On and on the story goes about Michael Thompson and his golf adventures, until the quote pops up, opens the questions about Tiger Woods that have lingered for years, and then disappears into the winding up of the narrative.
The quote is from Susie Meyers, who has been helping Thompson’s swing for 14 years. She worked with Woods, too, and had this to say when talking about tweaking players’ games.
“Trying to get consistency is like going after a fool’s errand,” Meyers said. “It doesn’t happen in life. If you try to be consistent, you live in a frustrating world. Take everything for what it is and let it be, and at the end of the day, hopefully you can say you did the best you could. We don’t try to be consistent at all.
“Our goal is to have a new fresh beginning every shot, every tournament and see what we can do with it. We got sucked into that consistent thing when Tiger was having his long run of great golf and we thought that it was possible to do that. But what we found out was that Tiger lost his soul to do that, and it’s just not worth it.”
What’s refreshing about the pivotal phrase, “lost his soul,” is not just where it lands — as an afterthought to the greater head game of mastering golf — but also how free of dramatization it is. Words rarely have precise meanings in sports anymore, where “epic” and “greatest” get slung around while bloggers play with what they think are interchangeable synonyms as a sport of their own.
But words do have precise meanings, and while many could drag out the “lost his soul” card to add hyperbole to a situation, Meyers picked exactly the right phrase for the right moment. Tiger has lost his soul — that quality that made him greater and better and so Tiger for so long. For years now, golf fans have watched a shell of the greatest thing they had ever seen, wondering where — in the swing changes, the fire hydrant, the bad knee and the winds of life — Tiger went wrong.
What Meyers was tapping into is something that sports fans are slow to understand about their favorite athletes. As much as they want to believe that these players are like them, that they just have greater physical abilities and a different career path, the best ones are never normal. Deep down, the best ones are killers. Michael Jordan played for blood, and Kobe Bryant channels him still. Jerry West fought his demons, while Joe DiMaggio hid his. The greatest are never just good athletes — they’re freaks of both nature and mind, players who beat down balance early in their lives and instead approach the game with the singular focus of being great.
A consistent Tiger was only great because that Tiger was consistently being great. The greatness of Tiger was how he broke from the pack and played like no one else could — so far beyond everyone else, with such better shots and such bigger moments. Tiger was great because, rather than being a balanced human being, he channeled all he had into being great at his one thing. When the opportunity arose, he took it, rather than being chained to balance and consistency in life in his developing — and dominant — years.
In everyday life, qualities like consistency, character and doing a solid job over and over are lauded. But the people who master this are the most bitter of all, because they learn — as Meyers said — that this is no path to greatness.
The greats are the ones who don’t put in the same every day. Instead, they put in their best and drive their hardest some days, either failing horribly — or achieving incredibly. The greats are the ones who push aside other agendas and focus just on the one they want to advance. The greats are the ones who foster the demon of ambition, knowing that they may never be the consistent parent, friend, neighbor or co-worker — but they will be great.
When Tiger unraveled is when it was revealed that he was not consistently great at everything. Rather, he was great at just one thing, golf, and the revelation that everything else was a sham blew a huge hole in his superior mental toughness. Tiger also, mechanically speaking, lost his golf game when he abandoned his awesome, torque-powered swing for a watered-down version that was supposed to offer more consistency but sapped him of his monstrous drives. He also tried to settle into sustained dominance, an approach that may have kept him from reaching his true ceiling a few times at the expense of being merely solid all the time.
His game witnessed what others see every day. Just like in the frustrating game of golf, the frustrating game of life does not reward consistency just for the sake of consistency. Consistency is admirable if achieved, especially if it’s consistency of greatness, but it’s not worth chasing. Chasing consistency carries with it the possibility of destroying moments of greatness.
Different opportunities arise. Some days some things work, and others they don’t. Being able to take advantage of an opportunity is most valuable of all. The greatest moments often come when people get a perfect opportunity and make the most of it, leaving all else aside. The greatest achievements come when someone chases the chance to do something exceptional once rather than something normal all the time.
Tiger may have lost his soul in the hum-drum of sketching a perfect, consistent golf game, just as plenty of others lose it in the daily toil of balance and taking care of many agendas. It’s a strange lesson to learn, and one that can’t really be planned or understood, except for brief glimpses at what has happened to others. Knowing that consistency is overrated does nothing for the person trying to figure out how to move on from that mindset.
Still, we’d all love to see Tiger uncoil just one more of those epic, bad-for-his-back swings.
Because, maybe then, we wouldn’t be so afraid to clear our plates and shoot for the green in one, too.