AUGUSTA, Ga. – “Opinions are what you pay for them, and most of us don’t pay much.”
That is how Arnold Palmer started his thoughts on Tiger Woods missing the Masters after back surgery and where his career may go from here.
Palmer, in Augusta to be an honorary starter on Thursday and to talk about the 50th anniversary of his final Masters victory, delved off topic at the end of his interview when asked about Woods and his potential future in the game.
It was just a month earlier, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, that Palmer suggested that Woods’ age (38) might be a partial deterrent to catching and eventually eclipsing Jack Nicklaus’ major record of 18.
“I think it lessens the possibility of that happening,” Palmer said of Woods’ age. “It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of the game that is necessary to win majors.”
On Tuesday, Palmer seemed a bit more hopeful of Woods’ chances, suggesting that the World No. 1 should continue to work on his fitness, concentrate on staying healthy and the could potentially lead Woods to what he desires to do.
But there is a counterpoint to that opinion, according to Palmer, and it’s that Woods would need to mentally be up for those events, which could be harder since he already has had success in all the majors.
“He’s going to have to overcome the fact that he won as much as he did, and he’s going to have to refresh that in his mind and his psychological approach to the game,” Palmer said. “If he can do that, I see no reason in the world why he can’t come back and be as good a player as he ever was.”
When Palmer captured the 1964 Masters it was his fourth green jacket, giving him seven major titles at the age of 34. He’d never win another major.
He’d give it a run at Augusta National over the next three years, finishing T-2 in 1965, T-4 in 1966 and fourth in 1967 – marking the final three top-10s at the Masters for his career.
Palmer maintained that he played some of his best golf after the Masters win in 1964, but he didn’t get it done and looking back he believes that it was psychological, a concern he has for Woods in his quest to continue to win majors.
“I looked at it more as a psychological downfall as anything, and that was ‑‑ it was like winning The Open at Cherry Hills when I won,” Palmer said in pinpointing events that may have led to his psychological downfall. “It had something to do with the fact that I got over a hump. I climbed over the hill, and I satisfied some of the deep desires and ambitions that I had.”
Palmer believes if he would have had more desire and drive in his later years that he would have won more majors.
The player that Woods is trying to catch, Nicklaus, also fell off into a psychological morass as well.
In 1979, Nicklaus had a terrible season and he committed himself to making up for it in 1980, winning the U.S. Open and PGA Championship to move his major total to 17. With the exception of the 1986 Masters victory, which even Nicklaus thought of as somewhat a fluke, the Golden Bear was psychologically done with professional golf as well.
“Once I won in ’80, I have to say that I didn’t have a lot of motivation after that for a while,” Nicklaus said earlier this year at the Honda Classic. “I really liked to play. I liked playing golf, but I knew my game wasn’t quite the level it was, and I had several chances to win majors beyond that point and probably wasn’t as motivated as I should have been.”
Nicklaus turned 40 at the beginning of the 1980 season and Woods will be 39 at the beginning of the 2015 season.
Woods has always maintained that the great players won majors into their 40s and he sees no reason he can’t as well.
Both Nicklaus and Palmer have provided excellent reasons why it’s not as easy as it looks, even if you’re Tiger Woods.