Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Van Sickle discussed Tiger Woods’s plan to return to competition later this year with our “Anonymous Pro,” a veteran PGA Tour player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Just like the rest of the golf world, the pro is anxious to see how Woods performs. “We know the guy’s going to be physically fit, so for him it’s going to be mental,” the player said. “Is he going to be mentally ready to go back into that arena?” Here’s the full transcript of their conversation.
GOLF.com: Your reaction to Tiger coming back to play before the year is over?
Anonymous Pro: I’m surprised. To be honest, I’m surprised he held out this long. That may indicate how bad off he really was, because he has rushed back before and he knows it.
How tough is this comeback likely to be?
The biggest test for him now is mental. Physically, everybody hopes he’s able to play, and play more than one week every month. Mentally, it’s not like he left on a great note. He finished top 10 in Greensboro and then, boom, he was right in and had two back surgeries. He’s been out so long now, nobody is really scared of him. He wasn’t dominating when he left. He has to build his stature back up.
Plus at Greensboro, he had a chance to win and fell apart in that final round. That’s not a great memory.
Maybe he just needed all this time to groove a new swing to where he’s confident enough to play with it. There’s a big difference between playing at home and playing in competition. Two things I wonder are, has he changed his swing to compensate for his back and what equipment is he going to use since Nike is out of the golf ball and club business. That’s a big deal.
We saw him hit a few ugly wedge shots at an exhibition at Congressional in July. He swung pretty gingerly and that wasn’t really that long ago.
That’s right. Are we going to actually see a physically noticeable swing change? Especially from the top down? I don’t think the backswing will be different. The move into the ball will have to be different, so he puts less stress on his back and his knee. What that constitutes, I don’t know—maybe a more straight-up finish like in a Jimmy Ballard-like swing, which is what Rocco Mediate has said Tiger needs to do. Also, he’s not going to stay out this long and come back and make a fool of himself. All that stuff with the chipping in Phoenix a few years ago—he was embarrassed. And when he was chili-dipping shots at Isleworth, he was embarrassed. I don’t think that will happen again. He’ll walk away before he does that again.
Another question is, will he still be a big hitter after the latest back surgery? That was a big part of both his game and his appeal.
I don’t know, the guy is so strong. He’s never going to be the biggest hitter again. He started chasing length the last few years and all he did was get wilder. He needs to get the ball in play. The other thing is, I’m not convinced his short game is back. He’s still a good putter. The guy doesn’t miss short putts. He’s still better than most everybody else on Tour. We’re just so used to his great days of making all the putts that matter. What’s his chipping like? Coming back to competition is nervy stuff. Physically, he wouldn’t come back unless he knew he was able. Hopefully, there won’t be a setback. We know the guy’s going to be physically fit, so for him it’s going to be mental. Is he going to be mentally ready to go back into that arena?
Did you have any thoughts that Tiger might retire and not come back?
I did. I’m glad he’s coming back. Even with as much great golf as is being played now, it’s still insanely boring compared to when he was playing. You think anyone was watching Monday when Rory McIlroy won? First, it was tape-delayed and second, it was on a holiday Monday. People tuned in when Tiger shot 80. He is the only guy who moves the needle. I’m so sick of that expression but that’s the way it is: Nobody else moves the needle right now.
For 20 years, Tiger and Phil Mickelson were the guys who carried the game, almost exclusively.
As great as Rory and Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are, they don’t play with the excitement and flair that Tiger did. Nobody does. These guys are fantastic players but they don’t have the charisma that Tiger and Jack and Arnie and Greg Norman had. I think golf needs that. Purists will say you don’t, good golf is enough, but if you’re going to capture fans, who’s done that more in the last 20 years than Tiger? Nobody is even close.
Phil and Tiger were it. You’ve got to be larger than life and hit larger-than-life shots. Spieth makes putts, that’s hardly larger than life. He once got to 19-under at Augusta, a record, but that didn’t get your blood flowing the way Tiger’s theatrics did.
I am thrilled he’s back. We have four really great players in the world right now but all of them together don’t have the flair and the charisma and the essence and showmanship of a Tiger or a Norman.
How do you see Tiger’s comeback playing out?
Nobody knows. Can you imagine the buzz at Silverado when he shows up to play on Tuesday or for Wednesday’s pro-am? It’s going to be like at Valhalla for the PGA — they’ll have a camera waiting at his parking spot for him to arrive. It’ll be huge. Safeway is going to be a heck of a way to start off the fall season for the PGA Tour. Honestly, I have no expectations for Tiger. I don’t even know what to say. Could he win? Absolutely. Could he miss the cut? Absolutely. He’s been out more than 14 months and 400 days. Who’s to say what might happen? I’d love to see the betting odds on him that week. I can’t even imagine.
I haven’t spent any time lately thinking about Tiger. It made today exciting just talking about him again.
The TV people recognize that Tiger is the main thing people in golf want to watch. When they have a rain delay, they rerun one of his wins. They don’t show Jim Furyk winning the Open at Olympia Fields. Tiger is still the only guy I set my DVR to record whether he’s playing well or badly. I didn’t watch any of the FedEx Cup playoffs these last few weeks. To me, they have no buzz. The next golf I’ll probably watch is the Ryder Cup. Tiger isn’t playing but he will be there. That’s good enough for me.
The Anonymous Pro is an occasional contributor to Tour Confidential, which you can read every Monday morning on GOLF.com.