Designer Tiger Woods appears in fine form mentally, physically in Cabo

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico – A relaxed crowd of guests and residents at Diamante spent an hour watching Tiger Woods hit shot after shot flawlessly, powerfully, at a clinic here. The setting, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was his newly designed and opened 12-hole short course, The Oasis. It was less an instructional clinic than a stunning display of the control he has over the golf ball. And it also revealed something crucial about his demeanor. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. 

For someone who has been through what he has – recurring injury, a personal fall from grace, a DUI arrest and a subsequent treatment program to deal with pain medications – the combined display of humor, form and clear thinking is very much welcome.

Woods wasted little time getting into crisp, short wedge shots. The one flub, when he cold topped one, momentarily silenced those assembled until he commented, “Uh oh, another slump.”

Perfect timing.

His reverse-A frame physique looks fit and trim, his waist tight, his biceps filling out the short sleeves of his size-L golf shirt. There was no sign of a wince or misstep.

He called out his shots and kept up a banter of numbers with the crowd: “My sand wedge goes 118 yards. My 8-iron goes 162.” He continued: “That’s short by Tour standards. My whole career, I’ve always had a few degrees more loft on my irons than most players out there.”

The spectators joined him for the back and forth, tossing out questions that he answered between swings. When a woman asked, “Do you ever hit driver off the deck?” Woods turned and smiled. “I’ve got a 3-wood that goes 280.”

At one point Mitchell Spearman, director of the Albany Golf Academy, set up a launch monitor and reported some numbers on driver swings. “122 miles per hour; 306 yards.” The audience gobbled it up.

Afterward, Woods spoke in detail about golf course design. Having designed El Cardonal on site in 2015, he’s now discussing The Oasis.

He’s done short courses before, including The Playground at Bluejack National, northwest of Houston. He likes them because they’re akin to the kind of accessible par-3 layouts he grew up playing in metro Los Angeles, such as Heartwell Golf Course in Long Beach. The holes, 40-145 yards at The Oasis, are playable by everyone and are ideal for entry into the game as well as enjoyable for family golf and quick practice.

Woods likes their informality. The tees don’t have a definitive structure. If the course is empty, you can play cross country or invent shots. The courses are fun, not a test of nerve.

When it comes to sifting through the many potential jobs offered him, Woods is in the rare position of being extremely selective.

“We look at property, and we look at the owner,” he said. “Actually, the owner is more important. We work with them, not for them.”

Woods, who turns 42 on Dec. 30, is very much aware his world has changed. There are more players than ever who hit it past him. He’s had to cut down on his backswing, focusing more on making a full turn. 

In a way that has never been fully appreciated, Woods has a level of mental acuity upon which he can draw even while under tournament pressure. He says he thinks of golf “as a form of chess.” He thinks strategically, working backwards from the green to the fairway to the tee shot and plotting his way around the tract accordingly. It’s the kind of mapping that entails both precision and feel. It’s also how an architect works his way through a routing, except few of them can achieve his skill level in playing out the shots they envision.

It might be too early, two weeks after he finished tied for ninth in the Hero World Challenge, to declare that Woods is “back.” But the 14-time major champion certainly looks and talks like someone who feels he can play premier golf again.

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