What I learned from my early morning encounter with Tiger Woods

That’s Tiger at the 2000 RBC Canadian Open—the one he won with the amazing 6-iron into 18 at Glen Abbey—and that’s me behind him on the ground with the horrible shades, white hat and badge on my oversized shirt. Five years later, I had an interesting early morning encounter with him.

I figure with Tiger Woods winning his 82nd PGA Tour event to tie for most victories all-time, it’s as good a time as any to trot out my one and only first-person Tiger anecdote.

When people learn that I was a golf writer, and I covered events such as the U.S. Open and the Masters, I’ll often get asked if I met Tiger.

Like many golf writers, I can claim that I stood next to him during media scrums and attended his news conferences, but I never thought that qualified for having ‘met’ Tiger.

After moving into PR, I still managed to come in close proximity to Tiger. During the 2000s, I handled media relations for Nike Golf Canada. In June 2005, Nike brought Tiger to Magna Golf Club in Aurora for an event for its customers. 

Tiger’s private plane got into Toronto about 11:30 p.m., so I figured that he got to his room at Magna well past midnight.

I arrived the next morning with most of the Nike Golf Canada team in the clubhouse just before 6 a.m. in the Magna clubhouse for a breakfast meeting.

A small group of us were chatting on the main floor when Tiger bounded up a set of stairs right in front of us. He was in workout clothes, soaked from perspiration, his face flushed from exertion. 

The senior Nike executive in our group said hello to Tiger, and he introduced each one of us. Tiger looked at each of us with kind of a blank expression and nodded. There were no handshakes. And just like that, he was gone. It seemed kind of weird.  

As he walked away to get ready for the day, I thought that his non-engagement was perhaps how he survived mega celebrity.

It also occurred to me that he must have got about four hours sleep—tops. I had read Tiger didn’t need much sleep. I also thought this episode was more evidence why Tiger Woods was Tiger Woods. Despite a long flight and arriving late, Tiger still got up dark and early and put in a brisk workout. 

In similar circumstances, I would no doubt have blown off a workout, rationalizing I deserved it considering my travels or I needed the sleep, or some other bullshit excuse.

From witnessing people like Tiger, I’ve concluded this about people at the top of their game: they are all in. There’s no half measure. They pour themselves into what they are doing with maximum attention, time and effort.

Where they are intrigued, they will explore; where they see an opportunity for growth or knowledge, they will learn; where they see a route to improvement, they will take it.

I don’t think it’s accurate to say they are iron-willed, or possess a different gene that makes them more dedicated, or that they have tolerances for effort that outpace the rest of us.

No, I believe they are on a path. Most of the time, we say that ‘successful’ people are chasing a dream or a goal. But not everyone who chases after a goal is doing it in a healthy way. Some are pushed by demanding parents. Some are chasing approval. Or they believe that a certain result will bring them happiness. You could make a good argument that perhaps this is what fuelled Tiger pre-Thanksgiving 2009.

I believe that the greatest champions—folks such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King—have a mission. They may not call it that, or even feel it or acknowledge it, but I believe that the greatest achievers live in a way that resembles what’s historically been associated with mission, and we can learn a lot from studying mission.

A mission is a like a quest or a path that is based on a definite purpose or focus. That mission provides direction, clarity and resolve.

Mission comprises two essential elements: vision and action. 

Someone with a mission has a vision for him or herself—and perhaps even for the world—that is grand in scope, perhaps even crazy in its reach.

To bring that vision into reality requires action. 

Following a mission is making a commitment to the vision and the actions that will bring it to fruition. “Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day dreaming, but vision with action can change the world,” Nelson Mandela said.

Action + vision = mission.

Now there’s a formula for a fullfilling life if I ever saw one.

One more thing about mission: The focus is on the path, not the results.

Interestingly enough, the focus today is all about Tiger’s incredible result—winning 82 PGA Tour events. No one has won more than Tiger or Sam Snead. 

My guess is that after his 2009 fall from grace, Tiger came up with a new focus that was less about himself and more about his impact on his family and those he comes in contact with, and that today he is taking far more satisfaction in considering what got him to 82 than on the number itself. 

The themes of mission, integrity and accountabiity are pillars in my change management workshops called Walk Your Talk, which I recently gave to a national wealth management firm and I’m slated to deliver at the PGA of Canada’s Tee Talks Live conference on Nov. 26.

Send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca if you’d like to discuss bringing my workshop to your organization or club. 

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About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!