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A master professional’s thoughts on Tiger’s comeback

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Ever since Tiger Woods was a little boy, he has excelled at golf. His junior, amateur and collegiate career is the stuff of legends. The record speaks for itself. Consider this one alone: from 1991-1996, Tiger Woods was 36-0 in all USGA amateur events. He was the ultimate prodigy. Golf came easy to Tiger and at every age, in every level of competition, he was the best by any measure. Winning was all Tiger ever knew. “Second is the first loser” he was quick to remind us. And sure enough, he was rarely second. And this trend continued right into the first 12 years of his professional career.

Fast forward to the 42-year-old professional attempting a comeback on the PGA Tour. We have the obvious differences: older, injured, battle worn, and some say distracted; yet at times, still capable of producing a very high level of golf. Good enough to win again? Who knows, but one thing seems clear; probably not capable of dominating again, not capable of producing anything like what we all became accustomed to for so long. We took his greatness for granted in a sense, and it’s quite possible that Tiger did, too. According to Hank Haney, Tiger even considered walking away from professional golf for a more “exciting” career in the military. He got “bored” being on top of the golf mountain and considered new mountains to climb.

And therein may be the issue with the comeback. This might be the first time that golf is anything resembling difficult for Tiger Woods. And clearly, it is the very first time he cannot beat the competition almost at will. If that seems unusual to us, one can only imagine what it must be like to Woods. At the ripe golfing age of 42, the greatest winner the sport has ever known no longer wins. At times, he does not even seem competitive.

The real questions to be answered about his comeback is this: How long can Tiger accept not winning, not dominating? How much inner drive does he still have to get back to the top? Or near it. How long can he actually tolerate golf being a struggle? Can he accept being a middle of the pack PGA Tour pro? Does he have the level of self-belief he once had, or has all this new adversity diminished it to an “also ran”level? We don’t know, and he doesn’t know because this situation is new to everyone.

Let’s face it, Tiger has nothing left to prove and he is wealthy beyond imagination. One would have to assume that getting back to the top might be a battle Tiger may ultimately not be willing to fight. Having always succeeded as he did, he very likely underestimated this comeback. Who could blame him for assuming he’d win again just by showing up? Now halfway through the comeback season, he has come to the realization that there is a very long way to go, a huge mountain to scale. Who knows what he’ll decide to do?

I’m writing this on the day he tried a new putter in competition. Changing a golf club, THE golf club, that has won more than 100 events worldwide indicates a lack of confidence as much as a need for more modern equipment. If the putting stroke has changed and the new putter is more adapted to the new stroke, that is understandable. But nobody in his camp has mentioned anything changing about the putting stroke. So why the need for a new club?

In any case, all the analyses of his comeback seem to deal with his poor putting, erratic driving, proximity to hole etc., and I’m not saying it isn’t these things. I’m merely suggesting that those struggles are not in the swing or of the physical nature. Possibly, the cause of those unusual errors starts before he even draws it back.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Dave r

    Jul 4, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    He’s DONE . ITS GOLF GET OVER IT!

  2. Dennis

    Jul 4, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    First of all, no one is a bigger fan of or has any more respect for what Tiger has done for professional golf than I. This article says that perhaps for the first time, the inner self belief that he possessed to a greater degree than any player ever, he does not currently have. Simply that nothing more. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and play with Tiger, and can tell you first hand he’s the consummate professional and all around good dude. I hope his comeback is successful and breaks every record on the books, because he is the best I’ve ever seen. To do that he’ll need to get back to thinking the way he did when he was winning.

    If you differ my with my opinion, please feel free to do so. I’d love to hear anyone else’s opinion, but to attack me personally says absolutely nothing on the subject.

  3. Mario

    Jul 4, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    After Dennis gives a couple lessons he likes to come into the men’s locker room at Southpointe Golf Club and eat all of the candy that Mike purchases with his own money and then leave the wrappers all over the place.

    This article doesn’t surprise me.

  4. Ed Young

    Jul 4, 2018 at 11:30 am

    I would have expected more from someone in your position. Your comments & thoughts are grossly premature. The guy is 6 months into his comeback from what would have been a career ending situation for most…and he’s already had a great year by most tour pros standards.

    Yes, Tiger is far from most tour pro’s and has set the bar so high, people like yourself lose sight of what this guy has been through the last few years. The fact that he’s even playing is incredible never mind knocking on the door of winning again. Which, he no doubt will. It’s not a matter of if…it’s when.

  5. moses

    Jul 4, 2018 at 10:03 am

    This has got to be an all time low. Congrats on the 1% approval rating.

  6. Andrew Cooper

    Jul 4, 2018 at 4:35 am

    Excellent article Dennis. Whether Woods can return to the top will depend on more than just his swing and putting stroke and stats, it will be a matter of whether or not he has the strength and energy, physically and mentally, to grind his way all the way back. At 42, and with all he’s accomplished and been through, he’s not going to be content being an also ran.

  7. Jack

    Jul 4, 2018 at 3:25 am

    It’s not like Tiger is playing like a regular tour pro. He’s actually playing very well. He’s up to OWGR 67 now. Most guys would be ecstatic a few tournaments in coming for OWGR 1000+ when he first came back. Keep going, he will probably win a tournament here and there and that would be a solid 2018 come back for him. Then in 2019 people would start expecting more again.

    The criticism on Tiger not changing his putting stroke? I don’t know if he did, but the master pro didn’t even bother to look at any film to check. Pro’s change putters just like amateurs do. It’s to get a new putting feel and to putt better.

  8. Kool Aid

    Jul 4, 2018 at 1:59 am

    Feel sorry for the Author, don’t quit your day job, whatever that is

  9. 8thehardway

    Jul 3, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    “And therein may be the issue with the comeback. This might be the first time that golf is anything resembling difficult for Tiger Woods.”

    This sentence illustrates a major difference between facile observation and actual insight… had you compared his current struggles with those of one of your students there might have been something instructive to impart; don’t ignore what it is to be human, striving and struggling – regardless of outcome, that’s the song of us.

  10. CrashTestDummy

    Jul 3, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Tiger definitely has the game to win again. He has been contending in quite a few tournaments of late while beating a lot of top 20 players in the fields while he has some obvious flaws in his game (putting issues and ball striking mainly off the tee with a few errant shots). If he gets stuff cleaned up, he will be contending a lot.

    The putter switch is just testing stuff for the British. If he is sinking a ton of putts with the new putter, you may see it at the British. However, sometimes you need to mix things up to get a different feel in order to reinforce what is the putter you really like.

  11. Deejaymn

    Jul 3, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    A healthy season is a success, so far, check. Then a win is gravy on top this year. He’s obviously getting there, he had as many birdies this week as the eventual winner. Has to clean up the mistakes but that takes more rounds and cleaning up his putting, specially from 10 feet and in. But if he’s healthy it’s a success. Enjoy the climb, crab in a bucket.

  12. dat

    Jul 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    In to the trash this goes.

  13. Phil D. Snuts

    Jul 3, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    You know as a kid I wondered what it was like to watch Babe Ruth play baseball. So let’s stop all the pre-toldyaso arguments, sit back, and watch what could be the greatest come back in golf maybe even sports history. We can enjoy the expert analysis from has been, never was and never will he’s later.

    • K

      Jul 3, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      You CANNOT judge a person before they are done. Heck from most the interviews ive seen Tiger seems to mostly just be having fun playing with the guys.Yea he shows frustration sometimes but thats what this game does to all of us. Hes had 3 top 5 finishes and is currently 47th on FedEx list. Not too bad considering about a year ago he couldnt even put a full swing on a club.

      • Chuck Barkley

        Jul 4, 2018 at 2:37 am

        Ok, if we are NOT to JUDGE a person, especially golfers before they are done, WHY are we HALL OF FAMING them before they are DONE? DUMBEST thing I have EVER heard of!!

    • Jim Mcfarlane

      Jul 5, 2018 at 6:13 pm

      I believe we’ve seen the greatest comeback already. Doctors said Ben Hogan would not walk after his accident with a bus and he won Eleven times including six majors!

  14. kevin

    Jul 3, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    You know what’s worse that a shank?….. This article

  15. Sean

    Jul 3, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    You contradict yourself. The substance behind this article is nothing but fluff gut opinions.

  16. orangeology

    Jul 3, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    tell this master professional sir to keep on what he’s been the master like those achievements in his intro that is nearly longer than the article. and pls tell him to stop writing a pointless junk and stop wasting ppl’s time. please. like-shank ratio will tell.

    • Phil D. Snuts

      Jul 3, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Master huckster if you ask me. Sounds like a range pro I know that won’t give lessons until someone buys their latest and greatest $2,500 set of last years painted clubs. Yeah I know a master pro with merchandiser of the year cred.

  17. Joe

    Jul 3, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Its almost as if this guy isn’t watching Tiger at all. He is playing top ten golf only 10 tournaments into his comeback- making cuts and showing up on leaderboards. He’s obviously good enough to win again you moron. Laziest article I’ve seen on here in a while.

  18. Lefty

    Jul 3, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    The narrative on Tiger is ever-changing. A few months ago he was never coming back. Shortly into his return – when will he win again? Fast forward a few more tournaments and some great play… he will never be the same.

    Tiger is great. He has been great. He will be great. His iron and wedge play is fantastic. The PGA has talent has changed over the last few years. There are a ton of really good players capable of winning each week. Never before has the PGA had this many great players. It is going to be tough for him to win, but does he not have the talent to do so? How can anyone say that? His swing speed is off the charts, his short game is tremendous, his iron/wedge play is top notch.

    He will win again and once he wins the first time the flood gates will open for more wins. Will he win another major? Who knows… but him coming back to golf is a great thing for the sport.

    This piece is pure garbage.

  19. s

    Jul 3, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Articles like this are nothing more than a stroke of the ego in case Tiger doesn’t win again. That way the author can tell all his buddies “I told you so”.

  20. moses

    Jul 3, 2018 at 11:54 am

    In poker lingo this article is a DONK move.

  21. RP

    Jul 3, 2018 at 11:15 am

    This will probably be the article with the biggest shank to likes ratio. Amazing how some people get paid to write things like this. Smh

    • Carson Henry

      Jul 3, 2018 at 11:32 am

      My thoughts exactly…We are half a season into his return and people are wondering if he will ever compete again. Our expectations speak to how great he actually was, we expect him to win. Four back surgeries is something that takes adjusting to, in the swing AND routine. He has to start warming up HOURS before he used to, and with early start time on some days that can take its toll. Tiger can and will dominate again, he is just learning his new body and what its limits are. Give the man more than 6 months geeze.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Is your driver the first “scoring club”?

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I was traveling Sunday and didn’t get to watch the end of the PGA Championship, so imagine my shock Monday morning when I read what had happened on that back nine. Like most everyone, I figured Brooks Koepka had his game and his emotions completely under control and Sunday’s finish would be pretty boring and anti-climactic. Man, were we wrong!!?

As I read the shot-by-shot, disaster-by-disaster account of what happened on those few holes, I have to admit my somewhat cynical self became engaged. I realize the conditions were tough, but it still boils down to the fact that Koepka nearly lost this PGA Championship because he couldn’t execute what I call “basic golf” – hitting fairways and greens – when it counted. And Dustin Johnson lost his ability to do the same just as he got within striking distance.

I’ve long been a critic of the way the game has come to be played at the highest levels; what we used to call “bomb and gouge” has become the norm at the professional tour level. These guys are big strong athletes, and they go at it harder than anyone ever did in “the old days”. Watch closely and you’ll see so many of them are on their toes or even off the ground at impact, especially with the driver. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t see how that can be the path to consistent shotmaking.

So, my curiosity then drove me to the year-to-date statistics on the PGA Tour website to dive into this a bit deeper. What I found was quite interesting, and I believe can be helpful to all of you readers as you think about how to lower your handicap this season. Follow me here, as I think there are some very helpful numbers from the PGA Tour.
I’ve long contended that golf is a game of ball control . . . let’s call it shotmaking. Your personal strength profile will determine whether you are a long hitter or not, and there’s probably not a lot you can do (or will do) to change that dramatically. But PGA Tour statistics indicate that accuracy, not distance, is the key to better scoring.

The Tour leader in driving accuracy is Jim Furyk, the only guy who is hitting more than 75% of the fairways. The Tour average is under 62%, or not even 2 out of 3. That means the typical round has the tour professional playing at least 4-5 approach shots from the rough. I’m going to come back to that in just a moment and explore the “cost” of those missed fairways.

The Tour leader in greens-in-regulation is Tiger Woods at 74%, almost 3-out-of-4 . . . but the Tour average is less than 66%, or just under 2-out-of-3. I believe enlightenment comes by breaking that GIR statistic down even further.
From the fairway, the Tour leader in GIR is Justin Thomas at 85% and the worst guy at 65%, three points better than the tour average for GIR overall. Hmmmmm. From the rough, however, the best guy on Tour is Taylor Gooch at 63.4%, which is not as good as the very last guy from the fairway.

But let’s dive even a bit deeper to better understand the importance of driving accuracy. Is it true these guys are so good from the rough that hitting fairways doesn’t matter? Not according to the numbers.

From the rough in the range of 125-150 yards – a wedge for most of these guys – the tour’s best hit it 25-27 feet from the hole and only 30 tour pros are averaging inside 30 feet from that distance. But from the fairway, 25 yards further back – 150-175 yards – the tour’s best hit it inside 21-23 feet, and 160 guys are getting closer than 30 feet on average. Even from 175-200 in the fairway, the best on tour hit it closer than the best on tour from the rough 50 yards closer.

So, what do you do with this information? I encourage any serious golfer to really analyze your own rounds to see the difference in your scoring on holes where you find the fairway versus those where you don’t. I feel certain you’ll find throttling back a bit with your driver and focusing more on finding the fairway, rather than trying to squeeze a few more yards of the tee will help you shoot lower scores.

If you have the inclination to see what more fairways can do to your own scores, here’s a little experiment for you. Get a buddy or two for a “research round” and play this game: When you miss a fairway, walk the ball straight over to the fairway, and then 15 yards back. So, you’ll hit every approach from the fairway, albeit somewhat further back – see what you shoot.

Next week I’m going to follow up this “enlightenment” with some tips and techniques that I feel certain will help you hit more fairways so you can take this to the bank this season.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the PGA Championship

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Brooks Koepka made it four wins from his last eight appearances at major championships, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Bethpage Black.

Hot

While Brooks Koepka’s play off the tee was excellent at last week’s PGA Championship, the American utterly dominated the field with his deadly approach play. The 29-year-old led the field in New York for his approach play gaining 9.5 strokes over his competitors. In case you were wondering, this represents Koepka’s career-best performance with his irons. Check out the clubs Koepka did the damage with at Bethpage Black in our WITB piece here.

Jordan Spieth finished T3 at last week’s event, and the Texan was streets ahead of anyone for the four days with the flat-stick in hand. Spieth gained a mammoth 10.6 strokes over the field on the greens of Bethpage Black, which is over three strokes more than anyone else achieved. It was the best-putting display of the 25-year-old’s career thus far, and Spieth now heads to Colonial CC ranked first in this week’s field for strokes gained: putting over his last 12 rounds.

Dustin Johnson came agonizingly close to capturing his second major title last week, and encouragingly for DJ is that he gained strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories. Johnson also led the field for strokes gained: off the tee, gaining 7.2 strokes over the field – his best performance in this area this year.

Cold

Bubba Watson endured a wretched two days on the greens at Bethpage Black. In just 36 holes, Watson lost 6.8 strokes to the field with the flat-stick. Even more frustrating for Watson is that he gained 6.5 strokes for the two day’s tee to green. A tale of what could have been for the two-time Masters champion.

Phil Mickelson faded badly at last week’s championship, and it was a poor display with his irons that did the damage. Lefty lost 6.3 strokes to the field for his approach play in New York, which is his worst display in this area for 2019.

It was a quick exit for Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black, and though the 15-time major champion was far from his best off the tee (losing half a stroke), it was Woods’ putting that was his undoing. Woods lost almost a stroke and a half on the greens at Bethpage – his worst display with the putter since last August.

 

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Courses

Brough Creek National: The backyard course you wish you’d built

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted a golf course in your backyard.

Of course you have.

Now leave your hand raised if you actually rolled up your sleeves and made it happen.

Among the very few people left with their hands in the air are Ben Hotaling, Zach Brough, Evan Bissell, and Mark Robinson, the driving force behind Brough Creek National. That’s right. These guys are building a golf course in their backyard. From scratch.

The true beginnings of golf aren’t well-documented, but one thing’s for sure: people were playing golf at least 400 years before the first working internal combustion engine. Long before golf course architecture was a multi-million dollar investment before the first dime of revenue trickled in, courses were laid down largely by hand using the natural movement of the land. In that same spirit, Ben happened to notice that there was one particular shot in their backyard that reminded him of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, as it plays over their barn and to a green situated right in front of the road to the property.

Ben ultimately convinced his roommate Zach, whose family has owned the land for some time, that they should clear some trees and put in a makeshift green for their Road Hole. That was in 2015 and, while that’s technically the genesis of Brough Creek National, it was in 2018 when they started sharing their ideas in No Laying Up’s online forum section that things escalated rather quickly. Bouncing ideas off their fellow compatriots revealed great natural setups for a Biarritz/punch bowl combination, a Redan, and more. Before they knew it, they had a 630-yard, 7-hole golf course criss-crossing through the three-acre property in Kansas City, KS.

Road Hole green at Brough Creek National

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brough Creek National is that it has operated solely off of donations, which started with a weed eater here and a can of herbicide there and has since grown to a recent GoFundMe campaign of $15,000. These donations have allowed them to purchase grass seed and other vital equipment to see the project through. The community aspect of Brough Creek National is so important to what they’re trying to achieve that anyone who provides their name and address on the website is sent a free new membership packet (I happen to be member #209). Included are some stickers, a ballmark, and a welcome letter that states (among other things),

“We are proud to have you as a lifetime national member at our exclusive, member-owned (and maintained) club…The vision of Brough Creek National is to have a place for community golf modeled around fun for members and guests from all golfing backgrounds…Your dues will be assessed at the rate of $0.00 annually.”

Ben further emphasizes the importance of the community aspect by saying:

“I think Brough Creek stands for community. It’s like-minded individuals coming together and supporting something they’re proud of. It’s a smart, intriguing golf course, but it’s ultimately about making friends and that’s what matters. The quality of the golf course is almost inconsequential because the real purpose is to assemble this brotherhood of people who are passionate about the game of golf. We think it’s done in a way that sheds the elitist stigma that golf has often struggled with and we’re almost mocking that in a playful way.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone they have to experience the game a certain way, but we try to go above and beyond to be approachable and welcoming because we think that’s more important than status. Golf’s not a money-making business. It’s just not. So, why don’t we just take that out of it, come together as a community, and create something we can all be proud of?”

If we’re all having an honest moment, not even Ben and Zach know exactly how this project is going to evolve, but one thing’s for sure: an emphasis on maximizing fun for the highest number of the golfing community is never a bad place to start. Those who believe par and total yardage are irrelevant in determining the amount of fun available to them should be in for a treat. To watch the project unfold, check out www.someguysbackyard.com and follow @someguysbackyrd on Twitter and @someguysbackyard on Instagram.

Below is an overview of the course, narrated by Ben Hotaling

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