Billion Dollar Question: What If Nothing Had Happened to Tiger Woods?
It may seem taboo.
It may seem like something inappropriate for dinner conversation.
It may seem like the kind of thing that can only be whispered.
But it must have crossed your mind sometime between Tiger Woods' missed cut, injury withdrawal, and most recent tie for 4th at the US Open:
What if Tiger was still Tiger?
- there had been no 'indefinite leave'?
- there had been no media frenzy publicizing Woods' transgressions?
- there had been no car accident or dented fire hydrant?
- there had been no feud between Elin and Tiger?
On Sunday at the 110th US Open, the second major of the 2010 PGA Tour season, Tiger was the underdog for the first time in a long time.
Tiger's unfamiliar position, however, unexpectedly triggered a resurgence in the public's devotion to Woods, who tried to rally him towards a remarkable recovery.
Depending on how you perceive the events that unfolded in the Open's bizarre, final round--Tiger either let us down or we just have to get used to the fact that the most dominant golfer in the history of the sport has lost his way.
But, knowing what we do now, would we want the 'old Tiger' back?
A Tragic, but Symbiotic Relationship: Tiger and the Public
If Tiger had maintained his idealized image, the public also would have maintained their disillusioned perception of Woods.
When the truth came out, ignorance was no longer bliss and Woods was no longer the flawless deity we had glorified him to be.
There had been a tragic, but symbiotic, relationship at play.
We, the devoted, inspired, and wide-eyed fans; wanted to believe he could be a family man, philanthropist, and greatest golfer of all-time; all in one.
The public ate it up, licked the plate, and then, without hesitation, took seconds; because when we rooted for Tiger, and he won, so did we.
As Woods' ascended beyond 'golfer,' he became a role model for aspiring golfers, a celebrity, an entrepreneur, and a charitable 'do-gooder.'
It took the utter destruction of Tiger Woods' personal life to reveal that he too was human.
What We Saw at the US Open: A Harsh Reality
He is not what he was and now people really know it.
Tiger's round Sunday, just as that of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickleson, and Ernie Els, illuminated how golf is a mental game before anything else.
To be blunt, the US Open messes with people's heads.
But in light of the pressure of a major and the difficulty of the conditions, we expected Tiger to persevere, to defy the odds, and most of all, to not make the kinds of mistakes everyone else was making.
But he did.
He put the ball in the wrong place off the tee. Then when you thought he might recover, he missed the green on the his approach. Then when you thought something miraculous would happen, he hit the ball above the hole on the green.
Like all good things, give him time.
Salient Issue: Would He Have Won By Now?
After an eight month recovery from an injury in 2008, Tiger Woods earned 1st place honors six separate times in 2009.
However, that is not the stat that assures me he would have won in 2010.
Of the six events Woods did win, none were majors.
A major-less 2009 season haunted Woods, transforming one of his most horrific nightmares into a reality.
But simultaneously, that nightmare was juxtaposed with euphoric dreams of hoisting the trophy at Augusta and the other majors.
Had nothing gone awry in Tiger's personal life, which obviously permeated every component of his being, he would have been on an incessant mission to improve his game for the majors in the 2010 season.
In Tiger fashion, its hard not to imagine him winning a few 'smaller' events, like the Memorial or a World Golf Championship en route to a major victory during 2010.
His 14 major wins and 71 PGA Tour victories (which put him on pace to surpass any and every record) are a testament to his persistence, unequaled work ethic, and ability to produce in the most pressure-filled stages in the golf world.
Conundrum: Would Tiger Still Be Taught by Hank Haney?
31 PGA Tour victories.
6 Major Championships.
8 World Golf Championships.
Over $45 million in earnings.
These are four of Tiger Woods' most noteworthy accomplishments that came after 2004 when he hired Hank Haney to be his full-time coach.
The disintegration of Haney and Woods' relationship is about as well known as what BP was thinking in their first attempt to cap the oil spill.
But facts are facts--they worked well together.
Who knows just what split them up?
But an even more intriguing, thought-provoking question remains:
what if they had been working together as frequently, with the same vision and intensity, as in the beginning of 2009?
What might Tiger have accomplished by now?
Endorsements: Sky-Rocketing or Down the Drain
The Tiger Woods endorsement landscape once flourished.
After all, Tiger was not the first athlete to a $1 billion just by winning golf tournaments, even if he owns 71 of them.
However, since his scandal was leaked and his life went up in smoke, so too did his endorsements begin to harshly disintegrate.
Accenture, which lived and died by its catchy slogan "Go ahead, be a Tiger," was the first to drop Tiger. Once Accenture detached itself from Woods, the butterfly effect ensued.
AT&T picked up and left, as did other sponsors like Gatorade, Gillette, and Tag Heuer. Even Golf Digest discontinued his monthly column.
Most of the sponsors explained that they maintained 'amicable' relations with Woods. But even so, when these endorsements exited the clubhouse, they demonstrated just how substantially Tiger's image had been desecrated.
Role Model Factor
Are up and coming golf stars, like Rickie Fowler (21), Rory McIlroy (21), and Ryo Ishikawa (18), products of Tiger Woods?
Having grown up in the Tiger Woods era, one might even consider them 'Tiger cubs.'
The way they stare down their competitors is reminiscent of Tiger.
The way they hammer in short putts reminds us of Tiger.
But more than anything, they are young, have performed spectacularly, and evoke that tangible, terrifying, Tiger-esque threat each time they step on the golf course.
At the foundation of their incredible talent and vision for dominance lies Tiger's legacy.
But how must they view Tiger now?
Do they see his professional life as totally separate from his personal life?
Do they recognize the inherent link between integrity in golf (the only sport where a competitor can call a penalty on himself or herself) and integrity in life?
If their allegiance to their role model has indeed faded, then who will be the role model for the the next generation of golfers?
Or, will one of these young guns steal the spotlight and become the next face of golf?
Let's be real, Tiger Woods is still held to an incredibly unrealistic standard.
We expect him to win every time he enters an event, and yet with two top-5's in the first two majors of the year (which would be the highlight of the year for just about any other professional golfer), he is under siege.
The truth is, Tiger's golf future is surrounded by an aura of the unknown.
The fact that Tiger is not a sure thing anymore, but still shows glimpses of his old, dominating self, should inspire a fresh interest in the world of golf.
Never before has there been such an array of talent on the PGA Tour.
Instead of watching Tiger crush the field week in a week out, things are different, and remember, different is not necessarily bad.
Hopefully, the hurdles Tiger faces, both personally and on the golf course, will be a source for the positive remodeling of his future.