Talent is overrated.
If you haven’t heard, the biggest controversy in golf right now involves Tiger Woods (surprise, surprise). Even in the middle of the off season after the worst season of his career, Woods makes the headlines. In this case, the headlines are about him, not from him. And no they don’t come from Steve Williams (thank God).
The controversial quotes about Woods come from an unlikely source this time around, world no. 1, Luke Donald. According to USA Today, at the Dubai World Championship, Donald was asked who the best player he ever played with was. His response? “In terms of talent I think Rory (McIlroy) has more talent (than Woods).”
Since this response, which garnered a wealth of attention, Donald clarified what he meant by the comments stating on Twitter that, “A few people aren’t understanding what I meant. The word ‘talent’ and Rory to me means a free-flowing swing who makes everything look so easy. TW (Tiger) has always been the best at getting the ball in the hole when it mattered the most. That’s not just talent, that(‘s) something else too.” He continued, “Talent can only take you so far; you need the right attitude (mindset) and application to perform at the highest level … never try to disrespect Tiger in any way. He is still the greatest player I have played with.”
Some have found his backtracking to be insincere and too little too late, but in my opinion, Donald is spot on with his comments. Especially when he says “That’s not just talent, that’s something else too.” That something else is practice, and a dose of course management and mental toughness.
What the average golf fan doesn’t understand about the game of golf is how much practice it actually takes to be good at the darn game. Professional golfers don’t spend all their time hanging out in bars, inviting rookies to the ninth green at nine and slacking off. They practice. All. The. time.
In 2000-01, Woods didn’t just wake up one day and start hitting every fairway and green while holing all the putts. That year was the result of two years of hard work on his swing and game with Butch Harmon. Often Woods talks about practice reps, stating that he needs a ton of them to feel ready. When Woods switched to Haney, there was another drought where he was learning a new system and getting in his reps. We are seeing another transition period right now with the switch to Sean Foley.
But one thing remains constant, when Woods is winning, it is because Woods is practicing. Limited by his nagging knee injury, Woods was on a strict ball count in practice sessions during his comeback, but in recent months he has been free to practice at will, and the results are showing. According to Woods, he hits 500-1000 golf balls a day and plays anywhere from 18-54 holes. If you are wondering why his short game, which looked flat out bad at Atlanta Athletic Club now seems to be coming around, look no further than those practice reps. Woods may be the best practicer the game has ever seen.
Woods isn’t the only practice-hungry player on tour. During his stretch of major wins in his 40s, Vijay Singh was known for his iron man range sessions. Now that he has aged a bit and can’t spend 8-10 hours on the range a day, his game has fallen off. Coincidence? Absolutely not. Practice, quite literally, makes perfect.
What Donald is saying with his comments is that he believes that Woods is better at practicing and honing his golf game than anyone on earth. It may be true that McIlroy has more talent; Donald is a credible source when it comes to judging golf talent. But I believe him when he says he wasn’t trying to put Woods down (that is just never a good strategy anyway…just ask Stephen Ames and Rory Sabbatini). I believe Woods would take Donald’s comments as a compliment; he takes pride in his work ethic.
Donald’s comments can also help teach us non professional golfers about what it takes to have a good golf game. The bottom line is, practice, practice, practice. There is no swing thought that will magically make you consistently hit the fairway, no golf club that will make you hit it longer and straighter and no secret to shooting a career low score. Practice time equals improvement, it is as simple as that. As a player that doesn’t like to practice myself, it is hard to jump on board, but the results of practice are impossible to deny.
So take Donald’s comments to heart and hit the range. More importantly, hit the practice green.