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The Mind of the Tiger

Tiger Woods is a one-man dynasty in the making, but it's not just his golf skills that awe his opponents, it's his mental approach to the game.
Jeff Williams
Posted: June 27, 2008

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Duran, then the golf professional at Heartwell, was astonished. What was his first thought about the elfin Eldrick T. Woods?

"Whoa!" Duran recalls vividly of that first experience. Whoa! It's a thought that would occur frequently to Duran over the next six years.

As the boy grew and his game developed at an extraordinary rate, Duran, Tiger Woods's first teacher, would have plenty of occasions to say "Whoa!" It would happen when the young Tiger was able to hit a draw or a fade on command. It would happen when Tiger could make a 7-iron fly like a long iron or float like a wedge. It would happen when Tiger figured out a double-breaking, 30-foot putt. But on one occasion, Duran's "Whoa!" wasn't so much an exclamation as an insight.

"One of the things I could do for Tiger was get him onto some of the local country clubs, which were tougher courses than he was used to playing," says Duran. "I remember it because he was 10 years old and we were playing the 10th hole at this club, a tough par 4, and Tiger made a 10 on it. He hits it in the water, drops, and hits it in the water again and then he three-putts. His reaction epitomizes what he is today. He wasn't thrilled about making a 10, of course, but by the time he got to the next tee, that 10 was gone from his mind. When he needed to play the next shot, he was 100 percent into that next shot. He didn't carry over a bad hole to the next hole. That's what he does today; he doesn't carry something bad over to the present. He isn't happy about a bad swing and he shows it, but it never affects him in the future other than maybe making him more focused on the next shot. He was doing this at a super young age."

Rudy Duran knew from that moment that Tiger Woods's deadliest weapon was his mind. It always has been.

From the time he was a youngster and playing in tournaments at the par-3 Heartwell course, Woods has been difficult to compete against because his parents, Earl and Kultida, prepared him exquisitely for the battle. Duran was part of that mix back then and holds an enduring appreciation for how Earl and "Tida" handled their very special child.

"The Woods family never set a high value on the outcome," says Duran. "They would ask Tiger, Did you have a good time, what did you learn today, what could you do better? He wasn't overly rewarded for success. He was rewarded for having a good time, learning and being a good person. Because of that he's always been in a position where he has a minimum of anxiety based on the outcome. He cares about it but he doesn't worry about it. When I was at his house and we would look at what he had done, there was no anxiety about the outcome, no worry about failure. That gives him a big, big leg up on the other guys. I think Tiger plays far more anxiety-free shots than the rest of the guys."

John Anselmo, a teaching pro at the Meadowlark Golf Course in Huntington Beach, California, became Woods's coach when Duran had to move on. He, too, saw that the young boy had much more than a swing. "Because of his parents, he has tremendous education and focusing," says Anselmo. "He was mentally trained at a young age. His mother would take him to the Buddhist temple and he was a very disciplined young man because of it. He was very quiet but he asked a lot of questions. He knew what he wanted to do and went out and did it. All of that rolled into what you see today."

Earl Woods knew intuitively that his son's physical skills would be governed by his mental acuity. He enlisted Jay Brunza, a retired Navy captain and clinical psychologist who had worked with U.S. Naval Academy athletes to enhance their performance. Brunza worked on Tiger's powers of concentration, hypnotizing him and teaching him self-hypnosis so that he would learn to enter "the zone." The zone was that time when Woods would start preparing for the next shot. It helped that Brunza also caddied for Woods in junior competition and helped him manage his emotions under fire.

"You have to concentrate like this!" Tiger Woods once said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

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