Find the winning edge

Mike Weir’s recent win at the American Express Championship in Spain and Lorie Kane’s win a couple of weeks ago in Japan can teach us a lot.I’m not talking about swinging the club, but about dealing with the breaks of the game. Both Weir and Kane went through their trials before breaking through. And break through they have.

Kane first. She finished second nine times before winning earlier this season on the LPGA Tour. Now she’s won three times in her last nine tournaments. She’s the hottest player on the LPGA Tour as it draws to a close. But for a time there many people doubted her. They said she was too nice, that she smiled too much on the course, that she didn’t have that mythical and mystical fire in her belly.

Hogwash and balderdash. Kane had been mentally strong for a long time and finishing second and losing in playoffs only hardened her resolve. She said often that golfers are entertainers, so why shouldn’t she smile. She also said that while she was smiling she was also hurting inside when things didn’t go her way. Yes sir, a smile and a sick feeling can go together. But a smile never goes with feeling sorry for oneself. And Kane never felt sorry f herself.

Winning is an attitude

Then she won her first tournament late last summer, in St. Louis. And she then won again, and a third time in Japan. Kane’s goal had been to adopt a winning attitude, to truly believe in herself. Winning is an attitude, the New York Rangers player Mark Messier had told her. She took on that attitude and started to win.

Weir also had a tip from a hockey player, a guy named Wayne Gretzky. That happened after Weir, having been tied with Tiger Woods for the lead after three rounds of the 1999 PGA Championship, a major, shot 80 the last round. He finished 10th and many people assumed he was finished, that he just didn’t have it.

That day I stood near Weir after he walked off the final green. He said he had tried his best on every shot and so he could look himself in the mirror and feel proud. “I didn’t give up,” he said. “I never do.” You could see the character in the man. It was exploding through his eyes and his words. His resolve to learn from the experience was unmistakable.

Gretzky helped his friend. He told Weir that he didn’t win a Stanley Cup the first time his team was in the finals. In fact his team, the Edmonton Oilers, was crushed in the series. But Gretzky knew his time would come. And of course it did.

Three weeks after the PGA Championship and Gretzky’s advice, Weir won the Air Canada Championship. He was getting stronger and stronger mentally. That’s been one of his top goals. As he said after winning in Spain against a world-class field that included Woods, “my goal is to become very, very tough mentally.”

To that end Weir asks a lot of himself. He works out regularly. He works with a sports psychologist and a swing coach. But the most important factor, I think, is that he had made a decision, as did Kane. That decision is a simple one and it’s one that self-help books promote all the time. The message is one that Eleanor Roosevelt lived by: do your best and then say the hell with it. Or to put it another way, don’t hold back. You only live once. Why not have some goals?

Golfers as role models

We can learn from these simple ideas, especially when they are made flesh by golfers we follow. I’ve seen Kane fight for herself from the time nearly a decade ago when the Canadian Ladies Golf Association left her off a national team that would play in the World Amateur championships in Vancouver. Kane believed she had qualified on points (the CLGA changed its selection policy) and that she deserved a place on the team. She got a court order that put her back on the team. Kane will say to this day that she has never been as nervous as when she hit her opening tee shot in that World Amateur. She was showing heart and self-belief. Guts. That’s what she had.

Ditto for Weir. He had a six-foot putt on the 18th green at the Carnoustie links in Scotland to make the halfway cut in the 1999 British Open. Weir backed off the putt twice before settling in and rolling it into the middle of the hole. I was there and was impressed with his presence of mind.

“I wasn’t going to hit that putt until I was ready,” Weir said.

He doesn’t do anything until he is ready. Nor does Kane. They have learned who they are and how good they can be. Both golfers are getting the big money now but they aren’t going for the big money — it’s a byproduct. What they are doing is trying to get the best out of themselves.

That’s a hell of a good idea, don’t you agree? And following it would allow us to live in a way that we could say of ourselves: “I tried my best. I have no regrets.” I know I haven’t tried my best, in golf and in some other areas. Have you?