WINTER GARDEN, Fla. -- Pressure is easy to define. It's not so easy to live. That's the PGA Tour Qualifying tournament, where as many as 135 hopes and dreams will be dashed over the next six days at Orange County National. Not that you"ll find an ounce of negativity around the place (at least not yet, anyway), but that"s 165 players vying for 30 spots (plus ties) spread out over two courses and six knee-knocking, nail-biting, stomach-churning, rubber-legged days.
Just ask Boo Weekley. He missed by two strokes two years ago here by failing to convert two birdie chances on his 88th and 89th holes before making a bogey on the last hole.
"The pressure is on you to play well so you can support your family," said Weekley. "You just can"t describe it." (He will though in a daily diary, along with Notah Begay III and Bill Haas, this week).
Just ask Tim O"Neal, who missed out on his tour card by a single stroke ... twice ... missing nearly identical putts on the last hole in back-to-back years.
Just ask Joe Daley. You think you have it rough because you got passed over for that last promotion? This guy rolled in a five-footer during the fourth round of the 2000 tournament only to watch it pop out of the off-center cup and back onto the putting surface. He missed his card that year by a single stroke and hasn"t been seen here since.
"The pressure increases exponentially," says Gio Valiante, a professor at Rollins College and sports psychologist who has worked with Chris DiMarco, Justin Leonard, Chad Campbell and others. "What people don"t talk about though is the fatigue and distraction."
Six days of non-stop golf might sound like paradise to the rest of the world, but it can be hell when it determines where you"ll be working next year.
Try controlling your emotions after experiences like any of these guys. There is no opponent to tackle or basketball to dunk in golf. When it comes to golf, everything"s internalized.
"They"re so geared up that when they were pouring gravy over their mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving they were thinking about this week," said Valiante, whose job it is over the next six days to keep Begay and Franklin Langham in the right frame of mind.
Golfers are creatures of habit as much as any football or basketball player, but the difference is they operate optimally in calmer waters. They need to do things with the same cadence, Valiente says. To help them do that Valiente will use progressive muscle relaxation, literally slowing down everything they do physically. "If I see someone walk quick and swing quick, I know it"s going to be a bad day for them," he said.
Of course, you could be in the right frame of mind, have the right swing and have one of the best swing coaches in the world, and it still might not matter.
"I watched Tiger Woods hit balls at Isleworth before the PGA Championship and thought he would win by a dozen strokes," Valiante said. "But the fact is it doesn"t matter until you put the tee in the ground."
That tee, along with a lot of dreams, goes in the ground Wednesday.
Brian Wacker is an assistant editor for GolfDigest.com