As a mark of respect and in recognition of extraordinary historical accomplishments on the golf course, the sports print and electronic media continue to give an inordinate amount of attention to the precipitous decline of Tiger Woods, quite possibly the greatest golfer to ever tee up the dimpled ball.
Tiger is no longer the greatest. At best, he could be described as average with an outside shot of winning a minor tournament or two on tour on experience and muscle memory alone. He last won a major (the U.S. Open) seven years ago. He’ll hit the big four-oh December 30. For all practical purposes, his distinguished, iconic career is at an end. He has no chance of capturing another major, ending his string of victories in the four most prestigious golf tournaments at 14. He trails only Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major’s titles in the modern era. All other peers are in the single digits.
In his prime, Woods was effectively unbeatable. He was also a walking money machine for TV and corporate sponsors. Affix Wood’s name to a tournament roster or product and the viewers and greenbacks came flooding in. A couple of talented kids, Spieth and McIlroy and the indefatigable Phil Mickelson can still pack ’em in, but that’s about it. Tiger’s age is a big factor, but it must be noted that Mickelson can still bring it at 45. Jim Furyk is a very dangerous competitor at the same age. He’s already pocketed nearly $2 ½ million on the year. There are a half-dozen other 40ish golfers more likely to win than Tiger at this point.
So if these very good golfers can still realistically compete for wins, why can’t arguably the greatest of them all keep up? There are several factors to consider. The first being the duration of Tiger’s golf career including competitive, entertainment and the occasional trip to Dubai and Japan to pick up spare change millions to play 18 with billionaire big shots. Consider this: At age two, Tiger Woods was playing exhibition golf on national TV. His appearance on the Mike Douglas show in 1978 probably marked the cutest guest ever on an entertainment show. He was a precious and precocious toddler, with rich, wavy black locks. Though barely as high as your kitchen table, the two-year-old Tiger teed it up for an audience of millions. At age TWO!
So, for the last 37 plus years Tiger has been hitting golf balls. Put in perspective, that means a young man or woman joining the tour at 20, would still be playing the most challenging courses at age 57, Senior Tour territory. For at least a decade, Tiger has been tearing his body to shreds. You can check out the PGA home page and get an idea of how much abuse the tour has laid on him, especially his back and knees. He’s undergone some very serious surgeries, most likely come back too soon from various injuries and probably played too much golf with too little rest in many of his competitive years.
I’m going to touch on two very delicate subjects here. One is the unintended consequence of Earl Woods pushing his gifted little son. There are protégées and there are protégées. I don’t believe most parents would fly a two-year-old around the country to show off the little guy’s prodigious gift of golf. I think such appearances could have been delayed until at least nine or ten years of age.
Putting that kind of pressure on the musculoskeletal system at such an incredibly young age, surely could impact future development. Earl did collect some dollars by writing two books on coaching a young golfer, but it is clear that Tiger loved the game and his late father and would not have risen to the very top of the golf world had it not been for Earl’s guidance in hiring subsequent coaches and knowledgeable endorsement and management people. I still think the exhibition and showbiz appearances could have been delayed until at least nine or ten years of age.
The second ‘delicate subject’ is the matter of banned substances. The intensely competitive Woods, with a legacy to protect and injuries piling up that affected his game, may have succumbed to the siren song of some questionable helpmates. About a year ago, the NY Daily News wrote an article rich in quotes from a newly released book entitled “Blood Sport” by Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts. The two authors wrote of 63 visits from two Canadian doctors for “treatments” that set Wood’s back nearly $200,000. These same doctors “treated” infamous Yankee baseballer, Alex Rodriquez, suspended for use of banned substances.
It has never been established whether Woods ever used banned substances in his recovery from knee surgery, but Elfrink and Garcia-Roberts apparently are convinced he did. Anecdotally, if you check out images of Woods throughout his golfing career, he didn’t start out looking like a contestant for Mr. Olympia. In recent years, Tiger has featured bulging biceps, a highly muscled V-shaped back and interestingly enough, what appear to be thick muscular thighs in tight pants when earlier pictures, showed his pants flapping around what looked like much thinner legs.
It would seem that if you suddenly become much stronger as you age, that your golf swing would suffer because the torque of that swing would be quite different. Where real power is required on drives, Tiger’s game has been especially troubled with an inability to keep those drives in the fairways.
Woods also did his career no favors when he was revealed as the Charlie Sheen of the golf world. Like Sheen, Tiger liked a certain type of woman. Probably not the type you’d bring home to mother. Wife, Elin was having none of it and the marriage, for all practical purposes, ended with a 2009 confrontation about his dallying, beginning with a scratched face, followed by a fleeing Woods crashing the family SUV with Elin in hot pursuit pounding away at the vehicle, ironically with a golf club. It was an unseemly story to be attached to Wood’s legacy.
So, Woods continues to make good, but ever more pitiful, copy. He’s lost most of his once nonpareil game. His personal reputation is in relative tatters. The Tiger of the future will be judged by his somewhat hedonistic approach toward women and apparent willingness to cheat, not only in marriage, but in his sport and life.
Quite simply, he won’t be the athletic hero he once was.