How I play the game – Tiger Wood’s book

Tiger Woods

On the following pages are excerpts from the book How I Play Golf, by Golf Digest Playing Editor Tiger Woods. This is the world’s first look at Tiger’s first instruction book. Here Tiger explains his swing thoughts and game-management strategies. He not only tells what works for him, but offers advice you can apply to your own game today.

Finding the joy in the game

There is no comfort zone in golf. Nor is it a game of perfection. If it were, we’d all shoot 18 and look for a more challenging sport. I shot a 61–my lowest competitive round–in the third round of the Pac-10 Championships during my sophomore year at Stanford and bogeyed the par-4 14th hole. I actually hit the ball better during the afternoon round and shot four strokes worse, including a bogey at 15.

Only once do I recall feeling nearly in control of my game, and that was when I shot a 13-under-par 59 at my home course in Orlando. Even then, the best I could do was par both par 5s on the back nine, with irons into the greens. The most we can ask of ourselves is to give it our best shot, knowing that sometimes we will fail. We are often defined by how we handle that failure.

The great Ben Hogan, a man not prone to exaggeration, claimed that in his best week of golf he hit only four perfect shots. I have yet to get to that higher plane. I won 12 times around the world in 2000, including three majors, and I remember hitting only one shot I would call perfect–a 3-wood on No. 14 at St. Andrews in the third round of the British Open.

Sometimes the game seems so difficult you wonder whether the effort is worth it. We’ve all had one of those frustrating days. The final round of the 1996 NCAAs at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., was one I’ll never forget. I struggled all week, even though I shot some great numbers. I just didn’t feel comfortable with my swing, but I was getting away with it because my chipping was great and I made every putt I looked at. In the final round I lost it altogether. I went to the range that morning and never hit a shot. It just wasn’t there. Sometimes when that happens you can actually lower your expectations, go out and shoot a great round. Not this time. I had played the first three rounds with smoke and mirrors, and it finally caught up with me. Fortunately, I had a nine-shot lead and the 80 didn’t cost me an individual championship. I felt extremely fortunate, more like a survivor than a champion.

I hope, through my book, you’ll discover your game–one that is powerful yet precise, consistent yet exciting, impervious to pressure yet yielding large doses of fun. After all, fun is the real reason we play the game. Sometimes we forget that. I did once. I was a junior playing in the Orange Bowl tournament in Miami. I had the lead going into the final round and made a double on the front nine. I still had the lead, but for some reason I lost all joy and flat-out quit. I took my second-place trophy and pouted. Pop sternly reprimanded me. That’s the only time I ever quit on golf in my life. From that time on I realized what a privilege it is to play. And I never again lost sight of why I fell for the game in the first place.

Building an action to last

After I won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes with a record score of 270, 18 under par, I wasted no time before celebrating. I do know how to have fun, and I didn’t leave anything in the bag. I partied with my buddies, traveled a little and generally had a great time. I knew I would have to come back to earth eventually, but I wasn’t in any special hurry to get there.

One night, a week or so later, after the elation had started to die down, I decided to sit down and watch a tape of the entire tournament. I was by myself, so I was really able to concentrate on critiquing my full swing to see if there was some flaw I might be able to work on.

I didn’t see one flaw. I saw about 10.

I had struck the ball great that week, but by my standard I felt I had gotten away with murder. My clubshaft was across the line at the top of the backswing and my clubface was closed. My swing plane was too upright. I liked my ball flight, but I was hitting the ball farther with my irons than I should have been, because I was delofting the clubface through impact. I didn’t like the look of those things, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t like how my swing felt, either. From a ball-striking standpoint, I was playing better than I knew how.

Even before the tape ended, I committed myself to making some big changes in my swing. Butch Harmon, my coach, had pointed out some of these swing flaws before, and we had been working on them slowly, but I decided right then and there to pick up the pace. I got on the phone and called Butch and let him know what I was thinking. He was all for the swing overhaul I had in mind.

That overhaul took more than a year before the changes really started to kick in. First, my full swing started to look better. Then, the ball started to behave better. Finally, my swing started to feel right, and that’s when I knew I had it. I had a very good year in 1999, and in 2000 I played by far the best golf of my life.

The point to this story is, the golf swing will always be a work in progress, regardless of how good you are. The goal is to have a swing that is mechanically sound, repeatable, works with every club in your set and holds up under pressure. I don’t know if anyone will ever achieve a state of perfection–I know I haven’t. But you can bet I’ll keep trying.

How to stay in control

Pop has often told the story about my first lesson in course management. I don’t remember it. Heck, I was barely out of training pants at the time. But I believe in its veracity, because my course management today is a reflection of it.

As the story goes, Pop and I were playing the Navy course near my home in Cypress, Calif. On the second hole, I hit my drive behind a large clump of trees. Pop asked me what I was going to do. I looked at him as if to say, “What do you mean?” He said, “Son, I’m going to make two contributions to your golf game. One is mental toughness and the other course management. Now, what are you going to do, Tiger?” I said, “I can hit the ball underneath the trees, but there’s a great big sand trap in front of the green.” Pop nodded. I said, “I can’t hit the ball over the trees, because they’re too tall.” Pop nodded again. I said, “I can hit my ball back into the fairway, then onto the green and one-putt for par.” He said, “Son, that is course management.”

Pop is ex-military and definitely “old school.” He believes there is a standard operating procedure (SOP) for every undertaking, including golf. But when he sprang that one on me, I did what any 3-year-old would do–I asked why. He explained to me that the starting point of every shot is behind the ball. That you must visualize the shot and access all of the potential problems, then commit to the shot that you want to hit.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my most important lesson in course management began with Pop’s insistence that I have a preshot routine. Every so often I would forget to go through my routine, but before long it became ingrained. In fact, I believe it helped me win my very first Southern California Junior Golf Association tournament.

I must have looked pretty regimented as I went through my routine, but I didn’t care. It’s what I knew, and I felt comfortable. Not many of the other kids approached the game that way. Well, I shot 120, but I won. Mom and Pop were so proud of me. I guess I was pretty proud, too. By the way, I use that same preshot routine today. It doesn’t matter what your individual preshot routine is, just as long as you do it the same way every time and you don’t hold up play.

Great players operate “in the moment.” In other words, they never get ahead of themselves. And they never, ever appear overwhelmed by any situation. One of the reasons I’m able to hit good shots is because I go through the same routine. I learned it from my dad, who had read it from Jack Nicklaus. It’s been said that you can put a stopwatch on Nicklaus and his routine will be the same every time. Granted, his might be a little slower than most guys, but it is his natural rhythm. If you notice, my preshot routine doesn’t vary and it is uniquely mine. It helps me remain calm and in the present, prepared to execute a shot to the best of my ability.

From the book HOW I PLAY GOLF by Tiger Woods with the Editors of Golf Digest. To be published in October by Warner Books, Inc. Text copyright [C] 2001 by ETW Corp. Reprinted by permission of Warner Books, Inc. All rights reserved.


Once you establish a good chipping technique, the battle is 90 percent over. Whether you’re chipping uphill or downhill, whether the shot is long or short or whether the lie is perfect or a little scruffy, to be a good chipper you need sound fundamentals. Some shots around the green are trickier than others, but they all revolve around the same simple approach.

* I set my hands slightly ahead of the ball.

* I grip the club as I do the putter. I don’t need a lot of hand action.

* I lean a little toward the target. That promotes a downward blow.

* I choke down on the club for extra control.

* I flex my knees a little. I want my legs to feel alive.

* I narrow my stance. I don’t need a wide base of support.

* I position the ball slightly back of center. That also promotes a downward blow into the ball.


Here are six checkpoints to ensure you’ve arrived at a great position at the top of the swing.

* My left shoulder should be turned under my chin. That’s easier to do if I keep my chin held high throughout the swing.

* My clubface should be “square” at the top, meaning it is parallel to my left forearm.

* My left heel stays flat on the ground, which helps restrict my hip turn, creating more torque.

* I let my right elbow come away from my side, but I make sure it points toward the ground.

* I keep my right knee flexed, the same way I had it at address.

* My weight is gathered onto my right heel.


I believe the principles of good sand play are pretty much the same for everyone. If you want to hit the ball higher, there’s no arguing that you must either open the clubface or position the ball farther forward in your stance to increase your launch angle. I mean, there’s no other sound way to obtain more height on the shot.

There are other principles that have more to do with strategy and club selection than with physics and swing mechanics. Every amateur (high-handicappers especially) should obey the following rules at all times:

* From fairway bunkers, forget about using any club longer than a 4-iron unless the sand is moist and packed, with the ball perched in a perfect lie.

* Another fairway bunker tip: Take at least one club more than you would from grass at the same distance.

* The longer the shot, the lighter you should hold the club. That increases your ability to generate speed, and speed is necessary on every shot from sand.

* If your lie is even a little dicey, position the ball at least an inch farther back in your stance than you would from a perfect lie. If the lie is bad, play it back even farther.

* From greenside bunkers, aim for the top of the flagstick–most misses from sand come up short rather than long, so give yourself the benefit of the doubt.


One problem I monitor constantly is not letting my arms lag too far behind my upper body on the downswing. Because my hips and shoulders unwind so quickly, they sometimes outrace my arms. The result is that I drag the clubhead into the ball from far inside the target line, forcing me to rotate my hands furiously to square the clubface at impact. If I don’t rotate the hands enough, I push the ball; if I rotate them too much, I hit a big hook.

My goal is to keep my arms in front of my body as much as possible in the downswing. Notice here that my arms are in front of my chest, my shoulders aligned only slightly left of the target line. I’ve timed everything very well on this swing, and you can bet the ball flew a mile in a controlled direction.

* My head remains well to my right, my arms swinging past my body.

* My right elbow is directly in front of my right hip. That’s a sign of good control.

* Centrifugal force straightens and extends my left arm.

* The label on my golf glove is visible, proof I haven’t rotated my hands excessively.

* 80 percent of my weight is on my left leg and foot.

* At impact my clubshaft is vertical, just as it was at address.


DO set a game plan before the round–not during it. DON’T chuck it at the first sign of trouble; stick with it. DO accept that there is such a thing as a “good” bogey. DON’T forget that it’s just a game; have fun.


Here I’m faced with having to hit a big hook around a tree to get to the green.

I’ve had plenty of practice on this particular shot, especially when I was younger and had less control of my driver. First you must set up with a slightly wider stance than normal and position the ball slightly back of center. Aim your feet, hips and shoulders squarely, but to the right of the target. Take the club back low and wide along the line of your feet.

Regulate the amount of hook by how much you toe-in the club at address, not by manipulating the clubhead with the hands during the swing. A general rule of thumb: I aim my body lines (feet, hips, shoulders) at a point where I want the ball to start, and I aim the clubface where I want the ball to finish. That simplifies the manipulation of the clubface.

I work the ball with my big muscles. Most amateurs aim too far to the right, get very steep on the backswing and too vertical on the downswing. The result is often a fat shot. Instead, feel as if you’re making a sweeping motion with the club, and swing through the ball from inside the target line.

COPYRIGHT 2001 New York Times Company Magazine Group, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

You May Also Like

Golf’s longest courses: China leads the way – The digest: architecture – China’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club features the world’s longest golf course, at 8,450 yards

Golf’s longest courses: China leads the way – The digest: architecture – China’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club features the world’s longes…

Golfers we like Meadowlark Lemon – The Digest – retired Harlem Globetrotter enjoys playing golf

Golfers we like Meadowlark Lemon – The Digest – retired Harlem Globetrotter enjoys playing golf – Brief Article Brian Wacker For 24…

How to Use the Long Putters

How to Use the Long Putters Tom Ness THE MOST COMMON FLAw bad putters have is too much wrist action, which usually leads to a loss …

New Lyme disease defense – deer device helps control ticks

New Lyme disease defense – deer device helps control ticks – Brief Article There’s hopeful news on the control of Lyme disease. Tick popu…