AUSTIN, TEXAS — Two things are dead certain at golf courses across the state of Texas these days: The wind will sweep across the landscape, and there will be talk about Brad Elder.
Brad Elder of the University of Texas, last year's Player of the Year in college golf, says of the award, "I deserved it." He did, too. In 37 competitive rounds last season, he was under par 18 of them. That's a scary achievement.
Remember this name because Brad Elder might turn out to be Player of the Ages. There are three paths his career is likely to take:
He will become a professional golfer of starry dimension, as good as fellow former UT golfers Tom Kite (second all-time leading money winner on the PGA Tour; 1992 US Open winner), Ben Crenshaw (19 tour victories, including two Masters), and Justin Leonard (1997 British Open winner).
Or he will surpass this talented trio in quick time and will be competing against the achievements of the legends - Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus.
Or he will be unable to hit a golf ball.
Elder, with the sweetest collegiate golf swing extant, also has a right wrist that behaves erratically. Doctors have told him he has a bone malady, and there's controversy and indecision over its treatment. The most consistent medical advice in the literature is: "Develop an alternative career plan."
Like what? Rugby? Left-handed checkers? Come on.
Tens of millions of dollars are at stake. Greg Norman, for example, has won close to $12 million, plus earning millions more in endorsements and other golf business.
Elder didn't play golf last fall while the wrist was immobilized but he's back now and playing through tomorrow in the NCAA regional tournament in San Antonio. All eyes are on him, or rather, on his wrist. "It's fine," he says.
For the moment, Elder is a quixotic mixture of wisdom far beyond his years and arrogance that we have been forced to accept in our young stars.
So what do you think might happen?
"I don't know if it's career ending or not. It could be, but it might just go away."
Are you disappointed?
"I'm doing something I love right now so it's hard to be disappointed in life."
"There's nothing to be depressed about."
So how do you plan for your future?
"I go out and play and see what happens. I don't look back."
But what if everything doesn't work out?
"That doesn't mean my life is ending."
Would that all of our children - heck, all of us - respond with such maturity and good grace to life's hooks and slices. But when talk turns to his game and not his wrist, there's a whole different Elder. His is an arrogance sometimes so hard to listen to that you yearn to hear fingernails on a chalkboard instead.
It's easy for Elder to focus on the strengths of his obviously glorious game, which he says are "keeping the ball in play, no dumb mistakes, good touch around the greens. I'd say everything in my game is a strength."
And the weaknesses of his game? "There's not weakness anywhere. I do about anything I want. I hit shots where I want and I get the ball in the hole."
OK, so now we've isolated the weakness in his game. He'll correct it if and when he starts hitting with the pros.
So is Elder comparable to superhyped and wondrously talented Tiger Woods?
It's real possible. Consider that when Elder was named the best player in college last year, the winner the year previous was, yup, Tiger. A portent of things to come?
UT coach John Fields joins the national chorus when he calls Elder "one of the best amateur and collegiate golfers ever." Fields points to his young player's strength, balance, desire, many splendored gifts, and sighs, "He's got a lot of special things about his game.''
Absolutely. And on this day well into May, Elder's usual big-time game is strutting its enormous stuff.
Drives are straight, irons crisp, putting true. It's a world of all sunrises and no sunsets and that's why Elder says his plans are to be a "very successful player out there."
Including winning majors like the Masters?
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org