We were so close. So close I tell you. The leaves are beginning to change, football teams are settling into who they really are, baseball playoffs are in full swing, and then he announced he was coming back. Could fall get any better? We were so close. Tiger Woods was coming back to golf and this time there was a glimmer of hope that we might get a competitive Tiger. How could we not be really excited after reading this quote last week from Jesper Parnevik?
“By the way, he’s been hitting a lot of balls, and he’s hitting it great. He’s pounding it a mile and flushing everything. On the range, at least, his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago. Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular.”
I mean is there a more ringing endorsement than that? How could the golf world not be excited? We saw Tiger lurking/hanging around at the Ryder Cup and it made us feel good. We had a chance to see if Tiger could make the cut, put a scare in the leaderboard and get us geared up for 2017. The Masters? The US Open? All were possibilities again and the chase for 18 seemed to be back on the runway. And then the news broke Monday that Tiger decided he was not ready, well actually this was his quote:
“After a lot of soul searching and honest reflection, I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA Tour or compete in Turkey. My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be.”
Does this sound like the most dominant golfer of the 2000s? Not at all. This sounds like a shell of the man who captivated the golf world and brought new audience members week in and week out. What I can conclude here is that this is Tiger 4.0 (we have been through 2 and 3.0 already), and the new version of Tiger has a serious hole in his game, it’s between his ears.
Tiger has no confidence in his game. The last we saw him he was shanking chip shots, slicing drives, chunking irons and missing putts that used to be gimmes from ten feet away. None of those poor shots were the result of Tiger’s inability to practice due to injury, they were because he lost trust in his body. Well that trust is still not there.
How can we read or hear Parnevik’s statements and Tiger’s statements and not be confused? Tiger can’t be the Tiger from 15 years ago and have a vulnerable game, it just can’t happen. The vulnerability is between his ears. It has to be. We have all seen it before in other sports. Well, true sports fans have. Remember Chuck Knoblauch’s inability to make throws? It ended his career. What about Nick Anderson of the Orlando Magic? The guy had a chance (actually four chances) to ice game one of the 1995 NBA Finals by making a foul shot. He missed all four, the Magic lost the series in four games and Anderson went from a 70% foul shooter to a 40% foul shooter within two years. There are countless other examples of athletes just losing their talent, and I hate saying it but Tiger is in the woods looking for his (along with a few wayward drives I am sure).
If you really dissect Parnevik’s statement there is a key element to it. “On the range, at least…” That’s the telling point to me. Tiger has become what many weekend golfers are, a great range player but his game isn’t transferring to the course. We have all been there, well at least I know I have. I get to the range and I am hitting great shot after great shot. I can’t miss. I am striping drives and irons, flushing wedges and can hit every shot I have in my bag. Then I get to the first tee and I hit my tee shot into the woods and 4.5 hours later I am saying I am never playing golf again. You know you have been there. Well imagine if you are Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer of all time and you have become like the rest of us Average Joes. It just can’t sit well and the longer he goes without playing the more likely we are to never see him again.
Think about one of the greatest 80s movies of all time, Top Gun. When Maverick went through his plane crash the first thing they did was try to get him back up and flying. It was simple math, the longer he went without flying the harder it was going to be for him to fly ever. Tiger needs a Viper (Tom Skerritt’s character) in his life. He needs someone forcing him out on the golf course and playing in a tournament, even if it is the likes of the Safeway Open. The field is not a dominant field but simple competition with the cameras on him is what he needs. Of course this brings another issue to light, Tiger’s lack of friends on the tour. See for years we have heard about Tiger’s solitude and the private person he is. There is nobody that can get close to Tiger and sort of take him by the hand and say, “It’s going to be okay, I’ll play with you if you need me to.” This all adds up to the limbo we are left in now.
Of course I want to see Tiger back playing competitive golf. I am a firm believer that if he can somehow win one tournament it will get some of his confidence back. If he can somehow win one major I truly believe it’s worth three more and then he is tied with Jack. If he gets to 18 then 19 is a no brainer. I just think that if he doesn’t get out and play soon we will never see him again and that is a loss for all of the golf world.
We were so close and now we are so much farther away than we were on Monday and Tiger’s game is even farther away, well at least in his head he is.