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Tiger’s struggles are one for the books

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Well, here we go again. This story is about Tiger Woods, so if you’re tired of reading articles about him, you can stop now.

At the Waste Management Phoenix Open, I witnessed a debacle I never thought I’d see. Not just from Tiger Woods, but from ANY tour player EVER! There are members at my club who would not have hit as many poor shots as Tiger hit around the greens. What the heck was I watching? I simply couldn’t believe it.

Related: Tiger misses the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open… by a mile

To me, Tiger Woods treated all of us to the greatest golf anyone has ever seen for some 12 years. Yesterday was the 13th missed cut of his professional career. Think about that — 13 missed cuts in nearly 20 years!

This is a guy who once played an Open Championship at St. Andrews without finding a single bunker on the Old Course!

This is the guy who won the U.S. Open by 15 shots, shooting 12-under on a golf course where the next best score was 3-over.

This is a guy who, during one stretch, won 60 percent of the World Golf Championship events in which he competed.

He won 4 straight majors. He went 142 events in a row without missing a cut (that’s 7 years)!

I could go on and on, but you get the point. So I ask this simple question, to which there are a gazillion opinions: WHY?

What could have happened in such a short of a period of time to cause such a monumental collapse? Forget Seve Ballesteros, Ian Baker-Finch, David Duval and all the rest of the very good tour players who have lost their games; this is TIGER WOODS we are talking about!

Remember the chip-ins at Augusta and Muirfield Village, the shot in the dark at Firestone and the 7-iron from the rough on No. 6 at Pebble? Remember the 6-iron at the Canadian Open and the 3-iron from the bunker on No. 18 at Hazeltine? Remember the putts at Medinah? Remember the 8-footer at Torrey Pines that forced a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open that he won? How could a player who did all that be in this much of a funk?

At TPC Scottsdale, Tiger said he was “caught between patterns.” I can’t imagine Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Bobby Jones describing their bad rounds quite like that. For Tiger, to be unable to move the golf ball 10 feet from the edge of the green, is surreal. I don’t care what pattern you’re using, Tiger, it’s a chip shot for goodness sake!

I am/was a run-of-the-mill club pro and I’ve never hit that many poor short shots in a round in my life, and Tiger could beat me left-handed at his best.

But here is the real dilemma. Tiger’s problems are beyond mechanical. Well beyond. His problem around the greens cannot be corrected by a different pattern, a different stance or a different ball position. He is now engaged in the great battle of the mind that has sent player after player to their golfing demise.

Does anyone actually believe — even for a minute — that Tiger Woods doesn’t know how to hit a chip or a pitch? Are we to believe that a man with the greatest short game any of us have ever seen needs a chipping lesson? Seriously?

No, Tiger’s woes, as displayed at TPC Scottsdale (and December’s Hero Challenge, for that matter) are much, much deeper. The greatest player I’ve ever seen is confused and filled with self doubt. He has lost the inner belief that he can play and win at the highest level. He has sunk to such a level that he even doubts his ability to get the golf ball on the green from 10 yards.

Tiger seems to be standing over simple chip shots fearing skulling, chili-dipping and shanking. TIGER WOODS! The man with strongest mental game ever, perhaps! And the worst news is that this may not be temporary. I’ve seen very few cases of temporary yips.

“Once you’ve had em, you’ve got em” Sam Snead once said.

And I’ve seen that affliction become permanent more than a few times. Every chunk, skull or shank leaves a deep, indelible scar!

This is one for the books. It is perhaps the most stirring comment on the mental side of golf I’ve ever seen. If golf can break down the likes of Tiger Woods, it can destroy anyone! And as I write, it appears to have done just that!

Tiger, please, please get it together. Whatever is troubling you, get some help with it. The professional game is rather mundane without you.

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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 [email protected]

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. MasterGeezer

    Feb 23, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    No. I mean, yes, it can look pretty yippy when you’re working on a different feeling, committed to doing it, trying it out in a tournament and screwing it up.

    A golf swing is a lot like a race car. You ‘build’ your car based on some fundamentals and then, hopefully, internalize them to where your subconscious is the car (how you strike the ball) and you can just ‘drive your car’ around the course. Tiger couldn’t get Foley’s method to take hold, subconsciously. We all saw him playing ‘golf swing’ instead of just driving his car. So he’s trying to go back to his ‘original swing,’ probably with a few physiological tweaks, as his new race car.

    Its totally unsurprising to see Tiger’s ‘car’ wobbling around on a dirt-track test run like the Phoenix Open.

    Golf yappers claim ‘well he can remember how to chip, just do it like he used to’ . . . which is another way of saying, ‘just jump out of the race car you’re testing.’

  2. RG

    Feb 13, 2015 at 12:43 am

    Dennis I told you when I watched him I could see the fearin his eyes. He has never known fear and its ways and he is ill prepared to deal with it. Somehow he has to find the joy in playing again.Forget about 18 majors and crashed cars and go out there and make shots because it feels good. If he cannot find his joy we will never see him again.

  3. WarrenPeace

    Feb 2, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    I’ve had the chipping yips before and with a lot of practice and I mean a lot or reps, one gains back lost confidence- who knows why it happens except when it does happen in a tournament- it leaves a scar especially if you are playing well. Then the doubt creeps in over every little shot- will I fat it, chunk it, skull it, or even the dreaded double hit- it comes from hesitating at impact and that is in your head- not found in a technical pattern. Next thing you do is start hybriding and hitting low punch shots from the fringe and beyond- just to get it on the green- forget about the flag. It’s awful to say the least when everyone you play with tightens up when you pull a lofted club to chip! He will work through it and become a fantastic short game wizard because Tiger won’t let this beat him- in fact it will challenge him. I’ll be out at Torrey Pines next week for the Farmers watching to see if he is still flinching. That wire grass will eat him alive if he doesn’t use some bounce. No bump and runs this week allowed and he knows that at Torrey.

  4. Steve

    Feb 2, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Like I posted in another forum. He can’t find the bottom of his swing? Is he serious? In ten minutes of short game practice he can’t figure it out, if he can’t he is completely lost. Hitting 4 iron bump and runs, because he has no confidence chipping no pitching. He is mentality done, atleast right now. Worrying about swing positions, instead of shot shape. I remember at his best he was a range rat, hitting shots high low left right. Maybe he should just go back to his 9 full shots in golf.

  5. suye

    Feb 2, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Dennis, I think it’s a mind issues and I long for the return of the exciting shots and rounds from Tiger. Incidentally I read an article yesterday. http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/825651.html
    I was wondering after reading these two articles if the intensity has caused mental exhaustion which causes this kind of play outcomes? Just an observation on my part and I have not had chance to know such great sports players. Would like to hear your comments?

  6. Scott

    Feb 2, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    I don’t believe there has been anyone in golf with greater will power than Woods. Maybe Hogan and a few others were his equal there, maybe not. So, if he does have the yips we are going to see whether or not anyone can overcome them through sheer determination. Maybe Snead was right, maybe not.

  7. Bb

    Feb 2, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    This is what happens when tiger comes to WRX and reads all of that BS that Monte posts . Guy knows nothing about the swing

  8. snowman

    Feb 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Agree that it has Got to be Mental now…. statement is correct re: I don’t care what pattern (or technique) is used.. its a damn chip shot and he is Tiger Woods. Tiger will probably suppress the chipping yips and come back and play good golf, but now that he “has ’em” they will probably always be lurking and show up at unfortunate moments (once you got ’em you got ’em).. Pressure will expose this as a weakness in his game… I’ll be surprised if he is ever again Houdini around the greens like he once was. Sad really unless you are a Tiger hater.

  9. Pat Barry

    Feb 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    The quotation I came across is “Once you’ve got em, you always have them” and it came from the heading on a Chapter in a book by Julius Boros, winner of three majors in the 50’s and 60’s and many other tournaments. A friend gave me a photocopy of the chapter when he heard I had the same affliction over 20 years ago. I still have them on the greens but Matt Kuchar’s putting technique (and putter) has made a huge difference over the past six months.

  10. Bob

    Feb 2, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I’m reminded of Steve Blass, pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1970s. He pitched two complete games in the 1971 World Series, winning both, and went 19-8 in 1972. But in 1973 he couldn’t find the plate, going to 3-9 and dropping from 249 innings pitched to 88. In 1974, he pitched one game. He went five innings, gave up five hits, two of them home runs, walked seven, and threw one wild pitch. That was the last time he pitched in the big leagues. He was not injured, there was nothing wrong with his mechanics, he just lost it.

    Chuck Noblauch late in his career suddenly not being able to hit the first baseman with his throw from second comes to mind, too.

  11. Derrick

    Feb 2, 2015 at 10:21 am

    I don’t understand the thought process of the people here who feel insulted or angry at the fact Tiger is stating he’s in between patterns. It’s obvious what is going on with this game.

    If Tiger came right out post-round and just said something to the effect of, “Yea it’s pretty obvious I’m dealing with the yips right now…”

    No one reporting on the event would even know what to say. He’s trying to put his game back together plain and simple. He doesn’t owe ANYONE an explanation.

  12. Rich

    Feb 2, 2015 at 8:36 am

    He’s done. Let’s put him out to pasture or better still, let’s hang his head on the wall behind someone’s bar cause that’s all it’s good for now. Actually, it’s no good for that either!

  13. Booger

    Feb 1, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Blah,blah,blah. Enough with the tiger articles!

  14. Anon

    Feb 1, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    And here come the armchair quarterbacks saying what they think Tiger should do. Go back to shooting in the 80’s you hacks.

  15. SBoss

    Feb 1, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    Smizzle, you honestly believe that somebody needs scientific proof to say that Tiger Woods was the best and toughest mentally?
    Were you in hibernation between 1997-2008? New to golf?
    Does somebody need proof to say that Rosie O’Donnell is a pig? Nope.
    Some things are self evident. OK?

  16. Jm

    Feb 1, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Just remember how much he struggled with his short game the first year with foley. Obviously not nearly as bad as this but it was not pretty with some chunks and bad bunker play. It took him a year to get used to the foley “pattern”. I imagine considering his health it will take 9-18 months before we see what will happen under como.

    Also you have to remember tiger is almost always fully committed to what he is trying to change. Just because he struggles in the beginning he is not the type to revert back to something that has worked in the past just to get through a round at the Phoenix open. He is just not wired that way. It has been one of his greatest strengths but also a source of weakness as well. If he believes the end result will be there he will keep at it at all costs. Not saying foley swing was perfect but once he got it he had a five win season. Not too may golfers ever can say that especially in the last 40 years.

    He will come back, tourneys like this only push him harder. I give it until the end of the year before we see what the true potential of the rest of his career may be. I still believe he will get 16 more wins and a couple more majors

  17. Wes

    Feb 1, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    What do you mean by beware?
    Seems like this could happen to anyone so what could you do to prevent it?

  18. Tee Jay In

    Feb 1, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I don’t remeber Sam Snead’s quote exactly about the yips but he said something like
    once you’ve had em, you’ve got em
    This may apply to Tiger’s short game problem

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 1, 2015 at 7:02 pm

      Yea it’s in the article.

    • Zachary Smith

      Feb 2, 2015 at 11:53 am

      I will admit that I have always wanted Tiger’s short game. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want mine.

  19. Gloover

    Feb 1, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I think he’s fooled himself into thinking his short game woes are technique-related. He is so committed to his new swing (he must be a proponent of the short game swing mirroring the long game one) that he will stubbornly play his chips and pitches the way he thinks they should be played rather than just hitting it. He is bull-headed to a fault and will only play the game how he sees fit, even if that includes looking like he has the yips.

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 1, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      Agree totally. He can’t let himself believe otherwise.

  20. Dennis Clark

    Feb 1, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    remember guys, this is about more than Tiger! You have to see the lesson here…the game has gotten to one of the strongest minds ever to play it. It’s a fascinating dynamic! If golf can get to Tiger, the rest of better BEWARE!!! 🙂

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 1, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Golf, read above.

    • TR1PTIK

      Feb 2, 2015 at 8:26 am

      I’ve been listening to some of Dr. Rotella’s audio books and I would absolutely agree that it’s all in Tiger’s mind at this point. He’s lost confidence in his game and there’s nothing he can do physically to fix that. It’s all internal. Lessons from the world’s best coaches won’t matter unless he has absolute confidence in himself.

      “Victories are won in the hearts and minds of men.” – Vince Lombardi (as quoted by Dr. Bob Rotella)

  21. farmer

    Feb 1, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Lost in the mix is how poorly Tiger played from tee to around the greens. Drove it everywhere, irons not sharp when he had a play, and his putting was not good. He said he was stuck between patterns, but which patterns? The Anselmo? Butch? Haney? Foley or Como? Years from now, when Tiger’s career can be examined dispassionately, the meme may be “What might have been.”.

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 1, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      Agree farmer. But he’s hit it like that before and shot 70. His ability to scramble was the BEST.

  22. Javier

    Feb 1, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Excelente article Dennis

  23. Tig Woods

    Feb 1, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Atleast this didn’t mention my philandering ways. Monies quiet the honies!

  24. Tee Jay In

    Feb 1, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    If you’re gonna write an article about Tiger’s problems, you should at least mention his inability to chip or pitch around the greens.

  25. mo

    Feb 1, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Time for a Dave Pelz and Dave Stockton intervention.

  26. Richard Grime

    Feb 1, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    I agree completely with the Stan Utley with the short game. I think that he should give Hank Haney a call though. When he was with Hank he used to open the face on the backswing and close it through the ball, which also works in to your short game. This is my understanding with Stan Utley coaching in the short game. You can work with a shut club face, but can tend to get a bit stabby through the shot unless you keep the body opening through the shot.

  27. Golfraven

    Feb 1, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Saying golf without Tiger is mundane is far-fetched. Yes he has a great record and made hell of money but he is not great to watch. Could be that many love someone like Tiger because of his achievements but he is not great to watch, he makes me miserable watching him play. I enjoyed watching majors last years without needing to hear that Tiger will bite again and was pleased to see some rookies getting better coverage.

  28. Gary

    Feb 1, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Tiger should get himself a couple of short game lessons with short game Guru Stan Utley.he would get his basics back to where they should be and his confidence would return.
    Then he could do worse than get Pete Cowen to give him a long game lesson,not sure his current coach is any good!
    He is a long way off doing any good in any competions .

  29. Fore Left

    Feb 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Tiger’s last two events have been painful to watch. At some point, doesn’t he have to consider going back to picking up waitresses at the local IHOP?

  30. Philip

    Feb 1, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    I always wondered how tough Tiger’s mind was on the inside. His father helped him brilliantly on shutting out outside distractions, but did he also help him with the inner demons. With Tiger always being the best, able to do anything he set his mind too, able to pull wins from what others thought would be a loss – did he ever have to fight the inner demon of being a failure until very late in his life.

    For most of us we take on that demon fairly early (and often) in life, but for someone who is always used to being at the top it can be quite demoralizing when they experience not being the best, especially if they are beat by the underdog.

    I’ve remember many young athletics going from local schools to high schools never able to accept no longer being the best as they had no experience at failure. Whereas, others who were never the best were able to persevere through each increase in the talent pool and push on to success in the higher levels of play.

  31. Kevin

    Feb 1, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    He was in Europe last week watching skiing, not practicing. I’m not sure anyone can say he looked at this week as any more than a tune-up with the Super Bowl afterwards. 18 months ago he was dominating the game. The year before that he looked lost too. He has the greatest short game in the history of golf. The chunks and skulls and yips are odd, but I am not betting against him to be back to form again sooner than later. Though I am enjoying watching his struggles…

    • Dennis clark

      Feb 1, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      Funny thing is he didn’t even stay for the bowl!!!

  32. Paul Muehlemeyer

    Feb 1, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    I don’t think Tiger’s been the same since the blow up in ’08 and he’s older now and may never have the physical skills he once did. That coupled with the mental state he seems to be in makes for a very long road.

  33. Dennis Clark

    Feb 1, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Pls understand the comparison to me should read: EVEN I, a lowly club pro, have not struggled like that. Point being how can one so much better than i be in that much trouble? Also note to my readers: I’m a HUGE tiger fan. What he’s done for the game is nothing short of incredible. No one wants him to get back more than I.

  34. Jeffcb

    Feb 1, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Dennis – I agree completely. Tiger said in the interview that he’s getting used to ball position with regards to having a shallower angle of attack. Is it that difficult with a pitch? There’s gotta be just a ton of self doubt it seems. I would love too see him come back. Perhaps its too early to write him off. After all how long did it take Kaymer to complete his swing change? Faldo too for that matter. The again, it Kuchar 5 swings to feel what he should be doing. Time will tell I suppose.

    • Rich

      Feb 2, 2015 at 7:43 am

      Kaymer didn’t. He went back to hitting his cut like when he was world no.1 and he’s starting to put it together now that he’s got his confidence.

  35. ChrisK

    Feb 1, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Good article, Dennis
    It’s absolutely asinine for Tiger to say his problems are because he’s ‘in between’ patterns. There’s no reason why his short game would have to be any different than it was when he was the best player in the galaxy. If indeed he was making changes, then he has had enough time to incorporate them enough to take them to the course. If not, don’t play in a tournament. If he keeps going to mechanical teachers, I think he will only get worse. Hope I’m wrong.

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny has a dear friend and master wedge human Aaron Dill to chat about Cantlay, The Masters, and his new TSi3.

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The Wedge Guy: Equipment tidbits for you to think about

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One of the most fun things about being a golfer is that we all want to get better–hit drives longer and straighter, iron shots that find greens more often, pitches and chips that get closer, and putts that go in more often. And we all seem to take great pleasure in finding that next “missing link” in our bags that will help us achieve one of those goals.

Today I want to share some thoughts about how little things can often mean a lot when it comes to tweaking your equipment. On the surface, a golf club seems to be a pretty simple thing—a piece of metal, at the end of a tubular piece of metal or graphite, with a rubber-like handle at the end. But when that golf club is put into motion at 100 mph or so, a lot of dynamics begin to happen.

As we ponder the dynamics of the complex action of swinging a golf club and the broad set of mechanics that come into play on every shot, I thought I’d share some random observations I’ve made over the years about equipment cause and effect:

Increasing your driving distance: The industry has taken us on this dramatic quest for distance and power, and the average driver sold today is over 45” long. That’s two inches longer than the standard of 25 years ago. And while the humongous driver heads brag about “forgiveness”, the fact is that your longest drives (and straightest) will always come from dead center hits. It’s still a fact that a sweet spot miss of just ½” will cost you 7-9% distance loss, and a miss of 3/4” will increase that to 12-15%. I suggest you try gripping down on your driver an inch or more the next time you play and see if you don’t hit the ball closer to the sweet spot and see it consistently going longer and straighter. It’s been proven over and over again.

Examining iron specs: The “standard” way a set of irons was engineered for decades was that the irons vary in length by ½”, and in loft by 4 degrees. But the past few years – driven by the relentless quest for distance – we have seen the loft gaps increased to 5° at the short end of the set and as small as 2.5° at the long end. The harsh reality of this geometry is that almost every golfer will have much smaller distance gaps at the long end of the set than at the short end, where distance precision is critical. I have tweaked my irons for years so that I have smaller length and lie differences at the short end than the long, and that allows my distance gaps to be more consistent. Most golfers could benefit from examining their TRUE carry distances from club to club and then tweaking lofts and lengths to fix their gapping.

Fit your putter. It amazes me to watch how many golfers–even some of the pros on TV–and see the toe of the putter up in the air at address. Simple fact is that this makes the face point left because of the loft. I’ve become a true believer in putter fitting. A good fit will ensure that your putter really is aimed at the target, and that the lie angle allows the ball to come off the putter straight. Yes, the style of putter is a matter of personal preference, but a putter that is accurately fit to you makes this maddening part of the game much less so.

Watch your grips. We spend hundreds of dollars on a driver or set of irons, and we get disposable “handles”. It’s a fact that grips wear out. They get dirty. And they need replacing regularly. Take a close look at yours. Worn, dirty grips cause you to grip the club tighter to have control. And bad shots are much more frequent because of that.

Experiment. The toys are a big part of the fun of golf, so don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve long suggested all golfers should try the blade style short irons of one of your better player friends or pros, but experiment with other clubs, too. Hit your buddies’ hybrids, fairways, irons, drivers. Try different golf balls. [But I just can’t buy that tees can make a difference, sorry.] It’s fun.

So, there you have some random thoughts of the hundreds that swirl around in my head. Let me know your other questions about equipment, and I’ll try to address them in future columns.

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