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The PGA's Players with Pizzazz

Some professional golfers are not cookie-cutter people with robot-like personalities, and they bring those sometimes off-the-wall qualities to every tournament.
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Armand Assante, Mar/Apr 2008

(continued from page 1)

Because cotton and polyester irritate the skin of his legs, Weekley wears rain pants frequently, including those in a camouflage pattern. One of his principal endorsements is Mossy Oak, a company that produces camouflage clothing for hunters. He can flat-out play golf, but Weekley would just as soon be swaddled in his "camo," taking a bead on a big buck or a flight of ducks. "That's just the way I am," says Weekley. "Don't get me wrong. Playing golf for a lot of money isn't a bad thing. It can be fun. But by the time I'm 44, 45, I hope I've reached that $8 million 'cause then I can be doing what I love for the rest of my life."

Love isn't exactly how you would describe Woody Austin's relationship with golf. His feelings are often closer to hate and his opinion of himself can swing with every swing he takes. He describes himself as one of game's best ball strikers, one of the game's most mediocre putters and one the game's biggest head cases.

"The most important part of being out here is mental," says the 44-year-old Austin. "Everybody out here can play, but it's who has the ability to show it under the gun. That's the intangible part that the greats have more than the others. Physically, I'm as good as anybody. Mentally, I'm at the bottom of the barrel."

Austin remembers having a discussion with noted sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella at a tournament not long ago. "He asked me a bunch of questions, then said, 'Yup, you are the kind of person whose brain won't shut off.' Mine won't shut off when I'm sleeping, it doesn't shut off when I play golf."

And therein lies for the rub for Austin, whose career was marked by such early struggles and consternation that he once took a job as a bank teller in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. "You know, Tiger gets over a shot and says 'I can hit it,'" says Austin. "I get over a shot thinking I can hit it, but I'm also thinking about what's left, what's right, what happens if something goes wrong. My brain can't zone in and focus."

He was, however, able to find some focus in 2007, at least in the second half of the season. He won the third tournament of his career at Memphis, gave Woods a bit of a run before finishing second at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, and was instrumental in the U.S. team's win over the international team in the Presidents Cup, where partner Phil Mickelson gave him the nickname Aquaman after Austin fell into a pond after playing a shot from the edge of a hazard at Royal Montreal Golf Club. He can laugh about that moniker, but he really doesn't want to be known by it.

"Phil gave me that nickname," says Austin. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have it. I'd rather be remembered for birdieing the last three holes of that match to tie it. I'm a golfer and I'd rather be known for golf and not taking a splash. I don't want to be known by a fictitious name. I'll laugh and joke about it, but I don't want to be known as Aquaman. I want to be known as Woody."

He even got invited to his first off-season "funny money" event last fall, "The Shark Shootout," which he won with partner Mark Calcavecchia. Not bad for an aging player with a runaway brain. But Austin will never sugarcoat his achievements, never deny his fundamental flaw. "You can't fake confidence," he says. "You can fake it when you are talking. But when you are on the golf course under the gun, you can't fake that. That's why Nicklaus was so good, why Tiger is so good. The greats have real confidence. The rest of us just try to find some from time to time."

It takes a certain confidence to wear a belt buckle with a skull on it when you are playing PGA Tour golf. Payne Stewart's knickers were one thing, but a skull?

"I had a lot of people said they really liked it," says Rory Sabbatini, a 32-year-old South African. "Golf's a boring enough game just watching us walk around a golf course, so let's have some fun with it."

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