Politicians know it. So do supermodels. Sometimes the best currency is a smile. There was a time when you wore one, too, and don't try to deny it, because it's on record. It was your first day of college, your first day of work, your first day of driving. The proof is in your endearingly goofy yearbook photo, corporate I.D. badge and original driver's license. Innocence, that's what it was.
I mention this because in recent weeks three uncanny good sports—unpaid, no less—have brought grins to golf the way a slice vaccine might. The gleesome threesome, Jenny Chuasiriporn (second at the U.S. Women's Open, a winner at the Curtis Cup), Matt Kuchar (21st at the Masters, 14th at the U.S. Open) and Justin Rose (fourth at the British) have been a power surge of human connectivity. They've tapped a reservoir of goodwill with fans as well as with that most cynical lot, the press. The three have exposed not only vast portions of their dental work but also the relative lack of exuberance among other golfers, including those of us who supposedly play the sport for enjoyment.
Golf, someone once said after shooting 106, is a four-letter word. If that doesn't justify the dour expressions of the game's most egregious duffers, at least it explains them. When it comes to the top tour pros, however, golf is a seven-figure income. Their livelihoods are assured. Their unborn grandkids' livelihoods are assured. So why are guys like Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods in the Perennially Grumpy Association?
No doubt there are pressures in the pro game. Consider, say, Nike tour journeyman Bill Murchison Jr. as he tries to make the cut and feed his wife and nine kids. Fine. But when Woods, freshly feted with an obscene sum of endorsement money, stalks his way around a course and then proclaims, "Second sucks," as he did at Pebble Beach last year, we're bewildered. Tiger's lot in life sucks?
At the risk of sounding positively Barney, I think Woods ought to smile more. For starters, people love him, but to keep cheering they'll need a better return on their investment. That doesn't mean a win. It means a tip of the cap, a flip of the hand or simply a look up.
Isn't the game face better left to ultimate fighting? A smile requires fewer muscles than a frown, so it saves energy. It hasn't been banned by the USGA, yet, so it can help your game. At this year's Masters sports psychologist Bob Rotella sized up Kuchar's refreshing approach and told client Davis Love III, "You need to go out and have as much fun as Matt." Love did, and he got back in the tournament with a third-round 67.
Consider this gem from the smile file of Bruce Heppler, Kuchar's coach at Georgia Tech: "People who are grateful become very, very popular." No kidding. There's a reason Frank Urban (Fuzzy) Zoeller endures as one of the most beloved players on Tour, and it's not his urbane wit. It's because Fuzzy whistles while he works. Fuzzy smiles. Still a fan favorite despite his untoward remarks after last year's Masters, Zoeller can testify better than anyone to the mileage of smileage.
The real pros of the positive, though, are the amateurs, who have piles of smile-starters. Here are a few. Emulate a happy grandpappy. "I pictured my grandfather," Kuchar (left) said at the Masters. "How proud he'd be and the smile on his face." Embrace the moment. "I felt like a winning player coming up the 18th," Rose said at the British. Remember that you're just playing a game. "If you don't have fun," said Chuasiriporn at the Women's Open, "you've already lost." Dream of something good. "They have the most wonderful buffet you can imagine," Kuchar said of Augusta National. Poke fun at yourself. "So I had to take advantage of it," continued Kuchar, who has a healthy appetite. "Davis was a little shocked."
Love got an A in smile school when he said at the Masters, "We all need to have as much fun as Matt." Woods has shown signs of coming around as well. At the British, after coming in third, he toned down his second-sucks lament and said, "Finishing third is not something you should be upset about." He even tipped his cap and gave a little grin to the fans at 18. Woods didn't win, but we can forgive him that. As we saw at the British, sometimes a winning smile is just as good.