"Hey, it's no big mystery," says Burke, who gets cantankerous when portrayed as Elkington's Svengali. "Elk's an interested person, and all I do with him is talk golf. We just talk about the game." The thing is, that's like talking acting with Anthony Hopkins. Burke has exchanged ideas with the most influential figures in American golf. He is the last player on Tour to have won four tournaments in a row and is universally acknowledged to be one of the best putters in history. He was also considered one of the game's fiercest competitors. "I wouldn't be the player I am without having known Jackie Burke," says Elkington, who out of deference is mum on the specific content of their discussions. "Being around him has made me smarter, made me harder, given me an example to follow and things I will think about for the rest of my life."
The essence of Burke's advice is that anything achieved in tournament golf is achieved alone. And Elkington admits there are plenty of questions to which he still does not have answers.
"I know I can hit the ball better than all the guys most of the time," he says. "It just comes down to me beating them for the biggest prize. But that involves a lot more than hitting the ball. People don't understand that the formula for winning is not written down anywhere. Each time I've won, it's been different. The whole thing is fragile. I've always felt I've had tons of natural ability, a great swing, a good attitude and the other things you need, and I've worked hard all the time. I feel like I've done everything you are supposed to do. But all that has just gotten me to the door."
To walk through it will require the subtle improvements that come with experience and commitment. McCord urges Elkington to be as unchanging in his approach to putting as he is in his full swing and to "think volatility in the scoring area, go for the big putt down the stretch a little more." Weiskopf would like to see Elkington take a bolder approach from the fairway. "When Steve's swing is on, he can shoot at every pin. He proved that at Riviera." Mercer, who has worked with Elkington the longest, has the simplest advice: "He only has to realize how good he is. Simple as that." Elkington still isn't sure. "The ultimate package would be to have all four major championship trophies sitting on your desk," he says, "but that's unrealistic." There are more than a few people who would disagree.
Naturally, when Elkington wants to think things out, he goes to his garden, where he often climbs into the crook at the juncture where an oak and a pecan tree have grown together over the last 175 years, forming a wide canopy that reaches 100 feet into the air. "What I've got here, it's good," Elkington declares while perched above the world he has so carefully cultivated. "Not much missing."
Only the finishing touches on a modern classic.