I’m reminded of my very first matchplay championship that I participated in many moons ago, back when I never gave a second thought to cutting the corner of a dogleg on a 425 yard par4 (which was a pretty long hole back then). Youth was clearly on my side, and I was going up against a gentleman who was old enough to be my old man, who reeked of sports cream, and had all sorts of graying hair growing in some of the most infertile of bodily locations. How he got the hearing aid in his right ear, in the midst of the jungle-like foliage was beyond me… So needless to say – long before I ever made it to the first tee I was already rehearsing my victory speech after the round. Of which, of course, is the biggest cardinal sin in competitive golf. One should never ever overlook an opponent, even if he doesn’t wear golf shoes and favors Grandpa Walton.
I’m not exactly sure at which point the thought occurred to me that I probably wouldn’t earn the opportunity to thank my mother, my father, and most importantly – my employer for giving me the day off to compete… but I’m guessing it was right after I lost the 10th hole to go 4-down in the match. This old coot who I was constantly out-driving 30 yards off the tee would forever more be known as Mr. One-Putt. He might not have been able to hear the ball fall into the bottom of the cup, but he sure as hell could see every line of every putt he looked at. And for someone 23 years of age, that just flat-out wasn’t fair.
It’s a lesson that I’ve carried with me in formal competitive play ever since, and that obvious lesson is never overlooking a fellow competitor.
Forgive my moment of reflection… but I think it sorta relates to what appears to be this wide continent of notions surrounding the state of Tiger Woods’ golf game, and I find it interesting that the players themselves have an entirely different take on Tiger’s prognosis than that of most fans and much of the media. Not that we would expect his peers to say things like, “He’s finished, he’ll never win another major” or “His game is so far off that he will never find it.” Obviously the amount of respect extended to any player is typically commensurate with that player’s competitive resume, with the only exception being the occasional IGNORANT COMMENT FROM A ROOKIE who has yet to understand what a year-long slump feels like.
But beyond that, I also believe that players like Westwood, Kaymer, McDowell, Mickelson, Els, or any other accomplished player who has witnessed Tiger’s past dominance firsthand – these guys are intimately aware of just how fickle the game can be. They also understand that the process of changing one’s swing isn’t a short-term endeavor void of countless risks. But most importantly – they’re aware that they themselves might only be one bad week, one bad month, or one bad season away from never being the players they once were, and the last thing they would expect from a fellow competitor is being reminded of it every time he’s asked about it on camera. These guys have spent a significant portion of their lives playing the game competitively, they understand these things. And to some extent – they rely on each other to help push their own games to the next level.
So taking all of that into consideration, I’m not surprised by the comments in THIS article. Matter of fact, I would expect nothing less…. they learned a long time ago to not overlook any player who has made it to that level, let alone won 14 major championships. If a player like Tommy “2-Gloves” Gainey shouldn’t be dismissed, then I suppose neither should a player like Tiger Woods.