‘He would have won 20 majors’: How Gary Player would have fixed Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods hits shot during 2022 Masters

Tiger Woods hits a shot on Thursday on the 2nd hole at Augusta National.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fifteen majors? Tiger Woods could have won five more, surpassed Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 and sat at 20, Gary Player says.

All Woods had to adjust, the nine-time major winner said, was to have told others to stop adjusting him. 

“You’ve got to be very careful the teacher you go to,” Player said Thursday after hitting his honorary tee shot to open the Masters. “We saw that with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods, if he never had lessons — in my humble opinion, if he never had lessons, he would have won 20 majors minimum, but after winning the U.S. Open by 15 shots, he’s having a lesson the next week and he doesn’t win a major. Not to denigrate the man who taught him, but he changed his whole swing. Why? When he’s winning every week almost and one out of every four tournaments, he goes and changes his swing and he doesn’t win a major for 11 years.

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“So the young people today, my advice is whichever country we’re talking about when you have lessons, go to somebody who’s been in the arena that knows what the hell he’s talking about.”

Over his 46 years, Woods has been instructed by six known coaches. Rudy Duran, then an assistant pro at Heartwell Golf Course was the first, working with him starting in 1980, and his second childhood instructor was John Anselmo, who started teaching Woods when he was 10. 

From there, Woods’ coaches have been Butch Harmon, who guided him from 1993 to 2002; Hank Haney, 2004-’10; Sean Foley, 2010-’14; and Chris Como, 2014-’17. And Woods’ major scoreboard reads this way: 1997 Masters; 1999 PGA Championship; 2000 U.S. Open, where, as Player mentioned, Woods won by 15 shots at Pebble Beach; 2000 Open Championship; 2000 PGA Championship; 2001 Masters; 2002 Masters; 2002 U.S. Open; 2005 Masters; 2005 Open Championship; 2006 Open Championship; 2006 PGA Championship; 2007 PGA Championship; 2008 U.S. Open; and 2019 Masters. 

Of course, Woods’ major tally has also been influenced by injuries that have forced him to miss play. Still, Thursday was not the first time Player has said Woods would have been better without various coaches, saying as much on In Depth With Graham Bensinger in 2017.

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“Tiger Woods, once he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots, if Tiger Woods never had a lesson from another pro in his life — I’m not condemning the pros because the pros were pretty intelligent; Hank Haney, and other teaches that he has had, they’re pretty good — but Tiger was so good, he was so much better than anybody that plays today, he was so much better on the way that anybody ever lived,” Player said during the interview. “He could never hit the ball like Ben Hogan, not even close. But that’s not what counts; it’s scoring; I’m talking about scoring, winning. 

“Tiger Woods, if he never had another lesson, just left what he had, he would have won 20, 22, 24 majors. But he’s also been unlucky — knee operations, back operations and a few other problems.”

On Thursday, Player’s comment was in response to a question of what being an honorary starter means. This was his complete response. 

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“Well, you’re honored,” Player answered. “You’re honored to be in that position to be able to do it and to try to be able to contribute to the society, to contribute to that country, to try and get young people interested. That’s why, when I played, I played in the pro-am. I requested to play in the pro-am. I wanted to meet some of the young pros and see how they play. And I played with the one young man, he was outstanding. They were all very good. They all play very well. The youth of today have got a wonderful opportunity.

“I was on the practice tee this morning with Peter Cowen, and he came up and he said, when I was a young man, my 7-iron — well, my 5-iron was 30 degrees loft. Now a 7-iron is 30 degrees loft. When you got a driver when we were younger, they came and said, here’s your wooden driver, and your driver, that’s what you used, it didn’t matter whether it was flat or open or shut. Now they fly a man in, tries shafts for you right there, alters the lie, alters the loft, et cetera, et cetera.

“Technology is moving so fast, and that applies to Indian golf and to China’s golf and other countries that haven’t won majors, and they will win majors in the future. As long as we can have good teaching, because never in the history of golf have there been at least 10 major champions that can’t play golf anymore. Never happened in our time.”

From here, Player began talking about Woods. 

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.