The Way of an Eagle
by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
It's still in the early stages, but the golf world is witnessing one of the great all-time comeback stories in Don Pooley. And it couldn't happen to a nicer, more respected guy.
Pooley returned to the PGA Tour in late 1994 after four years of surgery and recuperation--including neck disc surgery in October 1993--to finish a strong third in the Texas Open. By then, even the other golfers were cheering Pooley's charge.
Interestingly enough, despite his many debilitating ailments, the tall, distinguished Pooley has managed to retain his playing privileges throughout most of the 1990s. And while his numbers in recent years haven't matched the $268,274 he earned in 1986 or the $450,005 he took home in 1987, he's still played some pretty fair golf along the way.
Despite winning the 1980 B.C. Open and the 1987 Memorial Tournament, Pooley is probably best known for his dramatic million-dollar hole in one at the 1987 Bay Hill Classic--although many people don't know that Arnold Palmer's Children's Hospital also received $500,000 because of the once-in-a-lifetime shot.
As a young boy, my parents took me to church, but I didn't like it at all. When I was about to be confirmed in the church, I told them I wasn't going to get up there and recite all of these things I hadn't memorized. I wasn't sure I believed them anyway, but I knew I hadn't memorized them and I sure wasn't going to embarrass myself. The night before they let me off the hook and I didn't have to do it. After that, I didn't go back to church very much. I played sports on Sunday and things like that.
In high school there was a group called Young Life that not only talked about spiritual things, but had fun, too. That had never been my experience before in a church setting! So during my sophomore year I went to a Young Life retreat up in the mountains of southern California because I knew I'd have a good time. On Sunday they had a church service. I said, "I'm not going to that--I didn't come up here for a church service!" The people I came with said, "Well, this is the whole reason for the trip!" I laughed and said, "Yeah, right."
But I went anyway and heard the gospel message. I accepted Jesus Christ into my life that morning. That was a long time ago.
My relationship with Christ has progressed over the years. One of the key turning points for me was in 1976. I had graduated from college, had a girlfriend I was about to marry, had just gotten my Tour card, and everything was as good as it could be--or so I thought.
But I played badly the entire year of 1976 and ended up losing my card. At the end of that year, I prayed that the Lord's will would be done, be it in golf or whatever else. I had lost my card, and I didn't know what I was going to do at that point.
So my wife, Margaret, and I prayed about it, and we decided that I would go back through Qualifying School one more time. That way we would know if golf was in God's plan for my life or not.
Q school that year was in Brownsville, Texas, and it was miserably cold. We had miserable weather. It was sleeting and snowing and raining, and the wind was blowing thirty miles per hour. They were the toughest conditions I've ever played in. And here it was the biggest tournament of my life. A career or no career in golf was on the line.
I got off to a good start in the tournament and was the low round on the first day. But as the weather got worse, my scores got higher. Going into the last round, I looked at the board and it looked like I needed a 73 to qualify. I was tied for the last qualifying spot.
At the last hole I needed a fifteen-footer for a birdie and that 73. The putt rolled up to the hole, but stopped on the lip. I tapped it in for a 74, then I went to check the board. It looked like I wasn't going to make it.
We were staying in a room close to the golf course, so Margaret and I went back to the room, got down on our knees, and thanked God for the tournament anyway, even though it looked like golf wasn't going to be part of my life. And we thanked God that He did have a plan. We said that we were going to wait to see what that plan was going to be.
I went back to the scoreboard to check it for the last time--and somehow I'd qualified for the last spot! We were excited--and surprised. We got back out on tour, and 1995 was my twentieth year out here.
Today nobody's more surprised than me because I was never a great junior player, I was never a great college player, and I never had a lot of success growing up, but I've had a lot of success on the Tour. I've won tournaments and won a lot of money, made a million-dollar hole in one, and even won the Vardon Trophy for the low scoring average of the year.
The last few years have been a struggle, but He's there regardless of how well I play. That's a given. My relationship with Christ is a given.
During the last few years, I've had back problems. I didn't play at all in 1994 until October--the previous three years I played about half the time because of my back. I had two back surgeries in 1993 and '94.
It was difficult, but a couple of weeks after coming back in 1994, I finished third in the Texas Open in San Antonio. So it doesn't look like it is over yet.
So many players mentioned you in connection with their conversion experience. Is that something you just fell into, or is it something you've worked towards?
I would think it is all designed by the Lord. This was none of my doing here.
Morris Hatalsky and I first met when we were about thirteen years old. He grew up in San Diego, and I grew up in Riverside, California. We played together in a junior tournament in Los Angeles, and we happened to stay at the same member's house. So I met Morris that day after the first round. He was a superstar junior and I was a nothing junior. He asked what I shot that day and I think I had a 92. I asked what he shot and he said 74. And I went, "74!" I never shot a 74 in my life! And here he shoots one in this big tournament. He said, "92?" Then he turned, left and didn't talk to me again!
So I didn't like Morris Hatalsky very much. We played many more tournaments together and I didn't like him any better. I just didn't like his attitude.
Finally one day, five young American golfers were selected to go on a South African tour. Morris and I were two of them, and I immediately thought, Oh great! I'm spending two months with Morris Hatalsky. Now that's going to be a lot of fun. But we became best friends on that trip and have been best friends ever since.
We had a lot of discussion once we both got on the Tour, even though Morris is from a Jewish background. I love talking about my faith to someone who wants to hear about it. I don't go pushing myself on anybody, but I'm always willing to discuss spiritual things.
I think your walk speaks loudly, and that's my goal every day when I'm out on the Tour: to walk the talk and not bring Christ down in the process--like it is so easy to do. That's one of my goals.
The happiest I've ever been in a tournament was when I finished fourth in 1977 at the Quad Cities Open. I won enough money to keep my card for the next year for the first time. I was driving the Tour at that time, and Margaret and I had about an eight-hour drive through Pennsylvania afterwards, and we were just rejoicing the whole way across. It was just the biggest thrill of my life.
Another great memory was winning my first tournament, the B.C. Open in 1980. It was a huge thrill. I played with Brad Bryant and Lee Trevino in the last round.
Seven years later, winning the Memorial Tournament was another big event for me.
And I remember everything about that million-dollar hole-in-one miracle in 1987 at the Bay Hill Classic. Donnie Hammond, Andy North and I were playing and I hit last. I was joking with them on the way to the tee saying, "This is our big chance to make a million dollars. Ha ha."
The hole was 193 yards away, and I hit a four iron. There was a little crosswind, so I tried to cut it in, an d it went perfect, right on the pin. It just kind of held the line all the way down. All the while, I'm thinking, This is going to be fun to see how close it gets. You never think it's going to go in.
Then, wham, it hit the flag stick two feet up and knocked it crazy, and everybody was screaming, I couldn't see a thing after the ball hit the stick because it dropped right in. I never saw the ball.
The key in any short-game shot is not breaking down with your left wrist. The left wrist--for a right-handed player--is the straight position, and there can be some break going back, but going through it must be firm. No breaking of the wrist going through. Whether you're chipping the ball or putting the ball, you've got to keep that left wrist firm.
You just swing the club. It's an arm swing. Focus on making your arms swing past the ball, keeping your hands in front of the club.
In the beginning, I trained myself to do that, but now it comes naturally. But with putting, it is so easy to have just a little bit of a break. You get focused on the putter head a little bit and the putter head goes past your hands. You've got to keep your hands ahead of the putter head. That keeps you from breaking down.
There are actually a couple of keys in putting. Another is that you want to keep your grip pressure constant in the stroke. You've got to maintain the same grip pressure. A lot of people tighten their grip as they stroke, and it's easy to lose your feel that way.
So maintain your grip pressure while you stroke, and other than that, it's just lining it up and stroking it down the line.
Don't make it too complicated.
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