AUGUSTA, Ga. – Golf is about talent, technique and tenacity. But, over a whole career, its the fourth T – temperament – that may count for more than any of them.
Sooner or later, defeats, injuries, disappointments and embarrassments attack the sense of security, confidence and serenity that usually accompany the greatest golf when its played on the biggest stages.
You can keep your head steady, delay the hit and stay down the line as much as you want, but sooner or later, golf isnt about the right swing tips, but the right temperament.
As you watch 52-year-old Fred Couples amble cheerfully into the Masters lead, while Sergio Garcia, already a curmudgeon at 32, seems annoyed even though hes a shot behind after 36 holes, you realize that golf constantly measures parts of our makeup that might stay hidden if it werent for the dastardly existence of this particular sport.
I dont feel too much stress. Obviously theres stress out there. But when Im playing here, Im not going to let too many things bother me, Couples said. Its so beautiful. You cant say its your favorite place in golf and then break a club on the fourth hole on Saturday.
Garcia has spent a dozen years being hounded for his unfulfilled potential, dogged by bad putting and living down various bratty misdemeanors. As one of the leaders said, Sergio could have won so many majors. But the rub of the green, the mud ball, the heckler and the critic all offend and rattle him.
Sergio, how important is it to have the right temperament for golf and what is it, from your perspective?
Ill tell you when I find it, Garcia said after bogeying the 18th hole to fall out of a tie for the lead. I think thats the million-dollar question. The right temperament for golf, it doesnt exist. The Guy Up Top probably has it, but anybody else, I dont think so.
All golfers understand intuitively the pursuit of that blend of Zen calm and athletic aggressiveness that goes hand-in-hand with the best performance. Perhaps no one combined the two better than Tiger Woods in his prime. He had a fuse but usually lit it only to motivate himself, rather than ignite some destructive internal dynamite.
What now? On Friday, we saw Woods in a perfectionists torment, dropping clubs, closing his eyes in disgust, his whole body deflating as he missed putts he used to make. You glimpse how mercilessly golf waits for your serenity, your sense of self or skill or dignity, to alter or deteriorate, or simply change in any way, so that it can drive you deeper into your private perditions. Woods has changed so many parts of himself in the last 30 months that he may need some new golf temperament appropriate to who he is now or who he wants to be.
Under pressure, his current temperament is precariously close to disintegrating. By the 16th hole, Woods had been reduced to a child. He dropped his club, his standard theatric. But then, as it lay on the tee, he kicked it. By the 17th hole, Woods stood in the fairway looking close to tears. Sarcastic comments come to mind. But they seem as inappropriate as a kicked club on a day when one of the greatest athletes of our time has been ground down until he looks pathetically distraught in public. And he shot 75, not 90.
After his round, Woods had composed himself, sort of. The 4-iron wild right at No. 15 ticked me off worse than the 9-iron at the 16th, said Woods, still holding up the shield of the tournaments not over.
Several times, he used the word patient, exactly the aspect of golf temperament that hed just been devoid of, as well as a tenet of the Buddhism he learned as child that hes re-embraced: Ive just got to stay patient, keep doing reps. Eventually itll come.