They say golf is a game of consistency, that steadiness pays off. I don't doubt it, but two weeks ago at the Cajun Classic in Lafayette, La., 1963 became a $100,000 year for me, and now that I have a chance to look back I can tell you one thing right off: this was not my year to be consistent, it was my year to be lucky.
I have now completed two years on the pro tour. They have been successful beyond any expectations I might reasonably have had, yet no two good years in a golfer's life could have been less alike. In 1962 I won the U.S. Open and played so steadily that I was in the money in each of the 26 tournaments I entered. In 1963, by contrast, it seemed I was always either poor or spectacular. I was extremely fortunate that most of the ups came in the right places. I missed the cut four times, including the U.S. Open, but I won the Masters and the PGA.
This weird year really began with my three-putting the final hole from 25 feet—on national television, no less—to blow the Crosby. Then I came down with a sore hip and could not qualify for the last 36 holes at either the San Francisco or Tucson opens. I managed to recover my game and win the Masters and the Tournament of Champions, but lost it again just in time to miss the cut at the Open. After throwing away the British Open with bogeys on the last two holes, I came home the following week and won the PGA Championship. All of which adds up to a pretty exciting, and pretty erratic, performance. Part of my trouble was that during the first half of the year, except at the Masters, I was not really hitting the ball particularly well and throughout both halves of the year I could never tell whether my putting on any given day was going to be good or just plain awful.
Somehow, when the year had ended, I was able to count up five tournament titles, victories at the World Series of Golf in Akron and the Canada Cup in Paris and the $100,000 in official prize money. Even reaching this nice, round figure—and I'll admit I really wanted to once I saw I had a chance—involved quite a bit of luck at the very end. If Dave Marr had made a five-foot putt for a birdie on the last hole of the Cajun Classic, I would have finished in a three-way tie for fifth—instead of a two-way tie—and fallen short of the mark by $10.
While I felt a certain amount of satisfaction in surmounting this particular barrier, I do not think it is significant in measuring a year's performance. It is a little like a runner breaking the four-minute mile now. He has company, and is going to have a lot more. This year two of us made it to six figures ( Arnold Palmer won $128,230). Next year there may be four, and the year after that perhaps six or eight. The tour is getting so lucrative that many of the old yardsticks that were once used to measure a player's ability are no longer valid. To my way of thinking the only true test of a player's ability today is the number of tournaments he has won, not his scoring average or his place on the official money list. This is my goal: to win, not just money, but as many tournaments as I possibly can.
This attitude ties in with something else that I became convinced of for the first time this year. There is a special art or knack to finishing first that essentially means a great deal more than just playing well. This "ability to win" is something that has to be learned, just as much as driving or putting has to be learned. When I was an amateur I found winning relatively easy because in any tournament there were never more than four or five players who could honestly be considered as threats. The pro tour has dozens and dozens.
On occasion a pro will have such a big lead going into the last few holes of a tournament that he can simply play out the string and still win easily. But this is rare. Usually there are four to eight players who have a good chance to win right up until the final holes. More often than not, each contender has the shots and the experience to be capable of winning. I have come to believe that the player who most often ends up winning is the one who, in a sense, is least afraid of winning. He has learned the technique of being a winner.
This ability to win is very difficult to describe. Most people think that the best golfer wins. But there is more to it than that. It involves being able to think clearly under pressure. It involves being able to make your tension work for you instead of against you. Above all, it involves achieving the confidence to play aggressively for a title without worrying about what the rest of the field is doing, without counting on them to fold up when things get tough and toss the tournament gently into your lap.
The greatest master of the art of winning is, I feel, Arnold Palmer. He won seven tournaments in 1963. But do you know how often he finished a close second? Just once, in an 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open. The lesson is clear. When Palmer is playing well enough to keep himself in contention to win, he wins. He seizes the chance when it is there, which is something that few of us can do consistently.
I am no different from many of the other tournament golfers in noting this art of winning as the most vital lesson to be learned on the tour. I have developed finesse at the short game and learned a great deal about putting and playing out of trouble in the past two years. I have even added the right-to-left draw to, my game. But all of this knowledge is wasted if it cannot be applied when it is needed most. Sometimes I can apply it, sometimes I can't. I threw away the Crosby, but I still had the confidence to win a very tight Masters. I gave away the British Open in a beautiful reverse demonstration of how not to win, but still was able to come back and take the PGA. In short, I am still learning the technique of being a winner, but learning is taking time.