Tiger Woods could not only end up as the best golfer of all-time, he could also be the best athlete who has ever competed in any sport. His career has been phenomenal—71 wins, 14 Majors. But in order to be remembered as the best that has ever competed, he has to win more Majors. Golf careers are defined by that statistic. And in order to accomplish that, he has to do something that may escape the eyes of most commentators, instructors and experts.
He has to do ‘nothing’ more successfully.
Let me explain.
In the golfing kingdom, ball striking may be crucial, but putting will always rule the day. When Tiger won the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 he hit only 5 fairways the first round and still managed to shoot one over par. That shows you how crucial putting is. You can be all over the course, but when you get to the green, if you can putt, you can still save the round.
Tiger was king of putting, especially clutch putting, for years. If he needed it, he made it. Think of that 25-foot putt on the 18th hole at the US Open at Torrey Pines, when he needed that putt in order to get into a play-off with Rocco Mediate. I have played Torrey Pines many times, (I learned how to play golf there!) and I know those greens like the back of my hand. I can assure you they are not as smooth rolling or as true as Augusta, which makes putting there even more challenging.
Yet Tiger, in just about the most pressure packed situation a golfer can find himself, made that putt. Moments like that define true champions.
Now getting back to the idea of doing nothing more successfully. You may think the crucial moment in putting has to do with the quality of the stroke. That would be an obvious conclusion. After all, if the stroke is not pure, how can one expect to sink putts?
On one level, this is true. But one may also ask the question; what ultimately causes a pure stroke? This is the question I would like to pose now.
Right before you pull the trigger on a putt, the brain is operating in a specific manner. How the brain is operating at that one point in time of non-motion will usually be how the brain is operating in a split second when there is motion. Why? Because there is just not enough time to switch modes. What you experience in the brain right before you putt is what you will most likely experience in the brain during the putt. It is crucial then to examine how the brain is functioning right before the putt.
This is where the experience of nothing comes into play.
When the mind is quiet before you pull the trigger on a putt, you have a much better chance of making it. This is because all the mental intentions (how hard you want to hit it, etc) during the putt have a much better chance of bypassing the pre-frontal cortex and arriving seamlessly at the motor system. The motor system can then transfer those intentions to the body for successful execution. This is the hidden key to excellent putting.
This feeling of nothing contains a very specific mixture of ingredients. There is just the right amount of focus, concentration and determination. It is by no means a lackadaisical or passive ‘nothing’. It is like a cocktail that has just the right amount of ingredients; if the mix is just off a little, the drink will not taste good. It is a delicate art to get this mixture correct on a putt and only the great putters have the ability to find that mix consistently.
Tiger lived in that silent, magical world of experiencing the correct nothing right before he pulled the trigger his entire career. For the most part this is one of the main reasons he dominated golf for so long. But the circumstances in his personal life have made replication of that state challenging. Do you ever remember him missing many short putts throughout his career? He has missed a lot over the past two years.
In order for Tiger to regain that special feeling with the putter in his hand and allow the fast-twitch muscles in his fingertips, wrists and arms to fire, he has to be able to do nothing as successfully as he did it before. Unless he can do that, it will be an uphill struggle for him to ever win another Major championship.
Featured photo by Keith Allison