said, searching for a tactful response, "you can't have won all those big
titles on luck alone."
"Quite right," he said. "I'm very proud of my three British Amateur
championships. The first one, in particular--at Sandwich in 1900--helped erase
the memory of my humiliating failure at Hoylake in 1898."
I took the bait.
"What happened at Hoylake?"
trooped out from Liverpool in hordes to watch that one. I had won the Open at
Hoylake the year before, and it was estimated that I would be unbeatable on my
home course. But in the fourth match, against my old rival Freddie Tait, I
began to tire of all the people telling me to be sure and buck up, and I
rewarded them with one of the biggest walkovers ever seen on a golf course. Six
holes in arrears with only five to play, I was free to wend my sorrowful way
back to the clubhouse. I couldn't look anybody in the face."
I noticed, contradicted his narrative; when he spoke of "a sorrow akin to
shame," his eyes sparkled. "You sound like Johnny Miller," I said.
"He shot a final-round 63 at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open. Years later
he told me he had only one swing thought on the back nine: Don't shank
Hilton pumped his
head in agreement. "Miller understands the game," he said. "To
succeed in golf you must overcome the two grave dangers that cause you to lose
concentration, which are reflection and anticipation. My brain was always
working way ahead, puzzling over problems that might never present themselves.
I called it 'the curse of the unduly anticipatory brain.'" He leaned
forward. "Not to digress, but it amuses me to read the output of your
so-called sports psychologists. There's not a line in their books that I hadn't
written by 1910." He raised his right hand above his head and pointed his
forefinger skyward. "'The man who is successful in golf is the man who can
maintain an equability and equanimity of temperament from beginning to end, the
individual who is not unduly elated by success or downcast by
He lowered his arm
and shrugged. "Unfortunately, I was not that man. I was extremely
susceptible to the effects of outside influences. Moreover, I was cursed with
golfers, in your estimation, have possessed the desired qualities of
temperament?" I asked.
Nicklaus," he said without hesitation. " Tiger Woods. John
Ball?" The minute I uttered the name I regretted it.