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Opinion & Analysis

Things that scare Tiger Woods (not Rory)

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By Zak Kozuchowski

GolfWRX Managing Editor

There’s a list of things that scare Tiger Woods, and despite what Greg Norman told FoxSports.com on Tuesday, being intimidated by Rory McIlroy is not one of them.

As McIlroy said in his press conference before the Tour Championship, “How could some little 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with a few wins come up and intimidate him?”

He’s right.

McIlroy is the most gifted golfer on the planet not named Tiger Woods. McIlroy is also extremely hot right now — he’s won three of the last four tournaments he’s played, including an 8-shot shellacking of the field at the PGA Championship.

But Woods has 74 PGA Tour victories, a list that includes 14 majors and 16 World Golf Championships. He also spent 623 ranked as the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Rankings, dealing with injuries and swing changes the whole way. While Woods fell to as low as No. 58 in the world in August 2011, he climbed back to No. 2 in less than a year. Doesn’t sound like a player who is intimidated, does it?

Despite what we once thought, Woods is not bulletproof. Off the golf course, he has undergone a life changing scandal that resulted in divorce, public mockery and a new level of criticism for golf analysts. These scars alone were a more formidable opponent than any of his competitors.

Yet Tiger has battled back from his self-inflicted hell, winning three times in 2012 and showing flashes of the old brilliance along the way. While the road toward Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship wins should seem easier now than it did a year ago, Woods still has real threats to fear in the future.

Woods joked that he might be scared of McIlroy’s hair, but here are three things that actually scare Woods — much more than McIlroy and his youthful locks.

His health

Woods shocked no one when he said in his press conference before the Tour Championship that he’s never been intimidated by another golfer.

“No one the size of Ray Lewis is going to hit me coming over the middle, so this is a different kind of sport,” Woods said.  “It’s not like you go over the middle and some guy is 255 pounds and going to take your block off. This is about execution and going about your own business and see where it ends up at the end of the day.”

Woods has always said that he only enters tournaments when he thinks he can win. Like all of golf’s greats, he usually wins tournaments when he plays his best. But even though Woods is a golfer, his injuries are more similar to those of a football player. He’s had four surgeries on his left knee, becoming more fragile with each operation. He’s also sustained injuries to the muscles in his lower legs, back and neck. This makes it rare to see Woods play a tournament without limping or grimacing, meaning Woods has an equal chance of winning as he does withdrawing from events.

His swing

Many wealthy people buy new cars because they get tired of driving their old ones. Woods has changed his golf swing three times in his career under the tutelage of thee different instructors, giving the impression that he gets tired of winning with his old swing.

Woods’ most recent swing change under Sean Foley has been his most radical, drawing scathing criticism from analysts such as Brandel Chamblee, Johnny Miller, Peter Alliss and many others. Woods has said that his new swing is helping him drive it further and straighter and his statistics agree — he’s ranked 34th in driving distance in 2012, up from 71st in 2011, and 45th in driving accuracy, up from 186th last year. He’s also 8th in ball striking this year, up from 186th in 2011.

But Woods turns 37 in December, and because of his questionable health he needs to give himself as many chances as possible to win major championships. Even if the swing change under Foley is incorrect and it limits him to hitting mostly cut shots, another swing change would further delay his pursuit of Nicklaus’ record. For this reason, Woods would be better off dealing with a one-dimensional swing and hoping for a hot putter than to go back to the drawing board with another swing coach.

His putting

Speaking of his putter, Woods isn’t putting like he used to. And if Woods has lost his nerve, he’s also lost his dominance. We’ll likely know the answer to that question when Woods faces a putt to win a major championship. Until then, Woods needs to find a way to hole more putts — whether that means working on his mechanics or his patience is a decision only he can make.

In the last two FedExCup events that McIlroy has won, McIlroy has shot a combined 40-under and Woods has shot 35-under. Any professional golfer can say that they would have won a tournament if not for a few missed putts, but when Woods says that it means something — he’s easily the greatest clutch putter of all time.

McIlroy was asked at the Tour Championship press conference if he was intimidated by Tiger. He answered that intimidated wasn’t the right word.

” [I was] More just in awe of what he’s done, of his accomplishments, of his achievements, but never intimidated,” McIlroy said.

If Woods starts putting like he used to, however, McIlroy will have plenty reason to be intimidated. Like Woods took majors away from Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els in their prime, he could also steal them from McIlroy with a hot putter.

But that’s an enormous “if.”

It makes no sense that Woods would be intimidated by McIlroy, but it does make sense that Tiger could be jealous of him. McIlroy has everything Tiger had at the age of 23 — time was on his side, as was his health, his golf swing and his putting stroke. Now, Tiger doesn’t just have to beat all the golfers that tee it up in major championships, including McIlroy, he has to beat the clock. And as Woods’ hairline shows, right now he’s losing.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Carter

    Sep 22, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Tiger’s only fear is that the ghost of his future can’t live up to the ghost of his past.

  2. Richard

    Sep 21, 2012 at 4:01 am

    74 PGA wins 30 plus European wins and the list goes on and on

  3. Richard

    Sep 21, 2012 at 3:59 am

    Golf can change overnight Rory is doing very well right now but tiger record is just amazing 142 cuts made in a row 10 years domination 623 weeks world no1 and still winning tournaments

  4. JakeAzgolf

    Sep 21, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Golfchannel was so hung up on people saying that they call Rory the intimidator. haha love to watch Rory play but come back when your name is Tiger Woods!!!!!!!!!! #comeatmebro

  5. redsemen

    Sep 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    rory will not win 10 majors

  6. Sean

    Sep 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Tiger has 14 major championships, he does not give a %^&$ about anything or anybody. For all i care Tiger Woods could be at home doing the hammertime. # “cant touch this”

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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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