In this excerpt for The Lost Art of Playing Golf, Tiger Woods' very first coach reveals what it was like to work with the child prodigy
The first I saw of Tiger Woods was when his mother, Tida, brought him to me at Heartwell Golf Park in Long Beach, California. Tida wanted to know if Tiger could be part of my junior programme and would I coach him. Tiger was four years old at the time and could barely see over the pro shop counter. I said we’d go to the driving range where I could see Tiger hit some balls.
I teed up four balls for him. He took out his cut-down 2-and-a-half-wood and proceeded to hit four perfect drives about 60 yards with a little bit of draw.
I said: “Wow, he can play here anytime and I would love to help with his game.”
I knew at that moment that Tiger was special.
What I didn’t know was how much I would learn from Tiger and that I was actually signing up to be the student.
I became a golf professional in 1971. I tried my hand at tournament golf from 1976 to 1978 with little success. I could hit the ball great in all areas but my scoring was always weak.
During those years of full-time golf I thought that if I just had the correct formula of positions I would always shoot low scores.
Well, that never happened. Hitting the ball well on the driving range and shooting low scores on the golf course are not the same thing.
I actually became the expert on what I was doing wrong when I needed to be the expert on my good shots and what I did well.
When Tiger and I would get together he would practise with me on the practice area and on the golf course.
We never spent much time talking about what was wrong.
It’s more fun to celebrate our success. We would hit chip and pitch shots with different trajectories. High ones, low ones, shots that stopped, shots that ran out.
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He just loved to create different golf shots. He wanted to know how to make the ball fly in different ways so he could score lower. He wouldn’t have known about the position at the top of the swing or when he set his wrists.
If he wanted to learn a certain shape of shot I offered some suggestions as to how the club might feel through the ball to affect the flight of the shot.
Our sessions were all about creating an environment of fun, learning and remembering what we did well to make the ball fly how we wanted.
He didn’t hit the ball much further than 100 yards. He was just five years old – and not a big five-year-old at that.
But where you could really see his skill was around the green.
He could pitch, chip and putt like a tour pro.
I believe his short game was great because he had a natural ability to see the ball flight in advance and feel the club to make the ball fly the way he saw it.
It’s much like driving a race car. Yes, to win a professional car race like the Indy 500 you need a fast car. But you also need to know how to drive a fast race car.
Even if I had an Indy 500 race car I would still never win the race because I don’t know how to drive a race car.
The same is true in golf. You can have a great golf swing but if you don’t know how to use it you will never win golf tournaments. No matter how great you hit the ball on the driving range. Using your swing to shoot low scores on the golf course is a completely different skill than that of hitting the ball on the driving range.
Since those days in the early 1980s with Tiger and his father, Earl, my coaching has evolved from how I taught in the 1970s.
Now I spend very little time telling my students what to do, I just give them options to explore.
Rudy Duran wrote the foreword to The Lost Art of Playing Golf. Visit the website to find out how to get your hands on a copy.