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Slump Schmump.
Posted Wednesday, June 16, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

In 1967, Jack Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer by four strokes to claim the U.S. Open title at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey. The victory gave the 27-year old golfing phenom his seventh major title.

It probably came as a relief to many of the golfing experts of the era that Jack was able to capture the championship because the Golden Bear was "wallowing" in a slump before the Open began.

 
 


He hadn't won a single tournament in 1967 and had missed the cut at The Masters a few months before – unheard of, by Jack's standards. Obviously, there was cause for concern. Something was wrong. Nicklaus was having trouble with his putter. Nobody knew how long the slump would last. How long it would be before the world's best golfer would rise to the top in a major again. Not long at all.

Look out PGA Tour, Jack was back. But a funny (funny weird, not funny haha) thing happened after Jack's 1967 Open victory. Over the next three years, Nicklaus would go winless in 12 consecutive major championships. Who would believe that the greatest golfer in history could go three years and 12 majors without a win? Couldn't happen. No way, no how.

If you even glance at your daily paper's sports section or have SportsCenter on in the background while you're cooking dinner or paying the bills, then you know that Tiger Woods has not won a single major championship since the 2002 U.S. Open. Seven tries, no wins.

Tiger is struggling. Tiger's in a slump. Tiger is experiencing a major championship drought. What's wrong with Tiger? Is it his swing? Is it his engagement to a beautiful swimsuit model? Has he simply lost his desire to be remembered as the greatest golfer who ever lived?

Every golf journalist, broadcaster and commentator in the country has his and her own opinion. And you don't have to look very hard to find each and every one of them. Most, if not all, of the experts analyzing Tiger's troubles couldn't break 100 from the ladies tees at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York – the site of this year's U.S. Open.

I'm sure I wouldn't break 100 at Shinnecock Hills either, but at least I have the good sense to know that there really isn't anything wrong with Tiger's golf game that Tiger won't be able to fix. If not this week, then at the British Open or the PGA Championship. If not this year, then next year at the Masters.

The surprise isn't as much that Tiger is o-fer his last seven majors, the real shock is that he was able to string together a remarkable run by winning seven majors in eleven tries. That's what's unbelievable. Not a seven tournament "drought" by a 28-year old who has his best golfing years still ahead.

Jack Nicklaus won eight of his 18 major championships after he turned thirty and three more while in his forties. Tiger has eight majors and counting. If he doesn't pass Nicklaus in the next decade or so, it'll be because of a bum knee or bad back, not the fact that he fired his swing coach or got engaged.

It has to be incredibly frustrating for Tiger to sit in the interview room each day and field question after question about his "slump" while thinking to himself "let's see, I'm still the number one golfer in the world; I've won almost $10 million dollars on tour since the 'slump' started; I've been named the PGA Tour Player of the Year in each of the past five years; next question."

There isn't a single player on tour that wouldn't give his favorite pair of FootJoys to be mired in the kind of slump that Tiger has enjoyed over the past two years. And there isn't a single player who finds himself with the lead on Sunday afternoon that doesn't look over his shoulder wondering if there's a Tiger waiting to charge.

Stop the presses, Woods hasn't won a major in two years. It would be more newsworthy to report that Tiger hasn't had his teeth cleaned or paid his American Express bill since 2002.

Jack Nicklaus has been playing in major championships for 44 years and holds an unprecedented 18 major titles; proof enough that, in golf, you can't win 'em all - not even if you're the Bear or the Tiger.

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