Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters title a few weeks ago, ending a decade-long championship drought. Woods became the second-oldest winner of the title at the age of 43, completing a comeback that was rife with personal and professional adversity--including an admission of infidelity that ultimately ended his marriage, a number of serious injuries that resulted in multiple back operations, and even an addiction to painkillers.
Joe LaCava signed on to work with Woods as the golfer's caddie back in 2011, right in the midst of Woods's troubles. He's stuck by his boss through thick and thin, refusing to leave even when Woods advised him to find another golfer to caddie for.
"No, no, I'm committed to you," LaCava reportedly told Woods. "I'm committed to your return and you playing golf again."
LaCava's unwavering support finally paid off, as he had the opportunity to give Woods some powerful advice on the biggest stage.
"On the first tee I told him, 'Intense but loose,'" LaCava said in an interview published by Golfdigest.com. "Don't carry the weight of the world."
"I think he did that," LaCava continued. "I thought he was pretty loose. But I didn't want him to lose the intensity."
Intense but loose.
On the surface, these three words seem like simple advice. But not only do they have a foundation in science, they're a perfect example of emotional intelligence in the real world.
What's EQ got to do with it?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. Put simply, it's the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
There's no question that Tiger Woods is one of the most skilled golfers who's ever played the game. But as any professional athlete will tell you, skill only goes so far. It's the ability to maintain confidence and mental strength under pressure that gets you to the next level.
Here's where emotional intelligence comes into play: LaCava's advice had great potential to help Woods recategorize what we typically think of as "negative" emotions (like nervousness and anxiety) to achieve heightened focus--without tightening up to the point that he overthought everything.
This technique has solid scientific roots.
In my book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I cite research that shows students taking a math test achieved higher scores when they recategorized their anxiety as a sign that the body was coping. In another study, individuals were presented a series of tasks including singing karaoke and speaking in public. Participants were instructed to say "I am anxious," "I am excited," or nothing before singing or speaking. The "excited" participants sang better, and spoke more confidently and persuasively, than their counterparts.
Essentially, LaCava did the exact same thing for Woods: He gave Woods a way to recategorize his feelings, channeling them into positive action.
LaCava told Woods exactly what he needed to hear, at exactly the right time. And by distilling the advice into three simple words, he packaged it in a way that Woods could carry with him through the entire tournament.
Intense but loose.
A simple way to turn "emotional" into emotionally intelligent--and a key to what Tiger Woods may just consider his sweetest victory yet.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.