Woods' quest for perfection causing his downfall

By Brandel ChambleeFebruary 9, 2015, 10:00 pm

When Tiger Woods was at his best, in the early 2000s, there were fiscal studies done to explain the consistent rise of the stock market on the Mondays following his Sunday wins. Euphoria – and the optimism that flows from it – was the reason given for the otherwise inexplicable upward market trends following Tiger’s victories. Some 15 years later, there is nothing euphoric about Tiger’s game, and the word most often used to describe it, is "sad."

Golf has a short list of players who ascended to the highest level and then fell to oblivion. In the late 1930s Ralph Guldahl won back-to-back U.S. Opens and in three successive years finished second twice and then won the Masters. If there had been a world ranking system, he would've been at the top. He owned Sam Snead, and beat Byron Nelson by as many as 10 shots en route to winning three majors.

In 1939 Guldahl was offered an instruction-book deal. Taking advantage of newly developed high-speed photography, he put together a flip-book sequence of his swing, called “Groove Your Golf." Shortly thereafter the magic disappeared. His last wins came in 1940, and at age 28 he all but quit the game.

“It's the most ridiculous thing, really," said Paul Runyan, who won 29 times including two PGA Championships. "Guldahl went from being temporarily the best player in the world to one who couldn't play at all.”

Ralph’s wife, Laverne, said, “When he sat down to write that book, that’s when he lost his game.”

Many concurred, and the legend was cemented that over-analyzing his swing led to the destruction of his career.

Then and now: Tiger's swing

More video: What's next for Woods?

If his family and friends were right, Guldahl’s demise was a classic case of conscious thought ruining the flow of athletic gifts – what has come to be called paralysis by analysis.

From 1997-2001 Tiger Woods won 27 times and many shrank in his presence, but David Duval toppled him from the top spot in the world more than once while winning 13 events over this five-year span. David seemed the perfect foil to the colossal talent of Tiger, but his game slipped in 2002 and from 2003-2005 he played 49 tournaments and made just eight cuts.

Unlike Guldahl, who may have lost his game to a technical introspection, Duval’s body betrayed him and a host of injuries chloroformed his career.

Woods has fallen not because he overanalyzed his swing or because his body has given out (his "misfiring-glutes" WD at Torrey Pines notwithstanding). The reasons for Tiger’s fall, like his rise, are not found in statistics, which so often fail to make a distinction between wood and trees. The reason for Tiger’s fall is his ill-fated mythical quest for perfection.

Once when I was sitting in the locker room next to Fred Funk, the straightest driver of my generation, Tiger walked by us and said to him, “I’m coming after you," meaning he had made it his goal to drive it straighter than Fred. I thought to myself, perhaps, but at what cost?

Tiger wanted the perfect swing, to drive it straighter than Funk, to surpass the legend of Hogan. He wanted the perfect body, to intimidate with his presence as much as with his swing. He wanted the perfect record, to fling down and dance upon the annals of golf, to surpass the legend of Jack Nicklaus.

Neither Butch Harmon nor Hank Haney would give Tiger what he wanted, always pointing at the leaderboard in an attempt to get him to stop trying to unravel the rainbow. They knew from their playing backgrounds and having been taught by former players themselves, Butch by his father Claude and Hank by Jim Hardy, that a good shot mattered more than a good swing, and what mattered more than anything was a clear head.

Sean Foley is different and comes at this game from more of an academic background. More professorial than pro. Golf instructors used to have callouses and wrinkles; now they have letters after their names.

With those letters comes a certain arrogance; enough to convince even the best players that they don’t know anything about the golf swing. Enough to persuade Tiger at age 35 to change his swing once again, and not only his swing, but his chipping and putting, too.

These changes were different, though, because they were rooted in math. There is a linear beauty to numbers that is simple and indisputable, and to someone as talented and as malleable and as addicted to perfection as Tiger, irresistible.

But the problem is, golf is not like that. It’s not linear, it’s abstract. It’s not beautiful, it’s messy.

Inevitably the misses don’t make sense because the numbers are there, because the computers say it’s right but today my hands feel fat and my hips won't fire and that square peg won't go in that round hole. Frustration builds, and a player works harder and harder, until he begins to think that the problem is with him and so he works harder – just a few more “reps” and I will get this, he thinks. Of course he won’t and he never will but what he does in the process is beat up his body and confidence is replaced by timidity. The joy of the game is gone.

The mathematical-perfection trend in this game, which has Tiger by the throat and teachers in a tizzy, requires vigilant attention to swing mechanics, and that is not what this game is about. We need all of our senses to corroborate what we see and the imagination thrives on that information to help us create. That is the highest form of this game and is, perhaps above all else, what is beautiful about golf and sad about Tiger.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.