When the boy was six, he asked his parents for the subliminal tape. In the parents' plan to raise the greatest golfer who ever lived, the boy's mind had to be trained. The tape was all rippling brooks and airy flutes on top and chest-thumpers underneath:
MY DECISIONS ARE STRONG! I DO IT ALL WITH MY HEART!
From the beginning, the boy understood what the tape was for, and he liked it. A regular Freud of the first grade. He would pop in the tape while swinging in front of the mirror or putting on the carpet or watching videos of old Masters tournaments. In fact, he played the tape so often that it would have driven any other parents quite nuts. Any other parents.
He took the messages that came with the tape and tacked them to the wooden bookshelf in his tiny room. All the people from That's Incredible and Eye on L.A. and The Mike Douglas Show who tracked in and out to meet the Great Black Hope, they all missed the messages. But there they were, right under their very ears.
I FOCUS AND GIVE IT MY ALL!
When the boy was seven, his parents installed the psychological armor. If he had a full wedge shot, the father would stand 15 feet in front of him and say, "I'm a tree." And the kid would have to hit over him. The father would jingle his change before the boy's bunker shots. Pump the brake on the cart on the boy's mid-irons. Rip the Velcro on his glove over a three-footer.
What his dad tried to do, whenever possible, was cheat, distract, harass and annoy him. You spend 20 years in the military, train with the Green Berets, do two tours of Nam and one of Thailand, you learn a few things about psychological warfare.
It was not good enough that by age two the boy could look at a grown man's swing and understand it ("Look, Daddy," he would say, "that man has a reverse pivot!"); that by three he was beating 10-year-olds; that by five he was signing autographs (because he couldn't write script, he printed his name in block letters); that by six he'd already had two holes in one. No, the father knew his son would need a mind as one-piece as his swing.
Let's see, the father would...drop a golf bag during the boy's backswing...roll a ball across the boy's line just before he putted...remind him not to snaphook it there into the houses...jar him as he putted through...mark the father's own ball a foot closer to the hole than it was...make a 6 and write 5...kick his own ball out of the rough, but only when his son was looking.
"I mean, yeah," says the boy now, "I'd get angry sometimes. But I knew it was for the betterment of me. That's what learning is all about, right?"