I like to study athletes for what they do well, what they do better than anyone," says staff writer Jaime Diaz. One of Diaz's favorite subjects is golf—and with good reason. Take this week's story on golf's reigning long-distance hitter, Davis Love III. Love had the longest drive on the PGA Tour last year: 389 yards. He was justifiably proud. He didn't know that Diaz once hit a drive of 489 yards. We should point out, of course, that Diaz's monster was a wind-aided shot on a runway at Monterey Peninsula Airport. He couldn't resist taking a few swings himself two years ago while covering a long-ball contest. Jim Rice won the event with a drive of 497 yards, outdistancing Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Johnny Miller, Craig Stadler and Al Geiberger. "Honest, Rice didn't hit his very well. I hit about two hours earlier, and I had the wind with me," says Diaz, 33. Don't be deceived by his modesty. He has proved to be an ace ball striker on a variety of counts, though golf counts twice with Diaz, who played for the University of San Francisco.
"I still like playing better than watching," he says. And he plays very well. Diaz helped the U.S. team beat the British-Irish team in the 1986 Writers' Cup in Puerto Rico last December, and he finished third in the Golf Writers Association championship with a 75 at the Dunes last April in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"In golf the challenge is to make the mind reactive," Diaz says. "The best players' minds are a blank except for a visual image of the shot. Sometimes, when I'm in a groove, for about a half hour, I'm hitting it like Mac O'Grady. Then the fantasy ends, and you're back with your real self, your old limitations. The guys who win are the guys who can play without that magic. That's the hard part."
Diaz's unassuming "real self" lets him fit in anywhere, from the privileged locker rooms of the world's most prestigious country clubs to the dirt roads of Itta Bena, Miss., where he went to profile then Mississippi Valley State wide receiver Jerry Rice (SI, Nov. 14, 1983). Diaz has also written on subjects ranging from the Oklahoma-Nebraska football game to indoor soccer to Boris Becker to Joe Montana to Hana Mandlikova. But he's never too far from golf.
His occasional playing partner near his home in Sacramento is Otis Thorpe of the NBA Sacramento Kings. Says Diaz, "He applies the same attributes that make him a great player to his golf game: patience, dedication and the ability to learn things without muddling up his mind. It's interesting how a pro puts things together. Ability is not just talent, it's also an organized mind."