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Letters from America
The Dreaded Slump
By Greg Evans
Special Correspondent
Jack Nicklaus
In 1979 and the early months of 1980, a legend by the name of Jack Nicklaus stepped out onto the golf course, a field of battle where he had always been Goliath, but it was as if all his talent and all the muscle memory from years of practice simply vanished. He couldn’t hit the Pacific Ocean with a slingshot had it been stretched out before him in all its cyan and celadon glory. What could have possibly happened?

Jack had fallen into one of the dreaded “slumps.” In sports, it is the elephant in the room, the enigma that has baffled the sharpest minds in sports psychology, and the one thing most professional athletes fear more than death. This mysterious affliction is a storm like no other you will experience in a lifetime of traveling. For Jack, nurturing a career that had been so pristine and full of promise was now on the verge of imploding. 1979-80 became gruesome. Nothing was going right for him. Nicklaus remarked at the time, “First, it irritates you, then it really bothers you, until finally you get so d—— blasted mad at yourself that you decide to do something about it. It’s deciding to do something. And I will, or I’ll quit.”

Behind the scenes Jack did do something. He fought against himself, trained harder, made his swing flatter so he could have more control, built his confidence by reconnecting with the sport as a passion recapturing the energy, and enthusiasm he had for playing during his formative years. It was a game of psychological warfare, Jack against himself. In the end he won and broke out of the slump.

Fast-forward to the modern world, today, a land of paper-thin TV’s with pictures clearer than real life, smartphones that can subjectively tell you the sex of your unborn child, custom made masks to fend off killer diseases and so often associated with sports actually isn’t just sports related. In the world of writing and journalism it can be called “writer’s block,” a title that could also be used for songwriters or composers that lose their mojo as if the hot sun drying up a puddle after a summer shower.

A prime modern example of the slump, and one that every golf fanatic is well aware of is that of Jordan Spieth. All of the newbies to golf, post 2017, may have seen his name pop up on leaderboards and he appears to be just another golfer out there beating it around trying to score well, but in 2015-2017, this Dallas, Texas born athlete was the second coming of the messiah to the game of golf. He was winning at a pace that was more frenetic than Tiger Woods at the height of his prime, every stroke perfect, nerves of titanium, guts of M-50 shell casings, the confidence of Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin, and Eddie Adams, combined, and the golfing world was positive he was going to steamroll Jack Nicklaus’ records and everyone else before the age the thirty.

And not only was he winning, but he also had the next-door neighbor characteristics that was making him a fan favorite across the globe. He was polite, clean-cut, God-fearing, and all about family, and the press couldn’t get enough. Golf’s golden boy had arrived.

But not long after Pebble Beach, Spieth’s rein at top appeared to be on precarious ground. He wasn’t making his shots the way the public expected. Putts he would nail with the precision of a laser were veering right and dying left. Rumors and gossip began to fill social media like the rip in a prom tux. And then the Masters happened, and Jordan’s mega collapse.

Slumps are they are also common amongst high school and college athletes. Camryn Haag, a member of the King Tornado Women’s Softball team, discusses here how she had to face a hitting slump, “The best way to get out of a slump for me is to break it down into the fundamentals and focus on the little things for a while, and progress into looking at the big picture.” That similar to how Derek Jeter faced his miserable slump in 2004 when he suffered an 0-32 hitting drought for two-months wondering if he’d ever get another hit. On his 33rd time to the plate, batting against the Oakland A’s Barry Zito, Jeter crushed the first pitch over the wall for a home run. He later lamented, “With the way things were going, I wondered if the ball would collide with a bird and fall into the outfielder’s glove.” Jeter was in such a dark place that even Yankee fans were starting to boo him. Luckily for Spieth the only booing he hears is the 16th hole, Par-3 of the Phoenix Waste Management Open.

Jeter had gone back to the fundamentals and tried to focus on the little things to get his mind right. “It is rough when you are going through it, but you are the only one that can get yourself out.”

This demoness that comes out of thin air affects not only athletes, but other professions as well. In the world of writing, Virginia Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway battled ferocious cases of “the slump,” better known in their circles as Writer’s Block. Not being able to write was so overwhelming for Ernest Hemingway that he committed suicide. Another famous writer, Leo Tolstoy, author of “War & Peace,” and “Anna Karenina,” both classics, would battle periods of creative drought. His slumps last so long that writing Anna Karenina took 53 months. He would become so fed up he’d describe his project as “a bore, insipid as a bitter radish,” “terribly disgusting and nasty,” and “unbearably repulsive.”

Tolstoy would fret and whine but, like Mark Twain, he would eventually work through it. Composers like Beethoven who spent seven-years in a ruthless slump, would turn to drinking cheap wine to generate inspiration. This practice would cause cirrhosis leading to damage of the liver and his eventual death. Writer’s Lord Byron and Edgar Allan Poe didn’t just turn to alcohol, but what are today illegal drugs in an effort to stimulate creativity.

Franz Schubert, composer of the famous, “Ave Maria,” also turned to alcohol in an attempt to battle writer’s block. British composer Peter Warlock fell into such a dark slump that he was eventually found dead in his Chelsea flat asphyxiated by gas. There are critics that argue he committed suicide but the coroner at the time ruled the cause of death, unknown.

Slumps unfortunately are a part of life. And though we don’t understand where they come from, and there is no quick “pill popping” cure, we do know that those who are able to pull themselves out of these slumps are mentally stronger than they were before. The scars might be lasting and the nerves unsteady at first, but the experience gained is like nothing that can be taught in the classroom or read in a book. As Mark Twain once said about experience, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns a lesson he can learn in no other way.”

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Greg Evans, associate director of communications of King University in Bristol TN, in the US, serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times. The seasoned journalist has been writing for such papers as the Mooresville Tribune, Lake Norman Citizen, the Bristol Herald Courier, and the Sentinel-Progress (Easley, SC). He can be reached at






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