Cover story: The Spieth IssueJune 11, 2015

How Jordan Cured Me Of Tiger Woods

I happened to be in Berlin when the Golf Digest editors invited me to contribute to this project, and I happened to share what I intended to write with Andreas Kluth, Berlin bureau chief for The Economist. After I told him that I wanted to watch Jordan Spieth's every shot and step at the Masters and did not want to watch a second more of Tiger Woods, Kluth told me there was actually an Italian word that summed up everything I was trying to say: sprezzatura. It means the ability to make something very difficult seem effortless, if not fun. I thought, That's exactly what I saw in Spieth's performance at Augusta: sprezzatura! It was there in every lengthy putt he holed, in the near-impossible chips he got close, and in the critical long-iron shots he lofted that landed like butterflies. They were all delivered with a seeming effortlessness—and savored by him with obvious joy. It all invited you in, made you want to stay with him and pull for him—savoring his victory as if partly your own, while being in awe of its difficulty, knowing that if you had 100 tries at his flop shot to that back flagstick on 18 in the third round, you never could have gotten your ball inside where he put his on one try.

One of my regular golf partners and I always make a $50 Masters bet. I took Rory, he took Jordan. But from the first round I found myself rooting for Jordan—even though it was going to cost me $50. That's what sprezzatura does to a man!

And then there was Tiger Woods.

I actually would have paid the people at CBS $50 to not show me any of Tiger's shots. Unfortunately, they insisted on showing most of them, and what you saw was whatever is the opposite of sprezzatura: Every shot or putt looked labored to me, even the seemingly effortless, and he quite obviously took no joy, nor broadcast any, from most of his good shots; they were just taken for granted. At the same time, his anger, including one particularly foul expletive, in the wake of his bad shots made you want to look away in embarrassment—for him. He never once appeared to be having fun playing, and so it should be little wonder why I was having no fun watching. Each of his interviews looked just as labored as his driver. You could see the bubble over his head, saying: Get me out of here.

I have to say, this Masters cured me of Tiger Woods. I am not interested anymore in his game, in his swing, in his latest swing coach, in his personal life—in anything he does—because it brings me no joy. The only thing he said that I enjoyed was after his final round, when he told his CBS interviewer that he would not be playing again the next week.

Honestly, I don't like hitting people when they're down, and I certainly take no joy in seeing him decline. No one can take away from Tiger that he is one of the greatest players to ever play this game. But it is so obvious that the hitch in Tiger's swing today is not in his takeaway, it's in his soul. The only teacher he needs is one who will tell him to stop looking at his swing on tape and just look at his demeanor in a mirror. If he ever again rediscovers his joy in this game, and learns to share it with those of us watching, the effortlessness will follow. I hope it happens while he still has the physical skills to win, but until then, CBS, please keep your cameras focused on that kid from Texas with the sprezzatura.

Contributing Editor Thomas L. Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for The New York Times, carries a Handicap Index of 5.6.