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How I Play Golf
By Tiger Woods
Read by Walter Franks
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Table of Contents
When Tiger Woods signed an exclusive agreement to write instruction articles for Golf Digest in June 1997, there was elation on the part of the editors, and one concern: Was Tiger's knowledge of the golf swing broad and sophisticated enough to convey advice that would help the average golfer improve? Tiger was 21 years old, an age where most players "hit 'em and hunt 'em" without much regard to swing mechanics or strategy. There was no denying his talent as a player—he had won the Masters Tournament just two months previous—but our expectations of Tiger the author/teacher were modest to say the least.
Like the rest of the world, we underestimated Tiger. The first research session with him was a revelation. His grasp of the fundamentals was complete. His understanding of cause and effect in the full swing was astonishing and would grow even richer through time. What's more, his explanations were expansive, articulate and ordered perfectly. He quickly displayed a knack for phrasing his advice in a way that embraced the widest range of golfers possible.
The sum of what Tiger knows about golf is presented in this book. Happily for the reader, Tiger's knowledge has increased over time and extends well beyond his contributions to Golf Digest. Tiger's new commitments to physical conditioning, diet, sport psychology and insight into being a tougher competitor are presented here for the first time.
Despite Tiger's eagerness to assist the everyday golfer, the title of this book is How I Play Golf. Take note of the "I." Tiger insisted at the outset that he focus on what's right for him. Yet, you'll find his methods are sound and far-reaching. When Tiger discourses on the fine points of how he drives the ball 350 yards, you can take comfort knowing that the advice will assist you in your quest for more distance.
At age 25, Tiger has achieved an all-encompassing command of himself, his sport and the world that surrounds it. We hope you enjoy this insight on every facet of the game from the greatest player of his time.
—THE EDITORS OF GOLF DIGEST
Many thanks to Golf Digest and Warner Books for their collaborative effort in making this project possible.
Also, grateful acknowledgments to my early teachers Rudy Duran and John Anselmo, Jay Brunza, Butch Harmon, who has been my friend and teacher since 1993, Steve Williams, who has been at my side through many tough rounds and great moments, writers Pete McDaniel and Guy Yocom, photographers Dom Furore, Stephen Szurlej and Jim Moriarty, Golf Digest managing editor Roger Schiffman and designer Judy Turziano. On the Warner Books team, my thanks to Larry Kirshbaum, Rick Wolff, Harvey-Jane Kowal, Tom Whatley, Dan Ambrosio, and Antoinette Marotta.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Golf is a never-ending journey. Before we begin, we should look at where we've been.
HOW TO START
YEARNING TO LEARN
I love golf as much for its frankness as for those rare occasions when it rewards a wink with a smile. It is pure, honest and immune to sweet talk. Neither can it be bum-rushed. You must court it slowly and patiently. Any other strategy will be met with a rebuff that for centuries has made grown men and women cry.
Golf does, however, show you moments of vulnerability. They are the reason we relish the courtship and the basis for our hope. It is that flicker of anticipation that draws us from the comfort of ambivalence to the certainty of rejection. Golf does not play favorites. Still we try.
I have been infatuated with the game since my pop first put a club in my hands when I was a toddler. I was an only child, and the club and ball became my playmates. That feeling of solitude and self-reliance enhanced the game's attraction for me and endures today. I suspect that is true of most people who have succumbed to the lure of the game. I recall from conversations with two of the greatest golfers of our time—Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus—that the game had a similar appeal for them. Golf affords you supreme independence. The cliché about the game being you against the golf course is only partly true. Ultimately, it is you against yourself. It always comes down to how well you know yourself, your ability, your limitations and the confidence you have in your ability to execute under pressure that is mostly self-created. Ultimately, you must have the heart and head to play a shot and the courage to accept the consequences.
Golf is a great mirror, often revealing things about you that even you didn't know. It cannot be misled. Still we try.
Sometimes the game comes so easily you can hardly believe it. Every swing seems natural and unforced. Every shot comes off exactly as you envisioned it. That false sense of security is part of the seduction. Every golfer has experienced it. If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit never quite reaching nirvana—that feeling of invincibility. We are constantly on edge. There is no comfort zone in golf. Nor is it a game of perfection. If it were, we'd all shoot 18 and look for a more challenging sport. I shot a 61—my lowest competitive round—in the third round of the Pac-10 Championships during my sophomore year at Stanford and bogeyed the par-4 14th hole. I actually hit the ball better during the afternoon round and shot four strokes worse, including a bogey at 15. Only once do I recall feeling nearly in control of my game and that was when I shot a 13-under-par 59 at my home course in Orlando. Even then I parred both par 5s on the back nine with irons into the greens. The most we can ask of ourselves is to give it our best shot, knowing that sometimes we will fail. We are often defined by how we handle that failure.
The great Ben Hogan, a man not prone to exaggeration, claimed that in his best week of golf he only had four perfect shots. I have yet to get to that higher plane. I won 12 times around the world in 2000, including three majors, and I only remember hitting one shot I would call perfect—a 3-wood on No. 14 on the Old Course at St. Andrews in the third round of the British Open. From a tight lie I had to hit a little draw into a left-to-right wind and carry the ball about 260 yards to a green guarded by a couple of nasty pot bunkers. As with every shot I attempt, I visualized the ball's flight and how it should respond upon landing. Because it was a blind shot, I picked out a crane in the distance as my target. The ball never left that line and the shot turned out exactly as I had planned. Moments like that stay fresh in my mind, providing a positive image for future reference. Those images are critical when the game is on. They may even be the difference between success and failure.
Sometimes the game seems so difficult you wonder whether the effort is worth it. It took me a while to understand why some days you have it and others you don't. Fact is, every day your body feels a little different and golf is such a finite game that a little off can translate into a lot. One or two degrees here and there can mean from four to seven yards. That's not a whole lot but it's magnified due to the precision the game demands. We've all had one of those frustrating days. The final round of the 1996 NCAAs at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., was one I'll never forget. I struggled all week, even though I shot some great numbers. I just didn't feel comfortable with my swing. I didn't have the club in the right position, but I was getting away with it because my chipping was great and I made every putt I looked at. I was somehow able to keep the ball in play for most of the holes and let my putter do the rest. In the final round I lost it altogether. I went to the range that morning and never hit a shot. It just wasn't there. Sometimes when that happens you can actually lower your expectations, go out and shoot a great round. Not this time. I played the first three rounds with smoke and mirrors and it finally caught up with me. Fortunately, I had a nine-shot lead and the 80 didn't cost me an individual championship. I felt extremely fortunate, more like a survivor than a champion.
Success in golf is finding equilibrium, accepting the fact that it is a game of ups and downs and learning something every time you tee it up. Finding that balance is a matter of trial and error. You must discover what works best for you and work diligently to maximize your potential. The difference between golf and most other sports is that anyone of average intelligence and coordination can learn to play it well. It requires a commitment to being the best that you can be. That has always been my approach to the game, for I, too, started as a blank page. Through my first teacher, my dad, the page began to fill. I absorbed as much information about the game as I possibly could. Through experimentation I started weeding out what could and could not hurt me. More important, I began to understand what worked best for me. Pop gave me many great lessons, not only about golf but also about life. His greatest advice to me was to always be myself. I pass that along to you as the first lesson in this book, which I wrote not as a panacea but as the ultimate tribute to Mom and Pop's ideal of caring and sharing. In essence, if you care for someone you'll share with them your most treasured possessions.
In this book I will share with you a lifetime, albeit a relatively short one, of knowledge about the greatest game in the world. I believe this book will assist you in attaining the deep joy and satisfaction that comes from playing the game well. I am convinced there is no game like it. In many ways it is a microcosm of life, teaching us both the depths and heights of character. It demands integrity, promotes camaraderie, encourages good health and builds appreciation for the aesthetics. It is more than a well-struck iron or a holed putt. No, golf is not a game of perfection; it is one of reality. And keeping it real is more than a worthy goal in any endeavor.
Golf requires patience and perseverance. There are no shortcuts. Pop used to say you get out of it what you put into it. When my teacher, Butch Harmon, and I overhauled my swing during the 1998 season, Butch would sometimes have me repeat one movement for 30 minutes. I would get so tired it felt like my arms were going to fall off. But I kept at it until the move became ingrained in my muscle memory. Patience and practice pay off. So will careful attention to the techniques explained within the pages of this book—techniques I believe will work for everyone seeking to get the best out of their games. It is structured differently from other books, beginning with the green and progressing to the tee. That's how my dad taught me, from the smallest swing to the biggest. The instruction combines visual, kinesthetic, cognitive and performance ideals for practical application by players of all ages and abilities. Interspersed throughout the text are seven secrets I have used to elevate my game, from becoming physically stronger to mentally tougher. I believe they will work for you, too.
Ultimately, golf is a journey full of learning and discovering. I hope, through this book, you'll discover your game—one that is powerful yet precise, consistent yet exciting, impervious to pressure yet yielding large doses of fun. After all, that's the real reason we play the game. Sometimes we forget that. I did once. I was a junior golfer playing in the Orange Bowl junior tournament in Miami. I had the lead going into the final round and made a double on the front nine. I still had the lead, but for some reason I lost all joy and flat-out quit. I took my second-place trophy and pouted. Pop sternly reprimanded me. That's the only time I ever quit on golf in my life. From that time on I realized what a privilege it is to play. And I never again lost sight of why I fell for the game in the first place.
We still try because we must.
THE SHORT GAME
It wasn't by accident that I learned to play golf from the green back to the tee.
HOW TO PUTT
ROLLING THE ROCK
I came to my first Masters Tournament in 1995 thinking I could putt. Proud of my hat representing Stanford, where I was completing my freshman year, I was full of confidence. Like a lot of 20-year-olds, I had never seen a putt I didn't like. As a junior and college player, I could go deep when my putter got hot. I'd had 21 putts for 18 holes several times, and under pressure it seemed like I never missed. The length of the putt was irrelevant; I would just get up there and bang the ball hard into the hole. I was aggressive, confident and had the touch to back it up.
But I was in for a pretty rude awakening that Thursday at Augusta National. On the first hole on the first day, I stood over a 20-footer for birdie that I just knew I was going to make. It was raining and misty, the kind of conditions that tend to slow the greens down. A little voice told me to give the putt a little extra nudge; the practice green had been a touch slow by Masters standards, and I was determined to play aggressively. So I put a nice smooth stroke on the ball, accelerating the putter a bit faster through impact.
The ball rolled nicely and slowed as it neared the hole. But it didn't stop. It trickled three feet past the hole, paused for a moment, then kept going, gathering speed as it went along. Next thing I knew, the ball had rolled completely off the green. Even then, it didn't stop. Suddenly the gallery was parting to give the ball room to roam. By the time the ball stopped, I was farther from the hole than when I started and facing a very difficult recovery shot. It was a pretty startling moment. Even my playing partner, defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal, looked surprised. Though I was a bit shaken, I was determined to recover. I chipped the ball to 15 feet, and made that putt for a bogey. But right then I knew I had a lot to learn.
The more I examine putting, the more fascinating it becomes. I'm at least as captivated by putting as I am by the full swing. That's why I practice putting so much. I enjoy the process of altering my stroke a little when it gets out of kilter. I like the challenge of improving my touch, and the feeling I sometimes get when I know I can lag a fast, double-breaking 40-footer to within a foot of the hole––or else hole it. There is, and always will be, room for improvement. I guess that deep inside, I'm still 20 years old and feel I can make every putt I look at. The goal, even if it isn't a realistic one, is to putt my very best every day.
THE ALL-AMERICAN GRIP
I see so many types of putting grips on the pro tours these days, it gives the impression there is no "right" way to hold the putter. Maybe there isn't. The main thing in putting, whether it's with your grip, posture, stance or ball position, is to be comfortable. The putting stroke is not a very complicated action. My hands move only a foot at most in either direction during the stroke. My arms move less than that, my body less still and my head not at all. So the biggest priority in gripping the club is to establish a feeling of sensitivity, comfort and relaxation.
My putting grip is conventional in almost every way. If you look at the long history of the game and its greatest players, most of them have held the club very similarly to the way I do. I'm glad I had them as models when I was young.
IF UNIQUE IS WHAT YOU SEEK
The handle of the putter runs under the butt of my left hand. Most players like the handle running straight up the palm so the club-shaft is parallel to the left forearm. My grip is unique this way, but I believe it gives me a little extra feel and gives me freedom in my wrists when I need it.
GRIP PRESSURE: EASY DOES IT
I was on the practice green with Butch Harmon one day in 1998 when Butch noticed something. "If you hold that putter any tighter, you're going to twist the grip right off it," he said with a laugh. I always listen to Butch and sure enough, I was holding the putter so firmly that I was squeezing the blood out of the tips of my fingers at address. I tried to hold the putter more lightly, but I didn't seem to have the same amount of control. And even then Butch said my grip pressure was much too intense.
A few days later, Butch showed up with a device he attached to the grip of the putter. He fooled with the setting for a minute, then challenged me to hit some putts without making the device emit a loud "beep." It went off the minute I addressed the ball. I lightened my grip pressure to quiet the thing, but when I actually went to hit a putt it went off again. Man, that thing drove me crazy. But eventually, I was able to hit putts without activating the beeper. Surprisingly, I putted pretty well with that new, light grip pressure.
Still, I wanted some reassurance that holding the club lightly was the way to go. Early in 1999, at the Byron Nelson Classic, I ran into Ben Crenshaw, who may be the greatest putter of all time. I asked him how tightly he held the putter. Ben said he gripped his putter so lightly it almost fell from his hands. "The lighter you hold it, the better you'll be able to feel the weight of the putterhead at the other end of the shaft," he said.
Hearing that from Ben did it for me. I committed myself to easing my grip pressure, and it really paid off. I shot 63-64 over the weekend and won the tournament.
HOW LIGHT IS LIGHT?
I'd say that on a scale of 1 to 10, my grip pressure is about a 5. That may be tighter than Ben holds his putter, but it's pretty light for me and I do have an increased sense of feel.
If you're having trouble on lag putts, or if your speed isn't right on shorter, breaking putts, or if you feel you're manipulating the putter, check your grip pressure. No doubt about it, light is right.
PERFECT YOUR POSTURE
With putting, little things can make a big difference. One of the fundamentals sacred to me is posture. That applies not only to how I position my body mechanically, but also in the degree of relaxation I feel before I take the putter back.
I believe in standing fairly tall at address. That enables me to see the overall line to the hole better than when I'm stooped over close to the ground. What's more, it allows my arms to hang from my shoulder sockets in a loose, comfortable manner. That reduces tension right away. My arms also have more room to swing back and through during the stroke.
STANCE: IT'S UP TO YOU
Because there's so little movement in your legs and torso during the stroke, the width of your stance is more a matter of comfort than anything else. Some players feel a wider stance gives them a feeling of stability and stops them from swaying. Others feel a narrow stance helps them stand more erect and gives them a better view of the line. I've varied my stance width over the years and have putted well with both a narrow stance and a wider one.
FOCUS ON YOUR EYES
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- Nov 1, 2005
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