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Tracking Young Tiger

By: Richard P. Wade

The Tiger Woods Phenomenon has received so much attention since his first PGA victory in 1996, as Tiger's popularity and legend grows, we thought to give you some new insight to where it all started. With Tiger Woods continuing to add to his already long and storied list of achievements and victories in the golfing world we thought we would look back to Tiger's roots. We'll try to ascertain how and why they have contributed to his meteoric rise in the professional world of golf. What were the effects of Tiger's environment and what can the average golfer learn from them.

We first met the Tiger in his Southern California locale playing and practicing at Heartwell Golf Course in Long Beach. Tiger was only three at the time and already had made a splash locally shooting a 48 for nine holes on the U.S. Naval course and an appearance on the Mike Douglas Show putting with movie celebrity Bob Hope. Even then one could tell that the talent was there as was the motivation to build upon it. Earl Woods asked me as I took a moment to watch young Tiger what I thought. I recall saying that if Tiger continued to practice and retain his enthusiasm for the game he would likely make it one day to the PGA tour. It was a warm summer afternoon that day in 1978 and that journey seemed to be quite a long shot dream.

Tiger's talent was apparent during his early days and one had only to observe him there on the driving range and putting and chipping greens of Heartwell GC to see the motivation and drive he exhibited. Little mention has ever been made of Tiger's father Earl and his athletic ability. Earl Woods was a baseball player of some repute at Kansas State University in the early 1950's with a “sweet swing” and could hit for power. Woods was a dedicated athlete and his inherent drive would show itself in a long military career culminating as a Green Beret Colonel in the Army who saw active duty in combat. Earl would serve as Tiger's long time coach until he reached the point of bringing in Butch Harmon. What Earl gave to the young Tiger was a drive to improve through regular and disciplined practice. Anyone who knew Earl when he was a competing KSU baseball player would say Tiger inherited his will to win as well.

The foundation of Tiger's game was certainly the short game. His routine of practice and play can be a basis for anyone learning the game and those seeking to improve upon their current handicap. Tiger was never seen to be laboring on the range during those years and working on mechanics. You were most likely to see Tiger on the putting green diligently putting with three balls with and without supervision. Chipping played a major part in the training program while learning the game at Heartwell GC and occupied nearly fifty percent of his time. Heartwell GC located in Long Beach, California is a fine short iron course and served to develop the young Tigers skill with his fledgling iron game and around the green. It is made up of small sloping greens and requires accuracy off the tee box or good recovery with one's short game around the green. The course one finds there today is exactly the same as the one young Tiger played back in the seventies. It can provide many scoring opportunities or illustrate the need for short game practice. Pin placements there can demand shot making skills and a golfer can see where imagination can be used in getting up and down when a green is missed or short sided. Tiger's skills in this area have been readily apparent throughout his career and this course is where they were born. Heartwell provides a golfer with a great insight to the roots of Tigers beginnings and his incredible iron game.

The young Tiger Woods retained his drive for practice as he grew up under his father's tutelage as he matured from infant golfer to junior golfer. It was our luck during Tiger's high school career that we were playing out of H.G. “Dad” Millers Golf Course in Anaheim California that served as Tiger's team home course. The layout of H.G. Miller was one that we think influenced Tiger and his game in many distinct ways. It was a rather short course by modern standards but was ideal for the state of Tiger's game at this stage of his career. Several holes are with good accurate drives within reach off the tee, if a player takes the risk of challenging the course one can possible score and eagles are within reach. While several holes demand a solid tee shot and good accurate approaches keeping pin position and green slope well in mind. It is a course that is excellent in its playability and risk reward strategies, especially for a developing young player. While playing there we feel that young Tiger saw what it took to challenge a course while learning when to play conservative and the inherent risk and rewards of “going for it”. While generally “Dad” Millers is a short tract it must be noted that this is where Tiger regularly challenged the imposing 617 yard number seventeen par five. The finishing hole is also a par five and some five hundred yards into a stiff afternoon breeze, these two holes certainly gave Tiger scoring opportunities in those days and impressed the chances par fives would give to him down the road professionally. Tiger would use the course lessons from these years to become CIF SCGA High School Invitational Champion as Individual Champion medallist.

As a golf history one can readily review the Tiger Woods record set thus far, the first PGA win in 1996 at the Las Vegas Invitational, The first Master's win at Augusta National and the title at the U. S. Open and British Open Championships. For those that may wish to tread the path of the young Tiger Woods we would suggest that a trip to Southern California with its fine mild winter weather might be in order. Visits to the local area Long Beach courses with their ideal year round playing conditions allows one to travel in the steps of Tiger Woods and see the courses that effectively shaped Tigers game today. Though the distances have changed for Tiger Woods now playing on the world's best courses and tours he still is playing the same game he grew up with and has shown that his game continues to grow as the length of the courses do, a natural progression so it seems. That continues providing that these local courses remain for the future to give a glimpse of what Tiger saw then and sees today in his game. It is something any golfer of any skill level can appreciate and apply to his or her game.

Tiger continues to demonstrate that a skilled short game can provide scoring opportunities. The long ball so often identified with Tiger is nothing if not lost without good chipping and putting. Today's professionals now are armed with several different wedge shots and spend hours refining their lag and approach putting. As scoring records continue to fall time spent on the short game should be seen to be of primary importance. Getting up and down is more important today than ever on tour and at any local club event. One has only to look back at Tiger Woods and his early days in golf to see how such a solid foundation with the short game can provide success at every level of golf while making playing it far more fun and exciting. Gaining distance off the tee and knowing when and where to unleash this tool can really lower a golfer's score when combined with a mean short game. Hopefully this article will give you more reason to seek out the practice greens and increase your enjoyment of your golf game while helping to understand the roots of Tiger Wood's game and why he's so incredibly talented.

Information on playing the courses mentioned can be accessed in Southern California through the SCGA website and local telephone information. Tee Time information for Southern California courses can be accessed at

About the Author

Instructional professional Richard P. Wade has been active in the golf world since taking up the game in 1969. Publishing several articles on golf instruction and working with several golf companies over the years in product development and marketing for such companies as Stan Thompson Golf, Cubic Balance Golf, Bestco components and Golf Concepts and the American Putting Tour. A keen golf historian with special interests in golf history in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. Wade is well known locally is Southern California for teaching the short game and his chipping and putting skills. Last tournament win: Sam Pievac Memorial, California Country Club 1996.

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