In describing U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy, television commentators, fellow competitors and past golf greats invariably used the word “talented.” Usually it was accompanied by an adverb like “immensely,” “enormously,” even “obscenely.” Okay, McIlroy is a phenomenal golfer, perhaps the next superstar to give the networks, Golf Channel and the PGA someone to hype in the absence of Tiger. But what exactly does it mean to say he is “supremely talented”?
These guys are good
Maybe it is easier to consider what this special talent isn’t. All pro golfers can hit it a ton, dial in their irons exact distances, putt the lights outs and perform in the spotlight and under pressure that would paralyze most of us. Clearly just doing these isn’t enough to earn the “talented” moniker. Presumably talent is also not defined by the physical tools a player possesses. The perfect combination of height, strength, flexibility and hand-eye coordination may be a component of talent but great golfers come in various sizes and shapes.
Can you practice your way to talent?
The best golfers are personally motivated and work hard – most invest many more than the 10,000 practice and performance hours necessary (according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers) to achieve world class skill level. Some players – Ben Hogan and Vijay Singh come to mind – are acknowledged for their incredible practice work ethic. Is all that work required to overcome a lack of natural “talent?” Or, is part of talent knowing that success takes work and having the discipline to stick to it?
Talent is defined as innate or natural ability in dictionaries and that is why players with “home-grown” swings like Lee Trevino, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson are more likely to have earned the talented label than the golfers whose swing is a product of years of professional coaching and tinkering. The “originals” must have talent – how else could they be so good with such quirky swings?
Talent is wasted on the young…
I don’t have stats to back this up but my impression is that talent as a descriptor is reserved for young players. Senior tour players are not so much talented as they are “wily,” “cagey,” “experienced” or “resolute.” Does this mean their talented days are over?
So what is talent, is it definable or is just a term we reserve for young athletes who inexplicably out-perform their peers regularly? – the je ne sais quoi that makes these elite rise above the masses? My feeling is that in golf, talent is primarily a mental skill, it is the ability to concentrate – to “stay in the zone” once you are there; it is also the ability to make pressure a motivating force rather than a destructive one and it is to revel in the competition – replacing the fear of losing with the expectation of winning. Knowing your own physical skills – what you are capable of – has to be part of “talent.”
So what do you think? Is talent an innate quality you are born with, or is it a learned skill? Is it a physical trait or is it inside your head? Let us know, we would love to hear your comments. By the way, after the U.S. Open, Greg Norman also called Rory McIlroy a “genius”!? Does make me wonder how Albert Einstein would have played the game.