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Posted: August 16, 2011 8:29 p.m.

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The mind of an athlete is a terrible thing to overlook

The brain is often one of the most overlooked parts of an athlete's body. For whatever reason, scouts, front office personnel, even the media fail to recognize the importance of what's between an athlete's ears. That is of course until an athlete suffers a meltdown on a national stage.

As much as our society likes to dissect and analyze everything, it's quite baffling really why talent supersedes the mind. The reality though is the mind is so fragile, even the strongest willed people can crack. That's why it mystifies me when professional sports organizations will overlook someone with character flaws in lieu of talent. It's because along with us all being psychiatrists, we feel like we can also fix people.

Of all the professional sports, golf may be the most mind-jacking one of all. Just ask Jason Dufner. Dufner saw a five-shot lead at last weekend's PGA Championship evaporate over the final four holes. That sounds almost impossible to do on purpose. I know what you're thinking — give me a five-shot lead at a major championship with four holes to play and I could win. Not so fast.

What happened to Dufner happens all the time in golf. Golf is the most introspective sport there is. You have time on your hands to think about every shot. That means you can dwell on a bad shot or have all sorts of time to think about how you don't want to hit a bad shot. On top of it all, nobody will talk to you and thousands of people stare in silence as you play each shot. With the margin for error millimeters, the difference between a misshit and hitting it flush can cost several strokes or in Dufner's case when he went in the water on No. 15, a major championship.

For us amateurs it's not quite that bad. But that doesn't mean golf isn't a mind scramble. It is. So is any other sport that an athlete once performed at a high level — or even dominated. Remember Mark Wholers? The former Braves closer was lights out from 1992-96 until one fateful pitch. He was never the same after giving up the game-tying home run to Jim Leyritz in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series. This is a guy who once threw a pitch clocked at 103 mph and won a World Series. Wholers lost control of his pitches in 1998 and it got so bad that after he was traded to Cincinnati, he was placed on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder.

That's what happens when an athlete loses confidence. Confidence means so much in sports. Really it means so much in life. Confidence — unlike arrogance, can propel people to do great things — things they may have never thought they were capable of. Confidence is so fragile though that once you start to lose it, it can vanish quickly altogether and never return.

Athletes fade into oblivion all the time, mostly due to deterioration of skills. Unfortunately an athlete's human body is essentially used up once it reaches 30 years old. The mind is another story. The strongest willed survive. The strongest willed often stick around longer when the body is ready to hang them up. No matter what, in the eyes of the experts, talent will continue to trump the mind. If I pass on picking the Randy Mosses of the world, someone behind me will take a chance on them. We're a gambling society. And while nobody likes to watch an athlete suffer through what Dufner suffered Sunday, it happens all the time. We can only hope when it does, that athlete is able to recover. When they don't, we never hear from them again except in highlight reels of their demise. That's enough to make anyone lose their mind.

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