Different Strokes: Losing makes Tiger more human than ever

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Tiger Woods still swinging but not as succesfully.

Alex Dimond brings you a light-hearted look at the world of golf in Different Strokes. This week is focussed on Tiger Woods and Roger Federer’s pointless rivalry and 15-year-old boy wonder named Cole Hammer.

– #360view: Woods needs to rediscover self-belief his father gave him
– Off The Net: Wawrinka backhand will solve secrets of universe
Tiger Woods finishes last at Memorial Tournament 

Losing is humanising Tiger more than winning ever did

There was a time, just about 10 years (when Rory McIlroy was barely making waves as an amateur, and Jordan Spieth was probably still learning to read), when Tiger Woods and Roger Federer had themselves a little running battle.

When one man won a major in his respective sport, he would text the other with an update of their overall scoreline. Initially Woods was ahead, then for a while the pair were essentially neck-and-neck, and then slowly Federer began to move in front. 

Right now, Federer leads 17-14 – but neither man has texted the other a score update in a fair while.

Time stops for no man, and don’t both sporting legends know it. Federer has perhaps got used to being disappointed at the French Open over recent years but there must still have been a pang of frustration last Sunday, as he sat in a Swiss football stadium, watching his team, while streaming the Roland Garros final on his phone.

His discomfort that was nothing compared to that of his old friend Woods, however, although at least Woods still spent Sunday playing the game that he has dominated for so long.

Except he was forced to play it alone, stranded at the very bottom of the leaderboard at the Memorial Tournament after a Saturday round of 85 that rocket scientists have estimated was his worst 18-hole score since he was about seven years old (coincidentally he is now also down to 181st in the world rankings, about where he probably was when he was seven years old).

Woods did not speak to the press after his roundus horribilis (which included six bogeys, two doubles, and a quadruple bogey up 18), but he did speak briefly 24 hours later, after breezing through a final round 74 in well under three hours.

Shock of shocks, he was actually pretty wry and amusing about the whole thing.

Asked how he dealt with the shock of his high score, Woods joked: “I wanted to hit balls [on the range], but my hand was a little bit sore from that, so I decided to take some time off.” 

He also added that he had “got some reps in” on Saturday, which might be the first time ever that Woods has said something vaguely self-aware. Most bookies figured self-awareness would come to Skynet before it ever came to Tiger Woods – perhaps only Arnold Schwarzenegger can save us now.

Around those moments of surprising levity, Woods actually talked a certain amount of sense, although as ever with the great one it is hard to know whether he knows something we don’t or is just in complete denial.

“The guys that have made tweaks, you have moments where you go backwards and then you make big, major strides down the road,” he said. “You have to look at the big picture.  You can’t be so myopic with your view and expect to have one magical day or one magical shot and change your whole game.  It doesn’t work that way.”

That is not to say that Saturday was not a horrific experience: Woods was beaten by 15 shots by his playing partner Zac Blair, a PGA Tour rookie who had stood in line to get Woods’ autograph at the 2000 PGA Championship.

“It’s hard. It’s real hard. This is a lonely sport,” Woods added. “The manager is not going to come in and bring the righty or bring the lefty, you’ve just got to play through it. And that’s one of the hardest things about the game of golf and it’s also one of the best things about the game of golf, when you’re on, no one is going to slow you down. Also when you’re off, no one is going to pick you up either. 

“It’s one of those sports that’s tough, deal with it.  For us, unfortunately, you have those days, they’re five hours long. And so those are long, tough days.”

For Woods, though, they appear to be humanising ones as well. For so long unreachable and distant on the course and off it even as he was sweeping aside every tournament and every rival in his path, suddenly now that Woods is struggling in a way almost every weekend amateur would recognise he has become a somehow more real, more human.

A cynic might suggest that it suits Woods to act in such a way, that he reduces the criticism and the laughing at his misfortune by opening up about his struggles (something this column would be evidence of). But most golfers do not get better with the media the worse they are playing, which only makes this latest chapter in Woods’ career all the more intriguing.

What is certain is that Woods deserves a lot of respect for going through his troubles so publicly, and that it will make for one hell of a narrative arc if he ever does come through the other side and gets to a place where he can once again text Roger Federer a new scoreline.

After all, that’s why he’s doing all this.

“I did not win, and I wasn’t even close,” Woods reflected, when asked what he had learned from his week. “So hopefully in two weeks time things will be a lot better and I’ll be ready to try to win a US Open.”

* What data plan is Federer on? Is live streaming sporting events via mobile phones one of those services that works for celebrities but never works for the rest of society?

Too young to drive

And now for something from the other end of the career spectrum. Regional qualification for the forthcoming US Open has been ongoing throughout the past week or so (congratulations, Luke Donald – and kudos for even going through the process), with a few surprising stories emerging.

Perhaps none more so than that of 15-year-old Cole Hammer (what a name!), who will become the third-youngest player ever to tee it up in the US Open after he finished second in sectional qualifying in Dallas.

“I thought it was a bit of a long shot, but I figured why not,” Hammer said afterwards, presumably while dipping into a bag of Haribo and Snapchatting each sweet before eating it. “I never dreamed I could do it. This means the world to me. When I saw Jordan (Spieth) win the Masters (at age 21), I said, alright I can do this.”

He added: “I’ve never been to a U.S. Open before, I was just hoping to make the U.S. Junior later this summer. We didn’t have any plans for that weekend, but I guess we do now.”

Hammer shares a coach with Patrick Reed, which means he should find at least one top professional to play a practice round with up in Chambers Bay.  And who knows, he may even beat Tiger Woods over one of the two rounds – as long as he breaks 85, he might just have a chance….

3. Spieth in ‘not a Swift fan’ shocker

And, to finish up, how about a video of Masters champ Jordan Spieth attempting to hole a 90-foot putt while answering incisive questions like, “Led Zeppelin or Taylor Swift?”

You’ll never guess what he answers. Except you probably will.

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