Watching Tiger Woods this weekend at the 2012 Masters I am reminded how fragile and fleeting fame and admiration can be. There was a day not too long ago when Mr. Woods commanded every golf course he set foot on, especially Augusta National in the springtime. So much so that he became the catalyst for revered tracks on the tour to change their entire design and length so as to make it more than a pitch and putt for his brand of play. But then December 2009 happened and few things in the world of golf have been the same since.
The question these days isn’t who he will be paired with on Sunday afternoon but will he make the cut on Friday. It has become agonizing to watch him play a round of golf as he himself seems to wonder where the ball will go off the tee or how close he can get it to the hole once on the green. The confidence and consistency that intimidated his competition is but a whimper these days.
Everyone remembers when the train ran off the tracks in December 2009 and the fact that not many of his professional colleagues rushed to his aid. It served as a harbinger of how tough the recovery was likely to be. From day one as a professional, Tiger appeared to be a loner; so cold, calculating and caught up in his own regimen and retinue that he never engendered friendship from his fans, only respect and distance. Knowing the closeness he shared with his father Earl, one has to wonder if all this would be different today if he were still alive. It reminds me of the stabilizing role Cus D’Amato played in the life of Mike Tyson.
When the 2010 tour started, the PGA still needed Tiger Woods. It doesn’t any longer with its new list of young, exciting players; McIlroy, Donald, Scott, Mahan, Oosthuizen, Mahan, Watson, Fowler, Bradley, et al. With that said, the ultimate story of this decade in professional golf would be a triumphant and persistently dominant return to form of Tiger Woods. That’s the story I’d love to see. But it probably won’t happen until other life events fall in line for him – off the course.
Mr. Woods appears twisted up in knots and it has nothing to do with his golf swing. To my way of thinking it was wrong for him to return early in 2010 so soon after his year of discontent. To think he had dealt emotionally or intellectually with the tumult of his father’s death, recovery from major knee surgery, the dissolution (by his own hands and those of his handlers) of his marriage and separation from this children, was preposterous -even for a robot like Woods. Whether or not PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem, had anything to do with this decision isn’t known. If so, it was ill advised for the sake of Tiger’s well being and the sport which Finchem stewards. While it may be reassuring to the competition that Tiger remains so inconsistent and at times appearing totally lost on the course it is gut wrenching for fans of sport to watch.
Thirty years from now an older, wiser Tiger might be able to look back and admit that his biggest problems on the golf course now are what used to be his biggest assets; his mind and will. But forget about his swing, focus and confidence, it would appear he’s lost the most stabilizing things in life itself; a center, a balance, a reason. He’s in uncharted waters now as he watches others pass him. For an athlete of his caliber, he’s more than just a little tweaking away from being the champion he once was. In his quiet moments he knows it. His embarrassment when asked to talk about his abysmal showing at Augusta gave us a glimpse into his world right now.
Tiger, if I may …. here’s some unsolicited advice from the part of the public that really wants to see a sports redemption story – pay your caddy and just disappear, take a lengthy period of time away from the spotlight, realign and prioritize what’s important and what’s not, allow a good friend to help you reorder what’s out of whack in your life and gain a fresh perspective on the game that once inspired you and the connection you had with your dad. Maybe even take Britt Hume’s advice to exorcise and atone for those things that took away from you (and us) all those things we used to admire in you.
We’ll see you when you get back in town.