Like millions of sports fans around the world over the past 15 years, I counted myself as a loyal fan of Tiger Woods. Needless to say, his achievements were remarkable and his charisma magnetic. I thought he was the best athlete to ever grace our planet. Even my mother who finds watching golf on TV about as exciting as watching paint dry, loved to watch golf when Tiger was playing.
We all cringed when the news of his exploits hit the papers. We now know the story of his fall from grace. But like a good old fashioned mulligan, he, like all of us, deserves a second chance. OK Tiger, tee it up again and let's see what you can do. Let's see if you can pull off those spectacular shots that often left Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo speechless in the booth.
Fast forward to the tournament in Dubai in early February. After a so-so round, Tiger lit it up on Friday shooting a 66, the lowest round of the year for him. The media ate it up. Tiger is back, they said. At a tournament that had the top three players in the world at the time (Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods, and Martin Kaymer), here was an excellent opportunity for Tiger to take on the best and begin his comeback.
After firing an even par 72 in the third round in tough conditions to remain one shot back of the leader, Tiger was poised to go in for the kill on the final day and begin to reclaim his throne.
Unfortunately, he shot a dismal 75 on Sunday and finished a distant 20th.
What happened? Why couldn't he close the door?
Well according to Tiger, the wind on Sunday affected his ability to consistently execute his new swing. It's a flatter swing that is contrastingly different than the more upright swing we are use to seeing. But a flatter swing has nothing to do with putting and it was his putting that let him down. In fact it has been his putting that has let him down ever since the “incident.”
Tiger's greatest strength has been his putting. He has never led the PGA Tour in fairways hit, but he has consistently led the Tour in putting. What is the great secret in putting? Is it the stroke? The ability to read greens? Practice?
That all helps, but it is not the secret.
The great secret in putting is the ability to do just about nothing. That's right, the ability to do just about nothing right before and during the putt and that is very difficult for Tiger to do now.
Out of all the motions in all sports, putting is probably the most delicate. It doesn't take much effort at all to move a putter back and move it forward to get the ball rolling to the hole. Even someone with very little athletic ability can do it. But the real key to putting well does not lie in the stroke (who doesn't have a beautiful putting stroke on the PGA Tour?), but in the experience one has in the brain right before they pull the trigger. It's the ability to have the mind very quiet.
Tiger, at least for the moment, does not have that silence.
Putting is all about feel. It is all about how soft the putter feels in your hands. It is only through feel that you can control the speed and line of the putt. The $64,000 question then is how do you have that right feel?
Arnold Palmer once remarked that the golfer who had soft hands during a tournament was the golfer that won the tournament. But Arnie also said that no one knew how to have soft hands consistently.
Mr. Palmer, I hope you read this article.
The ability to have soft hands is a by-product of the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) in the brain not interrupting a signal about the putt either right before you pull the trigger or during the putt. The PFC is also the intellect. When the PFC does not interrupt a signal, the brain experiences silence.
If the PFC interrupts a signal and the signal is delayed in moving to the motor system (which is the part of the brain that communicates with the body in order to produce motion), then the putter will not feel soft in your hands. Somehow the great putters are able to switch this off when they putt and this is the secret to their success.
Tiger could do it before. He has trouble doing that now—for obvious reasons.
If Tiger is going to dominate golf again, he has to switch off his PFC. That is what our program at PMPM Sports Zone Training teaches. If he doesn't do it, he will just be another very good, but not great golfer.
Can he do it? It remains to be seen. I sure hope he can, because if he can, then I can watch golf again on Sunday afternoon because my mother will not ask me if she can watch a movie, but join me in rooting once again for Tiger.
Since the Dubai Desert Classic, the highest Tiger Woods has finished in his last three tournaments was 10th in the Cadillac Championship. This past weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods finished in a tie for 24th place. The 5th ranked golfer in the world said he was pleased with the progress he made in his game this week despite not contending and stretching his winless streak on the PGA Tour to 16 official events. Woods will enter the Masters having matched his career-longest streak of 10 straight majors without a victory.
Nice article, Mr. Yellin. I'm sure there's enough pressure as it is on the golf course in a big PGA tournament, and then add all the personal things in the back of your mind and it's a recipe for mental disaster. I like the idea of "switching off" your mind. Golf is such a mental game. I'm certainly no pro, but I would imagine that even if you have a perfect swing, what's going on in your mind, and the reactions your brain sends to your muscles can completely throw off your game.
I remain to be a huge Tiger fan, and I'm with you. I hope it's only a matter of time before he breaks out of his slump. Let's see what he can do in Augusta.
Thanks for sharing your article and showing how big of a role your brain plays in all sports.
Thank you for your comment Leeman. The next big breakthrough in sports will be understanding how the brain affects the body and just what world class athletes experience in their brain that separates them from the field.