The quiet rise of Andy Lee, what drives Phil Taylor and the week’s best sportswriting

1. Conor McGregor has fought just five times in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) but has quickly become one of the most feared sportsmen on the planet.

The mixed martial artist from the Republic of Ireland possesses a devastating knockout punch in both hands.

And if his left or his right doesn’t finish an opponent, the man nicknamed ‘The Notorious’ will carve out a unanimous decision with pin-point precisions and devastating accuracy.

The BBC’s Nat Black-Heaven sat down for a feature interview with Conor McGregor.

2. Contrary to the inseparable image they now project, when it came to Irishman Andy Lee, the headhunted coach took some persuading at first. Adam Booth, though flattered by the approach and the interest, was utterly indecisive and for weeks scratched his head, considered his options and sought opinions. It was September 2012 and he had other projects on the go. Both David Haye and George Groves were under his wing. The inn was full.

Asked to replace the irreplaceable Emanuel Steward, with whom Lee had previously worked and lived for seven years, Booth’s concerns were twofold. He was worried about his own ability to train a world-class southpaw, having never done so before, and he was worried about Lee’s athleticism, or lack thereof, and his apparent inability to fight on the inside.

Elliot Worsell tales look at the rise of Andy Lee for The Ring magazine.

3. Pressure is growing on New Zealand Rugby to retain its competitive advantage in this respect. The overseas signings of Charles Piutau and Francis Saili are the latest in a growing list that should be giving the governing body pause for thought. One official spoken to last week is adamant the escalating export of players is purely cyclical, but is that entirely true?

If this is the natural order of things then how to explain the very public gnashing of teeth at the announcement of current All Black Piutau’s signing with Ulster? If this is the natural order of things, then how to explain the pre-emptive exit of current All Black Jeremy Thrush? If this is the natural order of things, then we must have some incredibly mature players ready to step into the professional ranks in place of Nasi Manu and Luke Braid and Tom Marshall and Tom Taylor and Frank Halai, to name a few.

Long live the squad players says Scotty Stephenson in the New Zealand Herald.

4. This year, it’s difficult to understand why there should be any debate. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is the strong favourite, and for good reason: He’s been a consistent performer, an entertainer and the key player for the probable title winners. To realise why Hazard is such a dangerous attacker, however, it’s worth considering football in its most basic form.

When you receive the ball in football, you can essentially only do three things. You can shoot for goal, you can pass to a teammate or you can dribble with the ball. Even that third option, however, is always followed by one of the other two actions — assuming, of course, you’re not dispossessed on your dribble.

Michael Cox writes that, statistically, there should be only one winner of this year’s Premier League Player of the Year award, on ESPN.

Source: Presseye/Russell Pritchard/INPHO

5. Phil Taylor does not remember how much his father made working at Platt’s tile factory in Stoke-on-Trent in the early 1960s, but he knows it was not enough. Like tens of thousands of other men in Stoke, his father worked in the potteries for which the city was famous, and expected his son to one day do the same. His dad got paid on a Friday, and the money rarely lasted the week.

For the first few years of Taylor’s life, his family lived in a dilapidated terraced house in Tunstall, a rundown area of Stoke, that his parents bought for £100. The whole family – Phil, his mum, his dad – slept on the ground floor because upstairs was condemned. Half the windows were boarded up; his father used to joke that they did not need a window cleaner, they needed a sander. Some days, when Taylor was very young, he and his mother scavenged for scrap metal to sell. When his family scraped together enough money to buy a television, the installer could not find anywhere to plug it in: the Taylors didn’t have electricity. Eventually, they ran a wire to a neighbour’s house and borrowed a plug socket.

Ed Caesar gets under the skin of Phil Taylor in The Guardian. 

6. Nan O’Leary gave her second son that name as a “quiet tribute” to her parents. Her father is arguably the greatest golfer of all time. Jack Nicklaus and his wife of more than 50 years, Barbara, live within three miles of four of their five children in North Palm Beach, Fla. That includes the O’Learys. Barbara keeps a color-coded calendar listing the sports events of their 22 grandchildren. If there is a conflict, they pick the oldest child’s game, or split duty. In O’Leary’s four seasons at FSU, Jack missed only one game—and that was because two other grandsons were playing in their final high school football game. His son Steve (Nick’s uncle) was a receiver at Florida State in the 1980s and has a skybox at Doak Campbell Stadium, where Nicklaus is usually a quiet observer, his chin often resting on his hands.

Nick O’Leary didn’t grow up watching his grandfather win golf tournaments, but he grew up with the legend. That brought spoils—a family ranch in Okeechobee, trips to South Africa to hunt or to the Bahamas to fish, the private jet “Air Bear” —but also scrutiny. Nan reminded her five children (four boys and a girl, just like her parents had) of the advice her grandmother had once given her: You kids have to put in 200 percent to get 100 percent of the credit.

Jenny Vrentas on Monday Morning Quarterback looks at the potential NFL career of Jack Nicklaus’ grandson, Nick O’Leary.

7. The whorl of wind will be easier to negotiate than the swirl of memories this week when Ben Crenshaw plays the 11th, 12th and 13th holes at the Masters for the final time in his fabled career.

Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion, will have his longtime caddie, Carl Jackson, on his bag and Herbert Warren Wind on his mind. Wind, who died in 2005, coined the term “Amen Corner” to describe the stretch at Augusta National Golf Club, beginning with the second shot on No. 11 and ending with the tee shot on No. 13, where many Masters have been won or lost.

In his five decades covering golf for The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, Wind filed dispatches from the front lines of Arnie’s Army, coaxed a timeless golf instructional book out of Ben Hogan, served as Jack Nicklaus’s literary caddie and wrote “The Story of American Golf,” which is part encyclopedia, part essay and wholly Herbert.

Karen Crouse in the New York Times remembers Herbert Warren Wind, the man who coined the phrase ‘Amen Corner’ about Augusta National’s famous stretch of holes

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