How Tiger Woods really plays golf

March 31, 2002|By Michael E. Waller | By Michael E. Waller,Sun Staff

How I Play Golf, by Tiger Woods. Warner Books. 306 pages. $34.95.

Think Like Tiger, by John Andrisani. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 192 pages. $23.95.

Tiger Woods got his first course-management lesson from his father, Earl, while playing the Navy golf course near his home in Cypress, Calif.

Tiger drove the ball behind a large clump of trees. Prodded by Earl, Tiger finally realized the only safe shot he had was to chip the ball back into the fairway and try to hit it on the green and one-putt for a par.

Not bad for a 3-year-old.

Tiger recounts this and many other fascinating tales in his superb guide, How I Play Golf, written with the editors of Golf Digest. That book and Think Like Tiger, by John Andrisani, analyzing Tiger's mental game, offer dozens of helpful tips that can improve any golfer's game. Both books are, of course, primarily for golfers, but the main message of Tiger Woods' game -- and life -- has to do with discipline and the careful application of intelligence. That may interest, and benefit, substantial numbers of people who have never struck a ball.

Tiger's book is structured in the way he learned golf -- from the green back to the tee. In each chapter, he revisits how he played famous -- but not always great -- shots over the years.

He ends most chapters with brief checklists. But it's Tiger's tips, along with explanations of common mistakes made by amateurs and the accompanying marvelous photographs and illustrations, that distinguish the book.

Here's a sampling:

* Stance at address: Regardless of the club you are using, your hands should remain the same distance from your thighs. The common mistake? Incorrect ball position.

* Putting: One of the keys to good putting is to not glance up -- or peek -- too soon after hitting the ball because peeking leads to sloppy contact. The cure? Practice putting with your left eye closed (for right-handers). That way you won't see the target line with your peripheral vision, making it easier to keep your eyes looking straight down.

* Hitting better iron shots: Choke down on the club to hit the ball straighter, get a lower flight path and prevent the ball from checking up, or stopping, as quickly when it hits the green.

Tiger also offers smart advice on course management and on how to develop mental toughness, the major topic in Andrisani's analysis of Tiger's mental game.

Andrisani, a former senior editor of instruction for Golf Magazine, is somewhat handicapped by writing without the aid of Tiger. Thus much of his information and advice come from conversations with Tiger's coaches and from the influence the old masters, such as Ben Hogan, have had on Tiger's game.

Earl Woods taught his son course management and mental toughness, then turned him over at age 5 to two California-based teachers -- first, Rudy Duran and then, at age 10, John Anselmo. Butch Harmon, Tiger's present coach, has been Tiger's coach since he was 18. Other members of Team Tiger have included his mother, Tida, who taught him the value of meditation, patience, tenacity and perseverance, and Dr. Jay Brunza, a Navy clinical psychologist.

Andrisani's perspective on the role of Brunza provides some suspense to the book. After months of reporting and two conversations with Brunza, Andrisani concludes that Brunza helped Tiger's mental game when he was a teen-ager through the use of hypnosis.

The book makes clear how Tiger outthinks all of his competitors and is full of common-sense advice about how amateurs can do the same. But it could have been so much richer for readers had editors corrected two flaws, the first essential to learning and the second annoying:

* Most of the shot tips are in dire need of photographs or illustrations, of which there are none.

* Andrisani's ego gets in the way of the story. In the first 102 pages, he uses the word "I" 100 times. If you're Tiger Woods, that's fine. For the rest of us, it's downright distracting.

Michael E. Waller, The Sun's publisher, has lowered his handicap in the last three years from 31 to 13 but is still losing some strokes to poor thinking.

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