MY SHOT: LANCE ARM­STRONG

On play­ing 250 times a year and con­trast­ing the Wild West of cy­cling to the hon­our code in golf.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 2/ 15 - With Guy Yo­com

GOOD GOLFERS shut out dis­trac­tions and stay in the mo­ment. Men­tally, I can’t do those things. I’m check­ing my phone not just be­tween shots but be­tween prac­tice swings. My teacher, Chuck Cook, says he hasn’t seen ADD as bad as mine since he worked with Payne Ste­wart. That would be a com­pli­ment, ex­cept I don’t play like Payne Ste­wart. When I have a shot that mat­ters – say, one for $500 in one of the reg­u­lar games I play in – I almost shut down. It’s not an easy game for me. LAST YEAR I played 250 rounds. I’ll get there again this year. When I’m at my other home, in Aspen, I’m with a group of about 20 old cur­mud­geons and burnouts – clas­sic Aspen guys. Here in Austin, I play with the same three or four guys at Bar­ton Creek, Austin Coun­try Club, The Univer­sity of Texas Golf Club and a few other places. The Austin guys love ac­tion. It gets out of hand. Once you get used to play­ing for big money, a $10 nas­sau seems bor­ing, and play­ing for noth­ing seems point­less. What­ever you’re play­ing for, it’s got to be enough that it hurts a lit­tle when you lose. MY HAND­I­CAP IS 10, and it’s taken me se­ri­ous ef­fort to get there. I have is­sues. I have ter­ri­ble flex­i­bil­ity. My hand­eye co­or­di­na­tion stinks. My range of mo­tion in my up­per and lower body is aw­ful. I can cy­cle, run or swim for as long and far as you want me to go, but those are straigh­ta­head sports. When you start ask­ing me to ro­tate, move side to side or in­cor­po­rate com­pli­cated move­ments, I’m done. I’m less tal­ented at golf than the guy next door. NANEA GOLF CLUB. Great course, the Big Is­land of Hawaii, Jan­uary 2, 2014. I rush to the first tee late, no warm-up. Just try­ing to make con­tact, I start play­ing out of my mind. The guys are talk­ing smack. “The melt­down is im­mi­nent,” that kind of stuff. After 10 holes, I’m even par, and they get quiet, like when a pitcher has a no-hit­ter go­ing. I end up shoot­ing 74, which is a lit­tle un­real be­cause Nanea is a tough par 73. I’d never bro­ken 80 be­fore. The next day I sit around plot­ting the ad­just­ments I need to make to break 70 at Kukio the fol­low­ing day. I shoot 98. Driv­ing home, I’m say­ing out loud, over and over, “I hate this eff­ing game!” I HAVEN’T BRO­KEN 80 SINCE. That day at Nanea, I was in the zone. I’d felt it be­fore in cy­cling, many times. That ef­fort­less power, the sense you can do noth­ing wrong. For six or seven years, I got on the bike know­ing I was go­ing to win. It was only a mat­ter of go­ing out and im­ple­ment­ing the strat­egy. But then it got hard. When I tried to come back in 2004, it was swimming up­stream. I couldn’t find the zone again. And just like in golf, when you fall out of the zone, it’s

im­pos­si­ble to get back in it. TALK­ING SMACK is part of the game, isn’t it? When a guy I have a bet with smokes one down the mid­dle and has a per­fect an­gle into the green, then hits his ap­proach into a bunker, I’ll si­dle up close to him and say, “That was a great drive.” What can be more an­noy­ing?

WHEN YOU LOSE A MINUTE

in a stage at the Tour de France, you’ve got to find a way to get that minute back. It’s like los­ing shots in golf: You’ve got to find a way to follow the bo­gey with a birdie. In cy­cling I knew what I had to do to get that minute back. I didn’t al­ways do it, but I’m a pro, and at least I knew how. In golf, when I make a dou­ble bo­gey, it feels like shots lost for­ever. Fol­low­ing up with a birdie is the hard­est thing in the world. GOLFERS CHOKE for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Some peo­ple choke for money. Some choke when they’re go­ing for their per­sonal best, oth­ers when they have to put up a num­ber. My chok­ing point is the first-hole tee shot with peo­ple watch­ing. I can han­dle some junky scram­ble, but at a real tour­na­ment where there’s no place to hide, that must be terrifying. All those eyes on you – how do the pros do it?

I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced that kind of pres­sure yet, though there were a few peo­ple watch­ing when I played in the mem­ber-guest at LA Coun­try Club last year. There were just enough peo­ple there to make me know it’d be tough if I get on a stage like the AT&T Pro-Am. I LOVE THE SCENE at LA North. Long pants, no cell­phones, walk­ing. It’s pure golf, but if you could choose one vi­sion of golf for the fu­ture, I don’t think that su­per-con­ser­va­tive ver­sion is the an­swer any more than 15-inch (381mm) holes are on the other side of the equa­tion. It’s some­where in the mid­dle. In my ver­sion of golf heaven, shoes are re­quired, but not col­lared shirts. Shirt­tails don’t need to be tucked in, ei­ther. And there would be mu­sic. THE MU­SIC THING IS TRICKY. The trou­ble is, not ev­ery­one in a four­some loves the same thing, and there’s a spe­cial place in hell for mu­sic bul­lies who think their stuff is cooler than ev­ery­one else’s. The best thing to do is take a poll among your four­some, but if it’s left up to you, try Van Mor­ri­son Ra­dio on the Pan­dora app. It’s an in­cred­i­ble stream of mu­sic that 90 per­cent of peo­ple love. Smooth tunes from Otis Red­ding, James Tay­lor, Paul Si­mon, Jack­son Browne, Ray Charles, Bob Mar­ley and, of course, Van Mor­ri­son. Play it low but au­di­ble ex­cept near greens and tees, where you mute it. And if any­body hints they don’t care for mu­sic, shut it off com­pletely. THERE’S CHOK­ING in ev­ery­thing. Cy­cling wouldn’t seem like a sport where peo­ple would swal­low the ap­ple, be­cause like I said, it’s a straight-ahead sport. But when a guy doesn’t eat the right thing at the right time – cy­clists have to eat while they ride – that’s chok­ing. Not drink­ing cor­rectly on a warm day or mak­ing a small tac­ti­cal mis­take – any­thing in any walk of life where you lose fo­cus – to me, that’s chok­ing. SO MANY BIKE RACES, there were easy routes. In golf, there’s no such thing as an easy course, at least for me. Par 3s are es­pe­cially bru­tal; that’s where I make most of my dou­ble bo­geys. I’ve never un­der­stood why they’re the high­est-hand­i­cap holes on the score­card. The fourth hole at Roar­ing Fork Club, a great course near Aspen, has a par 3 over 200 yards that is the No 5 hand­i­cap hole. When I play with real good play­ers and come to that hole, it’s al­ways a re­lief to get a shot, be­cause I need it. TOUGH­EST SHOT IN GOLF FOR ME: any­thing around the green from a tight lie where I’m forced to use my wedge. I’ll de­cel. I’ll chunk it, blade it or hit it too low so it can’t hold the green. I can be a few yards off the green in two and wind up mak­ing triple bo­gey. It’s that bad. I DON’T PRAC­TICE. I hate hit­ting balls. It drives Chuck Cook crazy, but like I told him, prac­tice is like rid­ing a sta­tion­ary bike, which I hate. When it’s 75 de­grees out­side, no wind and the sun is shin­ing, I’m go­ing to get out on the road. And I do still ride my bike. Isn’t do­ing the real thing al­ways bet­ter? NO­BODY LOOKS BET­TER than 25-year-old Rickie Fowler. No­body looks worse than a 45-year-old guy who dresses like Rickie Fowler. If you’ve got gray hair and a burger belly, leave the flat­brim hat and skin-hug­ging shirts to Rickie. I MET TIGER WOODS at the ESPYs a long time ago, got to know him over the years. What in­ter­ests me about Tiger is how he sort of screwed him­self, not by his per­sonal trou­bles but be­cause of how in­sanely good he was. He cre­ated the tem­plate that ev­ery great player has copied for the last 15 years. He showed Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and so many oth­ers ex­actly how to train, how to be fo­cused and ded­i­cated. He made them all bet­ter com­peti­tors. If Tiger hadn’t raised the bar so high when he was in his prime, the back side of his ca­reer might have been eas­ier. I’d love to see him get back to where he was, but I won­der if that would be good enough for him to steam­roll like he used to.

DID THE PUN­ISH­MENT for what Tiger did ex­ceed the crime? As some­one with some ex­pe­ri­ence along those lines, I’d say it did. What hap­pened was, the me­dia changed. Some­where be­tween the end of Michael Jor­dan’s ca­reer in 2003 and Tiger’s scan­dal in 2009, the me­dia stopped be­ing com­pli­ant to ath­letes and celebri­ties. They no longer pro­tected them, be­cause they no longer needed them. In the dig­i­tal world, all that mat­ters is the scoop. The main­stream me­dia is right there with the TMZs and Dead­spins, be­cause they can’t af­ford to be beaten. The up­shot is that there are no more sa­cred cows out there, and a lot more harsh­ness. If John Kennedy and Frank Si­na­tra were alive and con­duct­ing their lives the way they did in their primes, they’d be de­voured. I’M PLAY­ING AU­GUSTA Na­tional for the first time. I’ve been in­vited by the for­mer pres­i­dent of Nike, Charlie Den­son. Lanny Wad­kins is com­ing, too. Charlie said, “You want to join me at Au­gusta?” and I an­swered, “Does the pope wear red slip­pers?” Pine Val­ley this month, Au­gusta Na­tional next month. How am I do­ing? ON THE OTHER HAND, I’m the one guy in a mil­lion who has no spe­cial de­sire to see the Masters in per­son. Watch­ing on TV, yes; spec­tat­ing at the tour­na­ment, no. I’m more a doer than a watcher. GOLF HAS its hal­lowed grounds. Au­gusta Na­tional, Pine Val­ley, LACC, Riviera, Olympic, Bal­lyneal and Nanea are almost like holy places, and I’ve been blessed not to have just seen them, but played them. Cy­cling has its hal­lowed grounds, too. Mont Ven­toux, Alpe d’Huez, Col du Tour­malet and Luz Ar­di­den are like mon­u­ments. But at this stage in my life I’d much rather be tee­ing it up at Au­gusta Na­tional than rid­ing Mont Ven­toux. I’LL RE­FER to the Bri­tish Open on Twit­ter (3.85 mil­lion fol­low­ers @lancearm­strong), and im­me­di­ately I’m lit up by a mil­lion Brits telling me that it’s just “The Open.” Man, are they uptight about that. THE EL­E­MENTS don’t faze me. I’ll play in any­thing. In Aspen, it was snow­ing. But I’m jonesing to play. I check the weather app and see that in Grand Junc­tion, just a 2½hour drive away, it’s cold but there’s no snow. I talk a few bud­dies into driv­ing down there with me to play. Bad call. We get down there, and it’s snow­ing. It was a nice drive down, but the drive back was tough. My friends cussed me the whole way. GOLF IS DIF­FER­ENT from the cul­ture of cy­cling when I was com­pet­ing, and that’s putting it mildly. Cy­cling, it was the Wild West. No­body con­sid­ered dop­ing cheat­ing. It was an arms race where ab- solutely any­thing went, and it was ev­ery man for him­self. You might con­sider me the last guy to have any­thing to say about cheat­ing, but golf is dif­fer­ent. I love ad­her­ing to a code of hon­our that we in cy­cling didn’t have. If I moved my ball in the rough and got caught, I wouldn’t just re­gret it, I’d be heartbroken for­ever. When I think about re­form in cy­cling, I think about golf. IF A PRO GOLFER WERE DOP­ING, I doubt I’d be able to tell just by look­ing. An­abolic steroids – the stuff that builds mus­cle size, speed and strength – were not in our world. The sub­stances we used weren’t for build­ing mus­cle size, they were to in­crease en­durance and re­cov­ery. So I hon­estly don’t know. THE UP­SHOT OF SUR­VIV­ING can­cer is that the Livestrong Foun­da­tion, which I’m no longer part of, raised $500 mil­lion. The cor­po­ra­tions be­hind it and the in­di­vid­u­als who do­nated ob­vi­ously were huge in mak­ing it go, but I’m proud to no end of what I started. It’s re­mark­able that one guy in a non-main­stream sport like cy­cling was able to in­spire peo­ple and cre­ate that level of aware­ness. Never un­der­es­ti­mate the power of one per­son. The PGA Tour has raised in the neigh­bour­hood of $2 bil­lion for char­ity in its his­tory. It’s an awe­some thing, but one way it could do more is to put the power of its su­per­stars to work bet­ter. Tiger Woods and oth­ers have their own causes, and what they do is fan­tas­tic. But if the tour got them to fo­cus their in­flu­ence on char­i­ties the PGA Tour al­ready has by putting their names be­hind them, they’d raise even more money. CHRIS FROOME, the Bri­tish cy­clist who won the Tour de France in 2013, does ev­ery­thing wrong. He’s got a choppy pedal stroke. His arms are stick­ing out, his head is down, and he’s all over the bike. He’s the Jim Furyk of cy­cling, un­con­ven- tional in ev­ery way. Ex­cept that it works. And the rea­son it works is su­pe­rior ca­dence. His tempo is amaz­ing. It’s paced in a way that gives his un­usual me­chan­ics time to fall to­gether. The golf swing can be the same way. WHEN MY HEAD hits the pil­low tonight, my last thought is, Will to­mor­row be the day I fi­nally break 80 again? THE LAST THREE HOLES are what mat­ter. If you fin­ish strong, it will heal almost any bet, save nearly any round, make you leave the course with a smile. Take pride in how you get to the fin­ish line. Let your ego come out. Re­mem­ber, stars close the show.

‘PINE VAL­LEY THIS MONTH, AU­GUSTA NA­TIONAL NEXT MONTH. HOW AM I DO­ING?’

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