Mental mettle is magic

My wife didn’t want me to write about Tiger Woods. She said too many people had written columns about him after he captured the PGA Championship on Sunday, the 12th major win of his illustrious golf career. Everything that needed to be said had already been said and there was nothing I could write that

hadn’t already been written, she said.

So what?!?

I am as impressed as anyone and entitled to express my admiration for this young man and his noteworthy accomplishments.

I have watched and also played with and against many great athletes during my life. I grew up idolizing Willie Mays and cut school to watch him play and shake his hand. I competed against Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I played with Nate Thurmond, Robert Parrish and Moses Malone. I attended some of Joe Montana’s Hall of Fame performances on the gridiron. I watched Muhammad Ali fight Joe Frazier. I witnessed Michael Jordan grow from a skinny forward at North Carolina to the best two-guard ever to play basketball. I tuned in religiously to witness Lance Armstrong’s record-breaking Tour de France victories. All of these athletes were exceptionally talented in their respective sports — and yet Tiger still manages to set himself apart by his awe-inspiring accomplishments.

What impresses me most about Tiger is his mental toughness. The qualities he possesses are ones that I would like to instill in my young son. The ability to stay focused. The ability to block out distractions and deal with adversity. The use of intelligence as a strategic weapon, something Tiger is doing now better than ever. Humility, grace and honor in victory or defeat. Respect for his parents. An exemplary and relentless work ethic. Unyielding determination and dedication to his profession. I could go on and on.

Very seldom does an athlete come along who possesses exceptional physical skills and superior mental capabilities. Tiger has both and that is what makes him so great. I admire his pursuit of excellence. With the PGA title in hand, he was still upset with himself after he bogeyed 17 in the final round. This young man just doesn’t accept mediocrity.

Nobody knows how longit might take Tiger to reach Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career majors. I love watching Tiger play, so it doesn’t bother me that I may have to wait a while to see him best the Golden Bear. I genuinely hope that I will be around to witness such an historic achievement. I am more than willing to wait patiently because I, like Tiger, realize that it is more about the journey than the destination.

Former Warriors star Rick Barry is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. E-mail him at rbarry@examiner.com.

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