His name is Mark O’Meara. He was to golf what Arjuna Ranatunga was to cricket – a matter of steadfast temperament, perseverance, constancy, and professional design. The quaint similitude did not, however, end there. O’Meara, like the diminutive Sri Lankan Test and one-day skipper, had every asset that champions are made of – a strong mindset and engaging game plan. They both had a swing that was as good as that drive to doing well, whatever the odds.
O’Meara was bestowed with a signal honour – the Jack Nicklaus Award for Best Golfer of 1998 – for his impressive run, but he had also come up trumps, on his own steam, as the truly, well-deserved winner of The Masters and the Open Championship. That’s a great double, all in a year’s work – a rare achievement by any measure – more so, for a player who’s over forty. Well, the accolades did not come to O’Meara on a platter. Not only that. O’Meara’s annus mirabilis was a glorious tribute to the chubby-faced golfer’s efficiency – a combination of classical physical skills and disposition. His character was more than positive. He got it together, and he remained thoroughly focused – as focused as focused can be.
For a player who turned professional, at the legendary Ben Hogan’s office, eighteen years before, O’Meara carried his mentor’s golfing wisdom like no other. If Hogan’s fervour had, in the process, rubbed off on him, O’Meara was also known what it means to be a top-class golfer – an ace today, a dream gone sour tomorrow. That terse lesson was always been his benchmark. He never ever stopped thinking of himself as a potential Major Champion. The outcome? He achieved what he had always thought he could accomplish. It’s this aspect that was his hallmark – one that made him tick.
This was also one primal reason why O’Meara did not take things as presumptions. It was also an ardour that affirmed his line of thought to stay on course – and, to never get distracted with a bad day in the field when a putt went kaput. That he had to wait for so long to win a Major was passÃ©. What made him not think of the long wait was his focused attitude – to get the most of himself – in the best manner possible. Simply, sensibly, and without balderdash.
What made O’Meara someone special was his sense of humility. In the wake of his finest hour he shrugged his shoulders and continued to be a player’s player. When he came close to becoming the first golfer since Hogan  to win three Major Championships in a year, O’Meara’s riposte was not only down-to-earth, but precise. In his own words: “It would have been a great dream to have this come true. But, there are a lot of great players out there.”
In realistic terms, O’Meara’s worthy triumphs resulted in his being elevated to the highest levels of his existence in the game. Not that he was labelled as an all-time great – one who was assured of a place in the game’s Hall of Fame. Such accolades were not going to influence O’Meara the least. On the contrary, they did not even interfere with his day-to-day activities, including his committed devotion to his family.
As his wife Alicia put it in perspective, “Mark is pretty consistent. Whatever he does on a particular day, he just goes out on the next day wanting to do even better. He is willing to work that much harder to do it. That’s just his personality. He’s pretty stable. Even when he wins a golf tournament, there aren’t too many highs, high peaks.”
For a calm, well-balanced guy, O’Meara was a winner in his mind. He’s always been a victorÂ – a solid player. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world for him if he did not win a Major, or his career would have lacked something substantial. To cull a gem from O’Meara himself, “I’ve had so many great things happen to me in the game, and the people that I’ve met [not having won a Major] wasn’t going to take away from all the good things that happened.”
When O’Meara won a brace of Majors, he sure knew their import: of what it means to be a winner. But, one thing was certain. O’Meara never thought of himself as a great player, albeit most of his contemporaries regarded him a great. He had his own theme song, or bottom line, to distilling the idea. “My impression of someone who is great is someone who has won a lot of Major Championships and has done it consistently throughout their career. And, they’re great. If that’s being modest, I don’t think I’m a great player. I think I’m a very good player.”
It sums up O’Meara – one of golf’s most good-natured champions – one who loved the game far too much to magnify his own sense of self-esteem, or importance.
May his tribe increase in golf and every other sport.
– Photo, Courtesy: BCSN