Why Tiger Woods is dishing out advice to Jason Day and other Tour pros
“I have been actually talking to Tiger about his swing and what he’s been doing because I think he has the best swing out there, especially the iron swing. It’s amazing,” Day told the Australian AP on Wednesday.
Day split with Swatton — his coach of two decades — at the end of July, just before the Workday Charity Open, deciding he needed to take ownership of his swing. Results followed immediately: T7 at the Workday, T4 at the Memorial, T6 at WGC-Memphis, T4 at the PGA Championship. That’s a heck of a run. So where did Woods fit in?
“He’s gone through some back issues and he’s doing a lot of good things to try and alleviate his pain and I just feel like I ask questions and he’s willing to answer them and I’m trying to make changes now with my swing,” Day said in the same interview.
On Wednesday, Woods was asked about talking golf swing — and bad backs — with Day.
“Well, Jason and I have had a great relationship for a very long time, since he’s been on Tour, and we’ve talked about a number of things,” Woods said. “Obviously it’s one of the topics we do tend to talk about because we both have bad backs now; mine is a little bit more progressed than his, so it’s trying to deal with it, trying to manage it, and the evolution of the swing.”
Woods’ and Day’s careers have followed a similar arc. (Yes, only one of them is Tiger Woods, so his arced much higher, but you already knew that.) Young phenoms. Dominant stretches. Ascents to World No. 1. Battles with debilitating back pain. Considerations that their careers might be over for good. And now, hopefully, lengthy second acts.
It’s clear the effects that chronic back pain have had on their careers; it’s even more interesting to think of the effects pain may have had on their lives. Does a certain fragility lead to empathy?
For so long, Woods recalled, he was the youngest golfer around. (The best, too, but he didn’t have to say that part.) “I was so young. I was the only one that turned pro at 20,” he remembers. “There was really no one out here for a number of years. I think pretty much until I was maybe 30 or 31 that I was the youngest one on a Ryder Cup team or a Presidents Cup team until I think Charles Howell got on the team.”
Woods often points out that most of his peers from that era have now graduated to the Champions Tour. He recalled picking the brains of Seve Ballesteros, of Jose Maria Olazabal, of Raymond Floyd and Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
“I was always the one asking the questions, and now I’ve been out here and seen different generations go and move on, and now all of a sudden I’m on the receiving end.”
There are a couple things missing from this account. For one thing, Woods didn’t need much advice for long — he was soon playing golf in his own stratosphere. For another, he spent plenty of his prime by himself, rather than yukking it up with his peers; he didn’t seem to care much to give or receive advice. “There was a little interim,” he acknowledged Wednesday, between Tiger the student and Tiger the guru. That’s probably understating things.
To hear him tell it now, Woods was always going to undergo this natural evolution. From Jedi to Yoda. That wasn’t always so clear. But it is clear now; we’ve seen countless examples of Woods befriending and mentoring younger golfers. A few that come to mind:
-He’s taken his Ryder Cup vice captaincies and his Presidents Cup captaincy extremely seriously.
-He’s become close with younger members of the Jupiter crew, Justin Thomas in particular; Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, too.
-He’s taken to playing practice rounds with a variety of younger friends on Tour, notably Bryson DeChambeau and Harold Varner III.
-He’s spoken more openly and honestly about the fleeting nature of success and about just how grateful he is to be out on Tour with his friends.
-He’s taken to frequently playing with and caddying for his son Charlie, and speaks enthusiastically about his game, but mostly his enthusiasm for the game.
Of course, Woods is still plenty competitive himself. Thomas joked that once Woods returned from his his lengthy layoff, he stopped giving quite so much advice.
“Tiger probably isn’t as … I’m not trying to be mean, but he isn’t as helpful as Freddy [Couples],” Thomas said after a practice round at the 2019 Masters alongside his two elder friends. “At this point he doesn’t quite give as much information.”
It’s worth noting that in 2017, Woods doubted he would ever return to competitive golf. In 2019, Day was actively considering an early retirement. This week, Woods is playing his third tournament in four weeks and has looked healthy, if not a full contender. Day? Under his own tutelage — with a little assist from Woods — he’s climbed from outside the top 60 to World No. 35, and he has his sights set higher still:
“I am very motivated to get back to No.1 in the world,” he said.
The next challenge for both golf greats begins at tomorrow’s BMW Championship, where Woods (No. 57 in the FedEx Cup) and Day (No. 50) will each need high finishes to move into the top 30 — and on to the Tour Championship. But even as Woods helps usher younger Tour stars along, his long-term goals align with Day’s:
Stay healthy and keep playing.