Woods' sublime feats go above, beyond

June 25, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

Consider it a fortunate accommodation, one of the true pleasures of life, that you have lived to actually see Tiger Woods strike a golf ball. It's an experience all unto itself. There has never been anything comparable to the length, accuracy and scoreboard results he's achieving.

No need to study film clips, read dispatches from tournament sites, listen to what contemporary players, or golden heroes of the past, are saying about a young man of 24 whose ability has surpassed the intense examinations that golf offers to anyone, adult or adolescent who picks up a club and takes aim at the flagstick.

Woods has, in a sense, become too good for the game. Oh , how the purists, the protectors of this grand and ancient sport, hate to admit that this early in his professional years, Woods transcends all others ... golf icons such as Jones, Nelson, Sarazen, Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus. There's not enough real estate to create a golf course long enough to negate Woods' innate advantages in power and precision, unless it's an airport landing strip.

It would be the height of professional embarrassment but, facetiously, Woods ought to give the rest of the field strokes as an inducement to make the event more palatable and competitive.

Woods is too good for their own good, holding a mental and physical advantage that the rest of the PGA lineup has never had to recognize, even going back 100 years.

Woods has humbled them in every way. Yet without intentionally trying to show them up. Just pounding them into submission and annihilating par with them. When he's entered, the rest join in the chase for second place. The challengers have no idea how they are going to get the jump on Woods and make a race of it. They only hope he has a bad hole, or two, a round that is far off form or a tournament where bad luck prevails.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer agree that before Woods stops playing, he'll probably win more than the combined 10 Masters championships they accounted for in their careers. When Nicklaus made the comment, it was interpreted by some listeners to be intended to pump Woods to unrealistic expectations, to get him slightly carried away with himself. Not so.

Nicklaus also has recorded 18 major titles as a professional, the most of any player. Until Woods moved into high gear, it was believed 18 would never be approached, but Woods is coming after him.

What happens, pray tell, when Woods reaches the peak of his game? He hasn't even approached it. Woods has three majors to his credit as a pro, one-sixth of the way to matching what was considered Nicklaus' awesome, out-of-reach total.

In analyzing the golf swings of the two men, Nicklaus and Woods, there is little to suggest similarity. Nicklaus' move away and then into the ball was taught and ingrained by his friend and teacher, the late Jack Grout. It is a strong, repetitive effort that delivers power and accuracy, but hardly a swing with classic overtones. Certainly, an ideal movement limited in its moving parts, which is why Nicklaus was such a substantial force for more than 40 years on the tour . He's perfectly formatted, almost mechanical, but it's a stroke that lacks aesthetic overtones - yet there's no way to be critical of what it has done for Nicklaus as he remains the premier player of all time - or if and when he's replaced by Woods.

If there's a swing that is more Woods-like, then it belongs to Sam Snead, self-taught and winner of 81 PGA tournaments.

What Snead does is more easy to define and recognize. Full and rhythmic. A picture to behold. Graceful and even more effortless than Woods. Actually, the takeaway and setting the club at the top of the backswing are reminiscent of each other.

The most significant thing ever said about Tiger came from Earl, his father: "When he picked up a golf club, I wanted him to swing it with all the natural movement of a child throwing a ball."

Right there is the key to how he became what he is. Dear old dad didn't befog his son's mind and physical technique with all kinds of involved mechanics or half-baked theories.

Smooth, effortless and playing a game that gives all the others an inferiority complex. The modern era has introduced metal woods, graphite, titanium and other high-tech developments, but all the other players are availing themselves of the same advantages in equipment.

Its just that Woods brings more ability with him, not the clubs he's using. He might even be able to do it with something as primitive as a rake and hoe.

If Woods can stay away from injuries and complacency - continuing to keep fires burning within - there's no way to determine how much he'll achieve.

The tremendous torque he puts on his back is enough to make other golfers moan and groan just watching him. This is where they believe a breakdown might eventually occur. The strain might give way to injury.

But stop to consider Woods has been doing this since he was almost a baby, a child of 3, so the pressure he applies to his back muscles has been conditioned for a lifetime. For him, it's not anything new but what he has always done.

Tiger Woods has become a natural resource, like nothing America or any other country, in the 800 years since golf was invented by the shepherds, has ever seen before.

Just enjoy the skill. Continue to marvel at his unprecedented achievements. Also the chance to live in the same time period and witness the most extraordinary golfer of all time.

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