Monday, June 18, 2018 at 6:53 AM

US Open: Tiger Woods Becoming the Hugh Hefner of PGA Players

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

No doubt you recall the sensational way Tiger Woods’s wife famously burst their marital bubble. It happened around Thanksgiving Day in 2009 – when she reacted to breaking news about his cheating by taking one of his irons to his hide, and then to his car. I joined in the tabloid revelry with “Tiger’s Wife Serves Him a Fat Lip for Thanksgiving,” November 29, 2009.

Fatefully, Tiger decided the best way to save his marriage was to take time off the PGA tour for a stint in sex rehab. I thought that was a big mistake. I suggested at the time that, if anything, he should have given a one-off “Oprah-style confessional” and continued his career without missing a, er, stroke.

Fans will readily forgive him of course. But winning tournaments in his inimitable fashion is the only way to eradicate bacchanalian images of his private life from public consciousness – even if not from the tabloids.

(“Tiger Escapes to a Safe Haven,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 14, 2009)

Except that, less than two years later, I was already venting frustration with his “Waiting-for-Godot” comeback (to win majors). I did so in commentaries like “Tiger! Tiger! Losing Fight,” August 15, 2011, which included a prescient observation and prediction.

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It is impossible to resist engaging in pop psychology to explain why he can’t even buy a win these days. Apropos of this, I cannot help remarking on how delusional Tiger sounded on Friday after what had to have been the most humiliating performance of his professional career:

It’s a step back in the sense I didn’t make the cut but a giant leap forward in the sense that I played two straight weeks healthy.

(BBC Sport, August 12, 2011)

A giant leap forward? Hell, if merely staying healthy, physically, for two straight weeks is a giant leap forward, then actually winning another major might take a miracle. …

But it’s plainly disingenuous for Tiger to suggest that chronic injuries have prevented him from winning. For this is belied by the fact that he not only seemed just fine throughout his winless 2010, but actually won his ‘last’ major, the 2008 US Open, while in obvious pain caused by a knee injury. …

One does not have to be a trained psychologist to diagnose that Tiger’s problems are more mental than physical. Because it’s self-evident that the public humiliation he endured following that domestic incident, which exposed his Charlie-Sheen like penchant for prostitutes, sapped him of the self-esteem and confidence that not only fueled his game, but instilled self-defeating fear in other players.

Unsurprisingly, the media have focused on the fact that he lost his wife and a half billion dollars in divorce payments and commercial endorsements. It’s arguable though that an even greater loss was the mental strength that gave him that invincible swagger, but which depended so much on reverence from fans and fellow players alike. …

That a physically fit Tiger announced after missing the cut that he won’t play another tournament until November is testament to how mentally vulnerable he has become. Indeed, one can be forgiven for thinking that he’d rather nurse his wounded pride than risk another ignominious cut.

Except that this avoidance strategy will only make his performance anxiety more acute. And, given his now notorious sexcapades, how’s that for irony of ironies…?

I am convinced that Tiger is losing his very pubic fight to recapture his mojo simply because he cannot get that public humiliation out of his mind. And each humiliating loss will only make him more anxious about playing his next tournament. …

Tiger is 35. So he can probably compete, physically, for another five years. But if he still hasn’t won his 15th major by this time next year, then I fear he will never be able to compete well enough, mentally, to dethrone Jack Nicklaus as the king of the majors with 18 wins.

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Sure enough, he hasn’t won a major since that incident nine years ago. And those were arguably the back nine of his most productive years as a pro.

All the while my lay diagnosis precluded me from having any sympathy for the show he made of blaming his streak of futility on chronic injuries. I refer you to attesting commentaries such as “For Tiger, Bad Play Causes ‘Pain,’ Not Vice Versa,” August 7, 2014, and “Tiger’s Back, but His Back Won’t Let Him Play?! Puhleeze,” February 6, 2015.

In fact, by his own admission, Tiger entered last week’s US Open as healthy as he has ever been and, I suspect, as healthy as he will ever be. That’s why this latest cut is the cruelest and most telling of them all.

The missed cut is Tiger’s second straight at a U.S. Open (2015) and his second of the season. … It’s just the eighth missed cut of his career as a pro at major championships but his fifth in his last seven majors.

(CBS Sports, June 15, 2018)

He is now 42. But I felt nothing but pity when he tried to rationalize his failure. This included upbraiding a reporter for failing to see any flash of the once-dominant Tiger in his lackluster two rounds at Shinnecock Hills.

To be fair, this tournament marked the 10th anniversary to the day of his last major win – at this very tournament no less. That he found himself rationalizing yet another cut, instead of hoisting another trophy, probably accounted for his testy defensiveness.

But, if he thought that reporter was being impertinent, imagine what he thought when he read what critically acclaimed sports journalist Pat Forde wrote about his play. Forde did so in a Yahoo! Sports column titled “Tiger Woods Living in Denial Following Brutal US Open” June 15, 2018. The title says it all, but his column includes echoes of what I’ve been saying about Tiger’s play since 2011:

In Tiger’s head, he’s just a tweak away from being the best player in the world again. Out here in the real world, the evidence to the contrary continues to pile up. …

This was a setback for the comeback, and it was impossible for anyone to watch Tiger Woods play Thursday and Friday and envision him winning more majors.

I should clarify here that, notwithstanding the above, I’m on record declaring my belief that Tiger will win again; and not just some rinky-dink tournament, but a major. The problem is that Tiger himself made surpassing Jack’s 18 majors the standard by which we should judge his career.

Tiger knows better than anyone that he will not be able to fully redeem his professional reputation until he wins another 5 majors (i.e., from among the Masters in April, US Open in June, British Open in July, and PGA Championship in August).

(“Tiger Won…Finally,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 5, 2011)

Therefore, it won’t do for him to catch lightning in a bottle just one more time. He has to catch it 5 times (or 4 at the very least) for anyone to credibly suggest that he is the GOAT. Mind you, to put this quest for the holy grail of his sport into perspective, most players would be happy to end their careers with just two majors.

That said, there is one abiding consolation: Tiger is still the biggest draw – not just in Golf but in all sports. I conceded this point in “Golf: More about Tiger than the Game Itself,” July 25, 2014, “The Masters: All about Tiger Even When He Was Losing,” April 15, 2013, and, topically enough, in “The US Open: Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!” June 17, 2008, which includes this admission:

If Tiger Woods is not playing, I’d rather watch paint dry than watch Golf.

True to form, I stopped watching this year’s tournament when Tiger missed the cut. Brooks Koepka (28) won for … the second major in his six years on the tour. Which means that, if he’s lucky, he might have 4 when he’s 34, and 6 when he’s 40 and already halfway through his back nine.

But nothing demonstrates how Tiger once dominated the game quite like the fact that he already had 14 majors when he was just 32 in 2008. Because, of all the players on the tour, Phil Mickelson (48) comes closest to Tiger with just 5. And I hasten to note that Mickelson has completed the back nine of his most productive years too. But, unlike the Sisyphean Tiger, he’s playing just for the heck of it at this point. Only that explains this:

A remarkable sequence on Hole 13, where Phil Mickelson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball and ended up making a 10 on the hole. …

After performing this inexplicable move on the 13th green, Phil spent the rest of his round laughing his ass off.

(SB Nation, June 17, 2018)

In any event, Tiger’s fellow players can be forgiven for propagating the hype that flashes of his bygone greatness are preludes to coming attractions. After all, so long as there’s even a glimmer of hope of Tiger recapturing his faded glory, every tournament he participates in will be sold out, ensuring each of them of commensurate winnings.

But, in the meantime, Tiger is becoming to PGA players what Hugh Hefner became to LA playas: the most popular guy in the game who everyone knows can’t play/do it anymore.

Related commentaries:
Tiger’s wife
Tiger escapes
Tiger, Tiger … losing fight
The Masters
Bad play causes pain
Back won’t let him play
Tiger won… finally
Golf more about Tiger
U.S. Open: Tiger

* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 7:07 p.m.

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