Bill Little commentary: The center of the target
In the beginning, it seemed an odd pairing. Here was a "with it" football team of the early part of the 21st century, using a philosophy from a venerable golf teacher from the 1950s.
You would have been hard pressed to find a whole bunch of teenagers, or 20-somethings, on the Texas Longhorn football team who had ever heard of Harvey Penick. Some may have known about Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. But chances are, if it wasn't about Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or some of the recent former Longhorns such as David Gossett, it's a pretty good bet that the golf channel wasn't a regular stop on the TV remote.
But when the football staff was looking for a theme for the 2005 Longhorn football season, it was in that short window of the spring and summer when a few of the coaches hit the golf links in their spare time. And that is when the words of the master teacher became interwoven with the hopes and dreams of a football team.
Harvey Penick had thought it and taught it, but it was Bud Shrake who wrote it. Shrake, a fine sportswriter who made a grand transition to screen writer and author, was working on an idea he had to turn Penick's teaching journal into a "how to" for golfers. He called it "Harvey Penick's Little Red Book," and turned it into the best-selling sports book of all time.
It was subtitled, "Lessons and teachings from a lifetime in golf," and on page 45 Shrake penned what Penick would call "the most important message in the book."
Take Dead Aim.
"When my student Betsy Rawls was in a playoff for the U. S. Women's Open championship, I sent her a one sentence telegram. It said 'Take Dead Aim.' For golfers who might not understand Texas talk, let me put the advice in the telegram a different way: Once you address the golf ball, hitting it has got to be the most important thing in your life at that moment. Shut out all thoughts other than picking out a target and taking dead aim at it...refuse to allow any negative thought to enter your head, and swing away."
Over and over again, in the space of two pages, Shrake and Penick repeat the words.
"The expert player won't be surprised. The expert expects to hit the target. The only surprise here is that the expert sometimes allows disorganized thinking to make him or her become distracted from the primary object of the shot, which is to hit the target. I can't say it too many times. It's the most important advice in this book.
"Take dead aim.
"Make it a point to do it every time on every shot. Don't just do it from time to time, when you happen to remember.
"Take dead aim."
Eleven games and eleven victories into the 2005 season, it is no longer important that none of the Longhorn players had a chance to know Harvey Penick, because this hasn't been about him.
It has been about his message.
Since the beginning of fall training in August, there have been two recurring themes for this Texas Longhorn football team.
First, Mack Brown told his team to put away their Rose Bowl rings and caps, because he didn't want them living on past glory.
Second, he chose that theme of "Take Dead Aim," as a focus on the future.
Sunday in the team meeting, the past and the future came together. Mack Brown put on his Rose Bowl cap, because that is what Saturday's Big 12 Championship game against Colorado in Reliant Stadium is all about.
For more than a month, in fact pretty much since beating Oklahoma in Dallas in early October, folks all around the program have talked about Pasadena. While the Longhorns were working their way through the Big 12 South to a Division title, the dream was out there. But nobody on the football team or the staff dared talk about it. Folks and family were making plane reservations, but there was always the game at hand.
Now, it has come down to one final game.
The "stepping stones" have been traversed. The "ladder" has been climbed. The pitfalls have all been dodged. Arguably, there were a few moments...though not many...when "disorganized thinking" may have been a "distraction."
But in the symbolic archery target created for the team, the center always remained the picture of Reliant Stadium in Houston, the site of the Big 12 Championship game. Now, the target had two bulls-eyes...the outer rim of the center is still Reliant, but the dead solid middle is the Rose Bowl.
At the beginning of the college football season, most teams have dreams. Only a handful have a chance to actually reach that dream.
We have talked before about dreams and goals. Goals are those attainable realities. It was a goal to win the first game, and to win the "State Championship" and the Big 12 South Division. Those are some of the annual goals for Texas football teams. The final annual one is to win the Big 12 Championship.
Now, for the first time in over 35 years, the goal can lead to a chance to make the dream of a national championship happen. To win a National Championship, you have to play in the National Championship game, and the only path to that leads through Houston, and Reliant, and North Division Champion Colorado.
Harvey Penick was a unique man who spent his life teaching the sport he loved. He believed that his game taught just as much about life as it did about pars and birdies. Harvey's teams won 20 conference titles in his 33 years as coach of the Longhorn golf team, and he retired from teaching after 60 years of sharing his wisdom with legends and legacies. He died 10 years ago, and one of the reasons Mack Brown came up with the idea was that it was also the 10th anniversary of Ben Crenshaw's dramatic win in the Masters Golf Tournament a week after Penick's death.
I called Bud Shrake the other day, because I knew what a sports fan he was, and I knew that he, along with Harvey's son, Tinsley, probably appreciated the message Mack Brown had brought to this football team more than anybody.
"I know Harvey's looking down and smiling," said Shrake. "As big a Longhorn fan as he was, this would make him very happy."
Harvey Penick was a firm believer that you should never, ever, let negative thoughts enter your mind.
"Negative thoughts and carelessness cause more missed short putts than any other factor," Shrake quoted him as saying. "The greatest players in the world miss short putts, but not very often. There's no reason you should miss them, either."
All of that translates simply to this current scenario of Longhorn football this way: You have two shots left.
So Take Dead Aim.