The Tiger Five

Tiger Woods is undoubtedly the greatest player of his generation, possibly the greatest player of all time. In his prime, his game had no weaknesses. 300 yard drives, pin-seeking irons, a magician’s short game and he could seemingly make every putt when it mattered most.

What’s interesting about his approach to the game is that he actually had an incredibly boring and disciplined mindset when it came to his course management. Scott Fawcett, creator of the DECADE Golf system, has talked many times about the “Tiger Five”, which were Tiger’s five commandments of course management. If he could satisfy all five in a round of golf, he knew he would be in contention.

I’m going to explain each of the five principles and give you some real world scenarios that you can apply to your own game. With that, I’m also going to give you some homework that you can work on in your practice so that you can spend time where it matters.

Green jackets not included.

No Bogeys On Par 5s

Given his length off the tee in his prime, Tiger always viewed the par 5s as a scoring opportunity. For the average player, par 5s should be a balance of opportunity and restraint. The temptation is always to reach for the 3-wood for the second shot to take advantage of the potential for birdie or even eagle.

The 3-wood off the deck is one of the hardest shots in the game, which complicates the decision you are faced. Concern for potential hazards (water surrounding the green, etc.) and difficult situations needs to be considered as well.

When playing a par 5, work backwards from the green, weighing the different options for approach shots. 3-wood may be the play, but not if it leaves you an awkward sidehill lie for the 30 yard wedge shot you could be left with. As the rule states, it is “no bogeys on par 5s”, not “maximize the chance for birdie on par 5s”.

The best example of putting this strategy to use that I can think of is Zach Johnson’s performance at the 2007 Masters.

He famously employed a strategy that never went for a par 5 in two. He laid up all sixteen times and never recorded a single bogey for the week. His cumulative scoring record on the par 5s was a whopping 11-under par. He made 11 birdies and 5 pars. Not one bogey.

Zach Johnson receiving his green jacket from Phil Mickelson

Now this approach is only useful if you have a competent distance wedge game. A great exercise to work on your distance wedges would be to play nine holes using the scorecard below.

Using the scorecard, play 8 holes from the different distances. Hit two shots on each hole, marking the proximity to the hole on each shot. Track your results week to week and trends will emerge, both with your comfortable distances and where you struggle.

No Three-Putts

Arguably the greatest clutch putter of all time, Tiger often talked about how making a 10-foot putt for par was a bigger boost that a 10-footer for birdie. It was the big par putt that he felt like kept the momentum going during a round.

To eliminate (or realistically speaking, reduce) three-putting, it comes down to working on one fundamental, contact, and blending in controlling the speed, line and the reading of the green.

When I think of Tiger’s putting practice, I immediately go to his devotion to the gate drill. Take two tees and place them in the ground 4′ from the cup. The tees are placed barely wider than the width of the putter, creating a tight gate for it to travel through. Tiger always talks about how if he can’t hit a putt solid, he won’t be able to control the speed and the line of the putt. He does these right hand only 15-20 times and then adds the left hand for another 15-20 putts.

Speed is next, where he works on controlling the speed the ball enters the cup on a 10 foot putt. When you have a high level of control over your speed, you have more options for the line you can play. I’d recommend working on putts inside of 6′ and from 30′ to 40′. These are the two common lengths of putts you’ll see in an average round.

Line is the skill of starting the ball on the intended line to the hole. A great way to practice this skill would be to putt down a thin ruler or on a chalk line.

Lastly, Tiger refers to green reading as “putting to the picture:. His father taught him from an early age that every look at the cup was his mind taking a picture, and that when he hits the putt he should be just reacting to what he saw in the last “picture”. This is genius in that it keeps him out of technical thoughts and in his own words “frees him up to make a great stroke”.

Spending 30 minutes on focused practice a couple times a week can make an incredible difference in your putting and help you live by Tiger’s second mantra of great golf.

No Bogeys inside 150 Yards

Here’s the scenario, you’ve just hit a great drive and find yourself 136 yards from the pin. It’s tucked just over a bunker that is 127 yards to carry. The wind is a little in your face and you’re staring down the birdie that stands between you and your career best round.

The difference between Tiger and the golfer above, is that more often than not Tiger won’t take that bait. Aside from the fact that he’s one of the greatest iron players of all time, his disciplined target selection is a defining factor in his success over the years.

Hole #1 at Baker Hill Golf Club, featuring the above situation

Playing to the “fat side” of the green, meaning the largest surface area, allows for a wider margin of error. When you challenge situations like the one above, it demands a perfectly executed shot. Knowing how hard golf is, Tiger said he would always play aggressively to a conservative target. The last two words in that sentence are the most important.

If you aren’t breaking 80 on a regular basis, your target when approaching any green should be the fattest part of it. Playing away from trouble will give you the largest target possible, and thus a better chance for success.

Coupling that strategy with the previous topic of improving your putting speed control will make the routine pars a lot more routine.

No Missed Easy Up & Downs

This is a multi-faceted principle in that it starts well before the chip shot around the green is hit.

Going back to the previous topic above regarding target selection on the green, much of that decision process hinges on where the easy shot is from around the green in relation to where the pin is.

At the elite level, players have the ability to often predict where their misses will be based on their shot pattern. This allows them to choose a target that will leave them an easy shot from off the green should they not hit the green on their approach shot.

From there, an easy shot from off the green would have a relatively flat lie, grass that isn’t too dense to hit from, to a pin that doesn’t force the player to contend with too much slope side to side or back to front.

In their practice rounds, players and caddies are marking the areas around the green that are “no fly zones”, building a strategy to eliminate bogeys rather than planning for birdies.

The shot itself is in my opinion the lowest hanging fruit here. It’s a simple matter of choosing the correct club and matching it with the required motion.

Having all of the above factors in perfect balance isn’t an exact science, but a blend of art and experience. It may seem as though Tour players never miss an easy up & down, I would argue it just looks that way because they are experts in putting themselves in situations that leave them easier shots.

To work on your short game and maximizing the easy up & downs you will have comes down to understanding the relationship between carry distance and roll distance. This refers to the travel of the ball in the air versus on the ground.

Many golfers I see in lessons immediately grab their most lofted wedge and try to hit a shot they saw on Instagram last week. This almost always lands 20 feet short of the pin and rolls out another 3 feet, leaving them making another bogey or worse.

The best use of your time around the green to develop this skill is to play a game called Landing Zone Leapfrog. We’re going to use Augusta National’s 16th hole to demonstrate how to play this game.

In the above image you can see the tee box is 5 yards off the green. The hole is 20 yards from the edge of the green near the tee box. There is a 6′ circle around the hole.

The purpose of the game is to control your landing spot on the green while placing the ball inside of the 6′ circle. Shot #1 will land the closest to the tee box and roll on the green the furthest. This would require the shot to be hit with a low trajectory. Using a 9-iron or pitching wedge makes this an easy task.

Shot #2 has to land past shot number one and still finish inside of the circle. If you land short of the previous shot or miss the circle around the hole, you start over.

Mark the landing spot of the previous shot with a ball marker that is easy to see from the tee box. As you progress through the shots and get closer to the hole, you will need to adjust the club you are hitting and/or the technique you employ.

Lastly, track your scores from week to week on this game to see your progression. If you struggle with a certain shot then refer to video to see where you are breaking down.

No Double Bogeys

Probably the least exciting topic of the Tiger Five, eliminating double bogeys is a simple test of discipline, in most cases.

There are some situations you just can’t avoid, such as hitting a wayward tee shot out of bounds. This happens to everyone given the nature of how hard the game is. The avoidable situations are where you force a shot that was outside your ability or that had an incredibly small room for error.

Tiger said he was always quick to forgive himself for a bad swing, but was relentless about punishing himself for making bad decisions. It was these mental errors that would compound and derail a great round.

To apply this in your own game, I think there are two principles you can apply today. The first is to pay close attention to your commitment level to a decision. Vision54 founders Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott recommend saying your decision out loud to test your commitment to a decision. Hearing yourself say “I’m going to hit a 4-iron off a downhill lie, holding it against a crosswind, landing it at 205 over that right bunker that needs 198 to carry” can by an eye opener as to how smart your decision is.

The second actionable item is to hold yourself to the 90% rule. DECADE Golf founder Scott Fawcett encourages golfers of all skill levels to ask themselves if the shot they are attempting can be pulled off 9 times out of 10. If the answer is no, you need to choose an easier shot.

The smart move is often to pitch back out to the fairway and play for bogey. It’s often that shot you try through the trees that strikes a random branch and kicks out of bounds that creates a downward spiral for the rest of the round.

A great game to play when you have time on the course by yourself, would be to find places on the course that are difficult to get out of and play from there as a par 4. An example would be Baker Hill’s par-4 sixth hole, the #1 handicap hole on the course. Many drives wind up in the trees on the right side from golfers trying to take advantage of the flatter lie on the right side of the fairway.

From the black tees, a big miss to the right at my average driving distance lands me with an awkward shot in to the green.

From the trees 275 yards from the tee, it’s 200 yards to the middle of the green. Even if I had a small window to go through, my lie is going to be questionable at best, making the shot infinitely more difficult.

Instead, if I change my mindset to one where I am trying to make a bogey on this hole, I play from that spot as a par 4. A simple punch out with my pitching wedge leaves me an 8-iron to the green, where my goal is to get it to finish inside of 30 feet which should be a fairly routine two-putt.

This strategy is nothing new, but I think it is undervalued by the average golfer. Too often I see golfers grabbing a 3-wood to hit a second shot out of deep rough, simply because they are 240 yards from the green. They would be better served to divide and conquer, choosing a strategy that will have a greater chance for success and allow them to hit a better shot. It’s these small gains that add up to dropping shots off someone’s handicap.

CONCLUSION

The above information is most likely something you’ve some iteration of before, none of it is ground-breaking. The fact is that most golfers violate all five of these rules multiple times per round, all on one hole. The message from the majority of the golf media is that you need to add 20 yards to your tee shot by buying the latest driver, which helps the club manufacturer’s bottom line but still leaves you scratching your head after shooting yet another 103.

The game of golf is so difficult that it requires a strategy that makes it so simple. What makes Tiger’s career so impressive is the consistency with which he performed week in and week out. He spent an incredible 281 weeks in a row as the number one ranked player in the world. His cumulative time at number one spanned 13 years! That is more than double the next player in the ranking.

It is the above five principles that he applied on a daily basis, coupled with an extraordinary work ethic that produced a career that defines a generation. My advice to you is to pick one of the principles above to apply to your game and master it before adding another. There’s no telling where your game could be by this time next year!

Want to talk about your own game with me and how you can incorporate the Tiger Five? Click HERE to schedule a free 20 minute Zoom meeting with me to discuss your game and put a plan together to play your best golf!

References

https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/629403-most-weeks-ranked-number-one-in-golf#:~:text=Tiger%20Woods%20had%20topped%20the,Greg%20Norman%20(331%20weeks).

https://www.augusta.com/masters/historic/players/hbh/2007/11981

https://twitter.com/TheMasters/status/1511406816206331908/photo/1

https://k923.fm/zach-johnson-cedar-rapids-native-can-make-you-rich/

https://www.golfwrx.com/151108/the-ultimate-putting-program-part-3-pick-a-putter-to-match-your-path/

https://web.birdiefire.com/

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