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Opinion & Analysis

Spartans v. Robots: Tiger and Rory’s advantage

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By John Wunder

GolfWRX Contributor

It’s the year 2000 and I am in Palm Desert, Calif. It’s 7:30 a.m. and at this point I had already ran 3 miles, worked out and practiced my short game. Now it’s range time and I’m working on whatever David Leadbetter model swing I’m copying at the moment.

It’s a struggle. I never was proficient in angles and to be honest never really took direction that well, but it’s the Tiger era and with the run he’s been on for the last 12 months we were ALL trying to become the machine he was. But what we all became were robots.

Now that Rory McIlroy has stepped up as the person who we will depend on to carry golf for the foreseeable future, it’s important to understand what his advantage is over most everyone (Eldrick included).

Rory is the first player beyond Woods in the last 15 years that truly plays “Spartan” golf. He’s the best combination of heart and talent we have in the game. He has no fear, no doubt, no second-guessing or even an ego to get in the way. He feels the game, as one should.

Even when he melted down at Augusta in 2011, he still tallied forth knowing that he would have many more cracks at redemption. Like a true Spartan, having no fear of losing gives you the greatest advantage. When a player allows himself to take his hands off the steering wheel, it frees that player up to evolve while maintaining his gifts.

Fred Couples had this down to his core, and still does. People argue that he had a balky putter, but I disagree. His biggest problem was his back. Couples has said that when he was healthy he was free to let it rip. He didn’t even need a yardage — his instincts and feel just took over.

When the Tiger era began it was hard to deny that if you did what he did your best golf was right around the corner. We thought it was possible to perfect each aspect of our games and in essence control how we played. What we forgot was that Tiger at that time had what Rory now possesses. He understood the concept of tomorrow and trusted that it wasn’t the club getting stuck behind him or a few missed 3 footers that would keep him from getting what he wanted. It was his ability wake up the next day knowing that his talents were ingrained and ultimately the ball would find the hole (quickly, as we would learn).

Those that became robots are numerous, but I will use Charles Howell as an example. CH3 still happens to be one of my favorite players to follow, because what’s not to like? He crushes it, loves every aspect of the game and you would be hard pressed to find a better soul in the game. But what we forget is that as a junior Howell played with just as much feel and instinct as anyone.

I recall Johnny Miller saying during the 1996 U.S. Amateur that Howell had played against his son Andy in a tournament and that he was “as good a putter as he had ever seen.” And it was true, he was a young Watson with the putter. No fear at all. Even when he turned pro he still had that instinct throughout his bag. But Howell chased Tiger too hard and became a Robot — there was too much data in his computer.

I’m just a part of the peanut gallery and that I will never truly understand the process of playing at that level, but hey, I’m a fan. The group that chased Tiger around weren’t improving themselves by doing what he did, but only playing into his hands. Howell has many good years ahead of him and I reckon with a little nostalgia and perhaps a recon mission to find his old gauzed up Ping B-60 he will fulfill his destiny of putting on a Green Jacket.

Take a hard look at who used to get the best of Tiger or at least challenge him — Fiori, May, a young untamed Garcia, Beem, Furyk, Cabrera. All grass roots homemade players who trusted only their instincts. In golf, a robot will never prevail over a Spartan. Sure, some of the names mentioned had only flashes of greatness, but for those moments in time it wasn’t perfect golf they played to compete with him — it was the simple fact that they allowed themselves to play the best golf of their lives. The legends allow that everyday.

Now, back to Rory and today’s new model. Look at a leaderboard today and see if you can consistently find any Robots. Not Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, or Keegan Bradley. Graeme McDowell is another great example of the new Spartan golfer. He’s a throwback to the days when great shots were a creation, not a manufactured item.

My point is that there is no future in denying your instincts, especially in golf. Mickelson has tweaked quite a bit but his instincts have never changed. Phil trusts that in battle, his instincts will take over and he has the knowledge to allow that to happen. Of course disasters happen, but in golf mistakes are made and Phil knows it’s ok. Tomorrow is a new day.

I hope that Rory continues to play with the instinct and the trust that he already has. That’s all he needs to dominate. The other new Spartans will battle and I’ll be honest, winning 10-plus majors for himd may be much tougher than it was for Tiger. He’s not out battling Robots like Tiger was, he’s fighting other like minded Spartans who go to war with the tools that they have depended on since they started.

As for Tiger, it’s obvious that the events of the past few years mentally have affected his game and we’ll see if he’ll remain a Robot with information analysis. Ever seen Top Gun? The story of Cougar says it all.

“I’m holding on too tight… I’ve lost the edge.”

Trust me when I say that we are closer to the glory days of Jack, Arnie and Gary than ever before. Prepare for a wild ride.

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

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John Wunder was born in Seattle, Wash., and grew up playing at Rainier G&CC. He moved to Southern California when he had the rare opportunity of working in the Anaheim Angels clubhouse and has been living in Cali. ever since. He has a severe passion/addiction for the game and has been a member of GolfWRX since 2005. He now works as the Director of Development and Production for The Coalition Group in Los Angeles, Calif.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Chris C

    Nov 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Great article. Applicable to (obviously) many other fields. In 2012, politics particularly comes to mind.

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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