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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Secret of his (Recent) Success?

By Charlie Schroeder

Roger Federer's recent victory at the U.S. Open started a pointless debate among sports journalists: "Who's better: Federer or Tiger?"

Although each owns nearly the same amount of major victories, or "slams," (Tiger has 13, Federer 12) Federer has yet to complete the career grand slam, having been shut out at Roland Garros. Tiger's not only won all four majors, he's won them all at least twice. (U.S. Opens are the toughest for him; he's won twice and finished second twice.)

While Federer is exciting to watch (he's as precise and powerful a player to ever swing a racquet, and has rekindled my interest in the game), it's important to keep in mind that tennis is head-to-head competition. The shots he plays have immediate impact on his opponent. Outside of the 285 yard 5-wood that Tiger hit onto the 9th green (interrupting Zach Johnson and Sergio Garcia's battle for second place) during yesterday's final round of the Tour Championship, his interaction with other players is limited to shaking hands, saying "nice shot" and shooting the breeze (if they're friends). Certainly Tiger's mind-blowing play must get in his playing partners' heads, and the throngs of fans following him are a great distraction not only to players in his group but within a couple holes, but when all's said and done, it's Tiger against the course (and, for that matter, Tiger against himself). If you think he's won a lot of tournaments in stroke play, imagine how many he'd win if every tournament were match play, where a more traditional head-to-head format applies.

Tennis has typically had dominant players like Sampras, Lendl, Borg and Navratilova (and that's just in the last thirty years) whereas golf has, traditionally, not. (And as result been the most difficult individual sport to dominate.) In the last thirty years only Woods and Sorenstam have dominated the game for a significant period of time. (Norman too, but he never capitalized in majors the way the other two have.)

A friend of my father's mentioned the other day that we were lucky, really lucky, to witness the game's greatest golfer play the game. (My father's generation is doubly lucky having witnessed both Tiger and Jack in their primes.) After his domination of the FedEx Cup where Tiger won two out of three tournaments and averaged 66.81 strokes per round (no, that's not a typo), it's clear, like this time last year, that he's in the middle of something really, really special.

One last thing: in today's USA Today, Tiger's caddie Steve Williams is quoted as saying that Tiger hasn't hit a post-round practice ball since the British Open. Nothing to tweak, so no reason to work on it, says Williams. Its clear Tiger's swing has come around, but something tells me there's another explanation for his stellar play. A month before the British, his daughter was born. Could fatherhood be the secret to his success?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think it has to do with his baby. I think he's so good because he is mentally tougher than anyone.