Only icons can truly understand other icons. The pro-am pairing at the Wachovia last week that had Michael Jordan paired with Tiger Woods, was fascinating on many fronts. If there is anybody on the planet that understands what it would be like to be Tiger Woods, it is Jordan. Conversely, if anybody knows what it is like to be Michael Jordan, that would be Tiger. Even though they play different sports, there are things that we can learn from both of them. Most notable amongst those are that both men, at the very height of their greatness, thought that they could get better.
It would be a very easy thing to be at the zenith of your arena and think that you “have it” or that there is nothing that you could do better. Complacency would be a difficult demon to banish. When Jordan began his pro career with the Chicago Bulls, he was an out and out scorer. People said that while he was obviously a great scorer, he didn’t pass well. Next season, Jordan averaged 6 assists per game. The knock on him then became that while he was a now a good passer and still a top scorer, that he didn’t play defense. Jordan, went on to then make the NBA’s All-defensive team for the next ten years. Still his critics persisted, and said that while he was a great scorer, passer and played superb defense, he would never be recognized as an all time great because he had never won a championship. The Bulls won six of the next seven NBA Championships.
Tiger, won the Masters in 1997, by an incredible 12 shots and recorded the best winning total (18 under par) of all time. He then changed his swing. Would we have the courage to do that? His critics also made note that he wasn’t a very good wedge player, and there was some evidence to support that. Occasionally, because of the tremendous body rotation that he created and how hard he swung, he would hit “flyers” where his wedges would fly 20 yards long. Watch Tiger, today, when he has a wedge in his hand and notice how balanced he is. There is no-one better. And those swing changes he made in 1997-1998? Tiger won 7 major championships in the next five years.
In 2004, Tiger decided that he could improve even more. He split with long time coach, Butch Harmon, and started working with Hank Haney. Most interesting about the change is that Harmon and Haney have very different styles and methodology. While incorporating his new swing, during 2004, Tiger suffered through a slump. A slump for him, that is. He only won one tournament that year and had to listen endlessly to the nay-sayers who thought he was crazy to be doing what he was doing. Adding fuel to his critics’ fire, was the fact that Tiger could hit some really bad drives. Occasionally, he would hit a wild drive, 60 yards to the right. All along, Tiger, would say that he was looking at the future and that this was all part of the process. Beginning in 2005, he won 4 of the next 10 majors.
Don’t, for a minute think, that Woods and Jordan do not have egos. By all accounts, they have pretty big ones. What they also have, though, is the humility to know that no matter how good at something that you are, you can always do better. There are two stanzas from Rudyard Kipling’s magnificent poem, If, that sum it up.
“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”
There are a lot of things that make up the equation in someone as superb as a Jordan or Woods. Only they truly know all the factors, and what it is like to be; them. But there is one lesson that we can learn from them.