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Keys to Tiger's return (including cutting him some slack)

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Like a forecasted volcanic eruption where every seismic tremor is analyzed to try and narrow down the actual eruption, Tiger tremors emanating from posted swing videos are now careening off the internet with a fury only a possible return can generate.

Next comes swing breakdowns ad nauseam where “experts” weigh in to tell us why his swing will not hold up and his back will blow out again. Arguments will erupt on Twitter and potentially on television because of energy created by the frenzy. It’s safe to say 99.9 percent of the golf world wants Tiger Woods to return, not just to play again, but to satisfy our unquenchable thirst to get another glimpse of his greatness. 

What will be the keys to his success should he return? The debate will include his swing, the supposed short game yips, his putting and many will wonder if his failing body can withstand the rigors of practice and competition. While these are all valid considerations, is there more that will determine his success if he is physically able to return?

It’s going to begin with whether he can find a one-way miss. People can argue mechanics until the end of time, but there is a reason most swings in the top 50 in the world rankings don’t fit the perfect mold; there is no mold. Since many consider Ben Hogan the most consistent ball striker of all time, let’s understand what he did. He bent his clubs flat, put a reminder in the grips to keep his grip weak, used stiff shafts and the faces on this clubs sat open.

Why? Because he didn’t want the ball to go left and he wanted a one-way miss. To borrow a phrase from Paul Azinger: “If you know you're not going to miss left, why would you ever miss right?”

The value of FEELING like you will not lose the ball one direction allows for swinging freely and with conviction even if lacking confidence. A one-way miss is a vehicle that can overcome fear and anxiety. There is only one person who knows what he needs to feel for a one-way miss and that’s Tiger. So, break it down all you want but know that no one person can feel for another. 

Next is attitude. No, attitude is not positive-ness. The right attitude, when it comes to competing at Tiger’s level is: optimistic, opportunistic, enthusiastic, strong, resilient, unwavering, fearless, accepting, patient and has a certain look in the eyes accompanied by a certain body language. Many of these attributes require reps to work and find them. It’s an attitude earned that, no matter Tiger’s greatness, cannot be assumed to come back. It will take him time, so cut him some slack. 

Tiger’s greatness was not born merely of being the best and longest ball striker. Tiger had an unworldly grasp on the nuances of trajectory control, distance control, combining modern golf with old-school shots, flighted wedges, impeccable touch and incredible pressure putting. Nuances made Tiger great. Nuances are not found in mechanics; nuances are found in practice with a willingness to look for them. Like the one-way miss, no one can feel what these nuanced shots feel like to Tiger. For this reason, it’s imperative that he takes an approach to coming back that is not founded just in his swing, but allows the freedom for experimentation with these hidden aspects of the game so that he can uncover and master them again. No teacher can do this work for him; this is a journey only Tiger can take.

Then, of course, there is the mind. In his prime, Tiger intentionally created a persona that instilled, at the very least, apprehension, and at full throttle, fear in his fellow competitors. These young guys like Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, along with a cast of others, have won a lot of tournaments in Tiger’s absence and their top-dog servomechanism is off the charts.

It is highly unlikely that Tiger will enjoy this same fearful respect he earned earlier in his career and that puts more pressure on his mental game than he’s ever felt. In his prime, he spoke of using meditation to develop his mental approach. Surely, there are also other mental secrets his father shared or taught Tiger along the way. Whatever processes Tiger may have used in the past to develop his persona, belief and overall mental game, it’s imperative he dedicates himself to these once again if he is to succeed at a level of which he will be proud.

Then there is his legacy, the final aspect of this saga. Already tarnished with injury and off-course struggles, Tiger’s legacy is at further risk if he comes back. He has recently shown an interest in helping the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams to victory as well as establishing closer bonds with players than he did earlier in his career. Such acts and involvement help to return some of the lost luster. But if he goes out to play, he subjects his legacy to more fallout if he fails. Although we didn’t think so at one time, Tiger is human and at the mercy of many of the same feelings you and I endure. Early in his career, he mastered defeating those feelings. However, with absence of competition and Father Time chasing him down, winning those battles will be tough, even for Tiger. 

Fans want him back. Players want him back. If he decides to put it all on the line, how about we cut him some slack by understanding it’s a process that will take time and will not happen overnight? No matter what you may think, he’s earned that right.

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