The greatest golfers tend to forget past failures, because festering failures give birth to doubt, and doubt kills confidence.
Me, I enjoyed my failures. Instead of repressing them, I found the humor in them — which is one reason, among many, that I was not great.
Take the 10 I made on the 12th hole at the TPC Avenel as a rookie on national television (hilarious!). Or the 1-iron I thinned into the water in Atlanta in 1996 during a playoff with Paul Stankowski, as the camera zoomed in to capture the agony on my face (comic genius!). Though daggers to my ego at the time, these heartaches, and so many others, have left me in fits of laughter when rehashed at the urging of friends and the occasional bartender.
One misstep, however, is still too painful for even the darkest sadist to revel in, and I have a constant reminder of it hanging in a frame over my bed.
In 1999, as my family and friends know too well, I was tied for the lead after the first round of the Masters. Less known, even to my family and friends, is that as I strolled off the 7th green on Saturday, I was still in the hunt: just two shots behind the leader and eventual winner, José María Olazábal. That's when doubt's distant cousin, pride, overcame me.
Warming up that morning, I was in total command. Shots flew off my clubfaces like frozen ropes, while delicate pitches off impossibly tight lies spun, arched and stopped as if choreographed. As my starting time neared, however, I grew weary, because taking a perfect practice session to the course is one of golf's tallest orders.
I didn't expect José to stumble; I had been paired with him for the first two rounds, and I knew how beautifully he was playing. But my solid form early gave me confidence. I parred the first with a flushed drive and approach, then birdied the par-5 second after a ridiculous, zipping one-hop wedge led to a tap-in. Two more pars at 3 and 4 were followed by an iron struck so solidly at the 5th that I held my finish as if I'd been bronzed. Birdie. Pars at 6 and 7 kept me at 2-under on what was proving to be a difficult day for scoring. As I walked to the 8th tee, I spotted a scoreboard. José had bogeyed the 6th to slip to 2-over-par for his round. I was only two back...
And oozing with confidence. On the tee of the uphill par 5, as we waited for the group in front to clear, I felt like I owned my game, this course, this day. I was going to win the Masters. I've never been more full of myself, or more ready to make a fool of myself. Knowing two blistered shots would get me home, and that an eagle would tie me for the lead, I dug in and smoked a drive, leaving me just 250 yards into the green.
Then, with one tragic swing, disaster. My second shot darted left into the Georgia pines, leaving me stymied. After another swipe, I was still in jail. My fourth shot found an opening but not the green, coming up just short and left. From there, I chipped to five feet, holed the putt, and penciled in a card-wrecking double. From Masters champ to Masters chump in 550 yards.
Walking to the ninth tee, I chastised myself for letting my giddiness devour the patience that I knew was required to win the tournament. Which leads me back to the oil painting hanging over my bed: a breathtaking portrait of Augusta's 8th hole framed in Stradivarius wood. It is the only rendering of a golf hole in my home, and it serves to remind me not only of my wonderful experience at the only Masters I would play, but also that for one brief shining moment I owned this game — and was dumb enough to think so.