Golf Australia

Ewan Porter blog: Who's playing mind games?

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods.

In a recent interview with Fox Sports in the US, former world number one Greg Norman claimed Tiger Woods is ‘intimidated’ by the new golden boy of world golf and the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy.

Both Woods and McIlroy disputed that and played down any role intimidation has when the two are competing.

Since his comments were made public, Norman has been criticised for, in some people's views, only doing it for the benefit of seeing his own name back in the headlines.

This perception is utterly ludicrous and I’d like to comment on what I see as Norman’s reasoning behind his remarks.

Despite Tiger jokingly nicknaming Rory ‘The Intimidator’, it is surely he who has assumed that mantle for more than fifteen years.

Tiger made a comparison between golf and the NFL, stating that you don’t have a guy who is 6 feet, 5 inches and 110 kilograms running at you to be afraid of.

Tiger’s smart enough to know that there are various forms of intimidation. The one he mentioned is an obvious physical intimidation factor. Golf is all about the mental intimidation and it stems back from many years gone by.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, the likes of Ballesteros and Trevino were not only famous for the way they manoeuvred their golf ball around the course but they were just as legendary for their ‘gamesmanship’ - the primary purpose for these tactics, to intimidate their opposition.

In years to come, great rivals Norman and Nick Faldo along with others such as Steve Elkington, were legendary for generating fear amongst their competitors.

Just ask Bubba Watson what The Elk is like to be paired with.

Tiger followed suit during his time dominating the sport.

He would instinctively position himself on the green where his playing partner would be able to see him should he miss a putt, knowing that the great man’s eyes were fixed on them as if to say ‘I’m watching your every move’.

Usually it’s the younger players and the rookies who don’t handle these situations as well as the others. There’s no question in my mind this is all part of the ‘intimidation' package in golf.

For any golfer who has teed it up alongside someone better than themselves or with a higher profile in the game, it is only human nature to be nervous in their presence.

For some, it takes one hole to overcome this barrier and for others it can be a lifelong battle.

I haven’t heard anyone call out The Shark for failing to ever overcome the intimidation of his nemesis, Sir Nick Faldo.

I recall playing a practice round for the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie with my good mate, American Spencer Levin and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.

Having Spencer there helped relieve some tension for me but there’s no question that playing alongside a golfer with the pedigree of Harrington for the first time was both nerve-wracking and intimidating.

But as I made mention, this feeling subsided by the 2nd tee box after discovering what a genuinely terrific guy Harrington was - and he went on to win!

Tiger, as we all know, is extremely guarded with what he says and has very rarely talked up the prospects of another golfer’s talent.

Another astonishing part of the Woods enigma is that I have never heard him publicly talk down either his golf game or his chances of winning.

Even at the depths of his struggles, it was all about ‘getting the reps’ and ‘being close’. One could argue that this is all designed to ‘intimidate’ about what is to come.

I don’t see Tiger as being intimidated by Rory.

What I do see is a 36 year-old man with a history of physical ailments and swing changes watching a fearless, 23 year-old kid play golf without fear of any repercussions.

There’s a part of Tiger that wishes he could still play with that physical freedom and that, in my view, is what he's envious of what McIlroy possesses.

Tiger used to play just as aggressively and it remains to be seen in the years to come whether or not Rory decides to tinker with what looks like a near flawless golf swing.

It’s hard to see that ever happening but who would have thought Tiger would change his as much as he has since completing the career grand slam at the age of 24?

One of the greatest clichés in golf is the ‘six inches between the ears’ that you will hear everywhere from your Saturday tee time at your home club to the highest level of competition on the PGA Tour.

This is where any sense of intimidation derives from for golfers at any level and at some point, we’ve all felt this sensation.

The better players just learn how to adjust accordingly.

Ewan Porter is an Australian professional golfer who most recently played on the Web.com Tour in the United States. He won twice on that Tour - the 2008 Moonah Classic and the 2010 South Georgia Classic and is a freelance columnist for GolfAustralia.org.au His views do not necessarily represent those of Golf Australia. You can follow him on Twitter: @ewanports

29 April 2016
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