You see it in every sport. Dominance and struggle. it's what makes the media - and the world for that matter - go round and round. I guess because of the simple fact that streaks exist, you must ask yourself why do they occur. how do they continue? Well, I'm no psychiatrist but I do know that slumps are mostly, if not totally emotional. Confidence or a lack thereof, seem to be the main source of fuel from which this fire burns.
One of my best friends is an LPGA Tour player. Her name is Stephanie Sparks. We grew up playing some junior golf together and we both played team golf for Duke University. I have always had respect for her game. She was a three-time all-American at Duke. She also won a slue of amateur tournaments before she turned pro, including the North South, the Western and the Eastern. She was sure to be a star.
After finishing 11th on the Futures Tour money list last year, Stephanie grabbed the last available tour card in a playoff at the LPGA qualifying tournament and it looked as if her career was about to take off. Now, in a dramatic turn of events, Sparks makes a living out of missing cuts. I know it sounds harsh, but she only made one cut her entire rookie season this year. It's the world's worst streak, but her attitude is absolutely incredible. Steph believes in momentum and she believes in the law of averages. Eventually her success will come. She rests her faith almost completely in three words that Bob Rotella once said. wait with confidence.
But how do you do that after having tasted success so early on? How do you maintain your confidence when your game doesn't want to cooperate? Will it come back? How do you find it if it IS gone?
I know two players who have the answers to these questions. David Duval and Lorie Kane.
Duval is a man who knows a thing or two about maintaining confidence. How many times can you leave victory at the altar before you finally decide to tie the knot? It seemed like every week, this pedigreed, highly touted Georgia Tech alum was finishing second to somebody in his first few seasons on tour. 'Choker' was a word that some applied to his name. 'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride' (or groom, as the case may be) was a phrase often attached to his media bylines. After enough runner up finishes, it seemed like practically everyone had lost faith in David Duval, except David Duval.
He once said in a post- round interview after losing yet another tournament on Sunday, 'I've always had a slow learning curve, even in my junior golf days, why should this tour be any different?' David did what Stephanie Sparks is trying to do. believe that her past successes will bring her enough strength to get over the slump that she's in.
After winning the Michelob Championship in October of 1997, Duval captured 10 more PGA Tour victories in a 33-event span, and just last week he tapped into his winning ways once again at the Buick Challenge. Was his confidence ever gone? I don't think so.
Before Lorie Kane joined the LPGA Tour in 1996, she was a promising young Canadian talent. Her resume included honors such as member of the Canadian International team from 1989-92, a member of the Canadian World Amateur Team in 1992 and the Mexican State Amateur Champion in 1991. Entering her third season on the LPGA Tour, she had five runner-up finishes and no wins.
I had a chance to ask her about her confidence level at the 1998 Office Depot. Simply put, she said she knew it was only a matter of patience, the ability has always been there. Her caddie, Danny Sharp, said that when she breaks through, people are going to start calling her Lorie Duval because the wins are just going to fall like dominoes.
Lorie waited with confidence. Up until the middle of the 2000 season, Kane had successfully accumulated nine career second-place finishes, four of them playoff losses. But then one bright summer day, the law of averages kicked in. Lorie won the Michelob Light Championship over a field that included Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam, and just this past weekend, Lorie Duval - I mean, Lorie Kane - won her second LPGA event, again over Annika and company.
Was the confidence ever gone? I don't think so.
Stephanie Sparks has plenty of role models, and one would think that she needed them now more than ever after only making one cut in her entire rookie campaign. But ask yourself this. when a player has tasted success, who's to say that they'll never taste it again? They are the only ones who really know. That's not for us to decide.
Sparks is headed back to the LPGA qualifying tournament in two weeks' time. I'm proud to say I'll be her caddie through hell week and I can't wait to be a part of her continued journey back to her old self. I'll be sure to write about it when it's over.