It's the day golf fans have been waiting for. Tiger Woods makes his long-awaited return to professional golf today at the Hero World Challenge in The Bahamas. What can we expect? From the sounds of it, we might not have seen the last of Tiger and he could still have some big things to come.
As a psychological performance coach who has worked with top athletes all around the world, one thing I pay attention to more than anything else is Tiger's mental health at the moment. Sure, his physical game is important, but golf is indeed as much mental as it is physical, if not more so.
At a press conference this week, Woods said, "I'm going to try and win this thing."
Those words right there, 'I'm going to try and win' tell us much about Woods' return. Most people, even at the professional level, don't make such bold statements on their return to something they've been away from for a while. You might expect to hear things like, "I'm going to give it my best," or "We'll see how it goes," or "It's my first time back so if I can just post a fairly good score I'll be happy." But no, Woods said he is going to try and win. That sounds like the Tiger Woods of many years ago, the Woods from a time when no one could stop him. He was practically untouchable, set all kinds of records and it seemed that if Tiger was competing, people almost expected him to be in the final pairing come Sunday afternoon.
Of course, despite what seemed like Woods' superhero abilities at times, he is still human, and is still going to face a lot of challenges, both mentally and physically in his return to golf. We'll see how his physical game holds up, but mentally I have a feeling he's going to be as good as he ever was. Simply put: Tiger Woods is the ultimate example of mental toughness.
• Woods is hard-wired through years of world-class programming to focus on a vision and persevere at any cost. He doesn't understand what giving up is. And based on his bold statement about trying to win, he's still as focused as ever.
• Champions like Woods are professional failures. They know that success is based on a series of comebacks, and that setbacks are set-ups for comebacks. For all his successes, Woods has had his share of failures, but that's why he's so successful.
• Woods is a master at compartmentalizing his emotions. In other words, he is able to manage multiple problems and maintain emotional control while solving each problem individually. That means when he's on the golf course, he's only focusing on one thing: winning golf tournaments. If you want to see what I mean, look at how he won the 2008 U.S. Open with a broken leg.
• Woods has always made adversity his mental training ground. He's endured more stress and struggles than most people, but he always comes out stronger than ever. It could be a similar story this time around, too.
• Woods has always had great expectations, and like most champions, I suspect he has been mentally rehearsing his comeback. Now all he has to do is turn the vision into a reality, something he has done time and again many times before.
Time will tell where exactly Tiger's game stands and if he can hold up to some of the new talent on tour 20 years his younger. The good news for Woods, is unlike football and some other sports, age, while certainly a factor, is less of an issue in a sport like golf. His mental game is there, and if his physical game shows up, he could be a force to be reckoned with again.
No matter what happens this weekend in The Bahamas, you can never count Woods out because a bet against a champion like Tiger Woods is always a bad bet. On the physical plane he has perseverance, on the mental plane he has toughness and on the spiritual plane he has artistry like no one else.
I don't know if he will go on to break Jack Nicklaus' record of major championships, but from the look of Woods' mental attitude, I don't think we've seen the last of him yet.