January 05, 2017

Tiger’s Blog: My goal remains to win

I hope you enjoyed the holidays!

I am working hard to sharpen my game for 2017, and my goal is simple: to win. Winning takes care of itself. 

This year, I’ll start my season at the Farmers Insurance Open and then head to Dubai for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Next up will be the Genesis Open followed by The Honda Classic here at home. 

I’m still testing clubs and trying to find the best ball-wood combo. What people don’t realize is that Bridgestone made the Nike golf ball for a number of years. It’s a great ball and making the switch wasn’t that hard. I’m really excited to join the Bridgestone team. For now, I’ll probably stick with some of my old Nike equipment, and use my Scotty Cameron putter. I’m also proud to be working with Monster and look forward to the things we’ll do together.

Returning to Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Open, Feb. 16-19, is going to be great. Although I haven’t competed there since 2006, it’s where I played in my first PGA TOUR event in 1992 at age 16. It’s huge for my foundation and a big test for my TGR Live team, which will run the tournament, because we’re coming home to Riviera with all its history. It was actually the first PGA TOUR event I attended with my dad, which makes it more special.

Unfortunately, I’ve only played well there one time. But I’ve got a guy on my bag, Joe LaCava, and his former guy [Fred Couples] plays well there every year.

Looking back on 2016, the last few months were pretty big. 

TGR Design’s first U.S. course, Bluejack National near Houston, was chosen as the No. 1 new private course in the country by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine/Sports Illustrated. I am so excited because it’s a vision of how I think golf should be played. It’s fun and challenging but also very open, making it difficult to lose golf balls. You buy a dozen balls and lose a dozen balls on most golf courses. 

I am also excited about the opening of The Oasis Short Course, our new 12-hole par-3 design at Diamante Cabo San Lucas. With this design, I’m trying to go back to my roots. I grew up playing Heartwell, a par-3 course in Long Beach, California. That’s how I got introduced to golf.

Golf now is almost impossible to play in less than five hours, so why don’t we open things up? We can play faster and have more fun in an entertaining environment — like a short course — where everyone can participate, practice and learn the game, and kids can play without being overwhelmed by a big golf course.

I’m also looking forward to the work we’ll do in Chicago at the Jackson Park and South Shore Courses. It’s a challenging project that should be a lot of fun too. 

It’s hard to believe my foundation turned 20 this fall. I know Pop would be very proud of what we’ve accomplished. I believe we’re changing the world one child at a time through education, and I’m grateful to all my friends and supporters who gathered at the New York Public Library to help me celebrate this milestone. My good friend Phil Knight joined me on stage, and we bantered about golf and my plans to expand the foundation globally. It’s one of those nights I’ll never forget.  

I thought what I did at the Hero World Challenge was a positive step. I just need to keep building off that and eliminate the simple mistakes I made. Being away from the game that long, I made some really dumb errors I don’t normally make, and it cost me. On top of that, I got a couple bad breaks and didn’t recover from them. My good stuff was really good, which is a great sign.

That first tee shot was a little weird to me because it was left to right, and the wind was howling off the left. I had just seen Matt Kuchar slice the ball into the desert on the right, and he never misses a fairway. I decided to go for a low, pull-cut up the left side and hit a straight money ball right between the bunkers.

From there, I had a pitching wedge from 150. I played for a flyer and it came out perfectly. From then on, I was fine. I was back at a tournament again, no problem, no issues. At the second hole, I stuffed it in there and felt comfortable the rest of the way.

The only doubt I had was the physicality of the round — the length and duration — because I hadn’t been able to practice or play much golf. I got sick just before Thanksgiving and lost about 10 pounds. All three of us [my children Sam and Charlie] got blitzed by a virus, and it kicked our butts. I didn’t know how much energy I would have, and I ran out of gas all four days.

That was my biggest concern. If I just had to play the event, totally cool. But I had to host and do a bunch of other things outside the normal golf tournament, which is fine, but draining.

Shooting 65 in the second round felt great, but more than anything, keeping my card clean meant the most. The fact that I didn’t drop a shot that day showed I had come a long way.

I want to give special thanks to Hero and its Chairman, Managing Director and CEO Pawan Munjal, Tavistock, all the members and staff at Albany, my foundation and the TGR Live staff. They went over and above.

I know many people doubted whether I would play competitive golf again, and to be honest, even I wasn’t sure. A year ago at Hero, I was asked the question and gave a completely different answer. But after a year of working harder than I’ve ever worked to get back, I knew it was possible.

My love for the game never left. It’s just that the body would not allow me to play. Now my body is allowing me to do it again. Combine that with the amount of support I have received from so many people, and the help I’ve had from players and friends, and there is great reason for optimism.

I was overwhelmed by the guys on our Ryder Cup team. The old guard knew me, but not the younger guys. They didn’t know what to expect because they had never been in a team room with me. But the way they treated me and the excitement they had for me being out there on the golf course watching them play … it was inspiring for me to see them go at it like that and do everything they possibly could for one another. 

You’d see guys walk to dinner together, eat together and just generally interact, and you didn’t have to tell them. It was a closeness that was more apparent than any other team I’ve been on.

They got me good in the team room Friday night. It was hot, and they all wore these red, white and blue onesies with ‘USA’ on the front, a gift from Rickie Fowler. Zach Johnson stood up and thanked me for my contributions to the game. He had given every player a red T-shirt, which they wore under the onesies. They all stood, unzipped the front, and the T-shirt read, ‘MAKE TIGER GREAT AGAIN.’

Many of them know what I went through because they live in the Jupiter area. Some of their kids go to the same school as my kids, so we see each other quite a bit. They saw me at Medalist trying to make a golf swing and said, ‘Don’t hurt yourself. Wait and be patient. You’re not ready yet.’ So I took their advice until it was go time.

I recently played with President-elect Donald Trump. What most impressed me was how far he hits the ball at 70 years old. He takes a pretty good lash.

Our discussion topics were wide-ranging; it was fun. We both enjoyed the bantering, bickering and needling. I also shared my vision for golf and what I’m trying to do. 

We didn’t have a match and played for fun. I was testing drivers and fairway woods, and changed some settings. I think he enjoyed seeing the difference in shots when you experiment. 

I’ve now had the privilege of playing golf with Mr. Trump, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and I appreciate the opportunity.

A shout-out to Stanford football for beating North Carolina in the Sun Bowl and finishing at 10-3. Notah Begay III, my former teammate and close friend, served as honorary captain for the game and did his job. 

Finally, I am heartbroken about the injury to Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who was having an MVP season. Typical football, next man up. You’re one play away from having a devastating injury, and that’s just the way it is. Hopefully, guys will rally and take it as far as they can. I’ll be pulling for them in the playoffs.

Best wishes for a safe, happy and healthy new year.