It really is amazing just how many similarities are shared by Jack Nicklaus (winner of 18 majors) and Tiger Woods (winner of 14), according to an interesting article, that I came across and that was written a few years ago.
In intensity, concentration, power of intimidation, strength, resilience, intelligence and tenacity, it´s virtually a dead heat.
Both, calculators, methodical, perfectionist and consistent golfers. Both, capable of generating great power based on solid fundamentals, without doubt the best long iron players ever.
They share excellent selective memory, essential for top level competitive golf. Both originate from ultra supportive families. In terms of preparation: with special emphasis on the Majors, and, always hating second places. And neither ever, ever giving up.
Both have an amazing ability to hole difficult putts for par, raise the level of their games under severe pressure and both renown "closers" once in the the lead. Polite and courteous in defeat, and both believe in their ability to perform miracles on the course.
And why do I think Nicklaus is still better than Tiger?
Because Jack was stronger than Tiger in three key mental attributes.
1. Anger management and frustration.
Nicklaus never showed anger on the course. His colleague, David Graham, the great Australian golf professional, has said:
"I never saw Jack Nicklaus lose his composure on the golf course."
Not so Tiger, who throughout his career has continuously lost his temper, to say the least. In fact, Tiger's late father, Earl Woods put it this way:
" Inside Tiger burns a volcano. And I've seen when it erupts. And it's not nice."
One of the biggest negatives in Mental Golf Golf is anger and frustration. The reason is simple. We get angry at something that is already in the past and it takes us directly to think with our “left brain” (which dominates the conscious mind), the side of the brain that is bad at running our body and at playing golf.
2. Rigorous and conservative planning on the course.
Jack Nicklaus, throughout his career, was extraordinarily effective at rigorous and conservative planning. When he missed a drive, he always played the conservative shot and got himself back into play. He never went for the difficult pin, unless it was his only chance to win a tournament. His golf course management was simply the best of all time, and it also explains why, in addition to winning 18 Majors, he achieved an amazing 57 top five´s in these Major championships.
Tiger, on the other hand, has been much more aggressive on the course, and has often paid the price. It is also true that he has a short game that is better than Nicklaus´, which has allowed him to overcome, in part, this weakness.
However, rigorous and conservative on course planning not only allowed Nicklaus to shoot lower scores, but this strength allowed him to "stay" much longer on the “right side” of his brain (which controls the unconscious mind), which ensures playing our best golf, since this is the only formula for efficient synchronization of body and mind.
3. Changes in the golf swing.
Nicklaus did not change his swing during the bulk of his career (he only flattened his swing in 1980, for physical reasons). His lifelong teacher, Jack Grout, believed in teaching the basics well, then it was the players responsibility to "fine tune" their swing via trial and error.
In fact, Gary Player, one of Jack´s strongest competitors, has said that nobody was better than Jack at shooting a 68 by playing “junk”.
But Tiger has made numerous swing changes over time. Since becoming a pro he has worked with three different swing coaches. Harmon, Haney and Foley, and he continues to seek perfection.
Unfortunately for Tiger, as we have seen recently, swing change is an ultra complicated affair.
The reason is that learning a new swing is something we have to do with the conscious mind, the mind that is bad at playing golf. It is also difficult because in order to properly "automate" the new swing, it takes thousands of "repetitions", and dozens of hours on the practice range, and that leaves little time for practice of the always key short game and putting.
At this stage of the fascinating race for the best golfer of all time crown, no one knows for certain if Tiger will be able to surpass Nicklaus´ 18 Majors.
But if Tiger does not change his attitude towards the three key factors that I have mentioned, I personally like Jack´s chances better.
Tiger will face enormous pressure in the next few Majors. He knows time is running out. If he is to do it, he will need the strongest of minds. Anger, over aggressive planning and an ever changing swing, will not cut it.
But, the good news for Tiger, is that he completely controls the situation, and his future place in golf history. It´s only up to him.