The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 11, 2013

Goodwin: It takes more than talent to achieve greatness

By Clair Goodwin
Special to The Globe

— So what separates the really good players from the great players?

Talent?  Of course, that is the first and most significant component for winning. But no less vital are course management and courage. You have not only must have game, as the pundits would say, but you must know how to use it.

Let’s face it, if you have a lousy swing and can’t maneuver the ball from right to left, left to right, high or low, you can’t win. No one will walk away toting the U.S. Open trophy by topping, popping, slicing or snap hooking the ball around a course set up for the national championship.

A winner needs the courage to handle mounting emotional pressures for 18, 36, 54 and 72 holes. I’ve never played in the Open, but I know that the atmosphere is so emotionally charged that you can feel it.  Nerves fray, hands shake, a kaleidoscope of thoughts (most of them negative) flash through your mind.

At least, that’s how I feel over a $1 Nassau putt on the 18th green.

Ben Hogan had nerves of steel, it was said. He never flinched, never backed off and always had a target score that he thought would be sufficient to win. He had the game, the confidence and the determination. But he didn’t always win.

Hogan’s record in playoffs is not all that good. Sam Snead opined that because Hogan set target scores that he thought should win, he wasn’t prepared mentally and emotionally if it didn’t. Then he had trouble regaining his focus and confidence for a playoff.    

On the flip side, some players undoubtedly lose because of overconfidence. They are so certain that they will win or that they can hit a certain shot, they are unable to recover when things go awry as they so often do in golf.

In short, winning is not for the faint of heart, whether in USGA or professional settings or in a local club tournament.  

Indeed, the same requirements — clarity of thought and managing one’s emotions — apply to winner at all levels of the game, whether you are a Jack Nicklaus or a Tiger Woods competing in a major championship or a Fred Flintstone teeing it up in the Ice Box Open.  

Over the years, I have known literally dozens of players who have the necessary skills to win tournaments. But they never do. It isn’t because they are not trying hard enough, but more likely that they are trying too hard. They take the normal pressure of tournament golf and then double it by thinking too much.

Golfers come in a variety of sizes, shapes and, most important, attitudes.

One very good golfer I knew simply would give up if he had a bad hole or two. He might get angry enough to hit his putter off the tee or for his approach. Yet, he was intensely competitive when things were going well.

Another golfer that I knew refused to play in tournaments even though he clearly had the game to compete. His enjoyment came in playing among his buddies and trying to shoot a good score rather than collecting prizes and trophies.

Most golfers with whom I’ve played over the years were highly competitive. They love putting a dollar or two on the line. The competition juices flowed in their own groups, but it didn’t always carry over to tournaments.  

Some people equate confidence with courage. Confidence suggests that you know your game, what you can do and what you cannot do. Courage has its time and place, such as needing a birdie on the final hole and deciding to go for it despite a long carry over water. There is a time and place for confidence and courage, but courage can be a blinder and encourage overconfidence. Stupid choices can ruin a good round.

I truly don’t think that any definition of “good golfer” has universal application. People arrive at “good” or even “great” from different directions. Jack Nicklaus and Hogan were consummate managers of their games and the courses. Tiger Woods is flashy and the greatest putter I’ve ever seen. A Corey Pavin tends toward the conservative side, while the approach of Bubba Watson is to go for broke.

Winning begets winning. Whatever game you have, whether conservative, liberal, feel or managed, you can accomplish what you want. You just have to commit, make good swings and get a little lucky. And the degree of commitment ultimately will decide who or what you are on the golf course.

Mansfield event

Dick Mansfield was a friend and an avid golfer. His memory is being honored on June 14 with the Dick Mansfield Memorial two-person scramble at Carthage Golf Course.

Entry fee is $120 per team. A shotgun start is scheduled at 1 p.m. Prizes will be based on the number of entries. For additional information and to register call the pro shop at 417-237-7030. Entry deadline is June 10.