During the 1992 presidential campaign, James Carville, who managed the message for Bill Clinton, kept a sign on his desk that has since become the rallying cry for almost anyone and everyone who has run for President: “The economy, stupid.”
Carville’s point was both simple and direct: When you cut through all the rhetoric of a campaign, it is the state of the economy – and what a candidate proposes to do about it – that decides elections.
Perhaps Tiger Woods should consider hiring Carville.
When you cut to the heart of the train wreck that Woods’ golf game is right now, it isn’t about a two-way miss, taking an inch off his driver, looking at old video, whether his back hurts, his knees are bothering him or whether he needs yet another new teacher.
It’s about what’s between his ears, stupid.
There’s no doubting that Woods is as physically gifted as anyone who has ever played. But what made him so unbelievably dominant from that first Masters win in 1997 to his last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open was his mind.
Woods was smarter, tougher, meaner and more confident than anyone. What’s more, the guys who were trying to compete with him KNEW he was smarter, tougher and meaner. He made every putt that mattered, found ways to get up and down that weren’t possible and, on days when his golf swing wasn’t what he wanted, still figured out how to score.
Remember Rocco Mediate’s reaction when Woods made the 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole on Sunday to create the playoff at Torrey Pines in 2008?
“I knew he was going to make it,” Rocco stated.
Everyone knew he was going to make it because that’s who Tiger Woods was in those days.
Of all the remarkable rounds Woods has played in his career, those who witnessed it will tell you that his second round at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills might have been as impressive as anything they’ve ever seen. Woods was in his Hank Haney swing transition and was having trouble finding the planet off the tee. If it were possible to have a three-way miss going, he would have had it. No one had any idea where the ball might be going when he took the club back.
Woods shot 1-under 69 that day. He finished T-17 that week but the argument can be made that any other player hitting the ball that poorly wouldn’t have sniffed the cut. Or, if they had somehow made the weekend, an 85 might very well have shown up on Saturday.
That would never happen to Woods back then. On the final day of that Open, when the USGA lost the greens, (stroke average was 78.7 and no one broke par) the still-struggling Woods shot 76. In those conditions, the Woods of today might not have broken 90.
One of the most underrated parts of Woods’ greatness has always been his ability to grind. That’s part of the reason why he once made 142 straight cuts and why he always appeared to be a threat even when he was way behind. He’s still grinding. He DID make the cut at both The Players and the Memorial – both times making putts on his final hole on Friday to make the weekend on the number.
There’s no give up in him, just as there has never been give up in the game’s greatest players. It’s why Jack Nicklaus not only won that Masters at 46 but had a chance on Sunday at Augusta when he was 58. It’s why Tom Watson came within 2 inches of winning the British Open at 59.
Woods isn’t going to give up, but he needs more than a great work ethic to become a good or very good or even great player again. Right now he’d be fighting for his life on the Web.com Tour.
What he needs is Butch Harmon. He needs to go to Harmon – fly to Las Vegas to see him – and say: “Butch, I know hindsight is 20-20, but I never should have fired you in 2002. I had won seven of the previous 11 majors when I fired you at Muirfield that summer. I’d won a Tiger Slam and I was halfway to a calendar slam when I fired you.
“I played some great golf with Hank Haney teaching me but I lost two-and-half-years (10 majors) making the change and even when I got it, I wasn’t the player I’d been with you. I won six more majors because I was still the best player out there, but I wasn’t miles ahead of everyone.
“I know you aren’t going to stop working with Phil Mickelson and I know how busy you are with all your pupils during majors. So how about this: Once or twice a month, I’ll fly to Vegas. We’ll spend a day together. We’ll work on the range some, on the golf course some, on the putting green some. Then we’ll just talk over lunch, over dinner, you name it.
“You tell me how to become Tiger Woods again. Or at least some semblance of him. I’m not yet 40. Guys win majors in their 40s.
“Here’s a blank check. Fill in the number and let’s get to work.”
Remember, Harmon cracked open the door a few months back when he said he’d be willing to talk to Woods. What exactly does Woods have to lose by asking Harmon for a meeting? His pride? Could it be any worse than shooting 82 at Phoenix or 85 at Muirfield Village? Could it be worse than being the object of sympathy among golf circles?
Even if Harmon said “no” it couldn’t possibly be worse. And it could give Woods a chance to find himself one more time before it’s too late. Woods was transcendent when he worked with Harmon; he was great when he worked with Haney; he had some (non-major) moments with Sean Foley and he’s been lost with Chris Como. There’s a trend.
Woods doesn’t need to look at video or break down his swing technique. He needs someone to tell him he can be great again, someone he will believe when he hears it.
Harmon’s a lot like Carville: a no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase kind of guy. The only reason he wouldn’t say, “it’s between your ears, stupid,” is because he’d likely say it in a much more profane way.
Which is exactly what Woods needs right now.