The following quotes from Tiger’s post-round interview after the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California, may well be the best example of why Tiger was always so reticent to speak candidly to the media.
In this quite revealing interview, he gave away his secret: he has to battle fear just like the rest of us. Oh, he didn’t use those exact words, but in describing the process and aftermath of his current swing change, it’s evident that he’s all too human.
He begins by talking about the difficulty of suppressing his old swing instincts:
Well, it is what it is. I’ve made changes in the past. It’s the same old motor patterns and they kind of kick in, especially when I have to place shots. And that is the hard part is kind of battling through that.
As I said, I found something at 16, but it was a little too late.
And then to an inaudible question apparently asking if he was still confident that he made the right decision to go through the swing change:
Absolutely. I told you guys back at Barclays that was the thing. In that week off, do I do it or not do it? And after I make the commitment, I make the commitment and I go.
I know what I can do. I know what I’m capable of hitting, the shots I’m capable of hitting, and I just need to keep improving and keep working.
And then he allows us to visit his inner sanctum. He begins by answering a question about how long the process takes. But then we get to peer behind the curtain to what the iterative process of the change is really about:
Q. You’ve been through this process before, how long does it take to kick in?
Well, one time it took two years, so I went through a stretch there from the middle of ’97 to May of ’99 when I only went through one tournament. So I’ve been through stretches like that before, and it takes time.
Q. Is it just the issue that you’re in a tournament and it’s a battle?
Q. That when you’re at home, it’s easy to do?
Absolutely. It’s always easy to do it at home on the range. Then you have to do it on the golf course at home, and then once you’re able do it there, now you have to do it out here. Then once you do it out here, you have to do it in contention. Then once you do it in contention, you have to do it in major championships. And then you have to do it on the back nine of a major and be successful.
So it’s a process, a building process. I’ve been through it before, and I hit some good shots out there, unfortunately, I hit way too many bad ones.
The reason this is so revealing is because he talks about the trust building process of taking it one step at a time. So on the one side of the coin it sounds like he’s building trust in the new swing, but the other side of that same coin is the fear that doesn’t allow him to trust.
That fear was fairly evident at the beginning of yesterday’s round where he made three bogeys in his first five holes and basically shot himself out of the tournament. He did manage two birdies by the 9th hole, but by then he’d separated himself from the leaders.
When you fear your golf swing, you lose the freedom in it. Instead of a free-flowing freedom through the ball, it becomes a manipulation. Instinctively knowing that it’s going to be a constrained swing, you try to save it by either holding on to the release of the club or forcing it ever so subtlety with hands or shoulders or hips. That’s all it takes to make it unpredictable…and untrustworthy.
It was awful for him. He was hitting it all over the place off the tee and his heroic efforts to salvage it with second shots weren’t much better. I don’t think I ever saw him in so many bunkers. He was correcting and correcting and correcting until he thought he found that “key” on the 16th hole.
So the next time you’re struggling with your swing, take heart. The greatest player to ever play the game has the same problems you do…and for the same reasons.
But there is hope. In closing, he also revealed his toughness and his commitment to anything he undertakes:
Q. Is it a setback?
There’s no such thing as a setback.
Some would say, “Well, how much longer is he going to try this?” What I used to say when people asked me how much longer I was going to chase the dream of playing on the Champions Tour, “Until I can no longer be committed to it.”
It isn’t a line in the sand, it isn’t a date certain, it’s just something you know. For now, Tiger still believes that he can remain committed to the change. And that is every bit as courageous as the decision to do it in the first place.