On the pro golf tour, there is a man who considers himself incapable of winning during the golf season. Or at least the golf season as those of us above and beyond the Sun Belt know it.
"June, July and August, when most of the big money's up for grabs, something happens to me," said Larry Ziegler. "I've won more than $500,000 out here -- and some tournaments. But in 13 or so years I've only played even decent golf once during the summer.
"I won at New Orleans in April, at Jacksonville in March. I won the Michigan Golf Classic in September, in Morocco in November and last year at Costa Rica in December. You'd think that sometime during the summer I'd get a hot streak.
"(Don) January says the same thing, that there's certain times he can't play well, either, that he might as well pack up his clubs and go home."
Probably, there is some sort of unplayable lie deep in the mind that makes every golfer at every level go dizzy now and then. There must, after all, be something negative about a sport played in generally lush surroundings and agreeable weather -- and with little chance of injury.
Golf attacks the mind.
An Arnold Palmer plays splendidly until he must putt. Then he becomes a pathetic sight. A Roger Maltbie plays horribly in Florida. Even Jack Nicklaus twitches some when faced with a delicate pitch.
On tour, Gary McCord is known as Magic, a magician of considerable skill but unable to make a golf ball disappear often enough in the cup to make a decent living. Unlike some others in a mental slump, McCord is attacking it.
"There's a guy in Pheonix, Ed Grant, who sends me tapes with ways to improve the mental aspects of golf. Four or five other guys are into it, too. What you want is to let the subconscious take over when you're on the course, because once you get to thinking out here, bad things happen.
"I'm realizing how my own feeble mind works, and I hope soon I'll be able to go about programming it."
Earlier, he had been sitting with several other pros in the locker room and made the startling statement that he considered it much more difficult to qualify for a tournament than to win one.
"Now that's the absolutely worst and dumbest statement I ever heard," said Bruce Devlin.
"You don't know, you and all those exempt guys," said McCord. "You get to No. 15 some Monday morning with a borderline score and you can't help but think, 'How many places? What must I shoot?'
"Hey, if you're in position to win a tournament, the worst thing that can happen is that you finish second or third. And you're playing well. If you don't qualify for certain tournaments, you might be out of work for a month.
"Gentlemen (he was talking with Devlin, John Schroeder and Fuzzy Zoeller), I would very much like to spend more time like this with you (on golf philosophy) but I'm always out trying to qualify. You don't know what it's like."
This tournament, the Jackie Gleason Inverrary, McCord made the cut with what is known in the trade as "a fine one-under 143," as though there was such a thing as a lousy one-under 143.
The successful players are the ones who have gotten their minds into as fixed a problem as their swings. Nicklaus takes special pride in being able to immediately slip from being relatively relaxed between shots to supreme concentration.
"I ask myself at times, 'What do I do better (than golfers with swings as fine as his but with paltry bank accounts)?'" said Hale Irwin. "I manage my game better, when I manage it well. And you can never fault me for not trying too hard. Probably, you can fault me for trying too hard."
During Friday's second round, Irwin was in one of those delirious "fogs" only enormously skilled golfers achieve, when mind and body decide to produce a memorable round. Irwin's was a 10-under-par 62, which broke the course record by a shot.
"Earlier in the year," he said of honing those delicate mental and physical grooves, "I didn't expect to win. I wanted just to get ready. One shot today explains it. As I played it, the hole was No. 15.
"I had a severe downhill lie and the ball was in a hole. I had to hit it over a trap and try to get it stopped quickly. The first of the year, I would have been lucky to get the club onto the ball and keep it on the green.
"Now I have my touch. Now my touch is such that I can pull off a shot like that more often than not." He made par there -- and in fact went through the entire round without so much as a 5 on his card.
Irwin has mastered what McCord and so many others are trying to find -- and as he passed among them outside the clubhouse, Maltbie joked: "Surely something lipped out on you out there."
"As a matter of fact there was," Irwin said -- and he was serious. "I lipped out a threewood."