AND THE GOLF GODS ROARED

 It was a remarkable Friday March 16th, 1990 in Jacksonville, Florida. Why was it remarkable? Well, the Pga Tour was in town for the annual contesting of the Player’s Championship and I was one of the lucky contestants. So?

The Pete Dye links had been everything but kind to me over the previous 5 years. In 1985, my rookie year on tour, I was tied for 6th thru 30 holes when I started feeling sick.  Fighting off stomach cramps, I managed to make the 36 hole cut which I thought to be a good thing. Not much later the cramps escalated to a full blown stomach virus and I was hugging the toilet all night, finally stopping about 6 am. Later that morning on the tenth tee (my first hole),  I met Dr. Buster Browning for the first time. Hiding behind the starter’s tent, I dropped my pants and received two shots to help with nausea. I then walked out from behind the tent into the glare of one of my idols and playing partners for the day, the one and only King of golf, Arnold Palmer. It was my first opportunity to meet the King, who, as you can imagine, had to be duly impressed with you know who.

I followed 85 with a MC in 86, a MC in 87, a MC in 88, and a MC in 89. It seemed my long and wayward game was not suited for the Stadium course; a point I was quick to remind my wife, Carol, each successive year. As the year’s passed, I became more and more insistent that 0 percent of any number, no matter how large, was in fact, and would remain, 0. This was important because the Player’s had the largest purse on tour, which, as I kept reminding my wife, was totally insignificant when missing the cut every darn  year. 

So, maybe now it makes a little more since why it was remarkable that I was again in Jacksonville for my annual ass whipping. The story now picks up on Friday with me on the par 5 16th hole and sitting one shot under the cut line. The wind was blowing from the southeast and directly in my face. I had hit my second sh0t too far and was left with a difficult shot into the wind and over the oak tree that sits in the MIDDLE of the fairway. Adding to the difficulty, the hole was cut very close to the back edge of the green near the water which acted as a speed trap for the over zealous. Wimping out, I managed to barely reach the putting surface leaving a long and winding putt which, of course, took 3 strokes to get down.

I headed to the 17th, the famous island green, playing downwind with the hole cut in the back middle of the green. One of my favorite shots at that time was what I called a three finger sauté which consisted of a shorter swing where I would hold the face open thru impact to take a little distance off while at the same time adding a little extra spin to the balata balls of the era. I played what I thought was a perfect slider 9 iron which carried just on top of the back tier. But after it took a big hop and failed to grab, it fell into the water over the green.

Maybe  you have read some of my other blogs where I have referred to a “brain bifurcation”; an event where the brain splits into two distinct halves. One side is the good half and begs for patience while the other half is the devil and says screw it, we hope the clubhouse burns down and the grasshoppers eat the golf course.

At this point, the battle was joined with lots of yelling going on in my head as I proceeded to the drop circle. Ignoring the mental tussle, I played a carbon copy sand wedge, low with tons of spin. but once again, after a bounce,  the spin was unable to stop the forward motion and it fell to a watery grave. At this point, THE BATTLE WAS WON by the bad half, as you can imagine.

With the first ball finding the water, the vulture crowd let out an ahhh, but with the second one also wet, the vultures voices grew louder with an ahhhhhhh!!!. With the battle in my brain over, I was in a daze when I hit the next one as hard as I could, landing just 5 yards from the 16th fairway. AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!. “This is worth the price of admission; the big man has lost his marbles.” Chickening out on the next one, I chunked it on the front of the green, backhanded a couple and walked off with a 10. That’s now 6-10 on 16 and 17.

This is where it gets really good….The bifurcation was over, the battle was over and my brain was in total melt down and having a Happy Bead Cascade Event. In other writings I have described the HBCE as a total mental failure where the happy beads, which hold offerings of hope and opportunity, shift to the other menacing side that is capable of only mean and nasty things. Driven by this daze,  I told my caddie I was going to hit every ball in my bag in the water and I was never coming back. I aimed my first shot directly in the middle of the lake, and as it rocketed toward splash down, I said “give me another”. With the first still on re-entry, I launched number two. As the first one splashed, and with the second still in flight, I requested number 3. Once again, though, the chicken got hold of me and I hit a 40 yard slice which barely found land. Three shots later it was an 8; that’s 6-10-8 over the last three holes for a 51, which still stands as the highest back nine score at the Players.

1991 came around, and, even more remarkably than before, I was back again. Mr. 51. Only, this time I had a group of very interested bystanders. These were the Golf Gods who had been taking close note of the previous year’s proceedings. With the help of a beverage or 6, they plotted and planned until their focus was true.

Fast forward to Sunday, March 31st, 1991 and I’m standing on the 17th tee. Consistent with their plans and with their help, I had not only made the cut, but birdied 4 of the previous 6 holes. As I stood and watched, their plan continued to unfold as Steve Elkington three putted giving me a one shot lead. That’s right, the same guy who had set the record the year before, the same guy Sports Illustrated captioned a picture with “and Blackmar looked like he could be a bouncer for a heavy metal group” held a one-shot lead on the 71st hole. Ignorant of their plan, and with the wind in and from the left, I chose to play a similar shot as the year before except this time it was an 8 iron. 

As I aimed at the middle of the green, the golf Gods joined the fray by jumping in my head and screaming, “don’t bail, don’t play safe, make birdie. Hit it close. Trickle it down the bank to the hole.” Bastards. Well, there was no way either Karma or they were going to let a bouncer for a heavy metal group, who finished 6-10-8 for a 51 the year before, win the “5th major”. So, on cue, my tee shot found the water to the right of the green and the Golf Gods ROARED in delight, clinking wine glasses in toast of their charades.

In retrospect, it would have been my 3rd win in 7 years with a 10 year exemption on tour, a 5 year exemption into the majors, a few million dollars in endorsements etc. It’s really amazing I don’t hardly remember a thing about the week given the circumstance. For 10 years NBC would lead with infamous shots on the 17th, which of course, included mine. Finally, though, enough time passed that I fell from their masochistic grace and the events  drifted into serene forgetfulness. It’s as if nothing happened, except, when I get in my boat to go fishing, I am reminded I would have a bigger boat.   
  
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Tiger 2015

What’s up with Tiger??? No one really knows except Tiger. Will he figure it out?? I don’t know but he doesn’t seem to be on the right track at the moment. Does he have the chip yips?? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I have them and can still chip circles around where he is right now.

Make no mistake, Tiger is the most remarkable athlete in any sport in my era. I don’t base this statement solely on his record, but even more so because he has significantly altered his identity as a player on two separate occasions and still maintained an almost inconceivably high level of play. Some may even argue he was successful after changing his game the third time as well. The reasons for these changes are not clear but the cumulative effect of re-engineering his game so many times appears to have Tiger lost despite his assurances to the contrary.

Arguably, one of the most important and individually intrinsic parts of a golf swing is the manner in which the player releases the club. There are a multitude of combinations of grip, shaft angle, face orientation, lower body action and path which conspire to require a certain type of release to create the shot shape which fits the player’s personal preference. Generally speaking, career ending danger lurks when a player attempts to improve at the expense of changing how he releases the club thru impact as this release pattern is part of his personal fingerprint. It’s a testament to Tiger’s talent that he has survived and even excelled following such significant changes as he made under Butch, Hank and Sean(no major but Player of the Year). So why does one of the best players of all-time who had one of the best short games of all time look like a 18 handicapper around the greens.

It’s really quite simple. Tiger evidentially feels the swing makes the player to a great degree, otherwise, why all the swing changes? What’s more important relative to the short game than what he changed or why he chose to change anything, however, is the process he has used in incorporating each swing change. That’s because he’s using the same process to change his short game.

Take a look at this quote from January 29th:

“So this is a totally different release pattern, and it takes time to be committed to it, especially when you have to shape shots, and I haven’t hit, shaped shots in tournaments, four rounds in what, six months. So it’s going to take time to get the feel of my hands where they need to be throughout the entire swing and shaping shots.”

When he started with Butch he similarly said:

“at first you make it look better but it still feels bad and goes bad. Next it goes better but still doesn’t feel right. Finally the feel comes around. This process took me 13 months”.

Another example comes from January 28th when Tiger stated his caddie (Joey) commented:

“Don’t worry about getting your numbers perfect, because it’s not going to be that way yet. You’re still working through it.”

Tiger’s methodology: to change the swing, make it look better first despite how it feels or the results, faithfully continue and the ball will start going better and ultimately it will feel comfortable. Until now, it’s been hard to argue his motives due to his unparalleled success incorporating significant change in his game. It’s different this time, however. His inexplicable struggles with a wedge cast a giant cloud over the bright glare that once was an impenetrable, on the course anyway, persona.

It makes no sense why the player who had the best short game in the world would touch his short game technique. Catastrophic, however, is the process with which he has chosen to change technique. Where the full swing has a few common threads to be a great ball striker, the short game is different. Chipping is an open sanctuary of creativity, artistry and individualism. And it doesn’t, even remotely, need to resemble the player’s full swing.

Some of the greatest short games of all time include the likes of Seve, Hubert Green, Ray Floyd, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Brad Faxon and so on….What do these players have in common technically? Not much… That’s because there are lots of ways to get it done. It involves using the face, leading edge and bounce of the club in a way that fits the shot, lie and the player’s preference. Better yet, there are a multitude of techniques to do this. The absolute worst process for improving chipping at a tour level, however, is to suggest it has to resemble the full swing, Yet, on January 27th Tiger said:

“Chipping, I was caught between techniques, between my old release pattern and body movement when I was working with Sean and then my new release pattern. We had to basically just hit thousands upon thousands upon thousands of chips and just get it out of there, and now it’s better.” Well, maybe not so much.

Also confounding is this statement he made on January 28th:

“I’m just having a hard time finding the bottom. Because of my old pattern, I was so steep on it, that I have a new grind on my wedge and sometimes it’s hard to trust. This is a similar grind I used to use back in the early 2000s, but it’s a different grind.” I’ve never heard of a tour player putting a wedge into play when he was uncomfortable with the feel of the club. His use of a club which is “sometimes hard to trust” is part of the same process delineated above. It won’t feel good or go good at first, but that will come around with hard work. The short game is different. It’s all about touch and feel, creativity and imagination coming together to like the paint on a canvass. It’s unfathomable to me he would put a club in his bag without total confidence it fit him perfectly at that moment!

As for the chip yips, when someone has them so bad as to hit the kind of shots he hit in Phoenix there are telltale signs. There are various degrees of yipping severity, but if the yips caused Tiger to mishit the shots like he did there should be visible evidence of at least one of the following: the hands tremor, the head dips, the knees collapse or the follow thru jabs and stops. While I haven’t had a close look at the video, at first glance I did not see these kind of symptoms.

So what are we left with? Can he come back? Yes, he can and I for one hope he does. However, in order to do so he will need to do some soul searching and alter his process. He will need to get back in touch with his wedges, talk to them, experiment, create, manipulate all the while creating feels unique him. He needs to play with ball position, set-up angles, weight distribution, shaft angles, left side and right side releases, finding the leading edge and the bounce, keep constant grip pressure, use gravity for acceleration and use the other side of his brain. His instructor needs to avoid telling Tiger what to do. Rather, he needs to ask questions like: “what did that used to feel like?, “how were you trying to use the club?, “where’s you sensitivity?”.

Tiger was once a genius; he and only he has the answers.

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Hey Fud

Every so often in each of our lives something comes along only to leave us with an unexpected sense of awe. It may provide a peek into the next life or maybe just serve to underscore how little we really know about the world in which we live or the world to come. On a recent Saturday afternoon in a cemetery in a small town in central Texas such a moment amazed all of those present.

It was a small group of mostly family and a few friends who came together to share final wishes for retired Naval Commander Fredrik Blackmar (nicknamed Fud) who passed away earlier this year at the age of 81. Many had joined together at that time during a moving memorial service in honor of Fred to share stories, laughs and tears. However, there was no burial to follow as Fred was cremated and the family waited for the right time to bury his ashes in his and wife Carolyn’s childhood town of Luling. It was now the Saturday following Thanksgiving of the same year and the time had come to place his ashes in his final resting place in the small town’s cemetery. As the extended family and a few friends totaling about 25 gathered in preparation for the service, the faint meows of a small kitten could be heard coming from a nearby fence line which opened on the southeast side of the cemetery into a large field.

Fred, along with Carolyn, had always loved cats. The number of inside cats varied from at least one to as many as three, but outdoor numbers often swelled despite fervent efforts to neuter potential momma cats. Among this outdoor troop were Fred’s “shop” cats usually numbering just one or two at a time. Colorful names befitting Fred’s personality were appropriately assigned by the shop Master which included the likes of Balls, Booger, Snookems etc. The dance of fondness between the shop Master and his fold was equally entertaining as Fred liked to appear disinterested at times; a mating dance of sorts also employed by the cats. However, with no one around, Fred could usually be found sitting in the shop with one of his misfits happily occupying his lap.

Back at the cemetery, a few of the family members had gone to the fence line in an unsuccessful effort to entice the small kitten out for some “lovin”. The kitten simply refused to come out. Meanwhile, a half hour passed as the family visited and shared stories waiting for the appointed time’s arrival. Shortly after 11:30 and with Father Sean’s help, everyone gathered in a semi-circle around the gravesite. Carolyn sat in the middle of the semi-circle in her wheel chair and the others spread in each direction leaving an open space of about 20 feet between them and Father Sean and myself. I was tasked with holding the urn, assisting in the service and placing the urn into the ground. It should also be noted the service itself was very short, only 8-10 minutes in total once it commenced.

Father Sean had barely begun the service when the small kitten appeared out of nowhere and went directly underneath Carolyn’s wheelchair. We all watched in amazement, awe and a sense of wonder as Father Sean continued with his carefully chosen words and the kitten chimed in with his own soliloquy from underneath Carolyn. After a few laps under the wheel chair, and as the service continued, the kitten then strode confidently to the middle of the area between the semi-circle and the grave site. As if in tandem with the service, he added some meow comments of his own taking his time to look around at everyone being sure he was the center of attention. He then turned and calmly walked off back towards the fence line from which he had come. When the service concluded, we all looked at each other, and in near unison asked “did you see that”.

There is so much we don’t know about our presence in this vast universe. Our faith provides hope, optimism and a roadmap to the life to come; yet, as we traverse life’s journey, we often look for hints and clues of what to expect or even confirmation of its existence. While I can’t speak to your beliefs, one thing is for sure; on this wonderful Saturday where warm southerly breezes stirred the trees and wrestled loose memories from so long ago, a kitten now named Forest Fud Blackmar who has a new home with Ashley and Philip Blackmar in Corpus Christi moved our hearts and souls, intensified our faith, and allowed us to share another big smile and conversation with Fred.

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Hitchin a Ride

If you are a lost dog or cat, our home is your nirvana. Over the years, my wife…..and I have rescued and kept somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 cats and 4 dogs of all varieties, colors and dispositions. These furry little critters have become essential parts of our large family. Names for these siblings have included the likes of KD for kid’s dog, Riley for life of Riley, Dingo from a “Friends” reference, Bazinga from “Big Bang Theory” jollies and the latest addition, Axel. While there are obviously several funny and interesting tales which accompany these little guys, the latest has to be the best to date.

Carol and I were returning home from College Station on a recent Sunday morning having spent a few days with our daughter, son in law and grandson. We had not gone far when we innocently decided to stop in Caldwell,Texas for a quick bite of breakfast to go. With food in hand, we rejoined the trip with your’s truly at the wheel of the Chevy Avalanche. Upon entering the right hand turn lane at the junction of two state highways in town, a small kitten came darting across the road and I slammed on the brakes barely avoiding the little cat. Carol then jumped out of the car to the rescue. Two other cars stopped behind to provide assistance with one gentleman routing traffic around the “rescue” scene as Carol tried to capture the kitten and I guarded the active road side of the truck in case he bolted hitherto. In a flash, the kitten jumped and climbed on top of the spare tire locked onto the underside of the truck. Now what to do?

I gave Carol a golf club to see if she could scare the kitten off the top of the spare tire while we remained in the active traffic area. “Oh no” she shouted as the kitten decided to climb further up into the underside of car; now well out of reach and out of sight . It looked as if it was on top of the gas tank and my mind was starting to wonder about future outcomes. Disassembling the truck in Caldwell in search of this kitten wafted merrily about my random thoughts as we obviously could not just drive on with him “trapped” underneath.

By now our assisting crew grew tired of the task and decided to leave us in the middle of the road without protection. This was obviously a dangerous place to be so I gingerly backed the truck into the parking lot of a local car dealership. Once off the road, it was safe to drop the spare tire and take a look. The picture below tells the story.

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This next picture shows Carol covered in water and grease with the culprit appropriately named AXEL.

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With no momma or family in sight, we couldn’t just leave the kitten on the side of the road, rationalized my wife, so on to Corpus for all of us was the order. However, before we could resume the trip, Carol asked that I stop a the convenience store across the street so she could get cleaned up. The next picture shows the front, and name, of the small local store. You just can’t make this stuff up!!!!!!

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Axel slept the entire way to Corpus on Carol’s shoulder……

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Once back in Corpus the vet informed us the new family member has ring worm.

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Quarantine ends today and the newest, and most rambunctious, member of our family will be set free to roam the confines of the house.

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Mental Greatness

Synergy is when two outside and separate influences are brought together with a result which exceeds the sum of the individual influences. In its most simplistic form, competitive golf is the measure of the player’s success in deriving synergy from the mental processes and the physical swing. As simple as it sounds, mastering the combination of these two forces is agonizingly elusive to most.

Turbulence is the chaotic flow or behavior of a medium. One characteristic of turbulence is that it either requires or possesses energy. From a physiological point of view, the body’s response to a threat is fairly well understood and systematic. Despite the body’s logical response, the result to the individual is often a sense of mental turbulence. Energy, in the form of adrenalin, has been added to the system to give the individual a heightened sense of awareness and response capabilities. Stress, in the form of a perceived threat, induces such a reaction, even on the golf course, which can result in a turbulent frame of mind or mental process. Most golfers have been taught to avoid this energized state due to its impact on the fragile nature of the golf swing.

The golf swing is an individual’s attempt to create the harmonious blend of moving body parts and golf club resulting in optimal control of the club head throughout the impact zone. It requires a certain amount of energy to move the body and club at the requisite speed to create the desired result. The player’s ability to repeat this blend despite the fragile physical and turbulent mental influences determine the player’s success. Most players prepare to compete by practicing in a low energy calm state of mind ignoring the potential negative impacts of stress on their swing.

The golf swing consists of numerous cause and effect chain reactions which some refer to as sequence. If one piece of the sequence breaks down, the remainder of the swing breaks down. At that point, if the player possesses a degree of sensitivity and feel, the player might be capable of subconscious adjustments and saving the shot. If the player lacks such an ability, a poor result is likely. However, successfully performing such adjustments on a consistent basis is difficult, particularly if under pressure.

To summarize to this point, outside stress can induce a higher energy but somewhat chaotic state of mind making control of a fragile golf swing unlikely. The golf industry has become very large and consists of such participants as club manufacturers, sports psychologists, swing instructors, authors and game improvement technologies such as video and launch monitors. Each of these sectors key on common trouble areas as potential markets for their products.

It’s an interesting study to look at the growth of the sports psychology field in golf and their treatment of stress induced poor performance. In general, the field has promoted the notion that it is best to find ways to lower the energy state of the mind in order to best match the fragile state of the golf swing in the face of pressure. Ideas such as play one shot at a time, each shot means the same as another, ignore the ramifications of failure, focus on the target, ignore all else and stick to a prescribed routine without change to avoid allowing the gravity of moment to overtake your thoughts etc.make-up the common prescription.

Sports Psychologists have generally promoted ways to limit the influence of the conscious mind and rely more on the subconscious. This method hopes to, at best, maintain a consistent level of play in the face of pressure. However, what if there was a method to elevate performance by utilizing the energy of the situation and turning it into increased focus while staying incredibly relaxed.

The mind is a powerful tool. Relaxed concentration is a powerful skill.

Imagine if you could use the energy of stress to heighten your focus and improve your performance rather than running scared.

Now imagine such a program would not only help with your golf game but empower you in other ways.

Such a program flies in the face of what has been taught over the past 25 years in golf. Elevating your performance when under pressure versus trying to maintain your previous level. No one way works for everyone, but wouldn’t you like the chance to try something new and see if it would help YOU.

Its on the way. We will keep you advised on its progress.

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Addendum to today’s blog

It can be difficult for an instructor to recognize a student’s idiosyncrasies by simply watching on the range. If the first thing the instructor does on the first lesson is to put the student on video or a launch monitor, take a snapshot and proceed to tell the student what changes need to be made, then the instructor isn’t interested in the student’s personal fingerprint. There are, however, ways the instructor can climb into the mind and body of the student. Communication is paramount.

Hall of Fame instructor Jim Flick was like a father to me in many ways. I’ll never forget my first lesson with him in the early 1990’s the day after the completion of that year’s Houston Open. We met on the driving range at a course a little south of Houston and after introductions, he asked me to hit some balls to get loose. To my amazement, he then left without watching me hit a shot.

After I was loose, I went and found him to let him know I was ready. He said “great, get in the cart”. We then drove out to the tee of the 17th hole which was a par 5 with water all down the left side of the fairway. After a little small talk, he asked me how I would play this particular tee shot if it was the second to last hole of a tournament. Once we established I was one off the lead, I explained my strength was my distance and generally played par 5’s very aggressively. In this case, since I was one back and needing a birdie, I told him I would aim down the left side and challenge the water in an effort to hit a long fade so I could reach the green with my second shot. “Ok”, he said “let’s see it!!” I responded with a big block 30 yards into the right trees and rough. That was impressive I thought, but realized later that one shot provided him with useful information not only about what my swing looked like under pressure at that moment, but also insight into how my mind saw shots as well as my preferences on the course. He was brilliant.

It is with that story in mind, as well as the responses to today’s blog, that I would like to add a little more “useful” information. The following details some sample questions an instructor can ask a student, or information a student can provide an instructor to help the instructor understand how the student plays and sees the game.

Finding your fingerprint

-What is your preferred shot shape, fade or draw?
-Which would you hit if your life depended on it?
-Has your shot shape changed?
-What side of the golf course do you like to take out of play?
-What shot troubles you the most?
-What’s your miss under pressure?
-Do you prefer to hit down on the ball or sweep it off the grass?
-What part of the country did you learn to play golf?
-What wind direction is your favorite? Least favorite?
-What age did you start playing golf?
-What other sports have you played?
-Which sport was your best and what position did you play?
-Do you play a musical instrument?
-Have you undergone any significant changes in your swing?
-Do you have a go to shot? If so, what is it?
-How much do you practice? Play?
-Do you struggle hitting the ball solid?
-What do you consciously think about during your swing?
-What do you consciously feel during your swing?
-Do you use subconscious feels to play a shot?
-What part of the swing do you feel to execute a shot?
-If you’ve had lessons, has the timing of your feels changed?
-When at your best, do you focus on a start line? The target? Tempo? Footwork?
-Does the speed of your swing change from the range to the course?
-Does the length of your swing change from the range to the course?

I’m sure there are plenty more questions which could be asked to learn more about how someone plays the game, but this is a good starting point. Give some thought to the implications of answers to these questions and you will be surprised what can be learned. For example:

-If you play a musical instrument we can effectively discuss rhythm and how tight to hold the club.
-Your miss under pressure speaks to your natural tendencies.
-Changes from the practice area to the course also illuminate natural tendencies.
-Other sports provide clues as to how you have used your body athletically as well as a good way to link communication.
-Have you changed how you use your mind during a shot is very important question, particularly if you’ve had lessons recently.
-What shot you would hit if your life depended on it is also pretty good and intuitive.

Be creative, detail your identity and use it to formulate your plan.

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Is Tiger a Victim?

Is Tiger a victim? More specifically, is Tiger’s golf game a victim? A victim of what you probably ask? After all, there have been so many controversies in Tiger’s life how could one be singled out above all others.The gambit of possible influences range from injuries, his personal life, relationships with instructors, having so many different swings or just generally all that goes with being such a huge celebrity and living under a never ending microscope.

Certainly an argument can be made for each chapter in his life having its relative impact. Rather than delving into the often mentioned and over analyzed, let us take a look at what has become a common methodology for teaching the game and explore its manifestations as it relates to the role of individual intuition and competing at the highest level. Then, with that established, take a closer look at how Tiger’s desire to continue to improve by committing to swing changes with multiple teachers may have had an undesired effect.

In the old days players “dug it out of the dirt”. Somehow, armed with just golf clubs and a sack of balls, the likes of Hogan, Nelson, Trevino et. al. were able to discern what was important and what was not in the complex set of motions that is the golf swing. More importantly, the process of identifying their unique sensations required to play a shot unveiled their equally unique method of focus in executing the desired shot. If the goal is to succeed at the highest level in competitive golf, it is certainly an advantage to do battle with a swing, game and mental approach that fits closely with the individual’s DNA or fingerprint. You need to simply look at swing differences between players like Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Watson etc. to recognize there is no one best way to swing. Then, look next at the different demeanors and body languages of Hogan, Nelson, Woods, Trevino etc. to understand the importance of engaging the competition within the confines of the individual’s personality. It’s easy to see that if a player digs their game out of the dirt without too much outside influence, it’s likely the end product will at least be a snug fit to the person’s fingerprint. However……..

Sometime in the mid to late 1980’s video became more and more available. Up until that time, instructors were limited to using mirrors, words, divots and a smattering of training aides to try and get their message across to their students. However, with the influx of video, instructing the game changed. Swing analysis charged to the forefront with lines and circles on the video screen becoming in vogue. The swing became compartmentalized and broken into “generally accepted swing positions” GASP. As the 90’s passed into the new millennium, video advanced to the point that for $5 you could have it on your mobile phone.

Accompanying video into the new millennium came devices that measure all aspects of impact conditions. Club path, angle of approach, club face orientation, spin rates, launch angles etc. etc. became available at the touch of a screen. Teachers and touring professionals alike not only acquired machines for at home, but also to take on the road. Averages were determined and optimal ranges for peak performance identified.

Don’t mistake video or launch monitors as a villain because they are not. They are both extremely useful tools, particularly if used in the correct manner. Further, in this particular instance I am certainly not asserting Butch Harmon, Hank Haney or Sean Foley have personally damaged Tiger’s game. However, you have to wonder if the overriding methods generally employed by the instruction industry have conspired to impact Tiger’s game. More specifically, how Tiger plays the game.

With all that said, lets now go back to the notion that a player develops an intrinsic individualism both physically and mentally. In other words, player’s games evolve around sight lines and feels unique to their personal wiring (fingerprint). In an effort to get better, player’s will seek advice from instructors on what to change to improve. The instructor is tasked with balancing that which looks and functions better versus that which will make the player play better. That’s where the grey area comes into play. If the changes challenge or alter the fingerprint, disaster may lurk around the corner. It’s not an easy boundary to identify.

Digging even a little deeper, as the player’s game developed, so did the unique method of focus and execution. The idea of a mental blank sheet of paper where the player simply aims and pulls the trigger is totally inadequate in my opinion. Very good players possess a degree of sensitivity and feel which aides them in executing the shot taking into consideration the multitude of variables impacting each and every stroke played. Further, there is a level of spacial awareness, typically bordering on subconscious, which the player uses to bridge the gap between visualization and execution. For some, this timely awareness can transcend swing technique. This fragile personal environment is where the difference between success and failure lives.

Tiger…..Tiger came to the PGA tour with obvious incredible mental and physical talent. His swing was a little long and a bit out of control and his short iron game was arguably the weakest link. When Ed Fiori bested the young Tiger for the Quad City Championship in 1996, Ed pronounced “if that guy ever learns how to hit a wedge you all are playing for 2nd place.” My how he was prophetic. With the help of John Cook and Mark O’Meara, Tiger learned the value of trajectory and distance control with his irons. Butch Harmon shortened his swing, worked on posture and helped to get the club on a simpler plane. Tiger remarked the change took 13 months for him to feel completely comfortable on the course competing. The result was an era of dominance perhaps never seen before.

In 2003 Tiger parted ways with Butch and went to work with Hank Haney soon thereafter. Hank and Tiger changed several things including the length of his swing, his swing plane, Tiger’s shaft orientation and how he released the golf club through impact. Incredibly, Tiger was able to accomplish these changes and continue on with nearly unparalleled success in the history of the game. It is a testament to Tiger’s talent that he could make such radical changes and accomplish that which he was able.

In 2010 Tiger parted ways with Haney and moved on to Sean Foley and more changes. Whether its been the cumulative impact of the various injuries or attempting major swing overhauls again beginning at the age of 34, this venture has not been as successful. Tiger did win 5 times in 2013, an incredible feat in its own right, but he once again failed to win a major.

This topic of Tiger’s success or demise is covered ad nauseam in the media. While it has taken a while to get there, the point of this essay is a little different than most. For the first time in his career, Tiger has significantly changed his lower body action. In my opinion, this has been a huge mistake and may contribute to his continuing back injuries. But even more disastrous, Tiger has now stepped off the edge of his personal identity as a player.

I had the opportunity to watch Tiger on numerous occasions before, during and after his rounds from 2002-2005 while working as a television analyst. Particularly impressive was his focused practices following his rounds when he would spend approximately 70% of his time hitting 3/4 draws and fades with 6 iron thru wedge working on distance and trajectory control. Now if you go back to the earlier discussion on development of a unique method of focus and feel, its easy to see where this type of practice would reinforce such acuities. In watching him, it was obvious nearly all of his attention was on feels from waist high to waist high. In recent years, however, his short iron and wedge distance control has deteriorated from the absolute best in the world to average, maybe. The implication of this is he is using his mind in a different way and at a different time to execute shots. Remember, this is the fragile place uniquely special to the individual which carries so much power.

So while the focus of this essay has been Tiger, the ultimate message relates more to what has become the accepted method of instruction. It has been proven that people describe complex sequence of motion differently. This is because we are all wired slightly differently and therefore feel things in a unique fashion. The accepted method of instruction is to use video to analyze positions and relative sequence of a player’s club, arms and hands. With launch monitors it is to get your numbers within a prescribed range.

The problem with all this is there needs to be more respect for the individual’s fingerprint rather than putting so much emphasis on predetermined ranges of motion, positions or impact parameters. In other words, there must be a blend between change/information and a player’s identity with great care taken not to over-step the boundary of the player’s intuitiveness. So often you never hear the stories of the carnage of this process gone awry because those involved are hidden from public view. However, right now it just so happens that a player challenging for the best of all-time is dangling from that very precipice from which far too many have fallen before unnoticed.

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