Behind Tiger’s mental toughness – Tiger Woods, golfer – Brief Article
The population of Manhattan, Kan., could fit in Kansas State University’s snazzy, purple-splashed football stadium with elbow room to spare. Yet the nondescript college town has produced at least two cultural icons: Damon Runyon and Earl Woods, both prone to glib hyperbole. Runyon gave us the Broadway of “Guys and Dolls” in that other Manhattan (I cringe imagining his reaction to the recent sanitizing of the neighborhood). Woods gave us, with bombastic fanfare fast being overtaken by reality, his son Tiger.
Runyon moved away at an early age. Earl stayed through college, pedaling his bike several miles to and from K-State and earning a degree in sociology and psychology. He was the Jackie Robinson of the Big Seven Conference, forerunner of the Big Eight and Big 12–a versatile, intense baseball player who broke the color barrier.
Your well-traveled correspondent visited K-State this year for the opening of Colbert Hills, the vast new course complex inspired, partly funded and codesigned by Jim Colbert, the senior tour’s answer to Donald Trump. Tim Finchem joked at the ceremonies, “I bought into Jim’s vision. He gave me no choice.” I knew the feeling.
The vision also includes reaching out to minority and disadvantaged kids who would not otherwise be exposed to golf. Colbert Hills and the university are home to the Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy, host last summer to the inaugural First Tee national gathering that drew 121 select youngsters. In addition to golf skills, the program featured leadership training and a talk from Earl.
We can trace much of Tiger’s mental strength and competitiveness to his dad’s K-State days in the early 1950s: the psychology studies and pioneering baseball career. Ray Wauthier, his coach, remembers that Earl could not always eat or stay in hotels with his teammates but endured the absurdity because he loved the game that much.
“He’d play anywhere I needed him, but he caught, mainly,” Wauthier says. “He was an above-average college player. He had a good arm–not only strong but accurate. He was an adequate hitter–good hands, good fundamentals. His last year he was close to .300, probably.”
The won-loss records were a forgettable 5-10, 5-15 and 4-13, the Wildcats last in the league Earl’s junior and senior seasons. But it wasn’t due to lack of zeal or competence on his part.
Says Veryl Switzer, then an All-American halfback at K-State: “I can still see him gunning down a runner going into second base. He was tremendous before his son was.”
We know a lot about Earl’s grooming of Tiger for greatness, but the mental strength that sets the young man apart gets too little attention. A father with a degree in psychology and subsequent Special Forces military training wasn’t about to neglect that critical area. As a child, Tiger listened to “subliminal messages” from audiotapes, and subsequently watched (and requested) motivational videos. Growing up on the golf course, Tiger enjoyed it when Earl deliberately created distractions to improve his concentration.
When Tiger was 13, Earl asked him if he’d like to work with Dr. Jay Brunza, a psychologist friend of a friend. Tiger was eager.
Brunza coached him on techniques for relaxation, visualization and focusing, “with hypnotic elements.” Brunza shies from talking about hypnotism for fear it suggests county-fair quackery, but in effect he taught Tiger to self-induce entry into what athletes call “the zone,” where they transcend mechanics to attain peak performance under pressure, as the dogma goes.
“It’s all mental discipline,” Brunza says, “and Tiger worked hard to master it at an early age and absorb it into his technical excellence. The unique thing about him to me has always been his great gift of creativity. People are seeing it in his short game.”
Earl counseled the First Tee campers at K-State that there are no shortcuts to success as opportunities open to them. And he counseled us that we’ve “seen only the tip of the iceberg from Tiger” and just wait until he finishes growing, learns the tour courses better and broadens his shotmaking repertoire. Brunza says the best way to tell how a horse will run is how he’s run in the past. The famous railbird Damon Runyon said as much.
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