You see, we all think our athletes should be workaholics. Not ourselves ' we put in our eight hours and we feel perfectly justified in knocking off and going home. And why not? We have spouses to consider, we have children, we have outside hobbies ' maybe even time for a quick nine holes of golf.
I say this because Annika Sorenstam mentioned work ethic this week when she spoke with the media at the U.S. Womens Open. How does she do her job? Its far different from the way you and I discharge our duties.
Annika did everything required of her the first several years she was a pro. She played the tournaments, she practiced, she was very good.
But she wasnt the best. A woman named Karrie Webb was a little better. Annika would win her three tournaments a year, make a million and did everything expected of her.
She was as good as she possibly could get, given that she worked the equivalent of a 40-hour week. She didnt cheat herself ' she gave it eight hours a day, five days a week, and when she decided it was time to stop and do whatever else she had to do, she could put down her clubs knowing she had crammed into each minute some stringent work.
Except for one thing ' she wasnt going to beat Webb. To be No. 1, she would have to suck it up and go to work a sixth day, a seventh day, work that ninth or 10th hour.
I realize it's the best player out here (Webb) that I wanted to beat. And to do that, I had to step up, Sorenstam said simply. And she knew she wasnt going to do it by just putting in her 40.
Try to put that in your terms. Perhaps you sell insurance or shingle roofs. Maybe you are an accountant or a shoe salesman. You probably feel, as do I, that 40-hour work weeks are plenty sufficient. We have our spouses and our children and our occasional games of pinochle. We all snicker quietly over the one work-crazy nerd who takes work home in the evenings and who hangs around the office on weekends.
But Annika became that work-crazy nerd, determined to improve herself through hard work.
I had some good fundamentals, said Sorenstam, I was doing good, but it wasn't enough. And especially the way Karrie was playing - she was very, very solid and I knew I had to be better at everything.
She is exhibit 1-A of how you get to the top. Work, work, more work ' and when you think the work is all done, put in another hour.
I just looked at my game, the whole picture, she said, and figured what I need to practice and where my weakness is. And I think the biggest difference was that I decided to work out.
I went to look for a trainer, I figured I need to get stronger, maybe that will help me. I worked on my short game. I figured chipping and putting needed some help. And just spending a lot of time on those games. After a while I was starting to see some results.
Many people dont want to be so one-dimensional ' and lets face it, that is what Annika basically is. Oh, she dabbles around with cooking and spends a week or so once a year skiing, but basically it is golf, and nothing but golf. And when she thinks she has had enough golf ' she does a little more golf.
Maybe that is why she is just about burned out at 33. Golf has taken a heavy toll on her. And she has been extremely successful ' in less than five years, since the year 2000, she has won 38 times around the globe. She has knocked Webb off the top rung.
And ' she is seriously considering calling it quits in the near future.
Of course, you, I or the work-crazy nerd could never keep up this kind of pace. How long can Annika? Another year? Two years, maybe?
Well, that's a good question, she says. I've always said that as long as I love to practice and I feel motivated in the mornings to come out and play, I will continue to do so. This game has been so wonderful for me for so many years.
But I do have other interests I want to pursue, so right now I'm taking it a year at a time.
Maybe now you see why she could just quit at the age of 33 or 34. She has climbed the mountain and achieved No. 1. But it exacted an awesome price. And it would on you, too.
So dont be so judgmental when your favorite athlete does a pratfall now and then. That was because of an extra hour or two of practice that never happened. His wife wanted him to get a quart of milk, her husband wanted her to take a two-day vacation. Not everyone is so blinded by the task at hand that they put all they have into it. They spend a little time each day doing just they want to do.
Sorenstam cared enough ' was crazy enough, some would say ' to want to be the best and forego everything else to achieve it. And she got to the pinnacle. Now shes about ready to relax.
The difference in her and us is that we relax a little every day ' its called after-work hours. Annika says she is about ready for after-work. If she wants to have children, shell have children. If she wants to sleep late, shell turn over and snore. If she wants to jet off to Switzerland for a little winter vacation, shell just go.
And when she finally gets to enjoy that time, I bet she gets to be No. 1 in the leisure category, too. Life ' and golf ' owes her one.
Email your thoughts to George White