Teed Off (Oct. 20, 2013)
with Robert Bicknell
Last week, I wrote about the importance of being able to score, even when the swing isn't there. Those of you who took the time to read the column, instead of immediately cutting it out for the birdcage or cat litter box, would have seen that a lot of it has to do with being strong mentally.
That's true and more importantly, we can see it in both Rory McIlroy's and Tiger Woods's performances this past year.
Rory, as we all know, jumped ship to a new club manufacturer - Nike, which we also know produces some of the finest sporting goods on the planet…except for its golf clubs and golf balls - which nobody will ever convince me belong in the same sentence as Titleist or TaylorMade.
He was then thrown into a commercial relationship with Tiger Woods, played golf with ex-US President Bill Clinton, had a superstar girlfriend who was just as popular as he was, and was constantly besieged by the media for interviews.
That's pretty heady stuff for a kid to handle, so is it any wonder why the kid's head simply wasn't on straight for a while?
Rory has since dumped his girlfriend for a Twitter post of Rory sleeping while wearing really geeky glasses with his mouth hanging open. Good call, Rory. Now maybe you can get on with your game.
As for Tiger Woods, not much to explain there.
Tiger was caught In flagrante delicto so many times he made Hugh Hefner look like a saint. He lost his wife, his kids, his sponsors and his face. Imagine someone as fiercely private as Tiger having his entire life laid bare for the world to see in a message he couldn't control for once?
Tiger's second problem is fixing what isn't broken. When you're on top of your game and considered virtually unbeatable, why in the world would anyone futz around with what brought you to the dance? Its insanity.
I've seen Tiger's "new" swing and I am far from impressed. As far as I am concerned, he had a better swing in college and later with Butch Harmon than he did with Hank Haney or Sean Foley.
Tiger's game doesn't come from his swing, it comes from inside and that's the part of the equation which is lacking right now. With everything that has gone on in his life, he needs to find himself and his confidence again. It's like starting over from the first day he joined the PGA Tour. The mystique is gone, the image of invulnerability is gone. It's just Tiger chasing a legend but this time around, nobody will be caught flat-footed like last time and nobody is gonna lie down and play for second place anymore.
Can Rory and Tiger come back to where everyone thinks they should be?
This is one of those unanswerable questions because it is all up to them and how their mental state is during tournaments.
I said it months ago, Tiger will only start to win majors once he has looked deep inside and made peace with himself. Winning a regular tournament is nothing for him. In his mind they count as much as a Sunday four-ball with friends. He's looking for the big prize and Nicklaus' record.
And to do that, he has to be supremely confident in his abilities, unquestionably sound in his mind and calm in his heart. To me, he hasn't reached that state yet and, I'm not sure he can be supremely confident in his swing because it isn't a natural movement. It's a bit too complicated and not something you can rely on under pressure. That's why I liked his college swing and what he had under Butch Harmon.
We also have to remember that Tiger isn't young anymore and, with age, comes the inability to shake off injuries as quickly as before. I would counsel Tiger to dial back the power a notch, focus more on accuracy and play "smart."
I remember a friend who used to be a two-handicap until his business went sour. He asked me to look at his swing and there was nothing wrong. It was all in his head. He wasn't pure of mind, heart and purpose anymore. Work had him tangled up.
He recovered and so will Tiger and Rory, once they get their heads sorted out. — VNS