It might be a surprise, but I hereby bestow the hallowed honor of 2020 Mindful Golfer of the Year on Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. I do so because one of my main criteria for such an honor can be found in my book The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness. In it, I recount how I came back from a double bogey on one hole to a hole-in-one on the next. That requires the ability to live in the present, letting go of one moment, no matter the content of that moment, to make way for the next, without being affected by the previous moment. Tiger has had that ability all his competitive life, resulting in a record second to none.
The latest example of this is perhaps the most dramatic of Tiger’s portrayals of exceptional mindfulness. It came at this past Masters after he scored the highest one hole score of his entire career. Here’s how it went, according to one account:
Woods posted his worst score ever on a hole on the PGA Tour Sunday at the Masters with a septuple-bogey 10 at the par-3 12th. Woods’ tee shot from 155 yards landed short of the green and spun back into Rae’s Creek. Playing from the drop area, his third shot reached the green but also spun back into the water. Again playing from the drop area, his fifth shot flew the green and landed in the back bunker. From there, he chipped across the green and back into the water. He finally reached the green with his eighth shot and two-putted from 20 feet.
Now, at that point, most mortals would have thrown their clubs into the creek and walked off to a stiff drink in the clubhouse. But Tiger reacted differently. He was, of course, not happy with his ten in front of millions on TV. He reacted in a way that has made him, arguably, the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time. After the train wreck on 12, something obviously clicked into gear in Tiger’s mind. Something registered. Perhaps his father’s voice telling him to never give up. Perhaps a word from Butch or Hank or Sean or Como or Stevie or Joey. Or something his mom whispered to him at 2 or 3 years of age. Something.
Because Woods preceded to play the last six at Augusta National during the 2020 Masters in 5 under par. That’s right. Five birdies in the last not so easy six holes. This 44 year old, with the squirrelly back and the patched up knees and generally a body that greeted him differently each day, proceeded to play like 22 year old Tiger again. Hole after hole, following that horrendous 10, he stiffed it to the pin, and dropped putts like he was in a trance. There were no fans to go wild. The commentators were focused on the leaders and barely took notice until all was said and done.
“This is unlike any other sport,” said Woods later. “You’re so alone out there and you have to fight and figure it out. No one is going to pull you off the bump. You just have to figure it out, and I did coming in.”
It’s really true, isn’t it? Even us handicappers, when we’re playing a friendly round with our buds, are alone out there dealing with our skulled chips, our shanks, our skied drives, our duck hooks into a lake, our three putts from ten feet, our slices into the trees. No one is there to make it better, to rescue us from the misery we feel, the embarrassment we silently endure. Yes, golf is a lonely sport where all of us are exposed for those few hours, our game, and in some ways our mind, revealed to all nearby.
We all, like Tiger, just have to hang in there and “figure it out.” And sometimes, like the swish of a horse’s tail, ecstasy can replace misery. For Tiger, it was an amazing five birdies in the last six holes at the Masters. What a game we play!
Of course, a hearty congratulations to Dustin Johnson on his Masters victory, only his second major amidst 24 wins. His play was flawless, firing on all cylinders. It was the World Number One playing at his absolute best, proving that he’s hard to beat when at this level of proficiency. I expect more majors from this powerhouse of a player. My brother Hank, btw, picked DJ from the start, winning a large Philly water ice from me who picked…well, someone different. Well done, Brother Nostradamus!
The two young runner-ups were also impressive. Australian Cameron Smith is the first player in Masters history to score in the 60s in each of his four rounds. And 22 year old South Korean Sungjae Im is definitely a player to watch in the years ahead. Both of these players have solid games and the mental stamina to succeed.
The other astounding performance at the Masters was 63 year old Bernhard Langer. The German has retained the golf skills of a player half his age. He was T29th in a field of 60 after the cut, finishing at 3 under, one shot better than his final round playing partner, long hitting 25 year old Bryson DeChambeau. With 117 worldwide wins, Langer has achieved legend status in my book.
Helpful tip of the day: We older guys should study his swing closely. It’s a model of economy of motion.
Robert Streb won the RSM Classic in a playoff against Kevin Kisner. It was Streb’s second Tour win, the first being six years ago at this same tournament.
Major winner Sei Young Kim won the Pelican Women’s in definitive style moving ever closer to a Number One ranking, besting Ali McDonald from the US and Stephanie Meadow from Northern Ireland. It was Kim’s 12th win on the LPGA, third all-time for South Koreans, behind legends Sei Re Pak and Inbee Park.
South African phenom Wilco Nienaber who led the Joberg Open up to the last two holes, blew that lead to Dane Joachim Hansen. The tall, gaunt Nienaber turned golf world heads his way with drives averaging more than Bryson DeChambeau. In fact quite a bit more, without all the protein shakes. The young man drove the ball 427 yards on one hole and matched that a few times as well. Watch this kid. I predict he makes the PGA Tour in the relative near future. There’s nothing super unusual to his swing, except a very long swing arc, given his height.
Thanksgiving break this week. Next event is the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico starting December 3. Last year’s champ was Brendon Todd.
A most Happy Thanksgiving to you all. A time to be thankful for all the things in our lives we appreciate and love. For me, in particular, it’s life itself, and my wife, Ruth.