Lee Bacchus looks at Golf

It Takes Nerve on the Tour

All right, class, pencils down, backs straight. Today's topic is "nerve."

Or in my case, the pathetic lack of it.

For the past month or so, my golf TV viewing has focussed not so much on the silken swings and shotmaking heroics of PGA and European Tour members, but their preternatually calm - make that bloodless - demeanors. My interest began with U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen, who goes about his business on the golf course with all the stress and anxiety of a pool cleaner on Valium. Even after gagging on that near-gimme on the 18th, Goosen's expression was no more excited than someone who caught a niggling fleck of dust in his eye.

In fact, Goosen's complete being seems to have been infused with some Zen-like cosmic rays. He is indeed, loose as a goose. And then there is British Open champion David Duval, another stoic competitor who seems to have embalming fluid coursing through his veins. Safely insulated behind those wrap-around shades, Duval reacts to events both good and bad the way Bill Gates might react to the latest news about gas prices. I would venture so say that his unflappable, expressionless bearing is the main reason he walked away so easily with the claret jug.

Duval appeared to be the only survivor of St. Lytham who entered the cavernous oblivion of its many bunkers and exited with his soul (if not his par) intact. You only had to watch others ‹ even Tiger ‹ as they hacked and slashed through the sand like tempermental pirates seeking buried treasure, to see that it took a special kind of mental patience to avoid being a, well, mental patient.

I've long wondered at the mellow, nerveless manner of the professional golfer. While I stand over a three-foot putt during a measly two-buck Nassau, as shaky and dry-mouthed as if missing it would mean death by lethal injecton, a tour pro like Goosen or Duval looks no more tense than during a weekend outing with the kids at mini-golf.

A friend of mine, who belongs to a club where they play a pro tour event, once showed up not realizing the tourney was underway. He said he walked into the clubhouse and suddenly noticed all these neatly groomed guys who walked around as if they were in slow-motion, and gesturing as if their rubbery limbs were hydraulically controlled. They were the pros, of course, and my friend said they looked like another species along side the stiff and jittery, amateurs who were there to watch them. Ah, nerve! It's an elusive form of courage, and perilously just one letter away from the dreaded nerves.

Alas, if only they could bottle that placid stoicism the way Starbucks dispenses tension in a double-shot cappuccino.

Lee’s Top Three Golf Topics

1. BATTLE AT BIGHORN: Woods, Sorenstam, Duval and Webb tee off. Clash of the titans or trash sports? Frankly, I think it's despicable money-grabbing network promotion but I'll be watching every moment of it.

2. THE OPEN: David finally slays the Goliath-sized monkey on this back. Unfortunately both Colin Montgomery's and Phil Mickelson Œs monkeys just got a little heavier.

3. TIGER'S TAIL-OFF: Everyone's theorizing on why Woods's game is in a lull. My theory's that he's just waiting until the addition to his trophy room is completed.

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