Here’s another out-take from Beethoven’s Anvil. This is about how a so-so player rose above himself when matched against \, who was then on the rise.
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Let us, for a moment, return to athletics. During the period in which I have written this book, Tiger Woods established himself as arguably the greatest golfer in history, and he is not yet thirty, which is a prime time for golfers, though other athletes are often on the decline by that time. In particular, Woods became the youngest golfer ever to complete a so-called Grand Slam, winning the four most prestigious tournaments in the game--the British Open (open meaning that both professionals and amateurs compete), the United States Open, the Master’s, and the PGA (Professional Golfer’s Association)--and, beyond that, winning three of them in a single season.
However, it’s not Tiger Woods who interests me. Yes, he may well be the greatest golfer in history. And whatever role natural athletic endowment plays in that greatness, one must also consider the amount of time Woods spent playing golf at a very early age. By the time he was five he may well have logged more hours playing golf than any other five-year-old in history. Given what we now know about the brain’s maturation, that implies that Woods’ may be more intimately attuned to the requirements and rhythms of golf than any other player. And that is why he will raise the bar on golfing excellence. But, as I said, the mystery of his excellence is not the mystery I want to think about.
I’m interested in the man he beat to win the 2000 PGA Tournament. That man, Bob May, is slightly older than Woods--31 years old at the time, as against Woods’ 24--and was, as they say, a journeyman player. No one would have picked him to finish in the top 10, much less to play so well that he was tied with the phenomenal Tiger Woods at the end of regulation play, thereby forcing a play-off. Woods, as we know, won that play-off--oddly enough, by recovering from some spectacularly bad shots--and, in doing so, was simply being Tiger Woods. This was certainly an above average performance from Woods, but it was within what we have to assume is his range.
Bob May played above himself. This was not in his normal performance range; it was an exceptional game. What, physically, does that mean? In a general way it surely means that the muscles in his body and the neurons of his nervous system were coordinated more exactly than they’d ever been before. And this coordination was in effect, not for a minute, or an hour, or even for the five hours it takes to play a round of golf. For golf tournaments are contested in four rounds played over for days. Thus, for four days in late August of 2000, the 31st year of his life, Bob Woods was more synchronized and harmonized than he’d ever been. He was, to use a theological term, inspired.
Granted that, without a deeper understand of bodily movement that statement doesn’t have much teeth to it; but it will do as a ball-park characterization. Things clicked and, once they got started clicking, they stayed that way.
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Q. Can the same thing happen with journeyman musicians? Do they rise above themselves when playing with musicians a level above?