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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

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: What really makes a wedge work?

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Having been in the wedge business for over thirty years now, and having focused my entire life’s work on how to make wedges work better, one of my biggest frustrations is how under-informed most golfers are about wedges in general, and how misinformed most are about the elements of a wedge that really affect performance.

That under-informed and misinformed “double whammy” helps make the wedge category to be the least dynamic of the entire golf equipment industry. Consider this if you will. Golfers carry only one driver and only one putter, but an average of three wedges. BUT – and it’s a big “but” – every year, unit sales of both drivers and putters are more than double the unit sales of wedges.
So why is that?

Over those thirty-plus years, I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers to ask that very question, and I’ve complemented that statistical insight with hundreds of one-on-one interviews with golfers of all skill levels. My key takeaways are:

  • Most golfers have not had a track record of improved performance with new wedges that mirror their positive experience with a new driver or putter.
  • A large percentage of golfers consider their wedge play to be one of the weaker parts of their games.
  • And most golfers do not really understand that wedge play is the most challenging aspect of golf.
  • On that last point, I wrote a post almost two years ago addressing this very subject, “Why Wedge Mastery Is So Elusive” (read it here).

So now let’s dive into what really makes a wedge work. In essence, wedges are not that much different from all the other clubs in our bags. The three key elements that make any club do what it does are:

  • The distribution of mass around the clubhead
  • The shaft characteristics
  • The specifications for weight, shaft length and lie angle

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

For any golf club to perform to its optimum for a given golfer, these three key measurements must be correct. Shaft length and lie angle work together to help that golfer deliver the clubhead to the ball as accurately as possible time and again. If either spec is off even a little bit, quality contact will be sacrificed. The overall weight of the club is much more critical than the mystical “swing weight”, and I’ve always believed that in wedges, that overall weight should be slightly heavier than the set-match 9-iron, but not dramatically so.

We encounter so many golfers who have migrated to light steel or graphite shafts in their irons, but are still trying to play off-the-rack wedges with their heavy stiff steel shafts that complete prohibit the making of a consistent swing evolution from their short irons to their wedges.

That leads to the consistent observation that so many golfers completely ignore the shaft specifics in their wedges, even after undergoing a custom fitting of their irons to try to get the right shaft to optimize performance through the set. The fact is, to optimize performance your wedges need to be pretty consistent with your irons in shaft weight, material and flex.

Now it’s time to dive into the design of a wedge head, expanding on what I wrote in that post of two years ago (please go back to that link and read it again!)

The wedge “wizards” would have you believe that the only things that matter in wedge design are “grooves and grinds.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Grooves can only do so much, and their primary purpose is the same as the tread on your tires – to channel away moisture and matter to allow more of the clubface to contact the ball. In our robotic testing of Edison Forged wedges – on a dry ball – the complete absence of grooves only reduced spin by 15 percent! But, when you add moisture and/or matter, that changes dramatically.

Understand the USGA hasn’t changed the Rules of Golf that govern groove geometry in over 12 years, and every company serious about their wedge product pushes those rules to the limit. There is no story here!
For years, I have consistently taken umbrage to the constant drivel about “grinds.” The fact is that you will encounter every kind of lie and turf imaginable during the life of your wedges, and unless you are an elite tour-caliber player, it is unlikely you can discern the difference from one specialized grind to another.

Almost all wedge sole designs are pretty darn good, once you learn how to use the bounce to your advantage, but that’s a post for another time.

Now, the clubhead.

Very simply, what makes any golf club work – and wedges are no different – is the way mass is distributed around the clubhead. Period.

All modern drivers are about the same, with subtle nuanced differences from brand to brand. Likewise, there are only about four distinctly different kinds of irons: Single piece tour blades, modern distance blades with internal technologies, game improvement designs with accented perimeter weighting and whatever a “super game improvement iron” is. Fairways, hybrids, even putters are sold primarily by touting the design parameters of the clubhead.

So, why not wedges?]

This has gotten long, so next week I’ll dive into “The anatomy of a wedge head.”

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: 2023 PGA Merchandise Show recap

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All the new interesting things we enjoyed and appreciated.

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Opinion & Analysis

2023 Ras Al Khaimah Championship: Betting Tips & Selections

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The conclusion to last week’s Dubai Desert Classic was almost perfection.

The scant amount of viewers on a Monday morning would have been treated to a surely scripted play-off between world number one Rory McIlroy and his LIV nemesis Patrick Reed, bar that damned 13-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole. It was, of course, a fitting start to the year for the world number one, and an ending that the week deserved after ‘Tee Gate to Tree Gate,’.

With our main man, Lucas Herbert, playing some sublime golf in behind and finishing strongly in third despite the absence of luck on the Saturday greens, it showed the DP World Tour in a cracking light.

It’s a shame this week doesn’t.

We move from the quality of Dubai to a standard DPWT field and, while favourite Adrian Meronk is improving fast and now up to 52nd in the rankings, the long,wide, forgiving nature of Al Hamra makes this nothing more than a bosh-it, find it, hit it, putt it, competition. Links-like it may be, but with no wind forecast, this won’t hit anywhere near the heights of the previous two weeks.

Previous DPWT winners here – Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard – suggest length is the one factor that separates the medalists from the also-rans and is the key factor behind high-level tee-to-green numbers, certainly rather than accuracy.

There isn’t really any option but to look at the handful of true links players at the top and it’s only narrowly that Victor Perez gets the vote.

Splitting last year’s winners (for there were two Al Hamra events in 2022) Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard is tough but I’ve always felt the Frenchman is capable of a higher level of play and he is the selection in front of favourite Meronk, even if they both have similar course and recent form.

I rarely get him right – backing him twice over the last six months – even if he has won two titles in the space of seven months.

Still, this is another day for the Frenchman (and me) and for a winner of the Dunhill Links, the Dutch Open and three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, he may actually be overpriced at 16/1.

It’s tough to find any better ‘standard level’ links form lines than beating the likes of Matt Southgate, Joakim Lagergren, Tommy Fleetwood, Tom Lewis and pals in Scotland, and beating Fox in a play-off at Bernadus Golf. However, he was at it again at Yas Links, leaving behind the names Min Woo Lee, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren and Tyrrell Hatton – all synonymous with the test he faces this week, on the same paspalum greens and with opposition of higher class than three-quarters of this week’s field.

Perez looks to have produced evidence that a golfer is at their peak at 30-years of age producing an outstanding bunker shot to win his latest trophy, with a sound coming off the club reminiscent of his play at Wentworth in 2020, when splitting Hatton and Patrick Reed.

Watch Perez trophy-winning shot here!

Although this is his first outing here on the DPWT, he has a seventh and second place from two outings on the Challenge Tour and he is in the right form to take those figures one better.

Third for total driving over the last six months, Perez ranks in the top-10 for ball-striking over the same period (11th over three months) and arrives here in confident mood, telling reporters:

“I’m looking forward to playing at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship for the first time. I got the season off to a great start at the Hero Cup followed by my first Rolex Series win in Abu Dhabi, so this is a great chance to keep the momentum going and secure more Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points,” before adding:

“I’m playing great golf at the moment, and I’m hoping it continues in Ras Al Khaimah.”

Perez is a confident selection, but back him up with another proven rip-it merchant in Callum Shinkwin, who has come in a few points since the market opened but justifies the move after an excellent top five in Dubai.

First thing we know about the three-time winner is he hits it a mile, ranking in the top-10 for off-the-tee ten times since the start of the 2022 season, including being in the top three in the two events 12 months ago. That itself is worth noting, as are his best efforts away from the victories- at Fairmont, the Dunhill Links and last week in Dubai, all with pointers to this week’s test.

There was nothing wrong with mid-20 finishes here last year, the first just a couple of days after destroying the course in a fun Texas Scramble pairs, and he will surely take comfort in lying up there with Rory McIlroy last Monday, matching those final two birdies.

Another around that ‘magic’ age, this is a course that will give Shinks every opportunity to play shorter irons into the targets and, with last week’s top-10 ranking for putting, this may be the time to go with the Moor Park magician.

I can’t see a shock result here this week – the top lot have perfect conditions in which to show their class – but I’ll be looking at the top-10/20 markets for the following:

Tapio Pulkkanen – Trilby-wearing Finn that hits the ball a country mile. Trouble is, half the time he does not know in which direction it’s travelling. Here, with accuracy not a factor, he can take inspiration from last season’s seventh place in the first of the back-to-back events, when a three-over back-nine cost him a place in the medals.

20th just seven days later shows he can play the track, whilst best efforts over the last 12 months include a third place at the Czech Masters, 10th at the Dunhill Links and third in Portugal, again all events with a leaning to the type he’ll take part in this week. Given his tied-second in Prague a year earlier, we can surmise he repeats form at tracks that suit.

It isn’t impossible he suddenly finds his form on tour, and with an inkling he’ll ‘do a JB Hansen’ and go crackers for a spell. This would seem the perfect place to start.

Julien Guerrier – Third at Hillside and Celtic Manor last season show the former winner of The Amateur Championship (at Royal St. George’s) still has what it takes to compete at this slightly lower level. Add top-15 finishes at Denmark, Spain, Germany and Mauritius – all with front-rank putting stats – and it’s easy to see the two-time Challenge Tour winner having some effect in the top-20 market.

A sixth and eighth-placed finish at the Rocco Forte in Sicily behind Lagergren and Alvaro Quiros (both who turn up when they sniff links from a mile away) reads well, and his repeat performances at his home country, Portugal, Spain and Prague show he performs where he has good memories.

With four outings here, split between the Challenge Tour and the DPWT, the Frenchman can continue an improving course record of 19/13/9.

Jack Senior – I’m convinced that 34-year-old Senior is a better player than his current ranking outside of the top-500 in the world, and although it has been a while since his win at Galgorm Castle in 2019, he has racked up top-10 finishes at Gran Canaria, the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club (behind Min Woo Lee, Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick), Mallorca and on the Spanish mainland.

Back at Galgorm, he was tied-13th last year, a repeat result that sits nicely with his 23rd in Mallorca, and top-20s in Prague and Denmark, courses already highlighted as associates to Al Hamra.

I’m happy to ignore last week’s missed cut as it was his first outing since October, and he’s of enough interest back on a course on which he has a sixth, 11th and 19th place finish in three tries at the lower level.

I’m expecting one of the top eight or 10 to prove too good, but these events often throw up names on a surprise leaderboard, and it will take just one hotter-than-normal week with the putter for that to happen.

Recommended Bets:

Victor Perez – WIN

Callum Shinkwin – WIN/TOP-5

Julien Guerrier – TOP-10 TOP-20

Tapio Pulkkanen – TOP-10 TOP-20

Jack Senior – TOP-10 TOP-20

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