Tiger Woods and the State of His Game: Play More, Be Real

Ted JohnsonAnalyst IMarch 15, 2011

Tiger Woods put together a strong finish during the final round at Doral, yet will not play this week.
Tiger Woods put together a strong finish during the final round at Doral, yet will not play this week.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

John Abendroth, the long-time golf guru in the San Francisco Bay Area, commented last week on what Ben Hogan believed a pro golfer should do when he became mired in a slump.

“You play through a slump,” Abendroth said, paraphrasing, “but you don’t change something in your swing. Hogan believed that if you tinkered too much on the range during a slump, you could end up changing things that didn’t need to be changed.”

Despite a final round 66 on Sunday, it has been 16 months since Tiger Woods has won a golf tournament. He entered the Florida swing of the PGA Tour schedule having played just five competitive PGA Tour rounds in 2011—four at Torrey Pines before a first-round loss in the Match Play Championship to Thomas Bjorn (of course, there were four rounds in Dubai, too).

In this scenario, most struggling golfers coming off a six-under round would find it unbearable to wait for the next competitive tee time come Thursday.

But not Tiger. Most PGA Tour pros, when they’re struggling, play more. It’s the nature of the game. If they don’t play well, they don’t make money and it’s the end of the year total that determines how much they get to play the next year. Tiger Woods doesn’t have to worry about that, but he still could learn from his fellow pros—play more.

Instead, he’s focused on forging a new swing with teacher Sean Foley. Rather than playing this week in Tampa, he’s on the range. He’s sticking to his usual spring schedule—Doral, time off, Bay Hill, time off, Masters. It is a schedule he used in the past when demand for his presence reached epic proportions. He was more than the game’s top player. He was the dominant sports figure in the world, arguably the most popular man on the planet.

When asked last week about why he doesn’t play more, Woods said his schedule was constricted due to family obligations, as reported by the Associated Press:

“Because I have a family. I'm divorced,” Woods replied solemnly. “If you've been divorced with kids, then you would understand.”

That’s just the point: Most of us do understand. Working parents, divorced with kids is indeed a norm, even on the PGA Tour. He just has to look over the driving range and he can find plenty of advice from fellow pros on how to travel with a nanny and kids; how to get in meal times and keep the offspring happy and still feel confident on the first tee. It’s done everyday in and out of golf, and no one really complains about it. It’s life.

But then, Woods has never been one to understand. He’s always been sheltered—stories from former college mates and ex-girlfriends suggest a man whose interests hover around someone in his late teens—and shuttled, whether via his parents’ car to junior tournaments or personal jets to his next corporate or pro outing.

Tiger’s comment that someone “would understand” suggests a mind still anchored in a personal perspective in which the world revolves around him. More important, it infers that someone like us—on the outside—cannot possibly understand what he’s going through there, on the inside. When in fact, most of us have and do.

Tiger’s approach hasn’t brought much in terms of on course success of late, especially in light of the standards he has set. He has played like a journeyman, though hasn’t taken the journeyman’s approach of maximizing the opportunities and playing as much as he can.

If he did indeed entered the less prestigious tournaments—the Transitions and the Hondas and the John Deere's—and brought his kids, we’d see someone else. Instead of Iron Byron in a Nike shirt, it would be father and caregiver, handing out snacks on the driving range.

We would have more insight into what he’s going through, and it would make his on course efforts a little more sympathetic. All we see of him now is a frustrated—he walked off the course last Saturday without talking to the media—and struggling pro golfer. Indeed, that’s all he lets us see.

If Tiger opened the door to his world, we’d probably realize that he is just like us—a parent struggling to balance a job and kids and travel and social/professional obligations. A missed drive here and there becomes less of a story and more understandable.

After all, about 18 months ago Tiger Woods had a built-in support system that managed much of the family duties he now says causes him to limit his time in pro tournaments. It’s called a wife.

It is not too much to say that walling off half of his life to her, and then the aftermath, hasn’t helped his public image. It has hurt him in the pocketbook as well. Maybe by breaking down the wall that separates the real Tiger Woods from the world—the one with Animal Cracker crumbs on his shirts—might make him a little more relaxed, and us a little more understanding.

By Ted Johnson


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