Aug
17

Windy golfers and windy golf psychology blown away at the PGA Championship

By

So, were you blown away by the golf at the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine this weekend? With 8 hours of TV coverage on Saturday and again on Sunday, I was just riveted to the screen and amazed by both the spectacle and the windy golf conditions. The TV commentators also contributed to the windy feeling with all their hot air and false hopes for a certain golfer named Tiger Woods. Didn’t they just love Y.E. Yang’s quote about how the odds against him beating Tiger must be 70 to 1, based on Tiger having just won his 70th PGA Tour event last week while he had won his first earlier this year.

Although I’ve never played there personally, I vividly remember Tony Jacklin telling me, and our other two playing partners at Brookmans Park Golf Club, all about Hazeltine’s challenges, just a week or so after his US Open win back there 1970. The course certainly seems to have got even harder and so more picturesque since Dave Hill’s scathing comment back then that "all it really lacks is 80 acres of corn and a few cows."

Anyway, there I was watching the golf and really looking forward to the cut and thrust of another battle between Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington over the weekend, with Padraig seemingly putting his demons from Firestone behind him and in the past. I was also hoping to see some heroics from the many contenders from Europe and to see a real return to form from the likes of Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. Given all the excitement, I almost forgot to watch out for all the golf psychology lessons that were blowing across the screen.

Now I’m sure that you watched most if not all of the weekend’s cut and thrust on TV or, if you’re really lucky, you were there in Minnesota to watch it for real. So I’m focussing here on the golf psychology of all that windy golf, windy golfers and, in my next article, all that windy putting from the likes of Lee Westwood, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and many others.

Now I don’t want to take anything away from Y E Yang and his outstanding performance this week. It takes something really special to beat Tiger Woods from 2 shots behind on the final day in a major. It’s also worth noting that his final 2-under par 70 tied the low score of the day with just 2 other players. Having said all of that, what happened to Tiger?

Well I think I noticed the first real flaw that I’ve seen in Tiger’s amazingly strong mental game. It’s been staring me in the face for some time now, especially with his occasional bad results in the Open Championship. The problem is with the parts of golf he can’t control and, more importantly, predict. Here at Hazeltine, as so often at Open Championship venues, the players are faced with the uncertainty of a strong and swirling wind. The wind at the tee is blowing one way, the clouds are moving in another and the flag on the green is fluttering in yet another. Tiger can’t predict what will happen to his ball and, unlike his wonderful ball-striking, it’s out of his control. That’s what he doesn’t seem able to handle.

I was taken by the contrast between Tiger’s reaction to two particular shots during his last 9 holes on Sunday. Both were unlucky and neither resulted from a bad shot execution, but one really upset him and the other he accepted philosophically. The first shot was a flier hit with a six iron that flew way over the back of the green on one of the many long par 4s. You could tell that he was half expecting it as he quickly acknowledged what had happened and quietly and confidently played the next shot. His reaction suggested that he hadn’t accepted it as a bad shot, just an unlucky one.

The second one was his tee shot on the tough short 17th where he backed away several times as the wind swirled and changed direction. He looked panicked and more like a rabbit in the headlights than a tiger. Nevertheless, he used his golf psychology training and hit what looked, and probably felt, like a really good shot. The ball sailed over the flag and landed no more than a foot too long and nestled down in the rough. A foot shorter and it would probably have spun back towards the hole. Tiger almost collapsed and still didn’t appear his normal confident and resourceful self as he chipped out short from a difficult lie and missed the putt. It must be remembered that Tiger didn’t capitulate totally and Yang hit one of the best shots I’ve ever seen into the 18th green to close out his victory.

So what do I think was the real difference between those two shots of Tiger’s? Well, he seemed to accept the flier as just plain bad luck that could happen to anyone and he just got on with the short without hesitation – it was out of his control and he accepted it. However, he didn’t seem to accept the swirling wind in the same way and hesitated several times. For a golfer with such supreme ball control and the ball on a tee, he didn’t seem able to accept the possibility of plain bad luck. I recorded the final days play and watching it again I saw that same hesitation from Tiger on many of his shots, especially when he had a good lie.

So there’s a definite flaw in Tiger’s mental game when it comes to a variable or swirling wind. The bad news for everyone else is that once he recognises it, he has his own mental skills and the golf psychology skills of Jay Brunza to help him handle it.

Leave a Reply