By John Wunder
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.