- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
They are very different people, even if they share the common thread of golf careers thwarted by circulatory failure. Martin is, by his own admission, a nit—the term poker players apply to those who cling to the wall at the shallow end of the pool. "I'm a tightwad," he says. "I'm scared to death. Poker is so emotionally and mentally draining that I can't sleep afterward." Schmidt, by way of contrast, has acquired a mathematician's detachment, a focused tranquillity that allows him to manage tens of thousands of dollars on a constantly changing digital landscape. "I had to build up to it," he says, crediting chats with Jared Tendler (10thGreen's COO and mental-game coach) for his equanimity.
Another difference is that Schmidt's coronary arteries have responded to medication ("I'm close to 100 percent"), but Martin's infamous leg—a skin-wrapped tube of leaky veins, atrophied muscle and dissolving bone—has not. "My hope was that my leg would benefit from not standing all day," Martin says. "But the first couple of years at home were really terrible. I've talked to a couple of doctors about amputation, but it brings in a lot of unknowns. Would I be in less pain? Would the quality of my life improve?" This winter, he adds, the pain has eased slightly—"so those fears haven't been on my mind so much lately."
The sting of disappointment is harder to dismiss. Press coverage in 2001 of Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc. tended to skirt the fact that his Tour ambitions were neither a publicity stunt nor a political contrivance. "It wore on me," he says. "I was getting lots of attention, but I wasn't achieving my goals as a player." Now Martin gets very little attention—unless you count the high school and junior college golfers who write to him, hoping he'll see scholarship potential in their four-handicap games. "Deep down, I believed I could get it done, but I didn't," he says. "That burns me a little." He launches a wadded envelope toward the corner and makes a face when it falls between the wastebasket and the wall. "My athletic ability," he says drily, "has waned."
Schmidt's athletic ability, meanwhile, has become irrelevant. The poker pro lives with Nicole, his grad-student wife of two years, in a four-bedroom house on a leafy cul-de-sac near the Nike campus in suburban Portland. The walls of his home office—his friends call it the War Room—are covered with classic golf photos. Golf books fill the bookcase. It is only when Schmidt puts on his sunglasses and starts tiling virtual poker tables on his 40-inch and 28-inch monitors that the true nature of his work is revealed.
"The first thing people ask," Nicole says, "is, 'How much does he make?'"
It's a rude question but one that Dusty feels compelled to answer because it goes to his credibility as an equity partner and online coach for stoxpoker.com, a poker training site. "My baseline is a hundred grand a month," he says, making his cursor dance across the screen like an angry blackfly. "I'll go a hundred thousand hands without making money, but I've never had a losing month." Sensing skepticism, he adds, "A hundred thousand hands, that's three years for a live poker player. That's why they tend to bottom out and die. But it's less than a month for an online player." His eyes fix on a particular table for a moment; then he clicks his mouse. " Doyle Brunson is like the Babe Ruth of poker"—he clicks again—"and I figure I played more hands in my first year than he played in 35 years."
Asked who are the better poker players, Schmidt votes for his pixel-popping brethren. "The best online players tend to be MIT math majors or securities traders who figure out how to beat the game," he says. "We're technically perfect, like golfers with perfect swings." The live players are "more about the flow of the game, reading people. They play more by feel." Reminded that feel has propelled more golfers to the Hall of Fame than technique has, Schmidt nods in agreement. "I'm not saying we're that much better. But I get 1,200 hands an hour, while a live player only gets 25 or 30. So I'm not picking on those guys when I say the learning curve is steeper." He shrugs. "It's a different kind of poker."
("Did Dusty tell you he doesn't even own a deck of cards?" asks Tendler. "He doesn't own a deck of cards!")
The word mania comes to mind, but Schmidt's demeanor is as bland as his wardrobe. "I tell him to wear gold chains and put his hat on sideways," says Martin, "but he ignores me." Ask Schmidt how he got his start in golf, however, and a pattern emerges.
"When I was about eight, I told my mom and dad that I wanted to do something great in life," he recalls. "I said, 'What do you think I should get into? Maybe sports?'" His parents, who own a company that distributes nonfood items to grocery stores, played golf, and Dusty was undoubtedly moved by the example of his father, George, who competed on the national long-drive circuit. "I decided golf was my best bet," Dusty says, "because I could work alone. Nobody was going to outwork me." The Schmidts lived near the Big Tee Golf Course in La Mirada, Calif., so Dusty's indulgent dad dropped him off at the driving range one morning, handing him a hundred-dollar bill ("because that's what he had in his wallet"). Dusty bought bucket after bucket and hit range balls until 10 that night. "When my dad came to pick me up," Dusty says, "I only had $8 left."