Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Tiger Woods won't win a major championship in 2012

In early March, I made a made three “friendly” wagers that Tiger Woods would not win a major in 2012. Admittedly I was less confident about winning those after TW won at Bay Hill (again) and showed up near the top of the leader board at Augusta.

One club-kicking week later, my wagers still look good and the logic behind what I started writing a month ago still holds true.

Why Tiger Won’t Win a Major in 2012.
At least part of Tiger Woods’ mystique is that for the first 33 years of his life, he was always been the best player among his peers, by far. I’m not a stats guy, but I doubt anyone could refute that statement if they chose to try.

Further, Tiger won an obscene percentage of the time when it mattered most (read: majors and big tournaments like the Memorial, World Championships, etc.).

During those three decades, he never, ever doubted his abilities on the course. The result of this is that Tiger hit shots few, if any, players thought possible. The result of that was a level of disbelief among and intimidation of every other golfer on the planet that led directly to the massive gulf of separation Tiger put between himself and everyone else. The result of THAT was Tiger’s holding of four majors simultaneously in 2000 and 2001,  72 tour wins (third behind Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead), 10 Player of the Year awards, eight Vardon Trophies, and the kind of endorsement deals that could secure Woods and his progeny (and a few nations) for eons.

Tiger had been rightly recognized as the best player at every level in which he played. In light of his astonishing achievements and charisma, he was the most recognized, and arguably the most universally loved athlete on Earth. Ever. He never doubted himself, either on the course or off, until the harshest self-inflicted fall from grace in the public eye since … well since you tell me when because I can’t think of an appropriate comparison. Why would he have doubted himself? He had no reason to until Thanksgiving weekend 2009.

My initial reaction to his gated community driveway mishap, within minutes of the details-poor news crossing the wires, was, “Man, this story STINKS to high heaven.” As for how that went, if you don’t know, you’re doing it wrong. Go look it up.

Prior to that mess with the Perkins waitress, and scores of other women with whom he consorted (read: adulterated), and hundreds of millions of dollars in divorce settlement and endorsements lost, Tiger’s body was starting to show the limits of what humans can endure. The violence of his swing required four surgeries or procedures on his left knee. In one of his two most impressive major victories, Tiger won the 2008 U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate on a broken left leg. Yes, really.

(Tiger’s remarkable physical prowess and endurance begs the question of “performance enhancing drug” use tied to his previous physical training regimen and recovery from those procedures, but that is another story. Suffice it to say it is reasonable to suggest a cause for the acceleration of his game and his physical condition’s demise is the spotlight now on performance enhancing drugs and questionable, though not illegal, related practices. Do remember the allegations of strange blood treatments and the connection to a Canadian physician reported in 2009.)

The golf swing and the ability to compete at the highest level of the game decrease by several orders of magnitude when this occurs. It is undeniable that the torque generated by the violent nature of his swing for two decades has contributed to his game’s deterioration. Even when fully “healthy” in 2012, Tiger has no distinct advantage in distance with the driver or any other club over the field. I would suggest, however, that if he can win the U.S. Open on a broken leg, the mental toll taken by his self-doubt and self-loathing has been a much larger factor in his relative ineffectiveness as a player.

Quickly, let us give a nod to a few of his tour competitors. His competitors have risen while he has fallen and now they have been ahead for three years. I often give PGA Tour players crap because of the inflated prize purses and comfortable livings they make while happily languishing in the middle of the pack. But to the handful that painted the target on TW and the #1 world ranking (most publicly and notably Ian Poulter – even though he didn’t get there and most remarkably Vijay Singh who accomplished it well before TW’s decline in physical and mental health), I say well done.

Which brings us to where we are at the moment. None of the world’s top players (Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and the like) live with the specter of a failed marriage and the associated embarrassing infidelity publicly splashed across the globe floating around in their brains. This frees them up to focus all of their capability on the task at hand.

I always believed very strongly that a free mind and vivid imagination are two highly underrated assets to athletes.

Every poor shot Tiger hits brings new doubt in his game, which can fester quickly (if not immediately) into thoughts about personal shortcomings, which occupy the mind in a cancerous way to which few of the top players in the world are subject.

How large of a change between self-confidence to self-loathing and self-doubt can humans overcome?

For nearly a decade after I quit playing professional golf I could not enjoy myself on the course in a casual round. I refer to this as the “damn I used to be good at this” level of frustration. I simply could not adjust my expectations enough to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be nearly as good without committing the required time and other resources, which I was not willing to do. It took me 10 years to do so. With every single lousy shot TW hits it is possible his frustration in this regard increases.

The wow, “I used to be good at this,” leading to “I used to be loved by EVERYONE,” to “I don’t really need to do this anymore if I don’t want to,” is the most insurmountable obstacle to Tiger surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ 18 professional major mark since Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mt. Everest.

His figurative “drive” to excel that used to be a key part to his advantage over other players is weak. Despite all of his financial losses, his life remains and always will be comfortable beyond what anyone save royalty will know.

But for now, Jack Nicklaus’ 18 professional major tournament wins record remains safe (Tiger has 14).

The massive pile of karmic crap and self-doubt coupled with the “I used to be good at this level of frustration” and physical deterioration Tiger has brought upon himself translates very simply into the near certainty that I win those three friendly wagers.

Thank you for playing.