What made Tiger Woods Great

What made Tiger Woods “Great”?  and what you can learn !

It started at the beginning of the 2009 season pretty much everyone in the world inside and outside the ropes thought that Tiger Woods was Super human. This made him a marketers dream and close to impossible to beat down the stretch as there is in this fickle game. He was great! He was the greatest the game had ever seen (he was ahead of Jack Nicklaus on Major wins and Tournaments wins and the same stages in their careers)) and many thought he was also a great man...with his perfect family, lifestyle and his foundation, Tiger appeared to be perfect.

Then it all fell apart and for the whole of 2010 Tiger tried to get his life and his game back on track.  Now 3 years on why is tiger still not able to add to the tally of majors he already holds (14)? What is different now? Why was someone who was some dominant down the stretch, now unable to close out a tournament with dominance, or more importantly win a major?

Tiger has won 14 majors (in 47starts) in 12 years as a professional from 1997 through 2008. In this period we have seen some of the most dominant wins the world of golf has ever seen. Since 2009 (the last 5 years) Tiger has played 19 majors for NO wins, even though he has won the tournament prior to a major 8 times and won numerous times on the regular PGA tour. How can this be? The pattern that Tiger is creating is becoming glaringly obvious. He is now unable to close and perform under extreme pressure, that being in the Majors.

Here’s my theory…What made Tiger “Great”? (In my opinion) is not that he hits it the farthest, or that he has the best stroke or that his swing is the best (you choose from the 4 he has had). They say that he is mentally tougher, but what does that mean? Why did it seem like he could always hit the shot under pressure and now he can’t.

Some suggested his mothers Buddhist background may have allowed him to use mediation techniques, allowing Tiger to get into that “ZONE” more often or even more scarily when he need to. But what is the “zone” and if he could get there when he wanted/needed to before, why can’t he now?

Where has this mental toughness gone? Once, when he hit the lead on the last day you could turn the TV off knowing that he was unbeatable. Now days he is not able to get into the lead of a major and when he gets close he plateaus or fades as quickly as he arrived.

We have just seen him lead the Fedex cup playoffs going into the final round only to finish 13 shots from the eventual winner Henrick Stenson.

My belief to what made Tiger so “Great” is that his father instilled a belief in him. A belief that he could rely on that had nothing to do with technique. A belief system that he called - Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). This is the same belief that the military rely on and relates to information or a process/procedure that they KNOW to be true.  That is, if he did this! (Whatever it may be) he would get that! (The result of that procedure).

As an example if you want the ball to go in the hole from 4 feet, create this motion and that motion will give you the best chance. This was his Standard Operating Procedure and it was his way of doing things. It was what he believed in and what he relied on under pressure. It in itself relied on the information in this SOP to be correct and relevant to him.

Many current day instructors and sports psychologists teach players to visual the shot and have trust or belief in yourself and your practice. I don’t teach this as a “Core Value” nor do I believe Tiger sees this as a core value.

Yes, this concept has merit and it can assist, but can it work under extreme pressure, consistently??  The answer is NO! It works sometimes, as it works on a secondary level of performance under pressure, which is a mind diversion from reality technique.  It tries to get you to believe what you imagine will happen will occur. This is a sometimes strategy and Tiger wasn’t a sometimes, he was a lock. He produced the shot, it seemed every time and he forged the most successful career in golf around this concept.

From what we know and read, Tiger has worked with 3 main coaches the last 17 years. Butch Harmon, Hank Haney and now Sean Foley. We also know from Hank Haney’s book that Tiger hated missing left.

I believe the reason Tiger is now unable to close out a Major tournament, is that the swing concept he is working on does not suit his swing profile. Tiger was a blocker under pressure (missing right and sometimes way right) but he knew this and although he didn’t accept it, it didn’t burn him up like hitting the ball left did.

Both Butch Harmon and Hank Haney had Tiger swinging in a way where the ball rarely went left and subsequently when Tiger was under pressure and went back to his core concept, if I move this way I will get this result(SOP), he would see a shot that went on line or if he missed, it would be right. With Sean Foleys swing concept of working the arms left through and post impact Tiger is swinging in the direction he does not want the ball to go.

Think about this from your perspective as a regular golfer. You slice to the right but aim left and someone says you need to aim straighter or as they may phrase it “You can’t hit it straight if you aren’t aimed straight”. You don’t want to line up straighter because your ball slices so you keep aiming left and playing for it. This is the same internal battle that I believe Tiger Woods is having.

Having met  Sean Foley at the 2010 British Open at St Andrews (whilst my student Kurt Barnes was having a practice round with his student Hunter Mahan) and getting to better understand what Sean Foley teaches, I have stated that I do not believe his method will work for Tiger woods. Doesn’t mean he can’t win with it, as he has proven before he can win PGA tour events with three different swings, even when he is not at his best.

Winning on the PGA tour for Tiger is like you winning your club competition. It is no big deal for him (he has won 80 times) and hence he does not have a huge amount of internal pressure associated with it. This allows his swing to hang together. In saying this, this year I have seen Tiger hit some of the worst shots left coming down the stretch. Even when he wasn’t under pressure because he was so far in front and the tournament was locked up. In saying this Tiger has still won 5 times this year.

Put Tiger in a major where he wants to win more and his pressure levels created by desire are at their highest and the swing concept he is applying is not holding up. It is easy to say that if he didn’t hit the flag stick here or he didn’t get that penalty there then he would have won, but the stats don’t lie. 0 Major victories in his last 19 starts.

What I am saying is that, what I believed made Tiger great was a belief that if he moved his body a certain way, in a certain sequence, he would get a certain result and he relied on this under pressure and it worked. He built belief in himself off the back of seeing these results. Over the years of applying this process and winning he believed he was a winner and eventually he became the best in the world and dominated for 15 years. Remember he was trained from before he can remember so not even Tiger probably fully understands what he did or does that has allowed him to dominate like he did. Hence today he cannot understand why he cannot perform when he wants to.

Now he is different! He has a new core motion that he believes in and when he moves this way under pressure it doesn’t work? Why? Because I don’t believe Sean Foley’s method suits swing profiles for players who have a miss that blocks right. Or more specifically Tiger Woods’ swing tendencies..That is all!

Please don’t get me wrong, I am a Tiger admirer and I wish Tiger would break Jacks record. I sit back in aura of a person that has done all that he has and still works as hard as he does. He was and still is the bench mark in so many ways.

The question has to be asked though “How long will Tiger persist with his Sean Foley swing without a Major success” and in saying that if he wins a major next year will one major in 6 years be enough to keep Tiger committed to the Sean Foley plan?

 I would like to footnote my above comments on Tiger Woods current motion by saying, I know that Sean Foley’s method can trick Tiger into thinking he is hitting it better than ever, as covering the ball and holding the face through impact and releasing left enables you to hit some amazing shots. Although when the core concern of a player is most evident, that being when they are under the most pressure, this is when the floor in Sean Foley’s successful method shows up in Tiger Woods’ swing profile.

(This article was published in the February edition of Inside golf)

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