PGA Championship: The state of his game and life means Tiger can’t win

August 11, 2010 | Drew Forrester

This is the Tiger Woods the haters always hoped they’d see.

Humbled, defeated, crest-fallen and unable to turn-it-on at a moment’s notice, the way he did throughout the first 14 years of his title-filled career.

Think of it like this:  Beethoven strolls to the piano, fastens his cuffs links, and can’t play a note.  He tries again.  It sounds worse.

That’s Woods these days.  He’s DaVinci with a brush, except the painting looks like something a 3rd grader would produce.

And in our country, where hordes of people relish in someone else’s decline, Tiger’s tornado-like downward spiral is met with unbridled happiness and sheer delight.

On the other side, those who carry the Tiger-for-President card are watching their hero meltdown in a fashion rarely seen from a premier athlete.  Most of the great ones lose it slowly and then sort of fade away, betrayed by their body and father time.  Woods, of course, isn’t “done” and he’s not fading away, per se, but he’s clearly mired in the most difficult time of his life and his golf game has reacted accordingly. 

Those in the anti-Tiger clan are seeing him at his worst.  Never before has he struggled like this on the golf course.  Forget the Thanksgiving night car crash, the tabloid disclosures that followed and the endless number of loose (pun intended) cannons he bedded.  The haters never got to SEE any of that first-hand.  No one was around when Elin discovered the cell phone.  No one was there when she attended a rehab meeting with Woods and he confided to her just how many women had become part of his “other life”.  No one was present when she delivered the news that she was leaving and their kids were now going to face the same dilemma as millions of kids in the U.S. — “where’s mommy today?” or “is daddy coming home soon?”.

Those were the private moments that probably hurt Woods the most.  None of us saw those moments up close and personal, so we used our imagination to paint the picture of what it must have been like to walk out of the shower that Thursday night and see Elin in the leaving room waving a cell phone and yelling, “You want to explain what this is all about, Tiger?”

And while we couldn’t see the private battles, we have been able to watch the public golfing-decline in high-def and for the haters, it’s been oh-so-glorious to see The Great One stumble and bumble his way around like a 12-handicap.

If you’re a Tiger basher and you’ve waited and waited and waited and waited and waited — and waited — for the golf gods to make Woods look human on the course, you’re finally getting that special treat.

There’s an old saying in tournament golf.  “Never complain about what score you posted, because half the people don’t care and the other half wish it was 10 shots higher.”

But it’s not like that with Tiger.  EVERYONE cares what he shoots.  Half the people wish it was 5 shots LOWER and the other half wish it was 10 shots HIGHER. 

These days, it’s 10 shots higher just about every time he tees it up.

And that’s making a lot of people happy.

Here’s a personal story I’ll share on the Woods situation that has stuck with me recently:

I played in a golf tournament a month ago and was paired with a young Korean college player whose father caddied for him in the 36-hole, one-day event.  During a rain delay, I chatted with the father about a variety of things, including Tiger.  When I asked him the difference between the way he’s been treated by the public in the U.S. and the way he would be treated in Korea, the father said, “In Korea, people would suffer along with Tiger. They would put themselves in his shoes and never glorify his misgivings or his personal failings.  In America, personal failings are celebrated.  The reaction in Korea would come from the heart.  In America, it comes from the head.”

It’s probably unfair to label anyone who’s reveling in Tiger’s decline “heartless”, but there’s no doubt that my new-found Korean friend was right when he said us Americans tend to react from the head, first, and the heart, later.  That’s why we always celebrate someone’s collapse and applaud their recovery or rebound.  To borrow a line from Billy Joel, sort of:  “It’s just the way we are.”

It’s taken 8 months or so, but Tiger has finally shown the wear and tear of his off-the-course lifestyle with the myriad of check collectors he surrounded himself on the Skank Wagon for the better part of 5 years. 

Woods authored perhaps the most telling line of this 9-month fiasco last weekend after shooting a million over par at Firestone Country Club, where he usually orders the trophy for the event weeks in advance.  When asked by a reporter if he could pinpoint one thing in his golf game that was holding him back and causing this collapse, Tiger shot the man a downcast glance and simply said, “It’s been a long year.”

“It’s been a long year.”

No deep explanation about how his swing plane has gotten off kilter because his spine angle is changing on the take-away.  He didn’t go into detail about “flipping the club” and hitting “snappers” left of left.  There wasn’t a mention of his putter and how his eyes might have been a hair off the target line and that was causing him to miss his line.

Tiger’s explanation:  “It’s been a long year.”

He’s not going to win at this week’s PGA Championship in Kohler, Wisconsin.  And for the first time, ever, perhaps, Woods knows it.  He knows he can’t win.  He knows he has to show up and he knows he has to perform — because winners do that when they’re winning and losing — but he’s keenly aware that he’s not going to win.

He also knows no one is feeling sorry for him.  Not that it would help him make any more putts or hit better shots, but Woods is spending this time — these days of reflection — all by himself.  If Stevie Williams didn’t know anything that was going on during the years of infidelity, he certainly doesn’t know what’s going on these days.  These are the darkest of dark days for Woods, with no family AND no golf game and no one who can identify with his plight because no one has ever gone through what he has gone through, specific to his own situation. 

Golf is a game you play by yourself.  And it’s a game where you work out your problems by grabbing a video camera, making a few swings, and watching it all on your computer to see how you can iron out the kinks before you tee it up again the next day.  When Tiger’s swing would slip, he’d go to the range, set up a camera, and fix it. 

There’s no range to retreat to for Tiger’s personal life.  No video camera can undo his wrong-doings.  He has to fix this on his own…yes, but that takes a lot more time and effort than fixing a tee-shot that tends to go right of the target. 

There’s probably a train of thought that Tiger’s golfing heroics during his philandering years was made possible by the mere fact that he surrounded himself with that train of jock sniffers who somehow gave him more inner-triumph and “I’m the man” confidence than getting his golf ball in the hole in fewer strokes than anyone else.

Most people figured the women in Tiger’s harem were there because he won.

Maybe, just maybe, he won because he had those women in his harem.

Now that they’re gone, so is Tiger’s golfing mojo.  And if Tiger’s decline isn’t directly related to his empty bed, it’s certainly one hell of a coincidence. 

He’s not the same player or the same man he was this time 12 months ago and he’s not going to win because of it.  Not now, anyway.  Not this week.  And not next week, either.

If Jaimee Grubbs is out of money – and that’s likely – maybe Woods can set up a return visit to her in Las Vegas and get his groove back.  He’s evidently about to hire Sean Foley as his swing coach, so that part might soon be on the mend.  And now if he can just find a couple of his old sorority girls to fly around the country on his credit card, he might be on the comeback trail.

Right now, today, his golf swing ISN’T good, for sure, and his putter has abandonded him.  Who left Woods more quickly?  Elin?  Or his trusty Scotty Cameron flat stick?  The golf-world secret about Woods that everyone in touch with the game has marveled at over the years is that Tiger has NEVER missed a putt that mattered.  As a junior, an amateur, a college standout, and the greatest player in the professional game, Woods has never failed to convert a putt that made the difference between him winning and losing.  It’s a staggering unkept statistic that those who really know the game revere him for…even his critics acknowledge the depth of his putting greatness.

But there’s one thing worse than missing a putt that matters:  Not having a putt that matters.

Tiger, right now, can’t put himself in position to have a putt in front of him that matters.

And yet, oddly enough, they ALL matter, because every time he misses one, the slide continues and the recovery from his self-made personal and professional collapse gets that much more difficult.

2010 will likely come and go for Woods without a victory on the golf course.  He’ll only play in 3 or 4 more events, tops, and winning seems so outrageously impossible right now that it’s almost silly to consider it taking place.

Someday he’ll win again.

He might not ever be the same again.

But he’ll win again.

In the meantime, those who admire him will take a seat in the corner and turn the dance room over to the haters, who will skip around the room with delight while Woods suffers under the immense pressure of a man who made a wrong turn and lost his family, his golf game and, most importantly, his integrity.

Only in America?  Maybe.