Boston, Mass. -- If Champions Tour golfer Mark O’Meara could offer Tiger Woods one piece of advice, it would be to stop messing around with his swing and “just play golf.”
A 16-time PGA Tour winner, O’Meara, 55, was something of a mentor to the younger Woods for several years when both golfers played at Isleworth Golf & Country Club. In Boston to accept an annual award from the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund for his lifelong contributions to the game, O’Meara shared his opinions about the former ace.
“I just think he needs to just play the game and quit over-thinking, quit over-reacting,” O’Meara told us on Monday. “I think he’s definitely got a lot on his plate and he needs to get out there and just play.”
Claiming he was “about as close as anyone to him for a long period of time,” O’Meara noted that he has had little communication with Woods in the past few years. Still, the two played a practice round at Augusta National prior to this year’s Masters Tournament, after which O’Meara told the Augusta Chronicle that Woods hit the ball solidly and seemed to have the confidence, after his win a week earlier at Bay Hill, to make a serious run at his fifth green jacket.
Indeed, Woods ended a 30-month official winless skid with his triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Then came the yanked drives, errant iron shots, booted 9-iron, and Woods’ worst Masters performance as a professional, followed by a missed cut at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship -- events that disheartened O’Meara.
“I don’t like to see him kicking his club or doing what he does,” said O’Meara, who conceded that he had displayed less than decorous behavior a time or two. “I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’ve broken a club out there. I’m not saying I’ve never thrown my club [or] never sworn on the golf course.
“No one’s perfect [but there was] no camera on me,” he said, “[Woods] lives under a different rule.”
O’Meara, who marveled at his own good fortune to have had a front-row seat to greatness, spoke of Woods as “one of the most gifted athletes that’s ever played our game,” but referred to his feats in the past tense.
“One of the most amazing things that I’ve seen in my golf was witnessing, as a young man growing up, Arnold [Palmer] and Jack [Nicklaus], what they accomplished in the game,” O’Meara said, “and being around Tiger and watching what he accomplished in his run that he had.”
Today’s young players, like world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, “still have tremendous respect” for Woods and all he’s achieved, O’Meara said, but the “fear factor” was gone.
“I just don’t know if he can ever dominate like he once did because...the intimidation factor’s probably not as great as it once was,” O’Meara said about the erstwhile perception that Woods’ mere presence on the leader board would cause his opponents to wilt. “I don’t know if he’ll ever get to where I think he could have gotten.”
O’Meara, of course, referred to what Woods may have been able to achieve had he not derailed his own career with the “personal tragedies and issues” related to his 2009 sex scandal.
O’Meara also added his voice to the chorus of legends and former champions who believe Woods’ attempts to overhaul his swing have cost him his natural ability and, likely, the chance to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles. Indeed, O’Meara echoed recent comments by Palmer and Lee Trevino to the Orlando Sentinel that Woods’ motion had become too mechanical and that he should return to the form with which he won 14 majors.
To O’Meara, Woods’ swing issues preceded his work with Sean Foley, the coach he began working with in August 2010. The problems had little to do with earlier swing gurus Butch Harmon or Hank Haney, either, but rather, he averred, with retooling “one of the greatest minds” in golf history.
“He needs to get out there and just play the game, but I don’t see that right now... Now it’s almost like, ‘If I don’t swing absolutely perfect, I’m not going to hit a good shot,’” said O’Meara, who longed for the days when Woods would envision and launch shots no one else could. “I just wish he’d just play golf.”