There are many things that make the Tiger Woods story extraordinary. However, as a non-golfer who has been fascinated by the transcendence that Tiger Woods has brought to the game; one particular legend about his approach to his golf game has been very inspiring to me.
It is said that Tiger Woods has recreated his game many times. One well know strategic reinvention of his winning golf swing occured when he was just 21 year old in 1997. After winning the Western Open, he announced that his near perfect swing was in need of a major overhaul. The world received the news with stunned surprise. How do you improve on what appears to be near perfection?
He then proceeded to spend the next year totally altering his training regime, his diet and his swing. It cost him. During that year he won just a few tournaments. But after a year; the period of chastening completed, he won a remarkable 50 percent of the tournaments in which he participated.
The next challenge occurred in the life of an older Tiger Woods. In 2003, Vijay Singh replaced Tiger Woods as the best golfer in the world. Tigers’ response to this upset was quoted in Golf Digest:
“You can play from the wrong position for a long time with good hands, but eventually its’ going to catch-up with you.” Being really good at something, the best even, does not guarantee you a permanent position at the top.
This time, the reinvention was not a one year effort. Knee surgery in 2003 forced him to train very differently on a regime that included a stationary bike. He had to adjust his swing to compensate for the changes that his body had undergone. This time the reincarnation of the famous swing was much more subtle. Nothing like the drastic re-imaging that occurred in 1997.
In fact it was not until 2006 that the winning streak started again and he went on to win six consecutive PGA Tour titles into the spring of 2007. An interview by CBS Sports contains this quote from those who were amazed by the amazing transformation:
Players marveled at the fixes of the past few weeks, though Woods discounted the degree of difficulty.
“Because it wasn’t that much of a change,” he said. “It was just getting back into my natural posture, which is no big deal. Toward the end of last year we worked on the same things at the Western, and I went on that nice little run there. A lot of this is the same thing. I tend to slip back into the same old faults.“
I take away much wisdom and great insight from this older, wiser Tiger. In his earlier days, dramatic shifts created impressive gains. But as he matured and had to contend with physical limitations in addition to an increasingly aggressive field of players, Tiger Woods drew on a different dimension of inner core strength.
Gaining dominance is never as difficult as maintaining it. But, the biggest challenge of all is continuing in excellence rather than succumbing to the easy fix or tricks that worked well in the past. It takes great humility to be able to look at anything which seems to have worked well for so long and recognize that one may be actually “playing from the wrong position” even though one has good hands.
The danger of the “good hands” is that we may inadvertently fashion a mold which hardens into default positions designed to maintain the margin not redefine it. The truth is that it does catch up with you. What we often miss are the initial cues which indicate that we are flirting with that precipice.
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