Lessons learned from Tiger Woods in new book on 1997 Masters

Tiger Woods
Hachette Book Group
By Dan McDonald
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Thursday, March 23, 2017 | 3:16 p.m.

The 1997 Masters Tournament was one of the most important 72 holes of golf played in history. A young Tiger Woods roared onto the scene to become the first black golfer, the first Asian golfer and the youngest golfer ever to win a green jacket.

I was 8 years old when Woods won and, admittedly, I don’t have a shot-by-shot recollection of that weekend. (Living near Detroit, we still were reenacting the Red Wings-Avs brawl on the playground from a few weeks earlier.) But that tournament, in my mind and to many others my age, is the beginning of my golf narrative. Like many others who are now in their late 20s and early 30s and were kids at the time, I remember that summer picking up a golf club for the first time and teeing off for my first junior league round at a local par-3 course. Why? Because I wanted to be like Tiger. And 20 years later I'm still trying. It's those feelings that brought me and many others into golf that made me excited for the release of "The 1997 Masters, My Story."

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There are many excellent reviews you can read about this book, and most of the criticisms presented are very valid. Having seen Woods’ career play out over the past 20 years, looking back on this historic tournament should have brought some more thorough and in-depth reflection. For the avid golf fan, there’s a good chance there’s not much you don’t already know in this book. Much of what Woods talks about reflects upon his introverted nature and shows that maybe 20 years hasn’t been long enough to let the walls down to let readers fully into his mind.

But for young golfers like myself, and for anyone who was swept up in the magic of watching all that played out that April weekend, this book provides an easy read and a few anecdotes that take you back in time. The narrative presented acts as more of a historical documentary than as a “Tiger tells all” type of book. It was refreshing at times while reading this to travel back to the time before the surgeries and the attempted comebacks. To the place where we fell in love with Tiger Woods and began the journey watching him dominate the game like few, if any, have.

While there might not be any earth-shattering revelations in the book, there are a few things we can take away from it from an instructional standpoint. Here are five lessons you can take from this book and put into your golf bag — and like the dreams of our youth, maybe one day get to play like Tiger.

Regaining the feel of a positive round

For much of the book, Woods continues to circle back to the 10th tee box during the first round of the tournament. He had just shot a 40 on the front nine and things didn’t feel right with his game.

During his practice rounds leading up to the ‘97 Masters, he talked about how he felt great with his swing. He had shot a 59 at Isleworth playing with his good friend Mark O’Meara. It was there on the 10th tee he hit a 2-iron down the fairway and felt the tides turn.

“I knew it, from that one swing on the tenth tee. Sometimes in golf everything can turn around, for better or worse, with one swing. This was the swing that was going to turn it around for me. I wa playing a very short course for me, and I’d made my Isleworth 59 swing.”

We’ve all had that one round where everything went right. It likely isn’t the time you shot 59, but it could be when you broke 80, or 100, or a miserable round that you struck the one perfect ball. We all have these positive moments. When finding yourself in trouble and needing to salvage the round, a great mental strategy is to bring these positive shots of the past to the front of your mind to help find the swing that made that old shot or round so special.

Letting a bad shot go
Along the lines of finding the positive moments to reflect upon is dealing with the anger of a bad shot. It was on that walk from the 9th green to the 10th tee that Woods needed to regroup after the bad shots that had plagued him at the start.

“Butchie (Swing coach Butch Harmon) had emphasized that the last shot has nothing to do with the next shot. Just because I hit one bad shot didn’t mean I would follow it with another bad shot. … I was usually angry inside when I hit a bad shot, and sometimes I let it out with my own cuss words or expressions. So what? My dad was always big on getting the bad shot out of my system. If I got pissed off at a bad shot, he and Butchie advised me to let it all out, and in that way play the next shot. That was how I would be perfectly clear to play the next shot.”

While sometimes that anger can be hard to let go — something we’ve seen even Tiger Woods struggle with at times — the reminder that one bad shot doesn’t guarantee the next one will be is an important one for golfers at all levels to remember.

Shot focus and personality
In 1986, Jack Nicklaus became the oldest golfer to win the Masters and created the famous “yessir” putt and celebration on the 17th. It was a moment that always stuck with Tiger as a kid. As a 10-year-old kid, he had never seen someone celebrating like that before the hole was over and always wondered why he did that. Jack hasn’t really given him an answer, but Woods talks about the mindset that leads to that type of moment.

“Harvey Penick said you have to believe the shot you’re about to play is the most important thing in the world. It’s just a golf shot, true, but at that moment it’s more important than breathing. You have to be so involved in it that nothing can penetrate your concentration. If the shot comes off, you might react in a way that you wouldn’t have expected, or that will surprise you when you think about it.”

While playing a Sunday round with your buddies might not require the same laser focus as the Masters, for many it has the same importance. Pride is a heck of a motivator. Believing in your shot and being focused on making it happen doesn’t always work out. But when it does, that feeling keeps you coming back for more.

Going for the pin
The old saying goes, “Just because they put a flag on the green doesn’t mean you have to aim for it.” If you’re at all familiar with the greens at Augusta, you know how true this saying is. Being in the wrong position while putting can turn a birdie into a bogey quickly. It’s something that a young Tiger Woods struggled with early in his career as well.

“I later played with Nick during the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island when he shot 66 in the opening round — I shot 74. Afterward, I asked Nick in the locker room how many pins he had gone for. He said he didn’t go for more than a couple, and asked me how many I had tried to get to. ‘Every one,’ I said. He had given me a hell of a lesson right there. You could go low while playing conservative, smart golf in a major. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.”

It’s advice that can’t be said enough because it’s easy to try and make a brilliant recovery shot to turn around your score, or just get wide-eyed about a pin after a great drive. Making sure you’re smart about when to attack a pin and when par is a good score is important to breaking that next score barrier ahead of you.

Lessons from Jack: Adapting to the course
One of the central themes of the book, especially at the beginning, is how much Woods values golf’s history and learning from those that have come before him. He played with as many past Masters champions and top players he could before that ‘97 Masters to soak up how they approached the course and approached the game. One of the lessons he learned from watching Jack throughout the years was about taking on challenges.

“Another thing I learned from studying Jack was that it was never a good idea to complain about a course. It used to be said that Jack, while sitting in a locker room during a major, heard one player after another coming in and moping about the course. He said to hiimself, “I’ll check that guy off the list of possible winners. And that guy. And that guy.” he knew that there was no point in teeing it up if you complained. The course wasn’t going to change for you. You had to change for it.”

We all have those courses that just get to us. Whether we just have a bad day the first time we play it or it sets up difficult for our style of play, some courses just take more to be conquered. But it’s an important lesson to remember that no golf course bends to the whims of your slice and adapting to different courses is what makes the game challenging and fun, no matter how good you get.