Dec 3rd, 2015
Tiger Woods: I peaked at 11
Tiger talks in his run up to 40
Words: Daniel Owen Photography: Getty Images
We recently reported about Tiger’s press conference at the Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas that he hosts, where he sounded like the most depressed former number one golfer in the world ever. However Time Magazine have just published a 40th birthday interview where, while repeating many of the same things and cover similar ground, Tiger manages to sound much happier with his current lot.
First of all it’s amazing how nonchalant Tiger comes across when talking about his career.
“I know. It’s frightening. I’ve had a good run.”
Tiger you had more than a good run. For awhile you were the best that ever walked the planet! But Tiger believed his golfing peak came at just 11!
"I didn’t play for any attention. I played for the hardware. I wanted to know that I beat everyone in this field, and I wanted them to know that they got their butt kicked. That to me was the absolute pure pleasure of competing. But then, I got noticed for that. But when I first started playing, I was a little kid, say, in the nine and unders, and 11 and under, there was nobody there, but I still want to kick your butt. That never changed. Then people started to take notice of those wins. But I had been doing it since I was very little. By the time I was 11 years old, I had already won 113 tournaments. I peaked at 11, to be honest with you. I went 36 and 0 that year, never lost a tournament, all in California. And I probably had the cutest girlfriend in all of sixth grade. And I had straight As. No A-minuses. They were all perfect A’s. I peaked at 11. I’ve been trying to get back to that since."
When asked if he had any recovery goals he had this to say
“Absolutely. But this one, I can’t. There’s no timetable. And that’s a hard mind-set to go through. Because I’ve always been a goal setter. Now I had to rethink it, and say, O.K., my goal is to do nothing today. For a guy who likes to work, that’s a hard concept for me to understand. I’ve learned a little bit of it, I think. I know that, one, I don’t want to have another procedure. And two, even if I don’t come back and I don’t play again, I still want to have a quality of life with my kids. I started to lose that with the other surgeries.
"I’ll never forget when I really hurt my back and it was close to being done, I was practicing out back at my house. I hit a flop shot over the bunker, and it just hit the nerve. And I was down. I didn’t bring my cell phone. I was out there practicing and I end up on the ground and I couldn’t call anybody and I couldn’t move. Well, thank God my daughter’s a daddy’s girl and she always wants to hang out. She came out and said, “Daddy, what are you doing lying on the ground?” I said, “Sam, thank goodness you’re here. Can you go tell the guys inside to try and get the cart out, to help me back up?” She says, “What’s wrong?” I said, “My back’s not doing very good.” She says, “Again?” I say, “Yes, again, Sam. Can you please go get those guys?”
Tiger believes in the past he came back from injuries far too quickly, but his pain threshold got him through it.
“And I have. I pushed through it. When I enter a tournament, my intent is to win. And even though I’m banged up, or whatever it is, that’s also been one of my problems, that I have had the ability to block out pain and play through it. It’s been a good thing and a bad thing.
"No, no. First of all, I didn’t want to show anybody that I was hurt. You never want to show your competitors that you’re hurt. I don’t want them to get that mental edge, Oh, he’s down. You always pick yourself right back up. That’s what I’ve tried to do my entire career: not show that I am hurt. Play through it.”
While many claim Tiger to be the greatest ever, or at least in the conversation, he doesn’t believe it’s that clear cut.
“You can’t compare eras. You really can’t.You just can’t say who was the best because the game has changed so much. Jack crossed so many eras because he played for so long, and he was in contention for so long. The same could be said for Sam Snead. How many eras did he play through? He ended up winning, what, at 54, when he won at Greensboro? I think you have to be able to say you’ve played in so many different eras, and I have. Most of my friends are on the senior tour now, the guys I grew up playing with, my compatriots.”
When asked if the younger guys on tour asked for his advice, he had this to say.
“Absolutely. They all have, when they first came out on tour, especially. And probably one of my closest buddies now is Jason. I’m still really close with Rory, and I’ve gotten a little bit closer to Jordan over the years, ever since we played on the same Presidents Cup team. Now we’re able to speak to each other. I didn’t even know who he was. I’d seen him play but never really got the chance to know the kid. Getting to know him, he’s a great kid.
“When I came out on tour, the guys I got to play with in practice rounds were phenomenal, a who’s who of who is in the Hall of Fame. I’d ask them to play, and they would show me shots. Raymond [Floyd], all the short game shots he showed me. Then you had Seve [the late Seve Ballesteros] and Ollie [José María Olazábal]. We’d talk about shots, or if we’re in the same tournament, would you like to go out to dinner, or would you like to chip a little bit? I got to know Seve a little bit when Butch [Harmon, Woods’ swing coach from 1993 to 2004] and I were working together, down in Houston. He was working with Seve at the same time, and we’d time it up so that we had training camps together, two- or three-day training camps. We’d hit balls and then he’d show me short game, for hours. Then we’d go play till dark. It was awesome. To see how he could do it, and I could never do it. But I could take pieces. I’d ask him, but man, I couldn’t do a lot of them. But I realised I don’t have to do a lot of them. I can do it my way.”
So Tiger learned from Seve. All those miraculous escape shots make so much more sense now. It’s fair to say Tiger Woods has always played the game with the spirit of Seve, now we know why. Here's hoping Tiger can get fit an have five more years at the top. What a way to transcend era's it would be if Woods can find way to shrug off his injuries and take it to Rory, Jordan, Jason and Ricky while they're at their peaks? We're rooting for him.