Eldrick May Be Vulnerable if He's Driven to Distraction

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An open letter to David Duval, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Jesper Parnevik, Vijay Singh, Hal Sutton and the 200 other best golfers in the world:

Gentlemen:

What are you going to do about Tiger Woods? As you are no doubt acutely aware, he's the leading money winner on the PGA Tour with more than $4 million, almost twice the amount of his closest competitor.

He won last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by an unprecedented 15 strokes and set another record in winning the British Open at St. Andrews, becoming the youngest of only five men to complete the career Grand Slam.

Then he won this year's Masters, completing the "Tiger Slam," simultaneously holding all four major titles.

Attempts to "Tiger-proof" courses by making them longer and tighter only increase his advantage, and he's the prohibitive favorite in every tournament he enters, especially majors.

With all due respect, gentlemen, he plays a different game, and, as many of you have openly lamented, if he avoids injury and doesn't get bored, you're all doomed to spend the rest of your careers playing for second place.

Again, the question: What are you going to do about Tiger Woods?

Well, I'm happy to report that there is hope, in the form of that great equalizer, golfsmanship. Golfsmanship is the art of using tactical maneuvers to further one's aims or better one's position, and it can be a powerful adjunct to your repertoire of playing skills. I'm not talking silly tricks like jingling pocket change or ripping Velcro, but deft psychological warfare designed to shatter your opponent's concentration.

Tiger is used to the distractions of superstardom. He has even learned to control his temper. So it won't be easy to rattle him. But what have you got to lose? Here then, are 12 ways to get Tiger's mind off his business in the United States Open:

1. Everybody call him Eldrick.

2. Bombard him with loaded questions, such as, "Which part of the ball do you focus on at address?" or, "What exactly is the difference between a bal and a blucher?" or, "Why 18 holes?"

3. Try a "cattle prod," a word or phrase the mere utterance of which will shock him off his A game. Jimmy Demaret used the word "miss"--"Go up there and miss that 20-footer so I can get to work on my six-footer"--and Doug Sanders claims he could always upset physical-fitness buff Gary Player with the simple question: "Are you feeling OK, Gary? You don't look well."

4. At a crucial stage of a round, start calling his attention to the flora and fauna. Pointing out jack rabbits is very effective, especially if you shout, "Look, bunnies!"

Or ask an endless series of nature-related questions: "What kind of tree is this?" "What kind of grass is that?" "Look at those magnificent cloud formations; are they cirrus, cumulus, or cirrocumulus?"

Does he know if there are any decent fossils in the area?

Or, while waiting together on the tee, softly sing "My Favorite Things." If you don't know the lyrics, fancy whistling also works. Yodeling is even better.

5. The standard gimme ploy is to concede short putts to your opponent early in the round, then make him putt them down the stretch, so at a crucial stage late in the match, he suddenly is facing a tricky three-footer, and the sickening realization that he hasn't had to make one all day.

In the 1927 PGA Championship, Walter Hagen put it to lethal use against Joe Turnesa. Hagen conceded everything under three feet until the back nine, where Turnesa missed six consecutive short putts, giving Hagen the title.

Gene Sarazen used it too, adding a bit of choreography. He would actually turn his back when an opponent had a short putt in the closing holes.

Given Tiger's near infallibility on short putts, it may be necessary to modify this technique. Early in match-play events, give him all pitch shots from about 100 yards out. Later on, make him play them. It will suddenly dawn on him that he hasn't holed a lob wedge all day.

6. Affect a bad Scottish accent. Whenever he stripes a 300-yard drive or sticks an iron close to the flagstick, exclaim, "Auch, thae's a fine golf shot, laddie!"

If he yanks one into the rough, shake your head and say, "That'll be buried in the bracken!"

If it starts to rain, cheerfully quote the proverb: "If it's nae rain and it's nae wind, it's nae gowf."

If you can manage the accent, employ such basic Scottishisms as "wee ball" and "laddie-buck." The pretentiousness will drive him up the wall.

7. As he begins to stalk a crucial putt, casually ask, "Ever get the yips?"

8. Whereas untimely coughing or throat clearing will be seen as rudeness, a sneeze is ostensibly involuntary, and thus the only worthy upper-respiratory ploy. But make sure it doesn't degenerate into bad acting. It helps if you're known to suffer from hay fever.

A stifled sneeze is even better. You turn away abruptly, put your hand to your mouth, lurch forward, downward, and to the side--while keeping the lower body "quiet"--inhale audibly and say, "Tchtt!"

You'll presumably get credit for trying not to disturb Tiger, all the while making more of a commotion than if you had simply sneezed normally. It requires practice.

9. According to the late Bernard Darwin, "much dripping wears away a stone, and continual fussing and fretting . . . wears away the golfer."

Precisely. The waggle, that preliminary brandishing of the club at address designed to break tension in the arms and wrists and promote a smooth take-away, can also be a potent weapon. Once, after watching Hubert Green waggle 75 times in a sand trap, J.C. Snead said, "I promised myself that if he got to 100, I'd kill him."

Caveat: Waggle work involves a high risk of self-contamination, so don't try it unless you're already a fidgety player. In which case, you're a natural for such allied gambits as repeated glances at the hole before stroking a putt, endless foot-shuffling at address--sometimes called "happy feet"--and repetitive shirt-tugging.

10. Attention Messrs. Azinger, Jacobsen, Mize, Norman, O'Meara, Price, Roberts, Sutton, and the rest of you over-40 tour players: Do not forget that Tiger is still only 25, and thus, at least theoretically, vulnerable to "age work."

Sam Snead was a pioneer in this field. During a practice round at Augusta National, he found himself one-down to young British amateur champ Bobby Cole. As Cole was about to tee off on the 13th, Snead remarked, "You know, son, when I was your age I used to hit it over those trees."

Cole took the bait and promptly drove into the pines, where his ball rattled around and fell into the creek.

"Of course," Snead said, "those trees were a hell of a lot shorter then."

Caveat: Do not try this specific ploy on Tiger; he probably can hit it over the trees.

Rather, ask him whether his signature arm pump aggravates his bursitis. When he replies that he doesn't have bursitis, smile ruefully and say, "You will."

11. Ask Tiger how old he was when he started playing golf. When he replies he was 3, pretend to be alarmed. Mention Department of Environmental Protection Report 413.76A (1999) on the residual effects of childhood exposure to fertilizer and pesticides. Then ask when he developed the facial tic.

12. One word: Hypnosis.

Maybe one of these techniques will work. Unless Tiger is as much a gamesman as he is a player.

Hold it. I seem to recall an incident involving Mark O'Meara on the 11th hole of the final in the 1998 World Match Play Championship. O'Meara hit a nine-iron to within 18 inches of the cup, and Tiger left himself a 35-footer.

O'Meara assumed Tiger would give him the putt, but Tiger said nothing, so a surprised O'Meara marked his ball.

Tiger putted and missed, O'Meara conceded the next putt, expecting Tiger to reciprocate on the 18-incher. But Tiger said nothing.

O'Meara thought, "This is strange. He's going to make me putt it."

He called to Tiger: "Are you crazy? You give me these at home!"

Tiger smiled, looked at O'Meara and said, "Putt it!"

Tiger explained later, "What I wanted to happen, did. He started to worry a little bit about me instead of the putt. I started to get into his head. There was a little gamesmanship going on."

Hmmm.

Never mind.

Jon Winokur

Winokur, of Pacific Palisades, is the author of "How to Win at Golf Without Actually Playing Well" (Pantheon).

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