23 July 2014

Lessons in success: Tiger Woods

Originally published in Insight 108 on 18 November, 2009  
In case you were visiting Mars or Saturn last week, you may not have realised that the world's best golfer was in Australia. The Victorian Government took a deep breath and stumped up the $3 million appearance fee necessary to entice Tiger Woods to add the Australian Masters to his 2009 tournament schedule.
Tiger arrived, via China, on his private jet, played in front of sold-out crowds and huge television audiences, wowed the fans and sponsors, played 72 holes of excellent golf and duly won the event by 2 shots.
It would easy to say and hard to argue that Tiger is unbeatable, vastly better than his opponents, super-talented or in some way a freak of nature. Easy ... but wrong.
Tiger is none of those things.
Tiger fact #1 - he loses far more tournaments than he wins.
Since turning professional in 1996, Tiger has won ‘only' 24% of the tournaments he has entered. In 224 pro-tour events, another player has taken home the trophy that Tiger was competing for.
Tiger fact #2 - in victory he is 1.38% better than his opponents
Across all 72 victories, Tiger's winning margin has averaged 3.8 shots which means, on average, one shot better than everyone else, each day of the tournament. Not huge but enough, remembering that in 76% of tournaments he enters, another golfer does better than Tiger across the 72 holes.
Tiger fact #3 - he trains incredibly hard
Forget natural talent. Tiger wins more often than any other golfer in the world because he works very hard at his fitness and skills. Tiger's website states that he trains 6 days per week regardless of whether he is playing in a tournament or not. Tiger's typical non-tournament day goes as follows:
6:30 a.m. - One hour of cardio. Choice between endurance runs, sprints or biking.

7:30 a.m. - One hour of lower weight training. 60-70 percent of normal lifting weight, high reps and multiple sets.

8:30 a.m. - High protein/low-fat breakfast. Typically includes egg-white omelet with vegetables.

9:00 a.m. - Two hours on the golf course. Hit on the range and work on swing.

11:00 a.m. - Practice putting for 30 minutes to an hour.

Noon - Play nine holes.

1:30 p.m. - High protein/low-fat lunch. Typically includes grilled chicken or fish, salad and vegetables.

2:00 p.m. - Three-to-four hours on the golf course. Work on swing, short game and occasionally play another nine holes.

6:30 p.m. - 30 minutes of upper weight training (high repetition).
Tiger fact #4 - he practises very specific aspects of his game
Tiger understands that it's not just the amount of training he does, it's the specific things he practises. As Geoff Colvin (see Best of the www in InSight 87) writes ‘Tiger Woods has been seen to drop golf balls into a sand trap then step on them, then practice shots from that near-impossible lie. Great performers isolate remarkably specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they are improved; then it's on to the next aspect'
Tiger fact #5 - he is never satisfied with his current level of performance
It's hard to believe that a person so accomplished at such a young age would be hungrier for more, but he is - very hungry. ‘I'm always trying to improve, whether it's on the golf course or in the gym. So I ask myself: What do I need to do today to be better than I was yesterday? What am I going to work on tomorrow to be better than I was today? The key to improvement is to commit to your goal and never quit'.
Tiger fact #6 - he knows change takes time to pay off
Most people who attempt to improve at anything try something different and if it doesn't immediately pay off, they give up - not Tiger. ‘When I try to change something, whether it's my swing or my physique, I know it's going to take a lot of patience. Sometimes, you don't see immediate results, and frustration can get you off your game if you let it. A great example of that is my strength-training routine. I've been lifting weights for a long time, but I didn't see real changes until my mid-20s when I was finally able to lay down muscle and keep it. It felt good to see all that work paying off, but it took time because of my body type. Patience kept me focused, and I eventually got the results I wanted'.
Tiger Woods may seem to be anything but a normal human being but when you look behind the hyperbole you will discover an ordinary person with an extraordinary drive to become the best he can possibly be - no excuses.
Source: all quotes and statistics are taken from www.tigerwoods.com unless otherwise quoted
Postscript 18 July 2014
Much has changed in the world of Tiger Woods since I wrote this post nearly five years ago. As I write this, the first round of the British Open is underway. Tiger Woods hasn’t won any of golf’s majors since 2008. The public fall from favour of Tiger Woods has been so comprehensive (I am sure you don’t need any details of his marital lying and cheating) as to motivate an article (Tiger Woods' star has long since shot into oblivion) from Fairfax Media columnist Peter FitzSimons, that says in part:
‘... he was committing infidelities on an industrial scale – involving private jets and rosters – while selling to the world a public image as the family man to beat them all.

(Golf) remembers that when he was king, he did not rule well. It remembers that when he was the youngest and most powerful king there ever was, and seemed well on his way to being an emperor, he was still never a man of the people like Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer; was a taker not a giver; and instead of embracing the rest of the golfing world, the fans, the media, his fellow golfers ... he could only just tolerate them.’
Along with the full reality of Lance Armstrong’s sustained years of lying, cheating and bullying his way to the pinnacle of cycling fame and fortune, it’s a very sobering reminder that success, to have any long term significance, must be accompanied by humility, respect and integrity.
As The Economist rightly editorialised last week, the victory of Germany in the recent FIFA World Cup final was a heartening example that old-fashioned virtues can still provide the foundation of success, even in the ultra-competitive and ultra-money environment of world football (soccer).
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