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Steve Christilaw; Mental component vital to success in sports

I dropped by The Creek at Qualchan Wednesday morning to watch the State Class 4A boys golf tournament tee off.

There are far worse ways to start a hump day morning. A bad day hanging around the pro shop at any golf course beats a good day doing just about anything else. Unless, of course, you have my golf game.

Seeing a group of impossibly young whippersnappers take their big, easy swings and launch long drives over the cliff and well past the sand traps on No. 1 is something I try not to watch. Thankfully I’ve long since put my club bag in the back part of the basement and left them there, otherwise I might have been tempted to take a running dive over said cliff.

They say a good golf swing starts with the way you address the ball.

To that end, I would always be polite. “Hello, ball,” I would say.

At least on the first hole.

By the eighth tee the address would be somewhat different.

“Where are you going to hide THIS time, you little &^%#@*?”

Someone who doubles as my only sibling once suggested I see a sports psychologist. I parried that what I really needed was to see an anger management specialist.

“The devoted golfer is an anguished soul who has learned a lot about putting just the way an avalanche victim has learned a lot about snow,” golf-writing legend Dan Jenkins wrote.

Instead, I found it was cheaper to just hang my clubs up and take the Jenkins approach to golf.

I enjoy watching high school golf.

Jenkins, my sports writing hero who died earlier this spring at 90, was so integral to the game that he once quipped “I don’t cover golf tournaments anymore – I preside over them.”

Standing on the first tee on a golf course, any golf course, is enough to send my mind back to one of Jenkins’ volumes on the sport – “The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate” or the best novel ever written on the subject, “Dead Solid Perfect.”

Mostly what comes to mind is the single best tip about covering sporting events I have ever read – from Jenkins, of course.

“The key to any good sports story is identifying the defining moment,” he wrote. “In football games or a boxing match, it’s usually pretty obvious. But in golf, sometimes it happens on Thursday. Usually it’s on Sunday, but guys who don’t know the game, they can miss it.”

What I have learned over the years is that defining moments come in all shapes and sizes.

I have seen a team’s fortunes change in a state championship football game when a youngster came off the bench to revitalize the running game turning into a guard/bulldozer hybrid.

To be sure, I have seen state champions won and lost by making or missing a shot at the buzzer.

But it’s more than that – and as Jenkins pointed out, it can be far more subtle than make-or-miss shots.

The closest I can come to describing it in the abstract is to refer you to the Spokane movie “Vision Quest.”

Louden Swain has achieved part of his goal of wrestling the toughest opponent he can find in the match of his life. But he’s trailing with seconds left.

In a time out, his coach asks him flatout if he’s done everything he set out to accomplish? The look in Matthew Modine’s eyes tells you everything you need to know.

I will refrain from spoiling the ending for you.

Lewis and Clark No. 1 girls tennis player Brooke Fager talked about that aspect of her game before leaving for the state Class 4A tennis tournament.

The most important part of finding success at this tournament, she said, is to be mentally tough.

It’s not about making shots. It’s more about how you react when you don’t make a shot. Or when you drop a game you thought you should make. Or swing and miss at a pitch right in the middle of your wheelhouse.

It’s about putting that out of your mind like it was never there in the first place.

Dwelling on failure in the middle of a game is the surest way to make sure have a good, long time to dwell on even more failure.

That will play out this weekend in venues all across the state on this final weekend of the high school sports year.

“The best thing I can tell you is this: If you play every point as hard as you can and you lose, you can walk away and not feel bad,” Fager said. “Just compete as hard as you can.”