Now that Tiger Woods is fully, magnificently “back” after the most-followed (and hoped-for) PGA Tour Championship win in recent history, the 80th of his career, it’s a great time to take a couple deep breaths and ponder how he turned 2018 into his year, swallowing every other story line whole as he relentlessly trudged his way back to the winner’s circle with grit and skill, as only he can. This Tiger Woods win was a true earth-shaker, even by his standards. Just ask Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka or Francesco Molinari.
From the casual modern golf fan’s perspective, Tiger is and has always been the only game in town. If he’s playing, people are talking about it — even people who can count on one hand the number of rounds they’ve played in their lives. As one headline read in the wake of Sunday’s amazing scene at East Lake Country Club, Tiger doesn’t just move the needle, he “is the needle.”
Now that he has surmounted four back surgeries, prescription drug addiction and a series of personal travails that would (and have) felled many other athletes, the army of otherwise semi-engaged fans that he has built over the past 20 years is back in full force — with a new generation of young faces in tow.
From the golf philosopher’s point of view, Tiger’s pothole and detour-ridden comeback only reinforces their contention that the game is, indeed, a metaphor for life itself: Rise to power, triumph, downfall, regret, repentance, reinvention, redemption, triumph again. He emerged from that massive crowd on the 18th fairway a new, different champion, as powerful as ever but more humbly and blessedly human, fighting tears, letting his vaunted guard down when the tap-in for par dropped and his arms raised in relief and joy. Life will do that to a guy. Even this guy.
Think about it. A year ago, on the heels of the spinal fusion surgery that would decide his fate, Tiger could barely get out of bed much less swing a club or even stroke a putt. He was staring at a life of pain with the chance of competitive golf fading fast. Yet here we are.
So, what do professional golf instructors think about Tiger’s resurgence? To what do they credit his long and arduous journey back not only to relevance but to potential dominance (dare we bring Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors back into the conversation)?
Golf Tips put that question to a few of its Top 30 teachers.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Tom Patri, former Met (New York) and South Florida PGA Teacher of the Year whose driving lesson headlines Golf Tips’ current Power Issue, was, at one time, sure that Tiger’s career was over. “I’ll be the very first to admit I didn’t think he’d ever be back,” he wrote on Facebook. “I thought between the injuries, the short game ills, the personal strife, it was simply too much — I was completely wrong.”
In a text message, Patri now says that Tiger’s return directly results from his re-mastering a few inviolable and necessary golf fundamentals — simple but powerful fundamentals built on a mix of physics, talent, hard work and mental toughness.
“I think his ability to quiet his hands in those incredibly difficult short game touch shots is nothing short of miraculous,” Patri said. “Few who suffer [the ‘chip yips’] ever find their way back. It’s a testament to his mental strength.
“Also, he clearly has simplified his golf swing thoughts,” Patri continued. “Let’s face it, he worked with several very talented coaches. I’m sure each is extremely talented, but that said, each pounded him with a slightly different approach. To again be able to stop the merry-go-round and step back and hit the proverbial restart button is absolutely amazing. I believe Tiger went back to a place all golfers should revisit on a daily basis as they practice: The land of time-proven, sound fundamentals. Why do we all have to make [playing this game into] War and Peace?”
Added Florida-based Top 30 teacher Barry Goldstein, who joined Patri for a great Golf Tips discussion on “old school” teaching recently, “I see one major difference in Tiger’s game. His balance is so much better, he is SWINGING through the ball again, rather than lashing at it. And he made tons of putts like the Tiger of old! His brain, his will and a healthy body make Tiger beyond special. His balance, in golf and life, seems much improved.”
Alison Curdt, 2015 LPGA National Teacher of the Year, concurs. “Tiger seems more clear minded in his vision. Without officially working with a coach, he’s going back to the things he knows and is taking an intuitive approach to his game. I feel like he has found himself as a golfer and is at peace with his abilities, yet is still passionate to perform his best.”
SHOW AND DOUGH
PGA teacher Dale Abraham, who splits his director of instruction duties between Bighorn Country Club in Palm Desert, California and Telluride Golf Club in Colorado, pointed specifically to Tiger’s driving and putting at the Tour Championship.
“I think there were two things Tiger did better this week that propelled him to the win,” Abraham wrote in an e-mail. “No. 1, he dialed back a bit off the tee, allowing him to be more accurate and hit more fairways, which was crucial with that two-and-a-half-inch high Bermuda rough. No 2, Tiger used his old putter and made a ton of putts in all four rounds, leading the field in one-putt percentage at 51.4 percent, and second in strokes gained putting.”
THE HERO RETURNS
Jeff Ritter, who heads up the Pronghorn Academy near Bend, Oregon as part of his popular Make The Turn Performance program, took the more philosophical, emotional tack in his e-mail response.
“What I saw from Tiger was a different kind of personal fulfillment, peace and appreciation that can only come from the challenges and struggle faced on the hero’s journey,” he wrote. “The Hero’s Journey is a rite of passage tale rooted in mythology, which forms the basis of many of the books, films and storylines we enjoy and learn from in popular culture. Very often this journey resonates through sport as the elements and lessons within the story are clear and easy to see. Rocky, Rudy and, yes, Tiger Woods, provide us with powerful lessons for making the seemingly impossible become possible.
“A younger Tiger Woods was among the world’s greatest athletes, who unapologetically launched an assault on each player and every record. A gifted athlete, free of restriction in mind, body and soul, pushing the limits of greatness with laser focus.
“This older version of Tiger is filled with a calming sense of wisdom. He’s softer, but not in the way we negatively attach such labels to others who have presumably lost a step on the competition. This softness is welcome. We can and should all appreciate it as human beings; it’s the culmination and recognition of the time, effort, support and compassion for self and others that lead to such accomplishments or milestones in one’s life. Tiger is now a man who appears proud of himself in a way he couldn’t be before, without the presence of struggle.
“We don’t know what will happen next, but Tiger proved that even if for a single day, you can decimate the competition, be the best player in the world and still have a loving appreciation for yourself, your competitors and everything that makes up the greatest game there ever was.”
John Hughes, PGA Master Professional from Orlando, hopes this is the start of a new Tiger trend.
“My take is two-fold. First, as a true champion, Tiger certainly showed in the past his ability to sustain a performance level, and now has shown that he can come back from adversity. We all should applaud his efforts. Second, for the industry and for those who look up to Tiger, I hope he can sustain his recent success, injury free, and without distraction, while maintaining the humility he has shown. Doing so will calm all his critics, including myself in the past, and further cement his place in the history of all sports, not just golf.”
Got your own take on Tiger 2.0? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment here and we’ll compile your thoughts into a follow-up story.