Monday, August 15, 2011

Sorta Like Tyson, Minus The Face Tattoo

I watched the whole thing.

Every last bit of it, two televisions and one DVR at a time.

Tiger Woods hitting rock bottom at the PGA Championship on Friday.

Jaw dropping.

I did so, not out of gleeful piling on, nor while doing a karmic rain dance on his swooshed head, hung in despair.

I watched, because I have watched just about every other significant moment of his incredible career. To pretend that it's not fascinating – in a horrifying sense at least – is a bald faced lie.

The collapse is perhaps more stunning than the often predictable field demolitions at majors. Those, we at least saw coming.

This? Never.

The Tiger that once laced a 210 yard 5-iron out of bunker on the 72nd hole in Canada, over a lake, with the tournament on the line? Replaced, with the Tiger who snap hooks a fairway wood out of his own hands like a broken bat single.

The Tiger that once never missed a single putt he absolutely had to make? Replaced by the Tiger who can leave an 18 footer a full 7 feet short.

We are truly in uncharted waters now, Eldrick fans and watchers. You can't simply click your heels and say “he'll be back” with the same confidence anymore. We don't know. He doesn't know. Nobody knows.

We can't just say: “Give him time with Sean Foley.”
We can't just say: “Wait until he gets healthy.”
We can't just say: “He's still the most talented player on the planet.”

Forget winning a major. Just winning again, is in doubt.

If you think this can't happen, you don't know sports or golf history. This game can shipwreck and abandon anybody.

Tiger is in the fight of his golfing life to slay this dragon and win again. I wonder if he knows that?

Where to start?

Well, there's the small things. And trust me. These are the SMALL ones....

  1. Foley's methods are crap.

    I say this, with no particular animus toward the man. I say it after hearing from many very smart golf pros and players who know the game. Plus, what is his track record as a teacher? Who is left in his stable of clients?

  1. His knee is still going to be a problem.

    And I say this, not as a doctor, but again talking to many smart people who know sports medicine and golf. Tiger got that way, with an exceptionally quick and violent swing, that snapped his left knee at impact straight more than anybody on the planet. Multiply that by over 500,000 swings in his career (rough estimate) and this won't be the last time we hear about it.

  2. He plays too few events.

    And they are the hardest ones to win, to boot. That schedule worked for Tiger age 21-34. It won't work now. He seems to have no interest in playing the John Deere or St. Jude's.

  3. The game has changed.

    Think about this. When Nick Faldo slipped the green jacket on Tiger's back in 1997 he was a mechanical, soft swinging technician who poofed it down the middle 260-ish and won 6 majors that way. Tiger comes along, demolishes the Augusta layout with staggering length, and without us even understanding it all, the game had changed right there.

    It's changed again, as it always done from era to era. Now, young punks (affectionate term) like Keegan Bradley are crushing the ball over every bunker and dogleg in the world. Trust me. They aren't behind Tiger's ball in the fairway anymore. Their swings are the product of computerized, 1000 frames per second video analysis.

    The 20-something set today on Tour, are not deep thinkers. They bomb it, and go pin-seeking. They'll either go stupid deep, or crash and burn. No big deal. Send out a tweet, go to bed, have at it tomorrow.

    Mind you, none of these kids will author the kind of dominance Tiger did. Nobody. Not Rory. None of them. But the problem for Tiger, is that there are too many of them. So if it's Nick Watney one week, it's Dustin Johnson the next, or Rory, or Charl Schwartzel, or somebody.

Which brings me to the biggest point. Nicklaus and his record 18 majors.

What if Tiger were to come out one week and say something like this: “You know, Jack's record is going to be tough. Let's be honest. I still hope to have a chance at it, but I'm realistic about it, and if it doesn't happen, that's okay. I just want to come back to the level of playing beautiful golf, and winning tournaments. We'll see where the total ends up many years from now.”

Yeah. I know. He'll never say that.

Which is really his problem. He's playing the game right now, for all the wrong reasons. He will say he's playing to break Nicklaus' record, but in reality he's playing the game to someday be able to deliver one last gigantic “forget you” (apologies, Cee Lo Green) to all of his enemies, media critics, and haters.

He's programmed to deliver “forget you's” to people.

Whether it's a swing coach, caddy, or TV announcer who crosses his imaginary line of loyalty, or a sponsor who drops him, or an opponent who disses him, he lives for the f-you.

He wants one more big one, bad. Really bad. An “f-you” that will reverberate down to every dick with a blog, like me.

You can tell by the way he still talks in front of the golf media. They ask him a reasonable question, about reasonable expectations, and he goes back to the old Tiger mode of saying he expects to win.

“A “w””, he said about his expectations at the PGA. “A nice W.”

Dude. Get real. Nobody is buying it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said there are no second acts in American lives.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I know this: Tiger needs to start a second act to his career. He needs an attitude re-invention. He needs to re-think why he plays golf, and what he wants to accomplish from now until he's 50 and eligible for a cart and 3 round, no-cut tournaments.

The old Tiger is not coming back. Not next year. Not once Sean Foley's brilliance finally soaks in. Never. He's gone. He was something to behold on the course, and a complete fraud off of it. The fire hydrant killed that guy, even though the police report will forever list the accident as one in which the driver sustained only “minor” injuries.

We all wondered if Tiger Woods would come back to the game a changed man.

Seen enough?

He's now twice the prick, with half the money. And it's getting worse by the tournament.

I remember a Chinese proverb that said: “If you want to be a beautiful painter, first become a beautiful person. Then, paint.”

A brilliant second act is there for Tiger, if he wants it. A second act where his genuine personality is more accessible to the fans, media, and fellow players. A second act where his formidable talent and experience, is still enough to beat back the horde of 20-something bombers on his best day.

A second act where chasing a stupid number, 18, is not the point of this incredible game of golf we play. Being able to once again bully and scorn those in the game you dislike, is no reason to hit balls until your game comes back.

Right now, the world's formerly most recognized, respected, and richest athlete, is in a death spiral of seething anger and denial.

It's not pretty.

But if you say it's somehow not newsworthy, you too are kidding yourself.


  1. I think there's a fifth thing to add to your list, in that nobody is afraid of him anymore, either on or off the course. The young punks don't give a shit about what he did and the guys who covered him and had to take his shit for all those years are getting their revenge. His vaunted mental toughness was a facade, just like any bully. Now that he needs to dig down, he can't.

    There have been other athletes in other sports who were able to deal with the loss of a step, a few miles off of their fastball or range on their jump shot, but were all able to make adjustments to stay competitive. And just to repeat your point, Tiger can't even stay competitive. If he was finishing top-5s, even if he never won again, you could say he was dealing the hand he was dealt and making the best of it.

    Just look at his body language when he plays; his head, eyes and shoulders are all down. Based on how he carries himself now, if he were a team sport athlete his coach/manager would pull him off the field.

  2. Didn't the PGA instatute steroid testing in 2007 or 2008? I would be interested to see if their was a direct decline/injuries related to steroid testing.

  3. I think the big problem for Tiger is that his father trained him from youth to dominate and crush his opponents. He didn't teach him anything about how to come back from failure. He didn't teach him anything about when to swallow his pride and be a human being. Tiger only knows one way to do things - the way he was taught by "Pops". He only knows how to scowl and get pissy with the media. And I believe that line of thinking is so deeply ingrained in to his personality and psyche that he can't fathom any other way of going about his professional life. Frankly, I don't ever see Tiger changing his ways. We will probably see him win a few more PGA tournaments and he may even win another major, but he won't be #1 ever again and he won't break Jack's record.

  4. 4 Surguries on that knee says it all.

  5. Great article, Czabe.
    Thinking of Tiger led me to look up David Duvall's tailspin. I pulled this from wikipedia:

    David Duvall (wikipedia): After his 2001 Open Championship win, Duval entered a downward spiral in form that saw him drop to 80th on the money list in 2002, and 211th in 2003, prompting an extended break from the game. Numerous reasons have been postulated for the decline, including back, wrist, and shoulder problems; private difficulties; and a form of vertigo. Duval has not won a tournament since his 2001 Open Championship victory on the PGA Tour. His last worldwide win was the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in November 2001, on his 30th birthday. His 30s have proved much less lucrative on the golf course.

  6. Love ya Czabe. Agree on many fronts. Must be honest, I had hoped he'd never become Tyson... Even at the peak of his career... But right now he's there... And in the same breath I say it wouldn't surprise me to see him make it back. I've lost all respect and love for the man at this year's Masters. Going off on camera people and fans. He's the same person. Paint the strips but the real strips will always show through. Very much the case here. His best chance to win again is to swallow his pride and get Butch Harmon back... I predict that'll happen someday.
    Loved the article Czabe. BTW, had $10 on Keegan to win the PGA at 125/1. Whoo hoooo!!!

  7. @domdrews: I think PEDs is the big gorilla in the room that nobody talks about. We saw ripped Annika leave the game at the peak of her career right after the LPGA instituted PED testing with nary a word from the press. The PGA started testing, and lo and behold Tiger begins to suffer the typical PED withdrawal symptoms: odd injuries, dropping weight, changed body type, and loss of aggression. Yet nothing from the press. I have wondered if both the Annika and Tiger situations were covered up by the respective leagues to avoid the obvious repercussions that a cheating scandal would bring to this marginal sport. If this scenario is correct, then no amount of coaching or sports psychotherapy will make Tiger anything more than a middle-of-the-pack tour filler.

  8. Czabe, You once again hit the nail on the head of golf and Tiger Woods. It is almost funny and yet sad to see this man rise and fall from the Zenith to the depths of where he is today. As Jack has always been the golfer I feel epitomized the game of golf for me. I am not talking about the pro I follow, or how to hit the right shot at the right time. I am talking about getting away from the city and the noise, and the hustle and the bustle that is the stress of life. I am talking about spending 4-5 hours with your dad and Grandpa or a close friend. Enjoying the quiet of nature and allowing the man furthest from the cup to hit first. I am sure things are a little different when you make go-billions of dollars and every single shot matters. But who did Jack have on his bag when he won the masters at age 46... His son.

  9. The game that his father taught him how to play and dominate was the golf of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Greg "The Little Girl" Norman. After Tiger changed the game and made it his own, folks like Lefty became even better, and the golf world caught up with him. Just like the rock star with every type of vice, his sex addiction eventually bled through his facade and then the collapse began completed by his *gasp* missing the cut at the PGA.

    Losing with grace is something he doesn't do well.

    He rose too fast, accomplished way too much in short amount of time, and the higher they rise, the harder they hit the pavement.

    Well worded, Steve.

    Sam Martin