Tiger Woods: It Could Have Been the Speed of the Greens

Phil Mickelson beat Henrik Stenson by three shots to win the 2013 British Open. He was the only player to finish under par and he shot a 5-under 66 to do it. He beat Ian Poulter, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood by four shots and Zach Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Tiger Woods by five. Hunter Mahan and Francesco Molinari round out the top-10 players, both finishing six behind.

And just look who these ten guys are. It’s a Who’s Who of the elite in the game and that includes Matsuyama who is a big star on the Japan Tour. This demonstrated just how good these guys’ reputations were — no surprises here — and just how hard the course was playing — no surprise finishers here.

As is customary, when his round was over, the media dug their hooks into Tiger — they just can’t seem to get enough of the guy. 

He began with an overview of his final round:

I had a hard time adjusting to the speeds [of the greens]. They were much slower today, much softer. I don’t think I got too many putts to the hole today. I really had a hard time and left myself a couple of long lag putts early on when it was really blowing, and left them way short and didn’t make those putts.

I didn’t really play that poorly. I hit a couple of bad shots at 10, 11, that was about it and at 3. But other than that I really hit the ball well today. I was just — I just couldn’t ever get the pace of these things.

He reiterated his problems with the speed of the greens:

It was frustrating. I played well. I could just never get the speed right today. We started on the first day and it progressively got slower. And that’s usually the opposite at most tournaments. It usually gets faster as the week goes on, but this week it was different. And today I had a couple of opportunities to make a couple of putts and I left them short.

He was really satisfied with his ball-striking, but he just never got the speed of the greens:

I’m very pleased with the way I’m playing, there’s no doubt. I’m right there and I hit a ton of good shots this week, and the only thing that I would look back on this week is I just never got the speed after the first day, because it progressively got slower. I thought today they would be faster, given it’s Sunday, and I thought they would let it go, but they actually got it even softer.

And the reason that Phil’s round was so terrific was the speed of the greens:

The greens are slower and if you have, I guess, the feel to hit it far enough up there into the greens, you can get it done. You can shoot between 3- and 5-under par today. But it’s having the confidence to throw it far enough in there, because all week they’ve been bouncing over, if you threw it that deep. Evidently he got a pretty good feel for it and made a few putts.

He had a great week and it could have been better; he just didn’t get the speed of the greens:

Overall I’ve been very positive about how I played this week, and as I said, the frustrating part is I didn’t get the speed. As the greens got slower, I had a harder time adjusting and hitting the putts harder because that first day I think it got to a lot of us that played in the afternoon. They were really quick and they kept getting faster and faster. As the week went on they got slower.

And in his final answer, he indicated that he had a problem with the speed of the greens:

I felt like I was really playing well today. Actually the whole week. I really hit so many good shots and really had control of my ball this week. As I said, it was just trying to get the speed and I just didn’t get it.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s six responses out of fourteen that indicated that the problem was the speed of the greens.

The thing that struck me was the utter redundancy. And it left me thinking that this was not so much about conveying the information about the speed of the greens as it was a wounded ego trying to protect itself.

When I say “ego,” I’m not talking about Tiger the man, I’m talking about his protective, guarded, defensive ego. I’m talking about that feature of all of humanity that overwhelms our spiritual essence and causes us to think, “What will people say?” When your mind is there, it’s hard to be with your golf.

And so in this case, we transfer the blame from our inability to read the greens properly to the greens themselves. “Nothing to see here! I’m good.”

Where we want to get to is a visceral “knowing” of the invincibility of our spiritual essence, an essence so at peace that it overwhelms the ego’s need to defensively explain away our shortcomings ever again. And it takes a lot of practiced consciousness to get there.

For all his greatness, Tiger Woods just might be as human as the rest of us.

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