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Opinion & Analysis

A decade in the dark, an eternity in the sun: Tiger Woods’ extraordinary self-belief has assured his star will forever burn bright

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Tiger Woods stated following his Masters victory on Sunday that the moment hadn’t fully sunk in. A sentiment which I’m sure anyone involved in the sport will echo. It was an exhausting four days, and for Tiger Woods and his fans, of which I am one, an incredible and emotional one, after a great decade of struggle.

The Masters has always been the biggest tournament in the sport in my eyes. Falling many times on Easter weekend, traveling to the west of Ireland for a “family weekend” often turned in to myself staying up late as a kid, gripped to the tiny television and limited coverage on offer, urging Tiger on to win the green jacket.

Wearing a ‘TW’ cap, and nervously waiting until the coverage would begin to check the leaderboard, and then anxiously sitting through the four hours of coverage was a ritual. Woods had me in awe as a kid, transforming the game of golf, into what was a fringe sport at the very best in my generation’s eyes, into compelling viewing.

From 2008 at Torrey Pines, until Augusta National in 2019, I, like every other golf fan, had been waiting for Woods to put every setback behind him and claim that elusive 15th major. On Sunday he completed the greatest comeback that you will ever see in sport, and that achievement is a testament to the man’s unrelenting and unwavering self-belief.

I look back at Thanksgiving Day 2009, and the subsequent squalid fallout, which turned Tiger Woods from being universally loved to a divisive figure. The vitriol he received at that time and over the following months left me confused. After all, Woods was hardly the first sports star to have made mistakes in his personal life.

The standard view of those who then saw Woods as the devil incarnate was that he had manufactured an image of perfection, which had all been phony. Making a case against that claim was difficult, though I gave it my best shot.

There is no doubt that Woods’ personal life being exposed and ridiculed made a considerable impact on the trajectory of his career. From winning six times on the PGA Tour in 2009, Woods sheepishly returned to action in 2010, a shell of his former self. Topping irons, chunking wedges and missing short putts, Woods spent the next two years looking powerless on the golf course, hitting rock bottom at the 2011 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a tournament that had always been under his spell, shooting a four day total of 18-over par.

2011 was the first of two periods where Woods would be written off. And those who did so were foolish.

Nick Faldo had been one of the most vocal people in this regard, stating at the time while leaning on his own experiences that Woods would never win again due to the stress and lack of peace of mind he now felt on the golf course.

But the six-time major champion severely underestimated the mental strength which Woods possesses.

A three-win season in 2012 was followed by a five-win season in 2013 and a return to the summit of the game. There was just one issue – none of those wins had been in major championships. Considering Woods’ dominance that year, however, a victory in one of golf’s four biggest tournaments was surely just around the corner.

But approaching the end of that brilliant season, Woods’ back troubles began. The second period where he was to be written off was upon us, and this time those who did so were justified.

Woods would go through four back surgeries. In so much pain that he could barely walk, let alone play golf to a fraction of the level he once could.

As often is the case for those in the position, the knives were out for Woods once again. Colin Cowherd made the extremely odd statement that due to his demise, he would instead take Phil Mickelson’s career over that of the now 15-time major champion. While others such as, Brandel Chamblee, Hank Haney, and Tony Jacklin all took the cheap view that due to Woods skulling chips he now possessed the yips, despite being fully aware of the pain which had taken over Woods’ body.

During this period, it’s well documented that Woods feared he might never play again. Despite this, there was always an absolute belief which Woods possessed; If he could get healthy, then he not only could win again, but he would.

In 2016, Michael Jordan who is a close friend of Woods told ESPN

“The thing is, I love him so much that I can’t tell him ‘You’re not gonna be great again.”

Life is hard at the best of times. Self-doubt is natural, and the fragility of human beings means that often negative words can have a significant adverse effect on the aspirations that we possess. Woods not only faced doubts, criticism and calls to retire from those in the media, but also, if Jordan’s claim that he is a close friend of the man is to be believed, perhaps his inner circle as well.

For Woods to come through all of that, and to win his fifteenth major at Augusta National, is an extraordinary achievement. His self-belief over a decade where he almost entirely lurked in the dark is difficult to fathom. What Woods has now earned through his victory at the 2019 Masters, is almost complete immunity from the doubters and naysayers. He has re-written his storyline in the tale that is life.

Books that were published and documentaries aired covering the rise and fall of the 15-time major champion are now out of date. Woods has assured that his legacy will forever remain and be viewed in a positive light following his victory at the Masters.

The hunt for Jack’s record has intensified and considering Woods continued to believe through a decade of hard knocks that he could reach 18 major victories before he retires, then his confidence of doing so now must be at staggeringly high levels.

If there’s a lesson to be learned over the last 10 years of his career, it’s that you should never rule out Tiger Woods in any way. Woods has never doubted himself, or at least, he never doubted what he could do if he got healthy, and that’s why, after possibly the most tumultuous decade any sportsman has ever experienced, he rose once again on golf’s grandest stage to don the green jacket.

If Tiger Woods says he is going to do something, no matter what people or life throws at him, he will find a way. After witnessing Sunday’s success, you should not find yourself surprised should Woods now not just catch Nicklaus’ major tally, but eclipse that number before he calls it a day on what continues to be a remarkable career and comeback.

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giannimosquito

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. dixiedoc

    Apr 17, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    It seems it’s easy for everybody to forget the “bad” Tiger. Self-absorbed, reclusive, antagonistic philandering a*hole. He has always been a great golfer but that is not necessarily the mark of a great man. Maybe his “difficulties” mostly which were self-inflicted, will make him a better person. That remains to be seen. Congratulations to him for winning the Masters and here’s hoping his seeming change is permanent and not a ruse to regain our adoration.

  2. Tom54

    Apr 17, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    My take on Tigers troubles after his life unraveled in 09 was this….. I believe before his fall from grace,that whenever he was on the course that he pretty much knew 99% of the gallery was completely behind him at all times. After he returned after all the affairs and the apology and all that I really believe he stood over shots wondering to himself “ damn, I wonder if this lady in the gallery thinks I’m a complete low life for what I’ve done” or if he thought everyone was viewing him in a completely different light after the scandal. I believe that it took him a while to get in that comfort zone of being Tiger Woods on the golf course again. After his great win this past weekend, I can safely say that he is definitely Tiger Woods as we’ve all known for over 20 years. A great start to the season of majors. Can’t wait to see who wins the other three.

  3. Mamaaaaa

    Apr 17, 2019 at 2:35 am

    None of this will change the fact that he’s a horrible dude, no matter how much he apologizes.
    The mother of his kids are nowhere to be seen. Nowhere to be heard from. The Mother of his children. Understand?
    How confused do you think they are. And what a mess their lives are going to be wrapped up in all the money protection and not being able to be normal because they can’t see their mother, talk to their mother, spend time with their mother.

    • bj

      Apr 17, 2019 at 7:31 am

      must kill you that hes winning and will keep winning, on and off the course. people can and do have the ability to change. some take longer than others to mature and learn from mistakes. hes made huge mistakes, but it appears that he may be learning from them, and is taking steps in the right direction learning from them…..and if not all well. BEST DAMN GOLFER ive ever seen.

      i cheer for him as a golfer and as a human to get better, and be better, as i do for you….try to be better as a person.

  4. Aleksandra

    Apr 16, 2019 at 11:26 pm

    Wow!! What an article.
    It’s rare to see such passion for a sport and even more passion for a great golfer.
    I must admit I’ve definitely had my doubts in Tiger’s return. However you can not keep “The Greatest of all Time” away from his sport.
    There are many great golfers, but when I hear golf, Tiger is the first that comes to mind.
    Good job Tiger and nice piece Gianni ????
    Love your passion. Never let any fool take that from you. ?

    • Big Ed

      Apr 17, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      Good article. Why is Tiger the only top golfer’s missteps are constantly brought up. Is he the only one with skeletons in his closet.

      Go Tiger with the “Red. Black and Green:

  5. Jay

    Apr 16, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    Sammy you dont agree?

  6. sammy oliver

    Apr 16, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    Good Lord man, get a hold of yourself!

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On Spec

On Spec: I fell in love at Sweetens Cove | Finding your golf “community”

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In this episode of On Spec, Ryan can’t say enough great things about his first trip to Sweetens Cove for the first Oil Hardened Classic—an event dedicated to persimmon and blade irons. He also talks about a new group of golf buddies in the era of social media.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

It started with a crazy idea…

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It’s been nearly six years since Bob Parsons decided he wanted to get into the golf club business, and it was five years ago that Ryan Moore was presented with an iron that looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie.

Since then, the name PXG has been growing in stature as quickly as this industry has seen in a long time. In my time with Tour Ops Director Matt Rollins, I discovered once again that there was a point for all of these department heads, where the ability to work in a vacuum with no boundaries peaked enough curiosity to leave great jobs and take a winger on a man’s idea that at inception may have sounded a bit crazy.

Now let’s be clear, Bob Parsons knows golf clubs. Like many on this site, he’s a gear junkie—yes, with unlimited resources to find exactly what he wants. However, being a gear junkie myself, I always wondered what it would look like if I had the resources to go as far down the rabbit hole as I wanted to without risking the roof over my head AND without the mandate of a company to limit my search. This is important to understand because as you may have seen in the last video, the people Mr. Parsons chooses to work with seem to have this unrelenting curiosity as well.

The tour operations started this way: Ryan Moore was the perfect guy to attract early on. He’s a searcher, he has the resume to gain trust, and he’s extremely measured. Ryan doesn’t do anything on a whim, although it may appear so. He considers everything down to the last point before he says yes. I can say this in confidence knowing his story and interacting with him a few times. I have interacted with a good portion of the early PXG staff and to a person they have all said the same thing: “It seemed a bit crazy at the time, but I was curious: I hit the clubs and I wanted in.”

The current staff like the front office is a good mix of all personalities and as a whole they represent the perfect mix to get the PXG message out into the world. Players like Horschel, Perez, Ko, Hahn, Lee, ZJ, Moore, HOF icon Gary Player, and most recently aspiring LPGA player, long drive champion and influencer Troy Mullins.

Now, I won’t get into all of the club junkie tidbits I get from Matt here: ya just gotta watch the video. It was a fun interview and my biggest takeaway personally is that despite all of the opinions and polarizing discussions around PXG, these guys really care about what they are doing and where they want to go.

As you will see in Episode 6 of The Disruptors, Matt Rollins at first had a kind of “yeah right” reaction to the whole thing—then you start to get around Bob, and Mike and Brad and you begin to understand just how serious these guys are about taking PXG to places we have never seen. Are they one of the Big 4? No. They never will be—it’s not designed that way. Are they a company that has the nimbleness, brains, and swagger to continue to shake things up? Oh, yeah. And that’s exactly how Bob likes it.

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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour players on the rise and on the decline heading into 2020

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At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically quality indicators of a golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and these Cornerstones include:

  • Driving effectiveness
  • Red zone play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
  • Short game shots (from 10-20 yards)
  • Putting (5-15 feet)
  • Ball speed

All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.

This past season, there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.7 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be “on the rise.”

Players on the rise

*The following rankings are based out of 194 players

Joaquin Niemann

The young Chilean golfer reached every one of The 5 Cornerstones of the Game, but he made the least amount of FedEx points of any of the golfers that executed all of the Cornerstones.

This was due to Niemann’s early struggles with the putter. However, his putting improved significantly as the season went by.

The dotted black line in the chart represents Niemann’s trendline and that shows a strong upward trend in his putting performance.

Niemann ranked 107th in adjusted par-5 scoring average, and given his quality of ballstriking and distance off the tee, that should greatly improve. The projections are for him to win soon. If he can continue to improve his putting, particularly from 3-5 feet (he ranked 160th last season) he could be a multiple winner this upcoming season.

Sung Kang

Kang recorded his first victory at the Byron Nelson Championship but flew under the radar for most of the season. He also executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game.

Back in 2017, Kang almost executed The 5 Cornerstones, but I was lukewarm to putting him on the list of Players on the Rise as the one cornerstone he failed to reach was red zone play, and that’s too important of a metric to miss out on.

Kang struggled in the 2018 season, but his red zone play greatly improved. In the meantime, his driving greatly suffered. He continued to struggle with his driving early in the 2019 season but made great strides right around the Byron Nelson and ended the season ranked 80th in driving effectiveness. Meanwhile, his red zone play has continued to be strong, and he’s a sound short game performer from 10-20 yards and putter from 5-15 feet.

While I am a little more on the fence with Kang, given his putrid performance from the yellow zone and generally inconsistent play, his putting suffered from ranking 181st on putts from 25-plus feet. That is more likely to move towards the mean and greatly improve his putts gained next season. He’s also 32 years old, which is a prime age for Tour players hit their peak performance of their career.

Sepp Straka

Straka had a good rookie campaign striking the ball and was a competent putter. The only Cornerstone that Straka failed to execute was short game shots from 10-20 yards. However, we can see that as the season went by Straka’s short game improved

That’s also recognizing that short game around the green has a weaker correlation to success on Tour than most of the other Cornerstones like driving, red zone play and putting from 5-15 feet.

Straka should improve greatly on par-5’s (104th last season). He made a lot of birdies last year (25th in adjusted birdie rate), but made a ton of bogeys (155th). These numbers project well at tournaments that are birdie fests like Palm Springs or courses that are relatively easy on shots around the green such as Harbour Town.

Sam Ryder

Ryder only missed The 5 Cornerstones with a poor performance from 10-20 yards. He’s an excellent putter and iron-play performer, and that is usually the parts of the game that the eventual winners perform best from.

Wyndham Clark

 

One of the new metrics I’ve created is called “power-to-putting.” This is a combination of the player’s putts gained ranking and their adjusted driving distance ranking. Earlier this year I wrote an article here about where exactly distance helps with a golfer’s game. In essence, the longer off the tee a golfer is the more likely they will have shorter length birdie putts on average. That’s why long hitters like Bubba Watson can make a lot of money despite putting poorly and why shorter hitters like Brian Gay have to putt well in order to be successful.

The “honey pot” is for a golfer that hits it long and putts well. This means they will sink a ton of birdie putts because they are having easier putts to make and they have the requisite putting skill to make them.

Clark finished first in power-to-putting (Rory McIlroy finished second). On top of that, he was an excellent performer from 10-20 yards which is usually the last step in a long ball hitter becoming an elite performer. Clark’s iron play was very poor and that downgrades his chances of winning on Tour. But, with his length, putting, and short game, he can very well get four days of decent approach shot play and win handily.

Players on the decline

Charley Hoffman

Hoffman ranked 64th in FedEx points but was 139th in adjusted scoring average. Most of Hoffman’s metrics were not very good, but he was a superb performer from the yellow and red zone. The other concerning part of Hoffman is his age: He is at the point of his career that player performance tends to drop-off the most. He only made two of his last seven cuts this past season with the best finish of T51 at The Open Championship.

J.B. Holmes

Holmes finished 166th in adjusted scoring average and was greatly helped by having a favorable schedule as he ranked 21st in purse size per event. The best thing Holmes has going for him is his distance off the tee. He also had a good season around the green that helps long hitters like Holmes when they hit foul balls off the tee.

After that, Holmes did not do much of anything well. He was 179th in adjusted missed fairway–other percentage (aka hitting foul balls off the tee) and his putting was horrendous and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.

Patton Kizzire

Kizzire only made two of his last 11 cuts last season, and it’s easy to see why with his ballstriking struggles. It also doesn’t help that he was poor from 10-20 yards. He’s one of the elite putters on Tour, but elite putting only helps a player so much in the big leagues.

Phil Mickelson

The biggest positive for Mickelson is his newfound power that he exhibited last year. He will also play a favorable schedule as he ranked 16th in purse size per event and has lifetime exempt status on Tour.

For fantasy golf owners, I would be averse to picking Mickelson in the short term. The question with Lefty is if his newfound distance caused him issues with his iron play, short game and putting, or if that is just a temporary slump that once he works thru those issues with his newfound speed, he may be winning tournaments again. But at his age, history is not in his favor.

Francesco Molinari

Molinari turns 37-years-old in November. There’s still plenty of years for good golf, but Molnari’s lack of power and routine struggles with the putter means that he needs to have impeccable driving and iron play in order to be competitive in big tournaments and the majors. Last season he was an average driver of the ball and he was below average from the red zone.

The positive for Molinari is that he has typically been an impeccable ballstriker, so the issues in 2019 may have been a one-time slump. And while he putted poorly, he putted well from 5-15 feet. He ranked 184th on putts from 15-25 feet and 157th on putts from 25-plus feet, and those are more likely to progress towards the mean over time and help his overall putting.

But, Molinari has never been a great putter, and at his age, it will be very difficult to keep up with his impeccable ballstriking to get back to the winner’s circle.

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