You can keep your head steady, delay the hit and stay down the line as much as you want but sooner or later (okay, usually sooner), golf isn’t about the right swing tips, but the right temperament. And not the same temperament for everyone; one that suits you.
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 he’s only a shot behind after 36 holes, you realize that golf constantly measures parts of our makeup that might stay hidden or unexplored if it weren’t for the dastardly existence of this particular sport/game/
“I don’t feel too much stress. Obviously there’s stress out there. But when [I’m] playing here, I’m not going to let too many things bother me,” said Couples, who thinks his competitive spirit suits this place. “It’s so beautiful. You can’t say it’s 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 here said — meaning no harm, just stating the case casually like a basic fact of the game — “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? “I’ll tell you when I find it,” Garcia answered after bogeying the 18th hole to fall out of a tie for the lead. “I think that’s the million dollar question. The right temperament for golf, it doesn’t exist. The Guy Up Top probably has it, but anybody else, I don’t think so.”
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Garcia hasn’t found his state of grace, but others have it — unless they misplace it along the way in a long career. When you see Rory McIlroy shake off a first-hole double bogey on Thursday, then cruise around Augusta National in a composed methodical 71-69 to stand a shot behind Couples and Jason Dufner by the end of Friday’s play, you sense that, at 22, he’s already as close to being at peace with his game as a young man is likely to attain.
“I definitely didn’t have a good temperament for golf when I was growing up,” said McIlroy, who has described himself as a typical teenage temper case. “I was a little temperamental. You learn that being like that can only be a negative thing for you.
“There’s no point in getting upset or really throwing clubs, because it just puts you in a bad frame of mind. It’s better just to stay positive and think of the chances you have coming ahead. That’s something that I’ve definitely developed over the past few years.”