What It WIll Take For Someone to Rival Tiger Woods

As prologue, I offer two anecdotes dealing with sporting champions of the past.

  1. Jimmy Connors once said that there’s one thing real champions in ALL sports have in common:" They all hate losing. They HATE losing. A LOT more than they like winning. If you’re going to be a champion, you have to get sick to your stomach when you see some other son of a ___ holding up YOUR trophy."

  2. A year or so before his death, I remember seeing the old Dodger pitcher, Don Drysdale, doing a TV interview. For most of the interview, Drysdale was charming, funny, warm, friendly, jolly… the quintessential nice guy. At long last, the interviewer noted Drysdale’s friendly, laid-back demeanor, and then asked him: Don, in your playing days, you were known as a headhunter, a MEAN pitcher, the type who’d knock down batters or even bean them with impunity. You seem like a genuinely nice guy. How did you get into a frame of mind where you could knock down or hit, say, Ernie Banks or Henry Aaron?

Now, remember that Drysdale had been retired a loooong time at this point…

Still smiling, Drysdale began to reminisce about his days with the Dodgers in the early 60s. “You have to remember,” he said, “that in my day, we didn’t make all that much money. So, I was always worrying about how I was going to afford the new house we were going to need as my kids got older… how I was going to afford to send my kids to college. For me, that World Series check wasn’t just a perk, I really NEEDED it. That World Series check was the difference between paying my mortgage and not, between sending my kids to college and not. ANd here comes Henry Aaron up to the plate. He’s trying to beat me. He’s trying to keep me out of the World Series. Damn it, that (expletive) is trying to keep my kids out of college. He wants my kids out on the street.”

I swear, though Drysdale hadn’t pitched professionall in about 20 years, you could see by the look in his face, he’d talked himself into hating Henry Aaron. Drysdale was ready to throw a high, hard one at Hank Aaron right then and there. He’d worked himself into a state where he viewed Hank Aaron as the scum of the Earth, as his mortal enemy. He HATED Aaron that moment enough to do ANYTHING to beat him.


Okay, that was a long intro, but I DO have a point. I firmly believe that, in order to become a champion, an athelete needs the two attributes I noted above. He needs a healthy hatred of losing, and of his opponents. He can be a nice guy in his private life, but when he’s playing, he has to hate losing and his opponents passionately.

In most sports, that attitude is common. In golf, however, historically, you’ve never seen that attitude. Historically, when a golfer has finished 3 or 4 shots off the lead at the Masters or the U.S. Open, he seemed reasonably pleased with himself. He’d say things like, “Well, I played well today. I made some shots, and put myself in a position to win.” That was the standard, old-school golf attitude- play your best, week in and week out, put yourself in a position to win every week, and every now and then, you’ll come in first.

That’s STILL the attitude you see on the PGA tour, for the most part. And that’s a BIG part of why Tiger Woods is so dominant. Yes, Tiger is physically talented, and works extremely hard. But I think what makes him so UTTERLY dominant is that he doesn’t think the way other pro golfers think.

When, say, Tom Kite finishes in third place, he may be a little disappointed that he didn’t win… but he DOESN’T feel as if he “lost”! He tells reporters, sincerely, that he’s pleased with the way he played, then showers and goes out to dinner.

I guarantee, though, that when Tiger Woods finishes in third, he’s livid with himself. He’s thinking, "Damn it, I LOST!!!’ He kicks his locker, then goes out on the putting green and practices a few more hours, so he won’t lose next week.

Not only do most pro golfers not share Tiger’s hatred of losing, almost none of them seem to hate Tiger himself… or if they do, they keep that very quiet. All go out of their way to say nice things about him. They almost seem tranquil about the way he stomps them… just the way African Olympic teams that played against the NBA stars in 1992 seemed pleased as punch when Michael Jordan scored on them!

Tiger is already immensely talented, highly disciplined, and one of the hardest workers in sport. He’d be tough to beat under ANY conditions… but he’s going to be impossible to beat, so long as the other players retain the old-school golf attitude. Tiger wants to win every time; the others hope to win occasionally.

That’s why I believe that NONE of the current pros will ever provide Tiger with the kind of rivalry we all want to see. EVENTUALLY, some years down the road, such a rival will come around… but it’s likely someone in high school right now. Someone too young to have absorbed the old-school golf mentality. It’s going to take someone who’s grown up watching Tiger, and shares his determination to win EVERY time.
And it will help if that someone grows up with a visceral dislike of Tiger.

No current player will ever be McEnroe to Tiger’s Borg, Frazier to Tiger’s Ali. When he FINALLY gets a worthy rival, it will be a much younger guy, one who’s been chomping at the bit for YEARS to kick Tiger’s backside.

I tend to agree. Tiger’s rival – a true equal – will almost certainly come in time.

The odds are long against Tiger staying this dominant for, say, 20 years. He may be the first of a new breed of golfer now – but he won’t long be a sui generis.

I often think his competitors fail in part because of the excesses of the tour. If you are good enough to maintain your card, you are guaranteed a pretty darned soft life. And very few golfers have the capability - even if they tried - to be among the best.

At any time you pick, there has always been a pretty steep drop off in ability after the top 20 or so golfers. Sure, someone can come out of the pack and win in Arizona or Milwaukee, but the leaderboards are pretty predictably consistent at the majors.

Golf culture is a wierd thing. Duval got that monkey off his back by winning a major. But what has he done lately? The guy glories in golfing a couple of weeks and taking a couple of weeks off to go snowboarding. And who can blame him. He’s young and rich and having a hell of a time. But he hasn’t shown an ability to grind his opponents down during the stretch.

Look at Weiskopf - one of my favorites growing up. But he tended to wilt at the end and, IIRC, ended up with far more 2ds and 3ds than 1sts.

The question could be turned around. Not why does no one else compete as well Tiger, but why does Tiger himself compete so well? What motivates him to work so hard, and put all the pieces together correctly, in addition to his phenomenal innate talents?

I wonder if a competitor might come from outside the US. Someone less likely to succumb to the luxurious excesses available to a tour member. In the mold of Vijay Singh, perhaps. I hoped Els or Goosen would pan out. Or Clarke. And Sergio certainly has the game. He just hasn’t been able to finish. Sure, he’s young. But so was - and is - Tiger.

Perhaps off topic - but what do you hear about Tiger’s off-course life. Like now. He’s taking a couple of weeks off before the Western, presumably tuning up for the British. What are his days like. Is he at his place in Fla? How much does he work at his game every day? Does he go out in the evenings? Does he date? What is his household like? How many employees does he have? Is he seeing someone? He seems to have been pretty successful in keeping his personal life pretty personal.

I disagree with the bit about having to hate your opponents when you’re playing in a tournament. If you do that I think that you would start to get all wound up and eventually lose your concentration.

One thing that I think will take the luster away from Tiger if he does win the Grannd Slam is how few other tournaments he plays in. In his first few years on the tour he probably played a majority of the PGA tournaments, now how many does he play, 15, 20 at the very most?

Plus, Tiger seems to have gotten a lot more aloof then when he first started out which is understandable considering what he has to deal with.

Tiger has a swedish girlfriend, Elin Nordegren. Link (in swedish sorry, but there is a pic of them).

As an avid Tiger fan since he won his second US amateur, allow me to elaborate on a few things.

This article gives a good perspective from some of the old greats. Especially in the last twenty years, being a mediocre golfer on tour provided a pretty comfortable existence. There are loads of golfers out there who’ve never won a tournament, in, let’s say 5 years, but pocketed 3-4-500K US per year. After expenses, (on average 50-70k), you could live pretty good on that. Tiger’s come along with an attitude that (good, bad or indifferent) second place is for losers.

Since Tiger’s been a kid, he’s had a poster of Jack Nicklaus in his room, with the 18 majors written on it. It’s been his goal to be the greatest golfer of all time, and the yardstick is Jack.

Tiger has played relatively speaking, a reduced schedule from the start. Once he secured his tour card (by winning the seventh tournament he entered as a professional), he’s focused on the majors. He plays about 23 times a year, with time off to deflate, and to prepare for the next major (There are about 40 PGA tournaments a year, not counting the the Brit Open, the 4 World tournaments, and Tiger’s overseas obligations, which I think he has four or five). He usually plays two, three times in a row, then will take a week off prior to a major. Unfortunately, this has impacted some of the smaller tournaments, as attendance and viewership is up about 40% when Tiger’s playing vice when he’s not. Plus, he has all his endorsement responsibilities, including his Tiger Woods foundation stuff.

Tiger is kind of a homebody (wouldn’t you be if you were dating Nordegren?). He spends a lot of time at the O’Meara household, where Mark’s wife prepares most of Tiger’s meals. Plus, that private community is also home to Shaq and a few other sports stars, so Tiger doesn’t lack for people to hang with. For all intents and purposes, Tiger’s close friends act as if they are under a gag order, as they do not publicly talk about Tiger or his private life.

Tiger has been noted by his peers to be one of the hardest working players on tour. He consistently mentions how he wishes to get better, and his father has said the skills he’s displaying now are just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, Tiger’s won 8 majors (not counting the 3 US Ams) and about 35 times worldwide while in his 20’s. Conventional wisdom holds that a really good golfer doesn’t hit his peak until his early 30’s.

To directly answer the OP subject, someone with Sergio’s talent but Lee Trevino’s guts and Vijay Singh’s work habits. Sergio talks some smack, but once again he showed at the Open that he ain’t got the head for it yet. Dinsdale got it right, particularly about Duval. He rocketed to the top of the tour, won X millions in 18 months, and basically said, this crap ain’t for me. It’s almost like Duval’s treating the tour as just another job that allows him to afford to go snowboarding, etc.

Well, enough with this hagiography.

What It WIll Take For Someone to Rival Tiger Woods?

Jeff Gillooly :smiley:

Interesting article in todays New York Times about this very topic.

Not sure if you have to have subscribed to the NYT to read this, but it’s free to do so. There’s a nice quote from Davis Love III about how you have to play the way Tiger plays and not the way he wants you to play.

As an “in the 90’s golfer” I can tell them exactly how they stand a better chance. They’ve got to quit playing Tiger and start playing the course. If they do the best they can against the course and still lose then he is just better than they are. Tiger makes damned few mechanical mistakes and even fewer mental ones. If the others continue to try to play beyond themselves, they’ll never win. And you can tell them I said so.

Stand at the turn between the front and back nine at midnight, and the devil will come enlarge the sweet-spot on your irons.

From reading the cited NYT article it certainly seems like Woods has gotten into the other golf pros’ heads, kind of like the way the Yankees’ Mariano Riveria got into all the batters’ heads. Maybe all it all take is the equivalent of Luis Gonzalez’ Game 7 bloop hit to make the other pros recognize that even if Woods is the best he’s still just human and therefore can be beaten.

This is only tangentially related to the OP, so I ask forgiveness in advance if I stray into hijack territory.

I’m not very knowledgeable about the sport of golf, so I was surprised to find where, on one of the pages on The Engines of Our Enginuity, they talk about the change over the past few years to solid-core golfballs. In theory, this could improve every golfer’s game equally. In practice, I assume the results could be quite different, as older golfers may have considerable practice and expertise with one type of golf ball. Has the change of golf balls in the sport helped anyone rise or fall, relative to other golfers?

Not really NE Texan, They all pretty much hit it long (as compared to the weekend duffer). Market forces are pretty much at work here. If you make a ball that can go long and still be able to put a lot of spin on it with wedges and short irons, that ball will be played. One of the changes proposed to rein in the pros is to make a shorter ball, ie., a tour ball only played by the pros. Jack Nicklaus has been quoted as saying if he played with the quality of ball the pros are playing today, he’d probably have 25 majors.

Thanks, BF. One question, though:

Does he mean if he were the only who had the balls (so to speak), or even if his competitors had them, too?

Here’s what Mike Wilbon has to say about it.

From the article:
Here, primarily, is what’s wrong with Mickelson, Garcia, David Duval, Justin Leonard, Jesper Parnevik, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Jim Furyk and a handful of others: They were born at the wrong time. They were born too close to Tiger Woods, the same way Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and John Stockton were born at the wrong time, too close to Michael Jordan. That’s all they were guilty of, being in the wrong place at the wrong time for pretty much the duration of their careers.

Even if his competitors had them too, NE Texan.