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10 golf mental toughness lessons from Tiger Woods and his killer instinct in “The Big Miss"

“The Big Miss” is a New York Times Best seller by the famous golf coach Hank Haney written about his experience coaching Tiger Woods. There are 10 mental toughness lessons that golfers can learn from reading this book:

1. How a swing coach like Hank can also develop a full swing yip or a driver yip. Putting yip is a well-known phenomenon with various explanation and ways to address it. Driver yip on the other hand is much less known and it may not be caused by pressure on anxiety. Hank suggested the only thing to cure the yip is radically altering technique so that new pathways from the brain are created. He further explains why big changes such as the long and belly putter or claw grip and other variations help people who suffer from the yip.

2. To Tiger, winning was business as usual. And he wanted his team to think the same way. Hank explains that Tiger is not the biggest hitter nor the guy with the most beautiful swing on tour. What makes a young player like Tiger progress further are intangible trait: toughness, work ethic, self-confidence, desire, a sense of how to score, and true passion for the game. Hank further explains how Tiger had a sense of mission, knowing that no black golfer had come out and stuck as a regular on the PGA tour since 1970s. So, Tiger knew that he was carrying a lot of hope on his shoulders.

sport psychological lessons

3. One priority of Tiger Woods was “riding himself of “getting stuck” on the down swing. This position occurred when Tiger got his lower body too far ahead of his arms on the downswing., causing the club to drop behind his hands. From this position, he couldn’t simply let his upper body rotate and carry his arms along to effortlessly square the club face at impact. The only way to become “unstuck” was to compensate with some quick arm and hand action. Tiger was very adept at saving shots in this manner, but it was not a reliable way to achieve consistency.

4. The other priority was to preserve the health of his left knee. He had this issue by following Butch Harmon’s advice to snap his knee straight at impact when Tiger wanted extra distance. Another issue was the movement of Tiger’s head. Tiger tended to move his head to the right on the back swing and left it there on the downswing. This movement helped him as a skinny junior golfer to keep up in distance with bigger kids. By staying behind the ball, he could produce a “slinging” action with the club that generated a lot of speed and gave him the distance he believed he needed to win.

5. Another big issue for Tiger was that he played the driver with a lot of fear. This was an opposite with the usual image that people thought about Tiger as a fearless competitor. Hank told some signs of driver anxiety with Tiger although they have never confronted this issue head on to protect Tiger’s confidence. The most persuasive evidence of this driver fear was the shot pattern of Tiger’s warm-up versus his competitive rounds. Tiger’s basic strategy with the driver was to play away from the side of the hole with the most trouble, even if it meant going into the rough.

fearless golfer

6. Tiger is having a high expectation and always want to improve his golf game all the times. Tiger never allowed himself to be satisfied. Because he could see that satisfaction is the enemy of success. Tiger’s mindset is to delay gratification and stay hungry. While all the fans talked about his past successes or how Tiger would break Jack Nicklaus’ major-championship record, he stubbornly stayed in the present. His career reflected his mindset when a golfer shoots a low round: one shot at a time. He never talked about Jack’s record, nor was he talked about his past victories. Hank explained one of Tiger’s gift was to be able to turn off emotion when needed. That ability let him he threw a tantrum at the previous hole, yet was able to be serene over the next shot. He was an expert at getting rid of all negative emotion by the time he arrives at the next shot. He could get angry on purpose because it helped him get rid of frustration while motivating him and improving his focus. Tiger Wood had a special ability to stay very focus with high intensity by having his love for what he is doing: his thrill at controlling the ball, his enthusiasm for learning how to do it better.

7. One unique thing of this book was to attempt to explain who Tiger is. Hank mentioned a lot was going on in Tiger’s head, but it would not be show to the outside. Tiger had many modes: he could be very gracious in public when he chose, or coldly aloof with media, fans and even officials. In private, he could either be good company or totally distance.

Tiger stubbornly stayed in the present, can be in his own world despite other people/ his caddie is around. Tiger’s extraordinary ability to focus and stay clam under stress also included selfishness, obsessiveness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness, pettiness, and cheapness.

8. One thing stood out was that Tiger did not want to be treated like a king. He never bragged about what he had won or how much money he made. He knows his place so he did not need to prove it or revel in it or lord it over people. Most golfers understood Tiger had a killer’s mindset so going out of his way to please others people was not how he behaved. Hank concluded that quality of paying attention only to Tiger’s own needs was so central to his ability to win.

golfer overcomes injury

9. The complexity of working with a superstar, including what and when to say or not.

Tiger and Hank did not speak much in real life because Tiger was not the type who liked to have a casual small talk. His interest is on watching TV documentary, especially those about Navy Seal. Tiger showed a keen interest in how the Navy trained their candidates through the tough Basic Underwater Demolition (BUD/S) course. He was also very emerged in playing video game about the Navy Seal.

There was one incident when Hank accidentally told the TV producer about Tiger’s next week schedule, which Tiger did not like to reveal until the last day before the event. From this one incident alone, Tiger decided not to trust his coach and would not reveal his own plan of playing to Hank ever again. On another occasion, Hank Haney accidentally revealed that Tiger had to go for a sex addiction treatment, while Tiger himself did not admit it publicly. These small but important incidents made a broken trust between Tiger and Hank.

10. How Tiger dug deep and won the US Open 2008 with a major injury – a torn ACL.

One of the highlights of this book is definitely on the victorious win at the US Open 2008 at Torrey Pines. Having a fully torn ACL, Tiger managed to play golf without showing how he really struggled with pain. The book mentioned how Tiger was able to put his mind into an army soldier like the Navy Seal and block out the pain “it is only pain”. How his physiotherapist was in tear every night trying to revitalize Tiger’s knee and made it walkable again. It was mentioned also that Tiger refused to take strong pain killer medicine. Young golfers definitely should read this to find out how Tiger managed to win despite having the first tee jitter, and how he had so many mistakes during the course that even his coach – Hank Haney thought he could not make the cut. It is a story of a resilience mind at his peak, who is able to block out any distraction, pain, and learn to forgive himself for his mistakes. Tiger talked about his last putt to win the US Open with the mindset of focusing on what he could control: “All you can control is making a pure stroke…. If it bounces off line, so be it, you lose the US Open. If it goes in, that’s even better.” A truly master class on mental toughness.

Overall, I highly recommend golfers reading this interesting book.


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