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What do you do when you achieve so many of your goals so early in your career? Do you play to win more majors? Do you chase the almighty dollar? How do you reset your goals? This is where Rory McIlroy(below) must have been after winning the 2011 U.S. Open.

No one who reaches the peak is spared from the reality that success comes at a price. Look at the toll winning took on Bobby Jones. At 28, with a Grand Slam to his credit, he likened championship golf to being in a cage, which people expect you to stay in. Byron Nelson walked away at 34, after making enough money to buy his dream ranch. Mickey Wright, armed with arguably the best swing ever, won 82 times in 14 LPGA seasons and quit at 34, overwhelmed by the burden of being her, with the success of the struggling tour on her shoulders.

Of course, there is the opposite side of the coin. Arnold Palmer went 33 years between his first PGA Tour victory and his last on the senior circuit, and he has seemingly embraced every day of his life in golf. Juli Inkster is in her 30th season as an LPGA member. Hale Irwin has been a pro for 44 years and is still competitive on the Champions tour. McIlroy, who turned 23 last Friday, has taken heat this year for cutting his schedule by up to seven events, saying he wants to be completely ready when he does tee it up, win majors and not be burned out by 30. He realizes there is more to life than golf. Well, good for him! I didn't learn that lesson soon enough or well enough. Rory gets it, which is why I think he'll be more like Palmer, Inkster and Irwin than Jones, Nelson and Wright.

Dottie Pepper is a 17-year LPGA veteran and a reporter for NBC.




Photograph by CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA