By JAMIE MULLIGAN, PGA, with Greg Flores
It was Sunday afternoon after a long week and I was sitting in my chair watching Tiger play at Torrey Pines. As the round progressed, it became increasingly clear: Tiger looked comfortable on the golf course – and that has not always been the case over the last few years.
I remember a time when Tiger was absolutely the best player I had ever seen. He was going to reset the bar for all of history. On this weekend at Torrey Pines, he was “vintage” Tiger. The ultimate player doing his stuff as only he can – and making it look easy.
I fell in love with the game organically at a young age. I’ve had the opportunity to hear stories of how icons like Hogan and Nelson worked on their games throughout their prime from people who were there. I’ve had the opportunity to watch greats like Snead, Watson, Nicklaus and Faldo in person. For me, golf always has been about playing. And, ultimately, playing great week to week equals winning.
The reasons why Tiger wins are almost too many to list, but I’ll take a shot at it.
Mentally, nobody ever has been more consistent with preparation and process. For instance, practice rounds are true practice rounds. Tiger’s conversation with other players is limited to small talk. Every step taken is business-like and with purpose. No player has had a better understanding of what the golf course architect wanted. Nobody ever has had simpler communication methods with his caddy.
On the course, nobody ever has hit more right shots at the right time – whether it’s in the long game, short game or with the putter. To be more specific, nobody ever has moved the longer clubs away from trouble or used the wind better. Nobody ever has used his power more efficiently. Nobody ever has flighted the ball better. Nobody has a more diverse short game. Nobody is more capable of hitting the right shot the right way, and placing the shot where he wants it even when the ball is not struck perfectly. Nobody is more committed to playing the proper shot to get back into play. Nobody gets into the mode of addressing the ball better. Nobody has better posture over the ball. Nobody sights the intermediate target line better, although Nicklaus was close.
With the putter, nobody has believed in their ability more in terms of making big putts. Nobody has judged the speed and break of the greens better. Nobody has trusted himself more on short putts.
In terms of athleticism, nobody ever has been more fit and flexible enough to do all the things he needs to do in order to win, even when injured. Nobody has been more diligent about putting all of his effort into playing his game. Nobody ever has wanted to win more – and soon his records will show that nobody ever has won more.
We always talk about the combination of effort and the “process” or “plan” and it’s no wonder why Tiger’s process results in perhaps the greatest champion this game ever has seen. Regardless of what swing method golfers are using, people need to study the way Tiger goes about his process. Growing up, I’ve met or known all of his instructors and have watched him play since he was 5 years old. Although I might not completely agree from a technical standpoint on everything he’s working on, I know he’s committed to the process. I would guess he could switch techniques again and continue to win. He’s just that good. Golf is about playing – nobody ever has done it better. Golf is about winning – and nobody ever has done it better.
It’s a pleasure to sit back in my chair and watch all of this. Hopefully, it will last a very long time. And if not, I feel privileged to have been able to watch him grow for the past 30 years. He has the commitment to get it done in a sport where most don’t.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about great athletes after all these years, it’s that it takes total commitment to play great on a consistent basis. Arguably, no other athlete, regardless of sport, ever has been more committed to what they are doing than Tiger Woods.
Jamie Mulligan is chief operating officer at Long Beach’s Virginia Country Club and a PGA teaching professional who currently works with several tour pros.