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What Tiger Woods Has In Common With Bill Russell (Hint: It’s Isolation)



Shaking hands with Steve Scott standing on the green of the 38th hole of the final match in the 1996 U.S. Amateur, Tiger Woods ascended into greatness with his third-straight U.S. Amateur victory. In a feature for the September 2nd issue of Sports Illustrated that year, Jaime Diaz captured a quote from Tiger referencing his second-round 66 in the 1996 Open Championship. Looking back now, there’s a freedom one can only hope Tiger will find again. “Something really clicked that day, like I had found a whole new style of play,” Woods said. “I finally understood the meaning of playing within myself. Ever since, the game has seemed a lot easier.”

That’s quite a bold statement for someone who, beginning five years earlier, held the top national amateur title in the country from the time he was 15 until he turned pro at the age of 20. Three consecutive USGA Junior titles followed by three consecutive USGA Amateurs. He was in the conversation among Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus as the greatest amateur player to ever live. It seems golf only got easier for the young superstar. We all know his record between 1996 and 2013. No need to lay it out. But something happened along the way.

On Memorial Day of this year, news broke that Tiger had been arrested on suspicion of Driving Under the Influence. A mugshot appeared not a half hour after his release from police custody in Jupiter, Florida. What followed was a statement on his website claiming full responsibility for his actions.

“There was no alcohol involved,” Woods wrote. “I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”

It would be easy to speculate as to why Tiger was found on the side of the road. He did have back surgery recently (his fourth back surgery), on top of multiple other surgeries and procedures over the years; he’s practically the bionic man at this point. But speculation about his habits doesn’t provide any context into the Tiger we are seeing now. For context, we need understand who Tiger is as a figure. And for that, we need to go back a little further.

In 1957, the Boston Celtics made a deal with the St. Louis Hawks to acquire the second-round draft pick, and ultimately, the man who would change the dynamic of basketball forever.

William (Bill) Felton Russell was a 6-foot 10-inch towering figure, and in a league full of slow white guys, he dominated down low and simply outpaced everyone else on the court. For his career, Russell averaged over 15 points per game, over 22 rebounds per game, and 4.3 assists. Russell also won 11 championships with the Boston Celtics over the course of 13 seasons, two of which were as a Player/Coach (‘68 and ‘69). The numbers are astonishing and are the part of the story we still talk about today, but it’s not the most important part. Bill Russell was the first black superstar in the NBA.

In a story for Rhino Press, David Valerio writes this about Russell: “He was also 6-feet 10-inches, an athletic monster who blocked and dunked on players, actions previously unknown in the NBA. No one dunked. No one blocked. It was unheard of. Yet the arrival of Bill Russell signaled the start of a new era in league history; it signaled the arrival of black players into the NBA. Bill Russell was not the first black NBA player — such well-known names as Chuck Cooper, Harold Hunter, and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton broke the race barrier first. But none of you know their names, because they weren’t superstars like Bill Russell was; they couldn’t lead teams to championships in addition to being named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Bill Russell was a star who helped change the face of the NBA forever, for Russell was not only the premier black NBA player, but he was also a black man who fought against racism in both its perceived and actual forms.”

Bill Russell wasn’t the first black athlete in his sport. But he was the first to ascend into superstardom. Sound familiar?

Tiger wasn’t the first black player to grace the PGA Tour; he was preceded by the likes of Calvin Peete (12 wins on the PGA Tour including the Harry Vardon and Byron Nelson Awards in 1984), Jim Thorpe (three wins on PGA Tour, 13 on the Champions Tour), Charlie Sifford (the first black player on the PGA Tour and won twice), and Lee Elder (the first black man to play in The Masters in 1975). What made Tiger different from his contemporaries is almost identical to what was different about Bill Russell. They finished paving a road others had started and seemed to do it on sheer willpower and work ethic.

Yes, for as long as we can remember, it was assumed that Tiger would be gunning for Nicklaus’ record, but it’s one thing for people to assume it’s going to happen and it actually happening. In Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, he tells the story of how he perceived what made Larry Bird so great to Celtics fans. “In the big scheme of things,” Simmons writes, “Number 33 [Bird] was an extremely tall and well-coordinated guy who did his job exceptionally well. That’s it. You can’t call him a superhero because he wasn’t saving lives or making the world a better place. At the same time, he possessed heroic qualities because everyone in New England bought into his invincibility.

“He came through too many times for us. After a while, we started expecting him to come through, and when he still came through, that’s when we were hooked for good.”

What Simmons describes in his book about Larry Bird is the same thing we came to expect from Tiger essentially as soon as he slid on his first green jacket. Tiger was an invincible athlete who was also truly breaking the racial barrier in an elitist sport. Standing on the shoulders of Charlie Sifford, Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe, and Lee Elder, Tiger climbed higher than any professional golfer ever had, much like Bill Russell. It didn’t matter the situation; Tiger always hit to shot that kept him in it, or he always sank the putt to extend a match or take the lead. What also came with that invincibility was isolation. Simmons goes on to write about Russell, “Maybe the city [Boston] would have accepted an African-American sports hero in the fifties and sixties — eventually it accepted many of them — but never someone as complex and stubborn as Russell.” Again, where Russell and Tiger are the same, people never really connected with Tiger as a persona, they were just in awe of his sheer dominance. 

While Bill Russell was winning championships like older brothers win wrestling matches, he was also absorbing shots to his character and his abilities for no reason other than the color of his skin. David Valerio goes on to write in his piece, “While Russell was on tour with an exhibition team prior to the 1961-62 season, Russell and a teammate were denied service in a restaurant when their team was scheduled to play a game in Lexington, Kentucky. Russell and his team then refused to play in the city and flew back home, generating a large amount of controversy.” What followed that incident laid the groundwork for how Russell would be perceived the rest of his career, and to many, still is. Valerio continues, “In response to this, and other issues, Russell became resentful of the media and fans’ attentions, as he believed it all to be sarcastic and hollow. This resentment held over to his reactions with the local Boston fans. As a result of this, and many other events, Russell never particularly warmed to Boston, a city notorious for its racism, even as he continued on to win an exorbitant amount of championships for its team.”

2322644634_683b134289_o (1)As late as 1997, Fuzzy Zoeller made his infamous quote on Tiger’s achievements thus far: “He’s doing quite well, pretty impressive. That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

That was a mere 20 years ago. 

As we look back at Bill Russell’s career, it makes total sense that he isolated himself from the media. Why would he give them the time of day? They weren’t out there playing his game. They weren’t sweating on the practice court alone before anyone else showed up; it was just him. And his will to beat the hell out of everyone else. That’s it. Simmons claims he was complex, and I’m sure there are aspects of him that are, but it seems he just wanted to be left alone to play his game and beat everybody else that tried to join him. Had Dan Jenkins been covering basketball in Russell’s prime, he might have felt the need to write a (fake) interview with him for Sports Illustrated, because something tells me he wouldn’t have sat down with Jenko either. For many reasons, Russell spent essentially the entire 90s living a reclusive life in the Pacific Northwest.

As we sit and ponder over the next few days, and throw around comments about whether Tiger will ever play golf again, we need to also think about what Jack Nicklaus had to say about a man whom he refers to as a friend.

“I feel bad for Tiger. Tiger’s a friend. He’s been great for the game of golf. He needs our help. I wish him well.”

It’s easy to forget that Tiger Woods is not just a brand and not just a legendary golfer. He’s a person, a father, and a man who dominated a tour that until 1961 no black man had ever been allowed to even join. Like Russell, even well into the height of his career, when he was at the top of the mountain, he had to endure comments rooted in racism, even if they may not have been ill-intentioned. Tiger just wanted to play his game better than anyone who’d ever lived. All the other stuff was simply a by-product, and eventually, the by-product got in the way, making it harder to play within himself.

In a 2010 piece from Bleacher Report titled The Psychology Behind Greatness: Tiger Woods Imbalance, Vincent Heck writes, “The Tiger Woods we knew before could do no wrong. Now, to many, he’s an immoral, arrogant cheater who can’t be trusted.” Heck also goes on to cite Thomas G. Seabourne, Ph.D., from The Journal of Sports Psychology: “Learning to cope and deal with counter-productive tendencies that an athlete may experience is important. Their ability to do so will impact on their overall performance and may interfere or facilitate the athlete in striving for an optimal performance.”

The point of Heck’s piece, at the time, was that prior to the Thanksgiving incident of 2009, Tiger had received virtually zero criticism on or off the course. Sure, a little poking here and there about his language when he duck-hooked a tee shot, but it was minimal. He was invincible inside the ropes. After his affairs came to light that all changed on a dime, and it’s been a rocky road ever since. Each injury and withdrawal drew more and more scrutiny, and the number of times his integrity has been called into question is equal only to the number of Fast and Furious movies we’ll have to endure over the next decade.

Some can say that he’s isolated himself, I may even be in this camp on occasion, but when you sit down and think about the surmounting pressure he’s received over the last decade, who can blame him? In a TIME interview with Lorne Rubenstein from 2014, you can see the shift in his mindset after having kids. Lorne asked, “How do you feel about the way the media have covered you?”

“There’s no accountability in what they say,” Tiger responded. “And what they say, it’s like it’s gospel, there’s no source behind it. Nothing like, yeah, I talked to X number of players, I talked to this player, this player, this player. It’s none of that.”

He would go on further in response to Rubenstein’s question about what’s written about him. “You don’t read what’s written about you? Was there a time when you did?” Rubenstein asked.

Tiger’s response, “Not really. And that has served me well. It has served me well. Like my Dad said when I was young, Were any of these guys there? If anybody has any kind of perspective on it, it would be the caddy. He saw the shot, he understood what the circumstances were. Other than that, there’s nobody else. So what’s their take on it? Who cares? They weren’t there. They didn’t see how difficult it was, what’s going on.”

Reading the TIME article, you get the sense Rubenstein’s question wasn’t just about what goes on inside the ropes. And even though Tiger’s response defaults to golf, you know it’s hinting at what goes on outside the ropes. 

We don’t know what it’s like to be the most famous athlete in the world for one second, much less for nearly 20 years. We don’t know what it’s like to feel the pressure of representing an entire race in a sport that has a history of blatant prejudice. Bill Russell and Tiger Woods know what that’s like. As do many others in American sports, but I don’t, and you probably don’t either.


It’s impossible to know what is going through Tiger’s head, but thinking back to the 20-year-old Tiger who said, “Something really clicked that day, I felt like I had found a whole new style of play. I finally understood what it meant to play within myself,” here’s to hoping he can do that again. It might seem easy to an outsider, the Tiger we once knew is a larger than life figure, you’d think playing within that framework would come easy. But the Tiger we don’t know is the one he needs to play within, and that battlefield seems to be getting smaller by the day.

Photo credit: Flickr/Lorianne DiSabatoMarcia Cirillorajapal

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Adam Crawford is a writer of many topics but golf has always been at the forefront. An avid player and student of the game, Adam seeks to understand both the analytical side of the game as well as the human aspect - which he finds the most important. You can find his books at his website,, or on Amazon.



  1. The dude

    Jun 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    SHANK!!!!!…….sorry Bill for putting your name in the same sentence with TW….maybe that should have been the title….wow….fail…

  2. Mat

    Jun 3, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    I agree the parallels are there, but for one difference. “Hello, World.” I love watching him as an athlete, but as someone who worked as a ballboy in the NBA, I saw early on that the things that make athletes great is exactly what makes them make bad decisions. It’s a straight line. Tiger asked for the media scrutiny because he knew, and Nike knew, that’s how dollars entered the PGA.

    Bill Russell dealt with institutional racism when Tiger had people saying “it’s about time”. I think the point of isolation is fair, but it isn’t at all what Bill Russell faced in the 1960’s. Sure, they each reserved themselves, but I don’t think it’s fair to Bill Russell. His problems were from others, where Tiger’s problems originate from the tendencies and teachings of his dad, his own behaviour and addiction, and were multiplied by the fame that multiplied his paychecks. These things are not the same, and to conflate them unfairly minimises what Russell went through.

  3. dcorun

    Jun 3, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    He has been the center of attention right or wrong since we was a child on The Mike Douglas Show. IMHO he lost his moral compass when his dad passed away. His dad taught him how to be successful but, wasn’t around to teach him how to handle post success which everyone whether athlete or not has to accept someday.

  4. Frankie

    Jun 3, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    In terms of competing, it’s more like Bill Russell and Jack Nicklaus (both won the most NBA Finals and majors, respectively), while Tiger is similar to Michael Jordan (both were the most dominant in their prime).

  5. johnnie d

    Jun 2, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    I’m getting real tired of writers speculating on what people think just so they can justify a paycheck. This is pure conjecture without any evidence that Bill and Tiger think this way. All the supporting data is second-hand. If the author had done his homework by interviewing Bill and Tiger and thus came to his conclusions, then I’d think differently, but there was no original research. I hope the GolfWRX editors are listening as this was totally BS.

    • Jasian Day

      Jun 3, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Getting real tired of writers speculating….
      Hope ya got a time machine then

  6. AlbieT

    Jun 2, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    People love Woods for his golf and then somehow thought he is this or that kind of person. When news came out that contradicted that “thought” they go crazy. Ridiculous! Tiger gave us his golf excitement and that to me was enough. It was a gift to watch him at his peak, period. He does not have to apologize to me ever.

  7. Hawkeye77

    Jun 2, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Tiger hasn’t walked 6 inches in Bill Russell’s shoes. Their careers certainly are not comparable (Russell = personal team focus and team sport, Tiger not at all – not enough room to get into all that’s wrong with comparing their careers), their life experiences not even close to comparable and nothing about the end (if Tiger is done) is comparable. Oh, they are athletes of color who are hard to get to know, right. Russell is a man and all that implies and deep, thoughtful, reflective, highly intelligent, engaging at times, but “isolation” used superficially makes for a very superficial article and a comparison just to publish something.

  8. Bert

    Jun 2, 2017 at 7:28 pm


  9. Golfgirlrobin

    Jun 2, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    I first met Bill Russell in 1984 when he used to show up at all the basketball games of the small San Francisco Bay Area college I attended. He was friendly and outgoing, used to shoot baskets after the games, hang out with students and was just generally awesome. Due to work stuff, I continued to see him well into the late 90’s. Maybe he hated the media, and who could blame him, but the idea that he was some unapproachable, introverted hermit just isn’t true.

  10. Ben Jones

    Jun 2, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    Bottom line, he doesn’t have the swing and game anymore. It all boils down to thinking you have a great swing and game and growing confidence that you can make it happen. Too bad he doesn’t swing like the picture at the end. Tiger had a great golf swing. He fed off that perfection under Butch and even though he changed it, he had enough carry over and short game to do well. But he had to keep changing until it got really bad. If your swing is good, you will play good. Success builds confidence, we all know that. Tiger has neither a good swing or confidence. He is beat down. His body is beat down. We will never see him play like he once did.

  11. Tim

    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    So no one wants to tackle why he is always referred to as being a “black” athlete? His mother was Thai. His dad had black, white, and Native American heritage. Why isn’t he referred to as an Asian or Thai athlete?

  12. Mike C

    Jun 2, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Great article. Both Tiger and Russell are viewed by many as Jerks (and maybe they are). But, as you point out, it ain’t easy being them.

    • Adam Crawford

      Jun 2, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks, I agree. And again, I don’t think any of that is an excuse for actions taken. But I think it’s important to try and understand “why” as opposed to just passing judgment. Of course, it’s virtually all speculation, and correlation doesn’t equal causation, but looking at what happened and trying to gain an understanding has some value.

  13. H

    Jun 2, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Eldrick is not black. He is more Thai-Chinese than he is black. IF Eldrick has emphasized that aspect, and leaned more on his mother’s culture than his father’s side, none of this would have happened. But then he may never have been the golfer that he came to be. But that may have been a good thing, to be a more well-rounded person, than a skirt-chasing monster he came to be, a behavior he learned from his horrible father.

    • God Shamgod

      Jun 2, 2017 at 11:50 am

      Wait, are you suggesting that Tiger’s infidelity is due to his father being black? That is sad and pathetic.

      • Joe Golfer

        Jun 2, 2017 at 3:18 pm

        I’m not sure if he is suggesting that or not. If he is, then it is indeed shameful of him.
        There was a very long Sports Illustrated article a while back. I don’t recall the issue, but it had Tiger on the cover with the headline “What Happened” and the author was named Alan Shipnuck, should you wish to try to google it. Within the article, it did indicate that Tiger’s father was unfaithful to his own wife and was a “skirtchaser”, so to speak. So perhaps that person (H) who wrote that was referring only to Tiger’s father specifically and not an entire race. That said, the way he phrased things does sound bad.

  14. Jasian Day

    Jun 2, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Compare Tiger to Princess Diana….
    Her car troubles were well documented too

  15. larrybud

    Jun 2, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Sorry, but Tiger in 2017 is nowhere near the same, not even close, not in the same UNIVERSE as Russell in the 60s turmoil of race riots, and does a disservice to what Russell went through and the time that he played.

    Tiger screwed up, a few times. Why is that so hard for people to say or acknowledge? The Tiger apologists will blame it on things like race, the media, his caddy, and the Tiger haters will just pile on and not recognize the guy is human, first and foremost, and makes mistakes just like everybody else.

    Sure, it’s hard the average guy to be sympathetic with a superstar multi-millionaire, which to us appear to have everything in the world at their fingertips, but that doesn’t make them supermen who make perfect decisions all the time. In the end, we all end up 6 feet under.

    I hope Tiger can turn things around, at least personally. If he every plays golf again at a decent level, that will just be icing on the cake for those of us who lived through his 10 years of golf greatness.

  16. ooffa

    Jun 2, 2017 at 9:05 am

    This has got to be the dumbest article Golfwrx has ever posted. Complete foolishness. Tiger is a mess. that’s it! That’s all! It has nothing to do with anything else.
    Are you bored Crawford? This is really lazy work on your part. You are better and smarter than this drivel.

    • Grizz01

      Jun 2, 2017 at 2:58 pm

      I commented on why Tiger is a mess. And my comment was removed. You cannot be honest about it. No one once it out in the open. I thought GolfWRX was going to get away from the politcally correct. Apparently they’ve gotten to big already and have to please the advertising dollars and censor stuff now.

  17. Frank McChrystal

    Jun 2, 2017 at 9:04 am

    Michael Jackson.

  18. Joseph

    Jun 2, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Very little in common in my view. Russell came into the league and was quickly followed by a succession of other black superstars, including Wilt, the Big O and others within a couple of years. He played a team sport and was the ultimate team player as the Celtics record proves. I was luckily able to see him play often as a kid at the Cincinnati Gardens for $3. Russell appeared thoughtful and reserved, but Tiger was aloof and imperious. Part of that may be golf, but from what one reads, that was Tiger’s personality and it appears that he has no friends. That has little to do with his race, there are a lot of people of all races who share that trait.

    • K

      Jun 2, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      Exactly. Team sport vs. loner sport. Not even in the same league. What Eldrick has done to himself after he got caught cheating with all them women, isolating himself because of his actions is not even close to Russel’s experience. What the heck is this article about, anyway?

  19. Jack Nash

    Jun 2, 2017 at 8:06 am

    I see little comparison between Russel and Woods. Russel is a humble superstar, while Woods is just the opposite. Russel defined his position in his sport while Woods defined his at the same time as a technological boom hit the golf world.

    • birdie

      Jun 2, 2017 at 9:10 am

      tiger was always one of the last to adopt new technology. not sure what that has to do with anything.

    • Adam Crawford

      Jun 2, 2017 at 10:20 am

      The humbleness is simply one aspect of their personality. I think that just because there is one attribute that doesn’t seam to match up doesn’t mean their paths are dissimilar. When looking at the arc of their career and the impact they had on their respective sports, the arcs are strikingly similar.

  20. AceW7Iron

    Jun 2, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Why must it always boil down to skin color in America? Its never because they Guy or Gail is just a human being with faults and temptations that are as old mankind itself…No…in America it always stops at the epidermis which in reality is the most outward layer of a human being.

    I submit to you that TW’s problem is NOT with his skin covering but rather lies deeper within…much closer to his heart. The Man had it all & still has considerably more than most in the WORLD. Tiger should be in his prime and encouraging generations of fans to do well in life but it appears he is too busy popping fuzzies…a choice only he could make. Its foolish to blame his woes on others…There is only one Man living in his skin that makes the call…HIM

    • Jim

      Jun 2, 2017 at 9:31 am

      99% thought Tiger’s mixed ethnicity and skin color were as iimportant as his talent. If a white country club kid won 3 US Ams he woulda got great 7 figure offers, but certainly not the 8 figure deal and recruitment to be the global face of a brand – essentially replacing Michael Jordan…

      A few shitbirds aside, Tiger had ZERO racism to deal with compared to Russell

    • Adam Crawford

      Jun 2, 2017 at 10:23 am

      I apologize if you thought the entire premise was trying to prove that skin color was an excuse for his actions recently, it wasn’t. But I think there is a wide misunderstanding, or lack of attention, to the amount of pressure felt by someone like Tiger Woods. I also think, that some of his actions may have been curtailed had he been surrounded by dear friends like so many of us have, the friends that keep us in check. With the level of fame achieved and the amount of pressure on an athlete of his caliber (Russell the same), it’s understandable for someone to retreat within themselves, and when that happens, there is no outside “voice of reason” telling us when something may be a bad decision. I know I’ve had many a friend talk me out of what I thought was a good decision at the time, but in retrospect would have been a disaster. If someone is isolated, then they may not have that type of friend to curtail poor choices.

      • ooffa

        Jun 2, 2017 at 10:45 am

        Ya, Sure, Whateva,

      • K

        Jun 2, 2017 at 1:02 pm

        “I know I’ve had many a friend talk me out of what I thought was a good decision at the time”
        Now that’s hilarious, in regards to how you got to publish this worthless article.

      • Adam A

        Jun 2, 2017 at 1:18 pm

        What does skin color have to do with both men living in isolation? As true as it is that both men were trail blazers in their particular sport when it came to dominance in a game filled with mostly white men. Their isolation seems more about personality than race.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A Tale of Two Misses



It seems like I somewhat “touched a nerve” with last week’s post ‘A Defense of Blades’, based on the scoring you all gave my take on that controversial topic.

I do appreciate it when you take the time to score your reaction to my work, as it keeps me tuned in to what you really want me to pontificate about. Before I get into today’s topic, I request that any of you who have a subject you’d like me to address please drop me an email at [email protected], OK?

So, in somewhat of a follow-up to last week, let’s talk today about misses. Those too frequent shots that move your scores in the wrong direction.

Early in my life, I was always part of “the group” of low-handicap players who had various kinds of “money games”, but that put me in touch only with other low-handicap players who were highly competitive. Just as I was getting fully engaged in the golf equipment industry in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of a group at my club called “The Grinders”. We had standing tee times every day…so if you could get away, you played. There were about 35-40 of us who might show up, with as many as 6-7 groups going off on Fridays and Saturdays.

These guys sported handicaps from scratch to 20, and we threw up balls to see how we were paired, so for twenty years, I had up close and personal observation of a variety of “lab rats.”

This let me observe and study how many different ways there were to approach the game and how many different kinds of mishits could happen in a round of golf. As a golf industry marketer and club designer, I couldn’t have planned it any better.

So back to a continuation of the topic of last week, the type of irons you choose to play should reflect the kinds of misses you are hoping to help. And the cold, hard truth is this:

We as golf club designers, engineers and fitters, can only do so much to help the outcome of any given shot.

Generally, mishits will fall into two categories – the “swing miss” and the “impact miss”.

Let’s start with the former, as it is a vast category of possibilities.

The “swing miss” occurs when the swing you made never had a chance of producing the golf shot you had hoped to see. The clubhead was not on a good path through impact, and/or the clubface was not at all square to the target line. This can produce any number of outcomes that are wildly wrong, such as a cold skull of the ball, laying the sod over it, hard block to the right (for a right-hand player), smother hook…I think you get the point.

The smaller swing misses might be a draw that turns over a bit too much because you rotated through impact a bit aggressively or a planned draw that doesn’t turn over at all because you didn’t. Or it could be the shot that flies a bit too high because you released the club a bit early…or much too low because you had your hands excessively ahead of the clubhead through impact.

The swing miss could be simply that you made a pretty darn good swing, but your alignment was not good, or the ball position was a bit too far forward in your swing…or too far back. Basically, the possible variations of a “swing miss” are practically endless and affect tour pros and recreational golfers alike.

The cruel fact is that most recreational golfers do not have solid enough swing mechanics or playing disciplines to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a consistent manner. It starts with a fundamentally sound hold on the club. From there, the only solution is to make a commitment to learn more about the golf swing and your golf swing and embark on a journey to become a more consistent striker of the golf ball. I would suggest that this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game and encourage anyone who loves golf to go down this path.

But today’s post is about “mishits”, so let’s move on the other and much smaller category of misses…the “impact miss”. As a 40-year golf club designer, this is the world in which I function and, unfortunately, to which I am limited.

The “impact miss” is when most of the elements of the swing pretty much fall into place, so that the club is delivered pretty accurately to the ball…on the right path…face square to the target line at impact…but you miss the sweet spot of the club by just a bit.

Finding ways of getting better results out of those mishits is the singular goal of the entire golf club industry.

Big drivers of today are so much more forgiving of a 1/8 to ½ inch miss than even drivers of a decade ago, it’s crazy. Center strikes are better, of course, with our fast faces and Star Wars technology, but the biggest value of these big drivers is that your mishits fly much more like a perfect hit than ever before. In my own launch monitor testing of my current model driver to an old Reid Lockhart persimmon driver of the mid-1990s, I see that dead center hits are 20-25 yards different, but mishits can be as far as 75-80 yards apart, the advantage obviously going to the modern driver.

The difference is not nearly as striking with game improvement irons versus a pure forged one-piece blade. If the lofts and other specs are the same, the distance a pure strike travels is only a few yards more with the game improvement design, but a slight mishit can see that differential increase to 12-15 yards. But, as I noted in last week’s article, this difference tends to reduce as the lofts increase. Blades and GI irons are much less different in the 8- and 9-irons than in the lower lofts.

This has gotten a bit longer than usual, so how about I wrap up this topic next week with “A Tale of Two Misses – Part 2”? I promise to share some robotic testing insights that might surprise you.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: World Long Drive! Go Mu!



In this week’s podcast we discuss Wisdom In Golf Premium, new ways to help and fun talk about rules and etiquette.

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Opinion & Analysis

Vincenzi: How the 2022 Presidents Cup actually grew the game



As fall approached, the world of professional golf was drowning in a sea of continuous division and animosity.

The Presidents Cup, which should have been a silver lining in the most tumultuous time in the history of the sport, had suddenly become a pasquinade.

The Internationals had always been an underdog and had just one win in fourteen tries against the Americans.

In 2019, the scrappy Internationals led by Ernie Els gave the United States team led by Tiger Woods all that they could handle at Royal Melbourne. The United States retained the cup, winning the competition 16–14, but the Els’ team fought to the end. The future was bright for professional golf on the world stage.

In 2022, things were different. The Internationals had just lost arguably their two best players in Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann, plus a handful of other Presidents Cup shoe-ins including Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer.

The International players who had joined the controversial LIV Golf series were deemed ineligible to participate in the competition, which resulted in the decimation of what should have been a deep and competitive team of Internationals. By the time the event started, the United States had ballooned to a -900 favorite.

One phrase that’s been repeated ad nauseum over the past few months has been “grow the game”.

After a bleak opening few days at the Presidents Cup, we caught a glimpse of what “growing the game” looked like over the weekend.

There are plenty of ways to potentially grow the game of golf. One of those ways unfolded in real time at Quail Hollow thanks in part to a spirited group of Asian golfers who refused to let their team go quietly into the night.

First, there was the budding superstar, Tom Kim.

Kim scored two points for the Internationals, but the impact he had on the event dwarfed his point total. The South Korean hijacked the event with his charisma, energy and determination to help his team succeed. Golf fans were treated to memorable moment after memorable moment whenever the 20-year-old was on their television screen.

Kim had already had a handful of moments that will live in our memories for many Presidents Cups to come, but the most memorable came on the 18th hole of Saturday’s afternoon foursomes. Facing a seemingly invincible duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Kim put a 2-iron to less than six feet of the hole. He then sunk the clutch putt to knock off the fourth and fifth ranked players in the world.

Tom wasn’t the only “Kim” to leave a lasting impact at the 2022 Presidents Cup. Fellow South Korean Si Woo Kim had his share of memorable moments as well.

Going into Sunday singles, the Internationals were trailing 11-7 and in need of a historic day. Typically, the trailing team will “frontload” their best players to attempt a comeback. When United States captain Davis Love III called the name of Justin Thomas to lead off in the first match of the day, many expected the international team captain Trevor Immelmann to call the name of Hideki Matsuyama or Adam Scott. Instead, he called the name of Si Woo Kim.

Si Woo did not disappoint. Kim took out the de-facto leader of the United States team 1-up. The 27-year-old didn’t shy away from the spotlight, and matched Thomas both in his ability to sink clutch putts and to bring energy with his animated style of play.

Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim provided some of the most memorable moments of the Presidents Cup, but it’s Sungjae Im who’s been the best player for the Internationals in both 2019 and 2022.

Back in 2019, Sungjae tied with Abraham Ancer for the leading points scorer (3.5) for the Internationals during their narrow defeat in Australia. He was a rookie then, but this year he was depended upon to go against some on the United States best teams and delivered, scoring 2.5 points and knocking off young American star Cameron Young in their singles match.

As influential as the performances by the trio of South Koreans were, the overall impact of Asian golfers cannot be discussed without mentioning Hideki Matsuyama.

The 2021 Masters Champion has long been rumored to be interested in joining LIV Golf, but he was at Quail Hollow competing alongside his International teammates.

Stars were born at the 2022 Presidents Cup, but Matsuyama has been “growing the game” for what feels like a lifetime. Labeled from an early age as the savior for Japanese golf, Hideki has delivered time and time again. The former young prodigy has slowly but surely turned into a pillar of global golf and leader of the Internationals.

After a slow start, Hideki was able to grind out a win and a tie to help the Internationals remain competitive throughout the weekend.

While the Internationals were eventually defeated 17.5-12.5, a more important mission that cannot be measured by wins and losses was undoubtedly accomplished.

Amongst all of the turmoil and strife in the world golf, it’s easy to forget how much the game means to so many people.

Countless young golfers across the world went to bed on Sunday night and dreamt of being the next Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim or Hideki Matsuyama.

That sounds like an excellent way to “grow the game”.

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