The Dominator: The World's Greatest Golfer Seems to Get Better and Better. How Does He Do It? NEWSWEEK Asked Other Greats like Montana, Gretzky, Navratilova and Jordan about What It Takes to Be on Top of the World

Newsweek, June 18, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Dominator: The World's Greatest Golfer Seems to Get Better and Better. How Does He Do It? NEWSWEEK Asked Other Greats like Montana, Gretzky, Navratilova and Jordan about What It Takes to Be on Top of the World


The course was Supposed to be Tiger-proof. After the first of the 25-year-old prodigy's two consecutive victories at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus fiddled with the short, rangy par 5s on the Muirfield Village links he designed--in part so that Woods wouldn't be able to run roughshod over the field in future years. Perhaps next time Jack should lace the fairway with booby traps and kryptonite. But who are we kidding? That wouldn't work either. Though Paul Azinger actually led Woods by one stroke heading into the Memorial's June 3 final round, Tiger needed just a few holes to throttle him.

It was the 527-yard, par-5 fifth that triggered the romp. Poor Azinger, paired with Tiger, dunked his second shot into the pond just ahead of the green for a penalty. Then Woods hit the shot of the year so far. He pulled out his 2-iron and launched the ball 249 yards, sticking it six feet from the cup. (For those of you who don't know golf, let's put it this way: that's impossible.) Tiger sank his eagle putt and leapt from one down to two up. He won by seven. As the two men walked up 17, Azinger apologized for not giving Tiger a better run. Woods thanked him for his magnanimity, then wiped the blood from his chops. Afterward, Nicklaus, the man Tiger is replacing as golf's greatest champion, used the word "dominant" (or some form of it) three times in two sentences to describe Woods's play.

Talk about an understatement. As the U.S. Open in Tulsa, Okla., gets underway this week--and with it, Tiger's bid for an unthinkable fifth straight major title--Woods is playing better than ever. He's won 20 of the past 50 tournaments he's entered, meaning he's batting .400 in a sport where almost everyone else would give his right leg to bat .042.

Three years younger than Michael Jordan when he won his first NBA title, Woods is emerging as the best of an elite crop of athletes: the dominators. Obviously, stars like Tiger are supremely gifted physically, but it goes well beyond that: dominators possess uncommon emotional control and unlimited reservoirs of passion. You want to know what it's like to face someone like Tiger? Make a fist. Now punch yourself in the face. Because dominators don't just beat you; they make you beat you. The real question is: how? What makes these athletes so much better than even the finest in their sport? NEWSWEEK asked a dozen true dominators--Wayne Gretzky, Martina Navratilova, Joe Montana, Jordan (a close friend of Woods's; following story) and more--what it takes to be the best of the best. And, of course, we asked them about Tiger. According to the only people qualified to say, these are the five rules.

1. Genius Is 99% Perspiration It begins, they all agree, with good old-fashioned hard work. There is no magic pill, no such thing as effortless grace. "At this level, talent is a given. But Tiger works harder than anyone out there, and that's why he's kicking butt," says tennis great Martina Navratilova, winner of 167 singles titles, including a record nine Wimbledons. "Every great shot you hit, you've already hit a bunch of times in practice." The vast majority of athletes have a much lower tolerance for preparation. It's not the pain. It's simpler than that: practice can be boring. Says Joe Montana, who led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl wins in the 1980s: "A lot of guys say, 'Yeah, I watched two hours of [game] film last night.' But they're not really studying what's going on. They may as well have been watching television." Tiger's habit of pounding golf ball after golf ball long into the twilight--often during tournament play--has already become part of his legend. During his so-called slump earlier this year, Woods claimed he was simply working on shots he would need specifically for the Masters in April. People rolled their eyes. Until he won the Masters.

Montana, like Woods, understands that such preparation pays off biggest in critical situations--moments when a bout of nerves could disrupt even the most basic play. …

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