(CBS New York) — Golf may seem to be an individual sport. When a player steps up to address that little white ball, that player looks to be very much alone. But that player brings with them the accumulated knowledge and training bestowed upon them by a team of individuals. It could be counsel from a knowledgeable caddie received moments before. It could swing adjustments made by a coach the previous week. And, in Dottie Pepper’s case, it could be the wise words of a mentor along her path to stardom.
Pepper is currently CBS Sports’ on-course reporter during its run of PGA Tour events. But she was previously a longtime player on the LPGA Tour, where she won 17 events including two major championships. Pepper did not ascend to such heights in the game alone. She had the help of George Pulver, the longtime Head Professional at both McGregor Links and Saratoga Golf & Polo, near her native Saratoga Springs, New York. In her formative years, it was his advice that helped guide her to NYS Women’s Amateur (1981) and NYS Girls’ Junior (1981, 1983).
In Pepper’s new book, Letters to a Future Champion: My Time with Mr. Pulver, she pays tribute to the former mentor, who helped craft her skills on the course and her character as a player. She kept his letters in a binder as “my reference book for all things golf.”
“I’ve come to realize the binder is much more,” Pepper said. “It is a blueprint for honoring the history and traditions of the game of golf; it also is about mentorship, beliefs, curiosity, grit, grace, dreams, disappointment, success, and the value of education.”
Modern players might also find some value in the words of Mr. Pulver. Dustin Johnson is ranked number one in the world. While he’s coming off a tie for 13th at the RBC Heritage, he missed the cut at the Masters, where he won the prior year. The Genesis Open is his only top-10 Tour finish since that November 2020 Masters.
“He was always a big believer in fundamentals and not turning your back on what got you from the bottom of the game to the top,” Pepper said of Pulver. “So, with Dustin Johnson, I think he would go back to the basics of making sure your grip is good, making sure you get to full turn, making sure your alignment is good. He was always very particular about making sure the fundamentals are paid attention to.”
Will Zalatoris rose to 27th in the world rankings based on his second-place finish at the 2021 Masters. The 24-year-old up-and-comer is 12 years younger than Johnson, but is rounding into form as one of game’s future stars. He tied for sixth at the U.S. Open in September, and has five top-10 Tour finishes since.
In Pepper’s eyes, Pulver might have some different advice for Zalatoris. “As for Will Zalatoris, I think he would tell him to enjoy it as long as you can. But when you feel yourself getting burned out, take a break and just get away from it for a little bit. He was always really big on that, about having balance in your life, because it’s not very often that you get to play with everything all lined up the way Will is. So play till you start to not have as much fun with it, until you feel like you’re just not where you were on the way up and feel okay that it’s okay to take a break.”