August 09, 2010

Tiger Woods Has Worst Tournament of Pro Career: On a course where he's won seven times, Tiger Woods finished 18 over at the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. It's his worst finish as a pro. Woods tied for 78th in an 80 player field.

posted by rcade to golf at 10:36 AM - 25 comments

Isn't missing the cut worse than this?

posted by bperk at 10:29 AM on August 09

Since there is no cut at Bridgestone, it's a judgement call. The way he's playing, if there had been a cut, I doubt he'd have been around for weekend.

Unless something dramatic happens with his game, Whistling Straits will be a big challenge for him.

posted by BikeNut at 10:46 AM on August 09

Nah - at least wehn you miss the cut you can go home and stop embarrassing yourself. The WGC events have no cut to miss (otherwise he would have missed it comfortably).

The question is: does this represent the nadir for Woods? Will he come back stronger and hungrier and more determined this week as a result and show well at the PGA?

I suspect not. I suspect he misses the cut at Whistling Straits and decides to pull the plug on the rest of his season (Ryder Cup included) in favour of a serious rethink (of his swing and his life in general). Or maybe that's just what I think he should do. I suspect Nike probably think differently.

posted by JJ at 10:47 AM on August 09

"It'd be a very naive and and a very foolish man to write Tiger Woods off." - Padraig Harrington

posted by JJ at 11:23 AM on August 09

So, JJ, what's wrong with him?

posted by bperk at 11:27 AM on August 09

Leaving aside the obvious discussion of his private life (all of which would be affecting his golf even if he was swinging well), he has a couple of technical issues going on that are crippling him. One of them is a swing issue, the other an equipment issue with his wedges.

The swing issue he acknowledged himself in his press conference yesterday: "The club is behind me. I lower, then try to whip it out in front of me, but it's too late. . . It's not a good combo."

Translation, he gets the club inside the line during his backswing, then lays it off at the top (so that instead of pointing parallel to the target line, it's pointing way off to the left of where he's trying to hit it). To compensate, he then drops everything at the start of the downswing the hands drop, so the arms come too, so the shoulders have to follow, and his head dips. Halfway through the downswing, the club is "behind" him.

From that position, a normal through-swing would see him hit a titanic block, so he has to try and use his hands and whip the clubhead back towards the ball to avoid that. This is pretty much what Sergio [video] does every time, but is very un-Tiger (whose hands used to be so "quiet" because all the big muscles were in the right places). When it was better, Tiger's swing looked like this [video].

The problem is that if his timing isn't spot on when he whips his hands over, he can hit a big hook OR a block/cut, and he can't be sure which one he's risking. His margin for error is very narrow, and the penalties either side of the margin are enormous. The good shots look stunning and go a long way with a really scorching flight (because you're hitting the ball so late in the swing, that the launch angle is very low, but you generate lots of spin and the ball fizzes out low then rises halfway into its flight amateurs oooo and ahhhhh, but it's really not a good sign), but your bad shots are usually cataclysmic.

So he needs to get back on the range and do lots of drills aimed at getting the club into the slot at the top. That takes time, and I gather he's frustrated with how little time he's got at the moment to get on the range. The other issue the equipment problem relates to the rule change at the start of this year when the grooves that most of the players had on their wedges were outlawed because they were generating too much spin and making it possible to stop the ball dead on the green from any kind of lie.

Towards the end of last year the guys started experimenting with new (legal) wedges and figuring out how the ball was going to react. The biggest discovery was that a shot which had become a stock shot for most of them from around 50 yards was no longer possible. I'm talking about the shot where they hit it in low and hard, the ball skips on once, and then comes to a standstill on the second bounce.

What they've found with the new wedges this year is that the ball will now skip on once, drag a bit on the second and third bounces, and then release and roll out. Most players have got the hang of this new shot, but Tiger was absent from the game in the period when most of the others were working that all out. I saw him do it at Augusta lots of times hit chips and pitches that finished 8 or 10 feet past the hole but he's still doing it now and just can't seem to find a new way to play those shots that he's comfortable with.

How to fix it? Same way any of them fix any golfing problem: practice. Lots of it.

posted by JJ at 12:31 PM on August 09

You know I was afraid to click into this post, but that's an awesome response, JJ. I can't say I didn't learn anything new today. Thanks for all that info.

posted by Spitztengle at 12:39 PM on August 09

too bad Haney, who is jedi master of getting the club in slot position, has elected to no longer work with Tiger. Maybe el tigre could ask nicely for him to come back.

posted by mayerkyl at 12:56 PM on August 09

Kudos JJ ... that was about as good an explanation as I've ever heard on anything related to golf.

posted by Ricardo at 12:59 PM on August 09

JJ, do you charge by the hour, or should I purchase a package of lessons ?

Great explanation.

posted by tommytrump at 01:05 PM on August 09

Kudos JJ ... that was about as good an explanation as I've ever heard on anything related to golf.

Amen.

posted by MrNix67 at 01:24 PM on August 09

Well to shorten the explanation - Golf is mostly mental, his head is screwed up because of his recent public demise and therefore he is not playing well.

All of the excuses are just that excuses. Tiger's head is not in his game and it shows. He basically lost the confidence that made him superior to everybody else in the game and now that confidence has been deeply shaken. He was raised to believe he was the second coming and the public reinforced that belief. Once he lost the public reinforcement confirming he was some sort of messiah, he has become human again. Along with being human comes the insecurity, doubt, and other mental issues that are obviously making him play like a mortal.

You can analyze his technique all you want, but this guy did not forget how to swing a club, he realizes now he is not the infallible player or person he was brainwashed to believe he was since he was a child. The result of that realization is that he is just another pro golfer these days. Don't be surprised if he never regains the consistency he once had. First he blamed injury, now the swing is off. The question is not what is wrong with his swing but why.

Just sayin....

posted by Atheist at 02:28 PM on August 09

That's why I directed my question at JJ. I was hoping for a technical analysis. Thanks, JJ.

posted by bperk at 03:26 PM on August 09

How to fix it? Same way any of them fix any golfing problem: practice. Lots of it.

From my outsiders' perspective, it feels as if the weekly grind of the tour has reached a point where it's hard for any top pro in bad form to make the pragmatic choice to opt out of tournaments and take a few weeks of practice -- sponsors' obligations, promotional considerations, etc. Instead, they have to play themselves back into form, which isn't going to be as effective as drilling. (I suppose you get a free weekend if you miss the cut, but that's not going to get you in the right frame of mind.)

Is that just projection? Or if not, when did things start to change? For Woods and his peers at the top, it's clearly a different proposition to that facing a middle-ranking pro for whom prize money pays the mortgage and feeds the family.

posted by etagloh at 04:32 PM on August 09

Holy flurking schnit, I learned more about MY golf swing from that post than from ten years of playing. Thanks, man.

All of the excuses are just that excuses. Tiger's head is not in his game and it shows. He basically lost the confidence that made him superior to everybody else in the game and now that confidence has been deeply shaken. He was raised to believe he was the second coming and the public reinforced that belief. Once he lost the public reinforcement confirming he was some sort of messiah, he has become human again. Along with being human comes the insecurity, doubt, and other mental issues that are obviously making him play like a mortal.

Let's be honest - this is 100% your opinion. You have absolutely nothing to base it on other than it just seems to make sense to you. Now you could be right. But it's conjecture presented as a fact. This shit bugs me, I admit it.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:14 PM on August 09

Let's be honest - this is 100% your opinion. You have absolutely nothing to base it on other than it just seems to make sense to you.

You don't have to have a PhD to be able to diagnose that Tiger is fucked in the head when you listen to what he says in interviews. When anyone tip-toes around the idea his personal life may be the cause of his golf problems, he stares the individual down and repeatedly says "It's been a tough year." I'm sure every mechanical fault JJ pointed out is 100 percent accurate, but the guy didn't all of a sudden forget how to swing a club. His problems have taken his once-focused concentration and pulled it away from his game. Woods probably thinks he IS concentrating, but he's not. I'm not a fantastic golfer, but I can play OK. But this year I can't do one freakin' thing on the course, and it's not because may game has changed. It's because there are so many other things on my mind, from family to work, etc., that my concentration is not there. I feel like it is when I'm standing on the course, over shots, but later on, when I have time to think about it, I realize my mind was wandering. Mechanics can be coached, but the mind is much, much more complex than Tiger Woods or any other golfer or swing coach there is.

posted by dyams at 09:06 PM on August 09

Yeah, again, I don't get where you are so sure he's not concentrating out there. He looks like he's concentrating. But you're acting like it's a fact that he's not. How do you know he's not concentrating?

He's playing badly that's for sure. He's awful right now, his swing sucks, he can't read putts and he's fighting every inch of the course. It's probably related to his off course problems, but it's mostly just idle speculation. What would you say if he came back and won next week? Would it mean all those problems you've noted are gone? Or he would be concentrating better? Or is he never going to be the same player? I mean - what''s your point with all this armchair psychology?

Oh forget it. I've already spent too much time thinking about this. I'm not sure I even have a point anymore.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 09:46 PM on August 09

Tiger's concentration levels have always been unique. Most guys use some technique or other to switch on and switch off during a round (Nicklaus for example used to look at his ball as he walked up to it and as soon as he was close enough to assess the lie, he'd switch on; the moment he struck it, he switched off, last month Louis Oosthuizen used a glance at a red spot drawn on his glove to snap himself to mental attention), but Tiger at his peak seemed to stay in the zone throughout the round. That's incredibly difficult to do, but seemed to suit his personality and the image he was trying to convey as an untouchable guy above and beyond everyone.

At the moment it seems to me that if anything he's concentrating too much and trying too hard to stay in the zone. The sunglasses at Augusta were (I think) a psychological trigger. He took them off as he approached the ball, kept them off while he hit it, then put them back on as he walked to his next shot. I suspect he'd discussed or decided that when the glasses were on, the mind was allowed to wander, but the moment they came off, he had to snap back into the zone. It's not too much of a stretch also to assume that to some extent he was hiding behind them (as Duval, Mahan and many others do almost permanently).

I prefaced my technical blurb above with a leaving aside of his mental state, but really I agree with Atheist that it's far more of a factor in his current bad play than his swing issues. He's had technical issues before and managed to still put scores together, seemingly by sheer force of will, but this time his mind doesn't seem strong enough to make up for his physical issues.

Golf works backwards. Bad putting can start a chain reaction. If your putting goes off the boil, that puts pressure on your chipping because you know you've got to get it close to the hole in order to make sure you get up and down. That pressure makes you chip badly and then you feel more pressure on your approach shots because you know you're not certain to make par if you miss the green. That pressure makes you tighten up over your iron shots and puts more pressure on your driving because hitting the fairway is suddenly far more important and on and on.

With putting there are obviously some rules of technique that you need to observe, but generally the technique is simple to master and it becomes a concentration game. When Tiger was at his peak, we all saw him hole any number of putts from 20 feet and in that he seemed to just concentrate into the hole. He imposed his will. Maybe half a dozen times in a round I'll get over a putt and become so focused on it that by the time I hit it I simply know it's going to drop; one gets the feeling that Tiger was able to manufacture that feeling for nearly every "holeable" putt he stood over when he was playing well. The occasional putt he missed was nearly always accompanied by a look of utter incomprehension on his face (and followed by that most annoying of professional golfing habits; going back to have another look at the line of a putt you just missed).

In a way, that summed up Tiger's attitude to golf. It's a game about kidding yourself. It's a game about not thinking about the millimetre-wide margins between success and failure. It's like running up a flight of stairs. If you just do it, you're very unlikely to fall; if you do it whilst thinking about all the individual muscles working in unison to make it happen, or about the potential for disaster if you put a foot wrong, it makes it far more likely that you'll fall.

When Tiger failed at golf, it was never his fault. He didn't make excuses, but he could explain away failure in a manner that meant it never haunted him. The course wasn't suited to his game. The greens weren't running true. He faced the worst of the weather over the four days. He'd come up with anything except the one thing he has had to come out in public and say about the rest of his life: it was my fault. I did it wrong.

Perhaps that sense of responsibility for his actions is now seeping into his golf. A bad shot is no longer just "one of those things" that he can forget and move past. Perhaps he's haunted by them now like a normal mortal. Perhaps his ability to kid himself has diminished.

The mental side is far more important than the physical side, but without a sound physical technique, your brain will always be fighting to keep you in the game, instead of providing that little bit extra to make you excel. Even if he could magic wand his whole personal life back into shape, the peace of mind that would follow wouldn't be enough to get the club into the slot at the top of his backswing. The technical issues can be fixed in a matter of hours and drilled back into his game in a matter of weeks with hard work. The focus is going to take longer and is going to be far more elusive.

You only get one shot at having an air of impregnability. Once competitors see that your faade is merely that, they'll breach it again and again. Ogilvy put it best in the wake of the scandal he can never again be what he was, but he could reinvent himself as something even scarier.

posted by JJ at 06:31 AM on August 10

From my outsiders' perspective, it feels as if the weekly grind of the tour has reached a point where it's hard for any top pro in bad form to make the pragmatic choice to opt out of tournaments and take a few weeks of practice -- sponsors' obligations, promotional considerations, etc. Instead, they have to play themselves back into form, which isn't going to be as effective as drilling. (I suppose you get a free weekend if you miss the cut, but that's not going to get you in the right frame of mind.)

Is that just projection? Or if not, when did things start to change? For Woods and his peers at the top, it's clearly a different proposition to that facing a middle-ranking pro for whom prize money pays the mortgage and feeds the family.

I'd agree that there is far less time to practice now than there used to be. I'd say that changed when Tiger arrived and prize money went through the roof. For the top guys there are so many commitments each week either to tournament organisers (to play in a pro-am or do press conferences) or to their own sponsors to attend dinners or meet competition winners or whatever. For the guys in the lower echelons, the pressure is different. There is simply so much money involved nearly every single week that it's a luxury few of them can afford to take a week or two off just to practice. For a struggling pro, most Thursday mornings see you standing there on the first tee with a clean slate and you know you're just four really good rounds away from a million dollars. All of the guys on the tour can shoot low numbers. All of them know that their best golf will be tough for anyone to beat in any given week. You'd kick yourself if you took a week off and by Thursday you were hitting it brilliantly on the range!

I saw yesterday that Sergio has said he's taking two months off after the PGA, unless he wins or finishes high enough up (think he needs top 3) to get on the Ryder Cup team, in which case he'd play on and take a break after that. As he said in the press conference, he hasn't had a prolonged break from golf since he turned pro in 1999 and he's reached the point where he needs to "miss it a bit" instead of feeling every week like it's a chore. Sounds to me like he's also unburdening Monty of the task of having to tell him he's not getting a pick if he doesn't play his way into the team.

Tiger might do well to follow his example.

posted by JJ at 06:42 AM on August 10

Take from this what you will:

List of players to finish in the top 5 in at least 2 of the 3 majors this year:

Phil Mickelson (Masters, US Open)
Lee Westwood (Masters, British Open)
Tiger Woods (Masters, US Open)

I'm not quite ready to write off Woods in the PGA Championship.

posted by grum@work at 12:35 PM on August 10

Absolutely. Confidence is a funny thing. A decent hour or two on the range today or tomorrow followed by a decent first round score (especially one containing lots of putts holed) and Woods is more than capable of kidding himself into thinking that everything is just fine, at least for three more days. Sometimes all it takes is a tip or a thought from a coach, or another player, or from a dusty memory, and suddenly having that focal point makes a lot of the other extraneous stuff (with his swing and maybe even his life) drop out of sight for long enough that you can string together some decent golf and win something.

Or maybe I'm just projecting now as the Club Championships approach this weekend and I start thinking I've got a sniff of winning.

posted by JJ at 01:10 PM on August 10

Oh forget it. I've already spent too much time thinking about this. I'm not sure I even have a point anymore.

I appreciate your point. There is nothing more irritating than watching a game, baseball for example, and hearing the analyst describe in detail what's going on in the players head.

Yes, I'm sure a LOT is going on in Tigers head. I'm sure there are many players that have more problems in their heads than their game. But beyond that, its nothing but guessing. Psychology is like Photography today. Everyone does it, most have no idea what they're doing.

And thanks for the insights JJ.

posted by justgary at 01:39 PM on August 10

I'm not quite ready to write off Woods in the PGA Championship.

I am. If he can't avoid humiliation at Akron, where's he going to play well?

For all of the talk about Tiger's head, I'm wondering whether the real problem is his surgically repaired knee.

posted by rcade at 01:54 PM on August 10

Well first I want to thank JJ for all his insights as obviously he is extremely knowledgeable regarding both the physical/technical issues as well as the mental issues. For Weedy, I don't play golf personally and frankly all my posts reflect my opinion. I did not think it necessary to preface my statements that is was my opinion. It was just my opinion as to what is happening with Woods but it is a fact that professional golf is as much mental as it is physical. Maybe more so. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to connect the dots where Woods is concerned. For the record everybody who participates in this type of forum discussion regarding sports is just doing it for the sake of "armchair whatever" That's the fun of it.

I am not writing Woods' career off but IMO he has lived a charmed golf life and his father began teaching him, actually brainwashing him almost as if he were hypnotized into believing he was above it all from the earliest of ages. Now it appears he is shaken by the events of the last year to a point that he can't perform to his skill level. If enough people think you are great it is easy to believe it. When suddenly they are not reinforcing that belief, it must be quite hard to adjust.

I think another point is that where as most golfers are pleased to finish in the top 5 or 10 in a major tournament, Tigers mindset has always been anything less than winning is a disappointment. I imagine that might explain why as his performances are getting worse and worse, mentally his issues must be getting bigger and bigger.

I had a friend that played on the UCLA golf team and my nephew is on the Cal State Northridge team. Both guys are scratch golfers and quite often shoot in the high sixties. When I ask them why they don't go pro I get a long list of reasons but it seems the most important of them is the mental requirements needed to play better than par golf consistently under extreme pressure over a long period of time. As my friend says, it is one thing to shoot a 67 once in a while but to do it every round over a tournament while the pressure of the money vs expenses, with everybody watching and against the best in the world is an entirely different story. Something that Tiger Woods was at one time the best in the world at. Now it seems not so much.

posted by Atheist at 01:56 PM on August 10

Yeah, I take my criticism back. It was not really warranted. I don't quite know what I was up to yesterday.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:45 PM on August 10

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