He’s returned to form that few expected but will Tiger Woods have his day on Major Sunday once more?
When I was head of talent recruitment at IMG for Mark McCormack I had 600 files on all the gifted high school and college kids and an international network of scouts keeping an eye on exceptional talent. Mark was ‘pissed off’ that he had missed Seve and didn’t want it to happen again.
For my first year recruiting and having spent 10 years on Tour I thought I knew what I was doing. I went for talent, the purest ball strikers, the shot makers, the magicians around the greens. I stood on the practice tees for hours and at college events and zoned in on my targets, male and female athletes.
It took me a year to work out that I had got it all wrong. I learned this from Corey Pavin, who in the words of my father in the old days, ‘couldn’t beat his way out of a paper bag’ on the range. I took Corey to dinner and asked him how did he think he was going to do on tour next year. He turned with fierce eyes and said: “I am a 5’.8” inch Jewish kid from New York that is going to win more money than any rookie has ever won next year.” I signed him up immediately, finished my tour of practice grounds and took my candidates to dinner instead to rate their “desire factor”. Corey went on to win the PGA Tour money list in 1991.
I had worked out that 7.5/10 ‘talent’ with 9.5/10 ‘desire’ kills the 9.5 talent with 7.5 desire in the long term. It’s ALL about DESIRE. Who over the years have had the strongest ‘desire’? Just look at the record books. Probably the winner over all is Gary Players because he was by far the least talented of the greats; Hogan, Sarazen, Snead, Nicklaus, Watson, Palmer and of course Tiger.
Tiger wins the ‘most talented’ category and would be equal, maybe a fraction ahead of his peers in ‘desire’. When I speak ‘desire’ I mean obsessive, compulsive, relentless single mindedness to achieve their goals.
The great Henry Cotton, my mentor told me out of the blue one day in the mid – seventies “one day Roddy there will be a black golfer that will be the best of them all. Look at their athleticism and long free arms and how they play basketball”.
It was beyond my comprehension as I had only seen Charlie Sifford and Calvin Peete play at that time and they were at best average. It was just about the time Tiger Woods was born.
It has been mesmerising, thrilling and spectacular to watch his career over the years and especially this final chapter when he tries to do a ‘Lazarus’ and rise from the grave of golf. It’s the burning, insatiable desire that drives him against all the physical and mental odds, many self-imposed, stacked against him at 43 years of age. He has had to learn humility and humbleness and adapt the way he sees the world or the way his father taught him to see it. Yet he still fights on, relentlessly regaining the respect and love of the multitudes that now follow him faithfully. They want him to win, they want him to win more majors, they want him to beat Jack’s record!
The question is, can he?
In 2015 Tiger arrived at St. Andrews, his favourite course, and was ‘cocksure’ he was ready for his comeback. The Old Lady of St. Andrews had different ideas and sent him packing on Friday when on the very first hole he duffed it in the Swilken burn. It was a devasting reminder of how cruel this wonderful game can be and it was notice that his time in purgatory was not yet over. He got another early slap in the face at the US Open in Shinnecock in June this year.
Now for the first time he looks right. He has been through the crazy coaches and has reverted and adapted to how he plays best, how he used to play. Now it’s all about the mind and the games that are going on up there. He showed at Carnoustie that he is nearly there. He achieved his goal of getting himself into contention with nine holes to go. He looked a bit lost then when the gloves were off and he had to close. He was also perhaps a little unlucky to have the Hoganesque Molinari behind him.
Last week in Firestone the game dealt him another minor setback and he was ‘off track’ all week. In the past he used this to motivate himself.
This week he heads off to Bellerive Country Club in sweltering St. Louis for the final Major of the year, the PGA Championship on the ‘green monster’ course. It will suit him as it is not long but strategic and straight hitters have done well there. He will be able to plot his way around. The problem for him now is that the other top players no longer fear him and they will be firing fearlessly on all cylinders hitting drivers and scoring low. Maybe too low for Tiger.
It’s hard to see how he can beat Johnson, Thomas, McIlroy, Molinari and Day on an all American course like this. But with Tiger you never know.
I believe the Gods of Golf will grant him another Major. I will be surprised if it is this week and she may wait until the 150thOpen at St. Andrews to give one of the game’s heroes a monumental Kiss Goodbye.