Legends of sport humbled by golf

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Donovan Bailey isn't used to being lousy.

Neither is David Pelletier.

When you're an Olympic gold medallist and all-around great athlete, sports are supposed to come easy.

But put a golf club in their hands and look out.

Literally. Look out! Because you don't know where the ball is going. And often, neither do they.

On skates and on the track, the Canadian Olympic heroes are graceful, powerful and the best in the world. On a tee box, or around the greens, they, like so many other elite athletes who take up golf, become feeble nerds who can't do anything right.

HUMBLING AND FRUSTRATING ENDEAVOUR

"It's very humbling and very frustrating,'' admits Pelletier, playing in the Grant Fuhr Celebrity Classic pro-am yesterday at Blackhawk. "You're the best you can be in your discipline, so you set your sights high and expect it to be that way in golf. But it's not. I'm a long way from that.''

He's in the low 90s, usually, which is fine for beer-gutted weekend warriors, but rather demoralizing when you're used to being a world champion.

Ask the former fastest man on the planet.

"I'm terrible,'' says Bailey, ducking out of the rain in the Blackhawk clubhouse hallway. "One of the good things is there's always signs of brilliance. I'll damn near drive a par four, and then double bogey it.

"But it's definitely something I'm going to pursue when I have more time.''

It's something they all vow - one day they'll master this stupid, beautiful game.

"I was dominant in a sport for many, many years, but golf is one of those things you can't dominate,'' said Bailey, who won his gold medal in Atlanta 10 years ago yesterday. "People keep trying. I do, and I enjoy the challenge.''

Facing those challenges in the public eye can be a new experience in humility, though. Struggling in front of your fans, whether it's a charity event, pro-am or everybody in the clubhouse watching you on the first tee, isn't easy.

"You're always thinking that people expect you to be a good player,'' said Pelletier. "That might not be the case, they might not think that, but that's what you think as an athlete.''

Former Oilers defenceman Sean Brown has excelled at every sport he's ever played. He can't believe how difficult it is to make a tiny, stationary ball go where he wants it to.

"It can be frustrating because you go out there and expect to be good, and you're not,'' said Brown, who broke 90 yesterday.

"I love it, but I don't play enough now that I have a son. This was only my third time out this year. I don't golf enough to get better, so it can be frustrating.''

For Brown, dealing with those frustrations was easy on the ice; he was vicious in front of the net and a great pound-for-pound fighter. But there's nobody to punch in a sand trap.

"That's why maybe I shouldn't play,'' he grinned. "I can't have that aggressive mentality. I shouldn't take it as seriously as I do. If I'm playing well I'll joke around and laugh. If I'm playing bad I hate everyone and everything.''

GOLF ALL ABOUT THE MENTAL GAME

All of them understand that being a good golfer begins above the shoulders.

"The mental game is what separates those guys (PGA players) from being good and great, and my mental game has never been where it should be at,'' laughed Brown.

"Anything where I have to use my brain is not good for me. That's why I struggle.

"There's nothing better, though, than when you hit a good drive or a good shot.

"You almost feel like Tiger for a split second.''

And that's what keeps them - what keeps all of us - coming back.

"It's a love-hate relationship,'' said former Major League slugger Mickey Tettleton, who could knock the cover off a baseball in his sleep, but still, even as a scratch golfer, looks lost on the course sometimes.

"Some days it's there and some days it's not. It's not something you can play once or twice a month and expect to do well. You have to stay on top of it.

"It's fun to try and figure it out, though. It's a challenge every day.''


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