be despondent about the result.

That seemed right to me. Sure, it would have been cause for quite a celebration if Watson had parred number 72 (or if Cink hadn't birdied) but I never expected him to hold the lead and to me, the being there and performing as well as he did, even on that last unlucky hole was the point. It doesn't matter to me that he didn't win. Seeing a legend from my generation leave another reminder of his greatness, after all these years, a hip replacement, etc. was enough.

By the way, one trend I am noticing in sports that I like very much is the return of some modesty and admiration for fellow competitors. When Muhammad Ali exploited the gimmick of self promotion, including his reveling in victory over prostrate opponents, predicting knockout rounds, etc. it was a novelty and fun, a rebellious slap at the mores of an older tradition. All of the copycats since have grown quite tiresome and offensive, since they usually lack his playfulness and humor.
It's good to see and hear winning athletes praise their opponents and admit that there is more than a measure of luck involved in winning.

One of the lasting impressions of Sunday's finish for me will be the flash picture of Watson's playing partner, Matt Goggin, waiting on the last green and joining in the applause as Watson strode up the fairway to the cheers of the huge gallery. Goggin had made sure to reach the green early so that Watson would have that spotlight to himself.

There is simply no sport like golf and no people like golfers.

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Hillary Clinton may not be reminding anyone of Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State, but she is bringing back memories of the late Ron Brown. In case she hasn't done that for you, Ron Brown was perhaps the most effective of Bill Clinton's administration's inner circle as Secretary of Commerce. He basically rewrote the playbook for that job, promoting opportunities for American business around the world.

While Mrs. Clinton failed miserably on her trip to India in forging an agreement about carbon control (which I attribute to the good sense of her Indian counterparts more than to any lack of negotiating ability on her part), she did succeed at clearing the way for US companies to build two new and much needed nuclear power plants in India and for our military industrial complex to supply billions of dollars of weapon systems to our largest democratic ally. All in all, a really great result from my point of view.

In other good news from the Administration, it appears that the Obama all or nothing campaign to promote a health overhaul bill, a cap and trade bill, and card check in the first 200 days is all coming a cropper. The American people are finding change you can believe in to be change they don't really like and they are getting the word to Congress. All those rookie and third year Dems from competitive districts have realized that their Congressional careers will be very short ones if they go along with Obama so everything is getting put off. That will only give opponents of these changes more time to press their points.

We knew it was going to be a long four (or eight) years with the teleprompter reader-in-chief at the helm but now it may be a little dull too. And that's fine with me.

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On Monday, we sold 300 shares of Books a Million (BAMM) out of the IRA at 9.70 (purchased on 11/19/08 at 2.20. Well be selling tomorrow too. This run has us up a little more than 9% year-to-date now so we are a bit short of our targeted cash allocation. We'll count it as cash, but since cash is yielding nothing right now, we also bought a $50,000 New York State Thruway Bond, triple tax free for me, with a 2.5 percent coupon (we had to pay a little premium for it taking the effective yield a little south of 2%). It's short money, only two years, so for allocation purposes, we can treat it like a money market investment.

Many of our stocks have yet to really rally though, so we are just patiently waiting to see which one will be the next BAMM - like performer. In the meantime, we got a small dividend increase from Lindsay (LNN), a decent earnings report from PCP which the Street did not like for some reason, and some bank earnings reports that we are studying pretty carefully.

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