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Composure an overlooked assets in great athletes

Column by Steve Yingling

Having the pleasure of watching some of the best athletes this area has offered during the 1990s, there’s one thing they control better than their opponents – their emotions.

If Brian Bruso, Jerod Haase, Jason Neeser, Bret Uppendahl, Aaron Wicklund, Jonna Mendes and Lauren Maselli were upset by a referee or umpire’s call or what was said about them by an opponent, they hardly ever let it show on the playing field.

It’s more insightful to watch how somebody handles a difficult defeat than it is viewing someone celebrating a championship. Do they put the game into perspective and shake the winners’ hands or do they sob uncontrollably on center court and then single out referees for their failures?

Composure and sportsmanship in the athletic arena start at home. Imagine how embarrassed Dennis Rodman’s mom was when he kicked that camera man or how ashamed Roberto Alomar’s dad was when the Baltimore Orioles second baseman spat on an umpire.

From my vantage point, kids actually keep their composure better than adults.

Golfers -and I don’t care how old you are – if you want someone to emulate, you may want to copy 16-year-old golfer Travis Whisman of Reno.

Whisman demonstrated the composure of a 40-year-old while trying to qualify for the U.S. Open last Monday at sectionals at Lake Merced Golf and Country Club in Daly City, Calif.

As his score fluctuated between three-over par and two-under par, his emotions remained on a even keel. Whisman was as cool as the kitchen floor feels to the barefooted at dawn.

Unlike 1997 Masters champion Tiger Woods, who tends to throw his clubs when things aren’t going his way, Whisman kept his clubs where they belong – in his bag.

Most impressive was the way the Nevada prep golf champion dealt with missing this week’s Open by one shot.

“He doesn’t beat himself up too badly. This is the way he usually is. That is something that (dad) Jim has stressed with Travis since he was little,” said Travis’ mother, Diana.

If Whisman was devastated inside, he never revealed it to the public.

“I made some putts today. I can’t complain about the way I played,” he said.

There will be many other U.S. Open opportunities for Whisman. Count on it!

* * *

Down at the sports books in Stateline, the feeling is that Woods at 7-1 is the favorite to win his first Open.

Considering Woods has never finished higher than 19th in a tournament that places a premium on driving accuracy, don’t bet on it. He and his coach, Butch Harmon, regret not using a driver and 3-wood more in last year’s Open.

On the other hand, Woods played the Olympic Club regularly during his collegiate days at Stanford. But not with the rough 6 inches high.

* * *

If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to the Open, which starts on Thursday, you may want to follow Johnny Miller’s advice and camp out on the 288-yard par-4 No. 7 hole. With the space-age technology of golf equipment turning the average hitter into a long hitter, there could be a double-eagle ace on this hole. In fact, Woods and John Daly may even hit it over the green.

* * *

Picking a major winner nowadays is more difficult than finding the right head of lettuce in the supermarket. In the past 14 major tournaments, there have been 14 different winners.

Since the test is so demanding, I’ll venture three picks. Give me David Duval, who has won five of the past 15 events he’s entered; Tom Lehman, who has led the past three U.S. Opens after 54 holes; and longshot, Hale Irwin, who plays golf unlike any senior I’ve ever seen.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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