Tiger Woods' Craziest Decision

Tiger Woods' Craziest Decision

Note:  The connection between this post and the sorts of topics for a hockey products website might be a little hard to find. So, I wanted to offer some clarity before getting into it. In the previous post, I discussed the concepts around how habit change with respect to movement skills techniques often becomes a matter of taking one step back in order to later take two steps forward. A thing that Tiger Woods did nearly 20 years ago now is the most extreme example of that I have ever heard of. This post makes the case for that belief.

In the early 2000s, Tiger Woods, still in his 20s, had convinced the Golf world that he would ultimately go down as the greatest of all time.

In the language the kids use these days, the image above represents what many felt Tiger Woods' stature in golf history amounted to by the mid 2000s.

Ok, maybe I am exaggerating. Many will hold that until he was to pass Jack Nichlaus in terms of major tournament wins, and probably some other measures as well, the golf world would not be "convinced". Fair enough. But, others would point to the industrialization of the sport and the training for it that had taken place since Jack Nicklaus got most of his wins and essentially say that Tiger more thoroughly dominated a much higher quality set of competitors than Nichlaus ever had. If true, that is saying a remarkable amount right there. Let's just use that as our bar for how much Tiger had achieved in golf by the mid 2000s.

It was under those circumstances that Tiger decided he needed to get better and to do so he needed to change his swing.

I don't think the world appreciates how unique of a situation that is. Actually, I want to say, "The world doesn't appreciate how crazy that is." That isn't to say Tiger was crazy to do it. I mean it in the sense that it's just amazing that somebody in his position would make that choice.

Why do I say this?

We at Competitive Edge deal on a daily basis with the challenge of assisting people in changing technique. 

This means we deal on a daily basis with people pulling back from that process as they feel the discomfort of changing a habit. They perceive a loss in performance that comes with the initial stages of a change in technique (even if that change will ultimately be for the better in the long-term view) and they recoil. These people have worked to lay down a technique that works for their sport (in our case, for hockey) and have had some success with it. It is "something to lose". And they resist when they get a feeling that indicates they just may be losing it to some degree.

These athletes we are training are amateurs for the most part. Tiger woods was arguably the active greatest of all time. This creates quite a contrast. He had a huge amount to lose standing at the top of the golf world with a recent body of work so robust many were calling it unprecedented.

To destroy or not to destroy...? If you had a golf swing that had already proven itself to the degree that you were well on your way to being the greatest ever, would you consider tearing it down (and rebuilding it)?


He knew that his skill set was central to what he had achieved (along with his mental game) and his swing was at the core of that skill set. Was he concerned about losing that precious gem that countless others in the world wish they had? He had to have some fear along those lines. He stared that fear down and went in for a swing overhaul in the hopes of improvement.

Diminishing returns plague the efforts of elite performers. More and more effort just gets you a tiny bit closer to some "maximum". But what if you could overhaul your technique and get onto a trajectory akin to the arrow on the bottom graph that is swooping up as it goes to the right? (BTW, good luck if you are hoping for that aggressive improvement in the long term.)


"Big deal," you say. Make some adjustments that you have reason to think will make you better and soon you'll be reaping the benefits. No. It was expected (and in the end it transpired this way) that it would take a year for him to feel like he had gotten back to level with his old swing. That is a pretty valuable year in the prime of his record chasing career. 

In my experience, it is the "on-the-cusp" hockey players who are the most afraid of the regression step in the "take one step back in order to take two steps forward" scenario of technique change. I've worked with several players who were about to make the transition from college hockey to hopefully the NHL (but maybe the AHL) who quickly expressed (legitimate) concerns about what they may be losing in terms of that hard-earned quality of technique when pushed out of their comfort zone into things that felt a little awkward.

They had something valuable to lose. Why risk what got them this far?

On the other hand, Tiger Woods had the most valuable golf swing technique in the world to lose. He knew it wasn't just a "give it a try, you can always revert back to the old swing" situation. Instead, he was going to commit a year of his unprecedentedly great prime to it. He looked at that and said, "Let's do it."


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