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Thursday, March 05, 2015

For future success, Tiger Woods should throttle back, have fun

Professional golf, as good as it is, has lost a lot of the charm and character it had before Tiger Woods appeared and turned the sport of fun and relaxation into one of all business. It’s gone from creating shots to one of exact yardages. And, as long as the media continues to worship Woods as if there will a second, third, fourth—you get the idea—coming of Tiger, the game will suffer from lack of a cluster of stars to take his place as the lead attraction. There are plenty of good golfers in the professional ranks, none who capture the attention of golfers and those who don’t play golf as Woods does, but it is better to concentrate on what’s at hand than what’s not and why with Tiger.

Today, on nearly every golf broadcast, on nearly every show on the Golf Channel, in written golf columns all over the world, on radio sports radio broadcasts that include golf and sometimes not, discussions migrate to “What’s wrong with Tiger?” and how to fix his game to return him to the top level of competition, to gain the spotlight, the leadership role, the throne as many pundits prefer. Just a couple of years ago, Tiger won five tournaments, not the major kind, but he won on the PGA Tour, against the best of the rest. In those tournaments, he dominated the minds of others which allowed his dwindling physical ability to play just well enough to surpass the others. His mental ability, though, dwindles with every bad shot he makes, every “wrong” swing he produces, every slight appearance of wrong-doing on the course and off.

In recent years, Tiger has had physical problems and sometimes blamed those ailments on his swing, something he’s changed often in his career. He has always been a power player off the tee. In his early years, he shortened the courses with his long ball. When his drives split the fairway, and even when those tee shots are just a little off line, Tiger has been within reach of the greens with much shorter irons than the competition. His play of those irons—8, 9, W, etc—was superior. His putting ability was legend. But now, more than ever, he’s off his game. His strength—his ability to play and score better than the rest—started with his drives; now that’s a weakness. He’s pressing himself causing his shot to avoid fairways way right and way left, requiring him to hit scrambling shots with which he is unfamiliar or for which he makes a half-hearted effort as if he’s seeking someone’s sympathy. Those bad approach shots put him in tough putting positions, decreasing his accuracy on the green. The result of all of this has been missed cuts or finishing his final tournament round hours before the leaders tee off on the final day of the event.

Some say he needs a new swing coach; others say he needs help other places; some suggest he stop everything else—including following a well-known skier—to concentrate on his golf. Maybe his time has passed, that he will not surpass Jack Nicklaus in “major” titles; he definitely will not do that if he keeps playing the way he has been recently. He doesn’t need the money; but he needs the success, the spotlight though he doesn’t want any outsides coming inside.

There is a solution to his woes, but it would be un-Tiger-like to do it. He needs to throttle back on the tee, not try to duplicate his game that dominated the tour for so long. He needs to hit straighter yet shorter shots off the tee and develop a better mid-range game. In doing so, if successful, he’ll increase his confidence and not enter a tournament wondering if he’ll be around for the final two rounds. He doesn’t need a new swing coach or a new caddy or a new psychological guru. Nearly any daily greens fee golfer could take the place of each of those. It’s obvious Tiger’s not having fun playing tour events and that’s because he’s not winning, not dominating. He’ll only get the fun and the winning back when he hits fairways and greens and holes a few putts. It’s to be seen if he can do it; it’s doubtful he ever will. Golf will survive without him. It’s been nice knowing his game.