HOW TIGER WOODS EARNS HIS STRIPES.
Sports superstars reveal the secrets of his success
by: DEVIN GORDON
HE COURSE was supposed to be Tiger-proof. Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus had fiddled with the short, rangy par 5s on the links he’designed at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio—in part so that the 25- year-old prodigy wouldn’t ride roughshod over the field. Perhaps next time Jack should lace the fairway with booby traps and kryptonite. But who are we kidding? That wouldn’t work either.
Though Paul Azinger led by one stroke heading into the Memorial Tournament’s final round, Woods needed just a few holes to throttle him. It was the 527-yard fifth that triggered the inevitable romp. Azinger dunked his second shot into the pond. Woods pulled out his 2-iron and launched the ball 249 yards, sticking it six feet from the cup. (For those who don’t know golf: That’s incredible.) Woods won by seven. Azinger apologized for not giving Tiger a better run for his money. Woods thanked him for his magnanimity, then wiped the blood from his chops.
Three years younger than Michael Jordan when he won his first NBA title, Woods is emerging as the best of an elite crop of athletes: the dominators. Want to know what it’s like to face someone like Tiger? Make a fist. Now punch yourself in the face. Dominators don’t just beat you; they make you beat you. The question is, How?
According to the people most qualified to say—other dominators—these are the rules for being the best of the best.
Genius Is 99% Perspiration. It begins, they all agree, with good old-fashion-ed hard work. “At this level, talent is a given. But Tiger works harder than anyone out there, and that’s why he’s kicking butt,” says tennis great Martina Navratilova, winner of a record nine Wimbledon singles titles. “Every great shot you hit, you’ve already hit a bunch of times in practice.”
Woods’s habit of pounding ball after ball long into the twilight has become part of his legend. Earlier this year Woods claimed he was working on shots he would need for the Masters. People rolled their eyes. Until he won the Masters.
Dominators can be wondrously creative when they have to be, but they’re also geniuses of simplicity. In his famous fourth-quarter drive in Super Bowl XXIII, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana threw mostly short passes. No big strike, no fireworks. And no mistakes.
Let the Other Guy Get Nervous. “Believe it or not, the bigger the game, the calmer I seemed to get,” says Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s leading scorer and four- time Stanley Cup winner. The dominators let the other guy’s butterflies become a weapon on their behalf. “I was comfortable because other people were nervous,” says Yankee great Reggie Jackson. He earned the title “Mr. October” with a string of sparkling World Series turns, including the 1977 Series, in which he homered a record five times. “Sooner or later you’re going to rush or make a mistake. And I’m not.”
Montana says he sees the uncertainty written on golfers’ faces when he watches Woods on TV: “He gets on a roll, and everybody else starts looking at the board to see what Tiger’s doing. They’re watching TV, too, and they should be playing.
Don’t Just Dominate, Intimidate. It’s no coincidence that Woods often pulls out a blood-red sweater for his Sunday charges, just as it wasn’t chance that the late Dale Earnhardt wore dark glasses and drove a black-and-white stock car that looked like a 200-m.p.h. pirate ship. On the PGA Tour, guys now reflexively say that they must play mistake-free golf to beat Tiger. Why? He doesn’t play mistake-free golf. And yet his rivals have convinced themselves that they must. So when they inevitably make a mistake, is it any wonder they unravel?
Have a Sense of History. Woods is at the head of this heavenly crew of athletes not because he wins most tournaments—he doesn’t—but because he has won four of the past seven major tournaments. Every athlete says he wants to win a major title or a championship. But Woods doesn’t just want those moments of glory. He has an innate sense that he can’t be a legend without them. “We need the images of ultimate triumph,” says sportscaster Bob Costas. “It’s that simple.” How else to explain why Joe Montana—and not Dan Marino, who surpassed him in several statistical categories but never won a Super Bowl—is the NFL’s iconic quarterback?
Never Ever Be Satisfied. Most athletes work hardest when they’re trying to reach the top. Woods has seemed only more committed to improving his game since leaving the competition in the dust. Woods won his first Masters—by the largest margin in history—in 1997, but he knew that he wouldn’t reach Jack Nicklaus’s mark of six green jackets without a jolt to his game. So he spent the next 18 months retooling his thunderous, but occasionally wild, swing.
“His goals are different than mine,” says golfer Chris DiMarco, who led the 2001 Masters for two rounds before yielding to Tiger. “My primary goal is to make a living for my family. Tiger’s goal is to win every tournament. Fair enough, but that, in a nutshell, is why DiMarco will never beat Tiger Woods. “When I watch golf and hear other players interviewed, some of them sound like they can’t believe they won,” Gretzky says. “Then you hear from Tiger, and he either expected to win or he can t believe he didn’t. It’s a different mind-set altogether.”
June 18, 2001, (pgs. 104-107)
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