In his heyday, Tiger Woods brought an aura of intimidation. The force of his presence was so strong, that it actually became a debate whether that intimidation factor had a negative effect on his competition.
Apparently if you asked Steve Stricker that question, his answer would be: Absolutely.
The 49-year-old penned an open letter for the Players’ Tribune, and in the piece he opened up about his infamous mid-career swoon. And it looks like Tiger Woods inadvertently played a role.
From Stricker’s piece:
On the Wednesday before the 1997 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am began, I found out that in addition to being paired with Kevin Costner and Bryant Gumbel, I was going to be paired with a skinny 22-year-old who was rapidly changing the landscape of golf — both on and off the course.
That kid was Tiger Woods.
You never really forget the first time you hear Tiger hit a golf ball.
Several times, I would really connect with a drive only to be stunned to see that Tiger’s ball had landed 40 to 50 yards beyond mine.
After the first round had ended, I told Nicki, my wife and caddy, what I had been thinking since the moment we left the course: “I can’t compete with that type of game. I just can’t compete with that.”
While thoughts like that can creep up and quickly vanish, Stricker elaborated that Woods’ transcendent abilities had a long-term effect on his own self-belief.
My round with Tiger made me introspective, and for the first time I began to doubt myself. All the early mornings on the range hitting balls until my hands were torn with calluses; all the hours spent practicing during the frigid Wisconsin winters; all the memories I had of being on the course with my father; in my mind, at that moment, it truly seemed as though all of the time and effort I had put into the game of golf had been rendered utterly meaningless.
Of course, Stricker isn’t blaming Woods, just merely pointing out his power. The American noted that an overall loss of passion and unnecessary tinkering to his game and approach also facilitated his mid-career demise. But Stricker turned around his play in the mid-2000s and became an inspirational comeback story.
Stricker added, too, that Jack Nicklaus also helped him a little in his path back to prominence when the Golden Bear once gave him an impromptu lesson.
As I signed my scorecard and prepared to head home for the weekend, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
It was Jack.
“Steve, I’ll see you over on the range. I have a thing or two I want to show you about how you’re swinging the driver.”
A minute or so later, over on the range, Jack stood a few feet away from me, arms crossed, watching me push a tee into the ground. He gave me a few quick tips, and it wasn’t long before I was striping the ball.
You can read Stricker’s full letter here, and it’s definitely worth your time.