AUGUST marked the 20th Anniversary of Tiger Woods’ arrival as a professional golfer on the US PGA Tour. Who could forget his famous “Hello World” quip at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open? Since his professional debut in Milwaukee, Tiger has achieved feats not unlike a mythological character: 14 Majors, 79 US PGA Tour victories and 106 professional wins worldwide.
Tiger was a truly dominant force and the majority of his heroics were achieved in a little more than a decade. Since Tiger’s last Major victory in 2008 we have witnessed a fall from grace like no other, but Tiger is 40 years old and the next chapter beckons. Early in September, Tiger announced he intended to return to competitive golf across three events at the end of this year.
And there are several factors that will contribute to the overall success, or failure, of his much-anticipated return:
With the announcement of Nike ceasing to manufacture golf equipment, Tiger is a free man when it comes to choosing his weapons. There has been much speculation he will sign with PXG. This would be a fresh start for Tiger and although the equipment isn’t truly tried and tested (due to the clubs only being in existence for such a short period of time), I feel it could be a sound option for Tiger. We have already seen wins from pros such as James Hahn using PXG equipment and the company has signed a multitude of US PGA Tour stars including Zach Johnson and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel.
Tiger’s body has taken on a dramatic transformation since his early 20s. Most would agree his body and swing were at their peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Back then he was lean, had superb flexibility, along with tremendous speed and power. Eight surgeries later – and an extended break from the game – and Tiger doesn’t have the physique he once enjoyed. He will have to overcome his limitations with the other end of the game – what he lacks in power he will have to make up with a rock-solid short-game. He isn’t the only US PGA Tour player with the length of Dustin Johnson, anymore.
Many argued Tiger came back from injury too soon in the past. This break is his longest to date and it should be adequate rehab and preparation time if he has not re-injured himself. He may not be hot straight out of the gates but with perseverance and a flat stick that obeys, he can still win in spite of his broken body and aura. One only needs to watch him win the 2008 US Open – limping around Torrey Pines on a torn anterior cruciate ligament – for proof of that assertion.
Tiger’s generation has now been overtaken by a younger wave of social media savvy 20-somethings. These guys certainly respect Tiger but weren’t part of his dominant era and don’t respond to the hard-faced competitor that Tiger was in his golden days. Quite simply, they don’t roll that way.
The overall feel at the top of the game has changed and Tiger doesn’t scare them, nor is there any great rivalry like there was with his peers, Phil and Vijay. We now have a smiling family man in world No.1 Jason Day, a carefree group of youngsters in Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, a charismatic but calm Dustin Johnson and a friendly Irishman in Rory McIlroy. One component they all have in common (other than playing great golf) is they all like each other and they’re generally all very engaging with the media, unlike the highly aloof nature of Tiger. The mood has shifted – Tiger’s game face and intense stare doesn’t have the clout it once had when he walked all over his rivals during his dominance. Ultimately, this means Tiger has to find a new game plan as his days of intimidation are over.
This, undoubtedly, is the biggest area of concern. No one except Tiger knows the extent of how deep the wounds are in regard to the shame he feels for the sex scandal and also the embarrassment surrounding his performance prior to taking his last hiatus from golf. It was an epic run of missed cuts and mediocrity that resembled a completely different golfer – a far cry from the one that had won 14 Majors. My belief on Tiger’s mental state is that anything is possible – a man that can achieve what he has is capable of the impossible. Perhaps it will be short lived, or a one off, but he can do it. Tiger must get to a place mentally where he believes more than he fears and he can win again on the US PGA Tour.
Tiger took his time before making a comeback, as he knew deep down this was his last hurrah. Do I think he can get to 19 Majors? No. I don’t think Tiger will overtake Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer of all time, but I do think he will be “back” to some degree and it won’t just be the golf world rejoicing, but the international sporting landscape.
Even before “Hello World”, Tiger Woods was making history and captivating the world with his God-given talent. When he makes his mark one last time it will be nothing short of epic. Love him or loathe him, we’d all love to catch another glimpse of Tiger’s special talents once more. After all, it captivated the entire world.
• Annabel Rolley is an Australian Golf Professional and host of Australian Golf Digest TV www.annabelrolley.com