"People like my father [Claude Harmon Sr.] used to say you should hit down the line," Harmon declared. "But the golf swing's not a line—it's a circle."
Next I sought out Austin-based short-game guru Tom Jenkins, who gave me a crash course in controlling distances of wedge and sand shots by calibrating my backswing like the hour hand of a clock. I then asked sports psychologist Bob (Doc) Rotella, Ph.D., to help get my mental game in shape for Q school. "I want you to spend a good 20 minutes every night with the phone off the hook thinking about playing great in Stage One," Rotella said. "And get your mind totally wired for playing to win. The worst thing you can do is start playing to qualify. You'll either make it on the number or miss it by a shot."
Rotella warned that my Q school competitors were likely to be nasty, brutish and short in their attitude toward me, and intimidatingly long off the tee. He urged me to keep as far away from them as possible. "I don't want you exposed to all their anxiety," he explained. When I actually arrived at the Ranch a few weeks later, I found this year's contestants to be a whole lot looser and more diverse—as well as a whole lot longer off the tee—than Rotella had predicted. There was the annual crop of hot shots fresh out of college, a score of guys in their mid-to late 20's who had tuned up on mini-tours like the Hooters and the Lone Star, a few Nike tour vets, a threesome of Argentines and a contingent of South Africans led by Deane Pappas, who had played college golf (and learned to spit tobacco) at the University of Arkansas.
That night, alone in my room, I tried to concentrate on the detailed pretournament ritual prescribed by Rotella. First, I yanked my golf bag out of the trunk and lugged it inside. ("I've heard too many horror stories about guy's getting their sticks stolen the night before a big tournament," Doc had said.) I scrubbed my clubs in the marble vanity, dug out my spikes and retightened the screws. Then I marked two sleeves of Maxflis with an identifying H.
I laid out my attire for round 1, a solemn rite in which naive superstitions and sponsorship considerations dictated the selection of every article. Next I set all three of the alarm clocks I had brought along on specific instructions from Rotella. "You can't just rely on a wake-up call or one alarm," Doc had cautioned. "What if they forget to call or your alarm doesn't go off? In some other sport, a coach would take care of these things. But in golf, you're on your own."
After several fitful readings of Rotella's instructions, I lay down on the bed and turned to the most crucial exercise of all: visualizing my opening round. My threesome would be teeing off on number 10, a nasty little 390-yard par-4. I was still even par when, in my mind, I got to 16. There I was struck by a strategic epiphany. I realized that I didn't even have to reach the putting surface in 2 to make birdie. In fact, it was wise to lay up because of the inherent treacheries of the humpbacked green. All I needed was a gentle draw off the tee, then a smooth two-iron to the patch of fairway beyond the water. That would allow me to play a routine pitch to any pin placement. I got my dream round rolling full steam by sinking an eight-foot downhiller for a bird on 16, made the turn in two under—and opened my eyes.
My threesome of alarm clocks showed that it was getting on toward 11 p.m. I had to be up by half past six since it took a good two hours just to do all the stretching needed to limber up my prearthritic joints. As I dozed off, I kept mumbling Doc Rotella's mnemonic mantra, spelling out the most important thing I had to do to turn my fantasies into reality: "You've got to get into your own little world—and stay there."
By the time the belly Hopper's threesome finally moved on toward the 16th green the following morning, the Advil had quieted my back pain, but my own little world had become a mighty nerve-racking place. I kept worrying that I wouldn't be able to pick up or even maintain my scoring on the holes ahead. I reminded myself that I was only one shot off the pace I had set for myself in the previous night's dream round. My self didn't seem reassured. In the course of my protracted tee-box pacing, my throat had gotten as parched as the cart paths and my hands had started shaking. I tried to focus on my preselected target—the gaping garage-door hole of a two-story brick house under construction about 400 yards down the left side of the fairway—but I kept catching glimpses of the lake on the right.
"O.K., nice and smooth," I whispered, taking my driver stance and exhaling a deep breath as the dicta of Dick Harmon, Tom Jenkins, Eden Foster and Doc Rotella simultaneously rushed through my consciousness. "Just turn your shoulders, bring it inside and remember, the golf swing's not a line—it's a circle." Amid this last-second flood of swing thoughts, I somehow neglected to watch the club head come through at impact. All I recall is the horror of watching my tee shot start out on line with the garage door, then veer sharply to the right in a banana curve.
"Oh, Lord," I cried. "Is that where I think it is?"