ANYONE who has observed the world’s No 1 golfer stand statuesquely at the top of his follow through will know it is going to take more than a little knee operation to keep Tiger Woods out of contention at Torrey Pines.
Like Atlas, the Greek titan standing at the end of the earth with the sky hoisted on his broad shoulders, Woods exudes strength and purpose and perhaps a little more well being than the exiled mythological figure was experiencing having been banished there by Zeus. If anyone in golf has the physique to overcome this April’s arthroscopic surgery it is Tiger.
Earlier this month, Woods was named by Men’s Fitness magazine as the “Fittest Guy in America”, selected, said the editors “because of his commitment to being the best and setting the bar, not just for other golfers, but for all athletes”.
They named a number of reasons why they felt that way, including his physical prowess but also alluding to the 32-year-old’s mental strength.
“Because he made himself better, even while he was clearly the best,” Men’s Fitness magazine reasoned. “Because when the shot matters most, he just sticks it. Because he gets even better when challenged.”
It is no surprise then, that when a list of Tiger’s attributes is begun it goes way beyond the possession of merely talent. There is the physical fitness, for sure, also the incredible heart and hunger for success, but let it not be forgotten that the thing that really makes Woods great is his mind.
The examples of this mental fortitude are legion but from this year, one in particular stands out. It came in February, in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, when Woods was trailing JB Holmes by three with five holes to play.
Many would consider the possibility of defeat in such a situation. Tiger? You’re kidding. He just switches on the afterburners to seal a stunning victory.
“I don’t think he doubts anything he does,” Dr Morris Pickens, a sports psychologist whose clients include 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, said recently. “He knows exactly what he wants to do. He knows how he wants to go about it.
“I think Tiger’s not different than anybody. He’s just better than everybody. It’s not that he doesn’t get nervous like other guys do. He just handles it better. It’s not that he doesn’t have negative thoughts like other guys do. He processes them better.”
An indication of how important this aspect of his game is perhaps lies in the fact that Woods does not often talk about his mental approach to the game but it is known this is another area his late father Earl Woods had a great influence on his son from a very early age.
“Dad had all different types of techniques to get into my head,” Woods has said, referring to Earl’s habit of creating distractions when he was playing with him by coughing in his backswing or jingling the coins in his pocket.
“I actually asked him to do it because I wanted to be tough because I wasn’t as physically gifted. I was playing against guys who hit the ball longer than I did, who were better players than I was, and the only way to get better was to get tougher.
“I figured if I didn’t have the physical gifts, I could challenge them on a mental level, be tougher and out-think them.”
Tiger’s mother Tida provided the balance to her Green Beret husband’s military approach by teaching her son Buddhist philosophy.
In his book ‘Zen Golf’ Dr Joseph Parent, who has worked with players including Vijay Singh, writes that Woods’ mother taught him to use his mind as his “main asset”.
“The interesting thing about the Buddhist perspective is that… because you have to do self-improvement through the mind, it really is perfect for a golf career because of the tremendous amount of self-reliance that golfers need,” Parent writes.
“There are no team-mates. There’s nobody to pass the ball to. Golf is an initiatory sport rather than a reactive sport. So your mind is what initiates your action.”
“It’s something you have to find from within,” Woods has said. “You have to keep pushing yourself from within.
“It’s not about what other people think and say. It’s about what you want to accomplish and do you want to go out there and be prepared to beat everyone you play or face.”
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