I’ve always been fascinated by what other successful people have done in their respective fields. The virtuosos of art like Picasso and Michelangelo and the maestros of sport like Roger Federer and Michael Jordan have always astounded me with their high-quality work and achievements. Through the past few years, I’ve studied many of these types of high-achieving individuals in an attempt to understand where their genius comes from and how they go about constructing their great careers. Little by little, I feel as if I am understanding the intricate components that create greatness. But, understanding greatness is similar to obtaining knowledge: The more you know, the more you realize how much more you have yet to know.
This is why when I picked up golf coach Hank Haney’s book The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods, I was excited to see how one of the greatest golfers in the world (arguably) went about attaining his greatness. While I was excited to read about Tiger’s career through the eyes of his coach, I was even more interested in the price Tiger had to pay day in and day out on the golf course. I was just as curious to read about how Tiger Woods performed on the practice field as I was to observe how he performed on the Sunday of a major golf tournament when the pressure and stakes were significantly higher. By the end of the book, I was not only left amazed by what I had learned about Tiger’s great golf career, but I was also stunned by the sacrifices he had to make in order to obtain that great career.
The 2010 Masters — Final Round
Hank Haney starts off his story by describing the side of Tiger Woods that most of us never get to see. The two men are at the 2010 Masters, which is one of the most prestigious tournaments a golfer can win. And, while Tiger realizes the importance of winning this tournament, he, according to Haney, is “taking too little time between swings, barely watching where the balls go, sometimes even taking one hand off the club before completing his follow-through” (Haney, 3). In other words, Tiger Woods, who is famously known for his dedication to practice and his attention to detail, is treating the final round of the most important championship he could win in golf as if he doesn’t even want to be there. Tiger is there in person, but his mind and attention are definitely not present at Augusta National Golf Course, where the Masters is played every year.
In November 2009, Tiger Woods’ life turned upside down when it was discovered that he had extra-marital affairs with upwards of allegedly 15 women. Haney originally figured that Tiger would be using the 2010 Masters and golf in general to serve as his safe haven as he recovered mentally, physically, and emotionally from the scandal that rocked his life a few months ago. However, the Tiger Woods he encountered on that Sunday at the 2010 Masters was an individual who had, perhaps, lost his ability “to hyperfocus” on the task at hand (winning the prestigious Masters) and “be mentally bulletproof” amidst the scandal and the raucous media attention on him (Haney, 7). Haney started to wonder if the time had finally come where even Tiger “didn’t want to be Tiger Woods anymore” (Haney, 6).
Tiger’s Early Beginning In Golf
Tiger Woods was known as a golf prodigy from an early age and he was largely influenced by his father, Earl, to pick up the game of golf and keep up with learning the complex game. Hank Haney mentions in his book that what makes the “difference in whether a young player progresses [in golf] are intangibles: toughness, work ethic, self-confidence, desire, a sense of how to score, and most of all, true passion for the game” (Haney, 10). There is virtually no doubt that Tiger Woods had vast reserves of all of those intangible qualities from an early age.
But, there comes a point in time where any high-achiever has to decide whether the grueling process is even worth it at all. For instance, Haney claims, that throughout his teaching career he noticed that “anybody who is really successful at anything has an incredible passion that is basically an obsession,” but, he remarks, “that’s what it takes to separate yourself” (Haney, 22). Tiger Woods, after winning his age group at almost every Junior golf tournament, became the youngest golfer to win the Masters in 1997 at age 21, which was clearly an indication that the young man would do everything required of him to separate himself from the pack.
Haney Begins Coaching Tiger
When Hank Haney went to Florida to start coaching Tiger in early 2004, he immediately noticed that coaching Tiger Woods was going to be an arduous process mostly because “[Tiger] wasn’t going to accept everything [Haney] said,” but Haney asserted that this was why he took the job in the first place. He wanted a student who would constantly analyze the lessons Haney imparted on him, so, in that sense, he and Tiger were the perfect match.
Tiger, upon meeting Haney, emphasized that he wanted to become more consistent in every phase of his golf swing. He wanted to always remain “in the mix” of those players contending for the victory on Sundays every single time he went out to play in tournaments. Haney claimed that “helping [Tiger] build that kind of game, one that he could keep at a high level even when he wasn’t at his best, became [Haney’s] mission” (Haney, 43). In fact, Haney goes on to add that “there wouldn’t be a morning in the next six years that [he] wouldn’t wake up thinking about how [he] could help Tiger Woods improve” (Haney, 48).
Haney started off by emphasizing to Woods that golf was, above all else, a game about managing the misses, especially the “big miss,” which was an errant shot that would set up the golfer to hit a litany of subsequently bad shots. After a few weeks of working with Tiger, Haney began to see “not only that [Tiger] was far from a perfect player, but also that he wasn’t quite as good as [Haney had] thought” (Haney, 58). To be sure, Tiger was far from the average golfer, but he was not quite the golfer Haney thought he would be before he started coaching Tiger. There were fundamental problems with Tiger’s golf swing and there were issues surrounding his ability to putt, something that he simply did not practice as much as he should have given that putting and driving are two of the most important areas a player can improve in golf.
Tiger could also be stubborn when it came to absorbing Haney’s suggestions on how he could go about improving his golf swing. For a person who was focused on improving his game as Tiger Woods was in his days with Hank Haney, he certainly wasn’t as receptive to actually implementing those changes in his play as he was about the idea of seemingly being open to changes. It was almost as if he was afraid that Haney’s suggestions would simply derail Tiger’s progress with his swing up to that point when, in reality, Haney’s suggestions were actually only slight alterations that would help him consistently achieve the legendary swing only few others in golf have achieved.
Tiger’s resistance to change was very insightful to me because it outlined to me what happens when we become comfortable with something. We seek comfort in the things that have always worked best, but what has worked great in the past might not necessarily bear future fruits. Continued success requires adaptability and a willingness to completely trash what worked previously for us. This is the way we improve and innovate. Throughout Haney’s book it is apparent that by not being open to Haney’s suggestions as much as he should have been, Tiger Woods may have played it too safe and, as a result, sacrificed significant progress and potential in the process.
During various parts of his book Haney shares anecdotes or instances during which Tiger’s humanity (or lack thereof) comes out. Haney claims that Tiger gave off the sense that “so-called normal life was just passing time for him, as if he were storing energy for his real purpose” (Haney, 79–80). In a truly expository recollection, Haney describes how, in 2005, Tiger won his first tournament after Haney started to coach him and, in the post-victory excitement, Tiger’s wife, Elin, suggested that they celebrate by throwing a party. However, Tiger curtly shoved that suggestion aside by firmly stating (in Haney’s presence), “E, that’s not what we do…We’re supposed to win” (Haney, 86). The show of ego by Tiger caught Tiger’s wife off-guard and Haney noticed that “in the future Elin would keep her emotions under wraps whenever Tiger won” (Haney, 86).
But, as egotistical as he may be, Haney believed that the same ego and Tiger’s drive to be great were actually key tenets of what allowed him to experience success to the level he did in the first place. According to Haney, “Tiger never allowed himself to be satisfied, because in his mind satisfaction is the enemy of success. His whole approach was to delay gratification and somehow stay hungry. It’s the way of the superachiever: the more celebrations, the less there’ll be to celebrate” (Haney, 87).
I also noticed that whenever we had discussions that assessed his performances, he never used the word great. After a tournament in which he’d been essentially flawless, he might go for a “not bad” or “pretty good.” A streak of six straight wins might be called a “nice little run.” Great was a level he was planning to reach in the future. Or a word he could use when his career was over. But not while he was still playing.
- Hank Haney, page 87
My Takeaways from Tiger’s Career and Story
Getting the chance to read some of Tiger Woods’ life story through the eyes of someone who spent a lot of time with him (Hank Haney) was very revealing and insightful. I certainly learned a lot about what goes into success, but Tiger’s story also shed light on the dangerous side effects of pursuing success as well. I learned from Tiger’s vulnerabilities and mistakes that obtaining success can make you complacent at times and it can also make you feel as if normal rules of the world don’t really apply to you. Great success also brings a sizeable increase to the ego, which can lead to missteps down the road that can completely derail you, which means all that you worked so hard for in the years past is essentially rendered meaningless.
Don’t get me wrong, Tiger Woods isn’t the first person to make mistakes and he won’t be the last person to do so either. I’m not perfect by any means either and, at the end of the day, all that really matters is what each of us are doing to create the best version of ourselves. Whether this process of reaching for greatness leaves you with material and worldly success is not of the most importance, what matter is who and what you become while going through that journey. Ultimately, acting with character and treating others with respect (two of the things that Tiger Woods, despite all of his success on the golf course, found incredibly difficult to carry out off the course) are what will continue to sustain future victories.
“I once heard (and I believe it’s true), ‘It’s not what you achieve in life that matters, it’s what you overcome.’ Achievements on the golf course are only a part of setting an example, character and decency are what really count.”
— Tiger Woods during his press conference apology
- Haney, Hank. The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods. New York: Crown Archetype, 2012. Print.
- Cover image courtesy of: http://www.hdwallpapersos.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/sport-red-shirt-tiger-woods-wallpaper-38636.jpg