Focus is the key to success in all professional sports. Try hitting a rising 97 MPH fastball while wondering if your sick father will survive the night in hospital. Or thread through 200 MPH traffic at Talladega while contemplating if your wife is cheating on you. At least in baseball and car racing, though, decisions are made in a split second. Roy Halladay throws you a 3 & 2 fastball up and in or Tony Stewart cuts you off on the back turn, and you have little time to think. You just react.
In professional golf, you don’t have the “luxury” of quick reaction
For Tiger Woods, it is not the swing. Look no farther than his performance on par 5s this weekend at Whistling Straits. What, after all, is a par 5? It is three opportunities (two, for the long hitters) to screw up before they get to the green (in regulation) and two more chances once there. In that regard, the par 5 is probably the best guide to a golfer’s focus, consistency boiled down to just one type of hole played an average four times per round. Par 5s are “money” for the great players, where they rack up the birdies and occasional eagles that, on tough courses like the Straits, give them the luxury of playing a bit more conservatively on the tougher 3s and 4s.
Woods is +1 on the par 5s going into the final round of the PGA Championship, his worst competitive performance on three-shot holes ever. Arguably, those of us who sport high single- and low double-digit handicaps could perform as well hitting a long iron off the par 5 tee boxes, then another long iron to 100 yards or so, and then a short iron or wedge to the greens for a routine par.
Woods is not the only giant struggling out there. Phil Mickelson is barely scratching his way around Whistling Straits. But the contrast is stark; Mickelson’s distractions are not of his making, and include a recently diagnosed disease that has changed his diet and lifestyle, as well as his wife's and mom's battle with cancer. Woods’ well-documented distractions, on the other hand, are not exactly sympathy inducing.
By showing his true stripes off the golf course, Tiger Woods seems to have lost them on the course.