Friday, May 11, 2012

Tiger Woods: End of an era

Few would question there was a time, not long ago, when Eldrick (Tiger) Woods sat alone atop the world of golf. For about a decade he dominated the game like no other had before, and likely ever will again. Sure, there's a long list of golfing greats that preceded him, but Tiger was precedent-setting in several ways.

Let's be honest about it. When Woods burst upon the world scene, he was a black man playing basically a white man's game -- and it quickly became apparent he was playing at a level only known to him. He had every shot in the book, and seemingly a miracle up his sleeve whenever it was necessary.

With all due respect to a couple former golf greats, it could be argued that Tiger not only intimidated the competition more than Jack Nicklaus ever did, but also had a fan following that dwarfed any "army" Arnold Palmer ever had following him around the course -- or on TV, for that matter. Did that have anything to do with him being a "minority", a handsome guy with a great smile that was out there breaking new ground, and inspiring the next generation to dream of following in his footsteps? Perhaps.

And oh my, did he win. Not even counting all the other tournament championships he garnered, Tiger began racking up the "majors".  A scant few years ago, who amongst us doubted that it was only a matter of time before Woods would surpass Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships? Whether one liked it or not, it seemed inevitable. He became married to a gorgeous woman, had two adorable little kids, and it was almost like a fairy tale, where everybody lives happily ever after.

But of course, we know that didn't happen. Besides the meltdown in his personal life, Woods experienced a rash of injuries. All of which led to a swift decline in his golf prowess. Then he parted company with his long time caddy -- and those guys are more important than many think -- and also fired his long time "swing" coach, and has since opted to try and reinvent his game with a new coach and a new swing. The results have not been good. Yes, Tiger won a tournament not long ago, but it seems like for every week he's competitive, there's another week when he's struggling to merely "make the cut", oftentimes against a field that doesn't include all the top players. Those 4 more major championships to equal Nicklaus, that once appeared to be a given, now seem to have disappeared over the horizon.

How far has he fallen? It's not just that he got dislodged from his throne from being the #1 player in the world for so long, but much worse. Think back. A few years ago, in any given tournament, there were many that would take Tiger over the entire "field" on a wager. Not a bad bet back then, but who would make it now? These days, despite all the hopes from his faithful fans, Woods not only seems to be a long shot to win, but some are betting on whether he'll even make the "cut" to continue play on the weekend. As I write this, Woods is 8 strokes back after just one round at the Players' Championship, the biggest tournament outside the usual "majors". That's a lot for one day. If he continues plodding along in the second round, he'll get blown off the course. And let's not forget, Woods doesn't play a full schedule. He'll take a week or two off here and there to "prepare" for a big event. If after all that -- if he still can't make the cut -- that's not a good sign.

It might just be that the golf world is missing the obvious. Maybe it's not about Tiger getting weaker. It's about the "field" getting stronger. There's young guns that are barely old enough to drink coming from every corner of the planet -- and not only are they really good and will get better -- they have the cocky conscience of youth that Tiger once had. They're not intimidated in the least by what Woods has accomplished in his past, and most likely think they could take Tiger on any given day on any given course. These guys aren't going away and, what's worse, there's teenagers all over the globe that are busy honing their games, and will be on the scene soon.

Will any of them dominate like Tiger once did? Probably not. There's so many in the "field" these days that can play so well, with yet others jumping in every year, that golf is likely approaching "parity", like most other pro sports. Whoever won last year, or even last week, doesn't seem to matter. The competition is too ferocious.

Eldrick Woods deserves credit for re-energizing the game of golf. It had become somewhat stagnant until he burst on the scene. Yet, in a cruel twist of irony, all those kids he inspired years ago to start taking golf seriously, and practicing like maniacs under every condition, have come back to bite him. Because they're there now, on the same course, and are beating him.

I truly believe the era is over.  


  1. John, I agree with most of what you have opined. I disagree with the part about the kids beating Tiger. They are not. He is beating himself right now.

    Tiger has been playing better and has even won recently. He is on his third golf swing now, and many golfers have said what he is going through right now is typical of what happens when you make changes to your golf swing. A three step process, where you master your swing: 1 - on the range, 2 - during practice rounds and 3 - in tournaments. And from all accounts, Tiger is past numbers one and two, and is working on the hardest part, because when you are under the heat the old feel-good habits tend to come back.

    In addition to his swing, the personal stuff he has gone through, of his own making, had to be agonizing and downright embarrassing. As a result he has tried to be a kinder, gentler more fan friendly and game friendly Tiger. I even saw him signing autographs on tv a few weeks ago, a sight so rare I don't remember ever seeing before.

    I think part of the being a better person has detracted from the killer attitude and aura that helped him destroy the golf field. I almost wish he would go back to being a big a-hole if that is what it takes.

    Will he ever dominate like he did before? I don't know. You are right about the fearless young guns coming out year after year. Those kids are good. But I do expect him to regain his spot as best golfer in the world in the next year. And the domination thing - I am not going to bet against him, he is still Tiger Woods.

    1. Good to hear from you again Al. As usual, you make good points, particularly Tiger's new (nice guy) personna possibly distracting him from his old killer instinct. Tiger's hard to figure. Just about the time it looked like he might not make the cut at the Players' Championship, he put on a mini-charge in the second round to get back into contention. Methinks how he plays on the weekend is important in this tournament. He doesn't necessarily have to win, but if he can be competitive on Sunday afternoon -- that's one thing. If he melts down again -- that's quite another. There's one thing I've never understood, and maybe you can help me out. Assuming his injuries are fully healed, why, pray tell, with all the success he had in the past, would he want to change his swing in the first place?

  2. Hi John. From what I understand, Tiger has had multiple surgeries on his knee from injuries both related to and not related to golf. The golf swing he was taught by his dad, and then tweaked by Butch Harmon and Hank Haney put an excessive amount of torque on his left knee. Apparently with his new coach, Sean Foley, the new swing exerts less torque. I have no idea how, but the self proclaimed experts on TV concur.

    One thing people have a tendency to forget is that the standard Tiger played to was far higher than anyone ever before. Winning two or three times a year was having a great year. Then Tiger started winning six, seven, eight per year. Four majors in a row.

    The expectations for Tiger are still to that standard, but who knows if anyone can do that again, including Tiger. The scrutiny on his every move and result is ten times more than any other. Look at Rory McIlroy. The new number one player in the world just missed the cut at the Player's Championship. Barely mentioned. But whether or not Tiger would miss the cut in 2 tournaments in a row was the big story coming in, and if he had missed the cut the press would have fodder for weeks.

    Do you remember that Jack Nicklaus had periods of bad play? Did you know that Nicklaus missed the cut in 81 tournaments?

    Although there are many excellent young players, we can only hope that one or a few of them raise their games to the almost unreachable level of Tiger. Absent that, the best thing for golf would be for the old Tiger (on the golf course) rise again.

    1. Thanks for the info Al. Makes sense. No argument here as for Tiger once playing at a standard never seen before. Also agree with the Tiger "expectation" thing, but that cuts both ways, as it should. If his every move, particularly on the course, is going to be scrutinized, the TV viewing public force-fed highlights, sometimes ad nauseum, and the media and masses will trumpet a Woods' victory to high heaven -- then it's only fair the same scrutiny should be applied in the opposite way when he's kicking it around the course 8 or 10 shots behind, as I think he is right now at the Players. I knew Jack Nicklaus missed the cut in a lot of tournaments, but didn't know it was 81. Wow. But don't overlook that he was also the runner-up 19 times in majors. If he'd have won even a third of those, for 6 more, I doubt if Tiger or anybody else would ever approach it. But ya never know. You and I might have to agree to disagree on how we perceive Tiger. It sounds like you're a Tiger fan hoping for a resurgence in his dominance, and that's cool, but personally, I rather watch a tourney where he's not even there. Nothing against Tiger, but there's only so much TV time, and so much of it is devoted to him, the viewing public is hence deprived of seeing all the others. To be clear, I don't like or dislike Tiger. I merely maintain that while he's good for the game in some ways -- he's bad for it in others. Have a good one.

  3. I agree with you John. The scrutiny on Woods does cut both ways, deserved or not. I think the coverage is many times over the top, both ways. But the ratings tell the story, and without Tiger in the mix, the ratings are not so hot.

    As for Nicklaus being runner-up 19 times, I am not sure how to look at that. Jack was the type of player who just wanted to win, while Tiger wants to bury his competition, like Arnie used to want to do. That could mean that Tiger takes more chances in an attempt to win, and Jack relied on the competition to fold - in other words playing safe, not playing to win. But while you may view runner-up as an accomplishment, Tiger's saying is that second place is first loser. I think that may explain it.

    1. Al. I forgot about Tiger saying second place is first loser. Good one. And you're probably right about the Jack -Arnie/Tiger comparison regarding the competition. No doubt Tiger spikes the TV ratings, and when I said I'd rather watch a tournament without him, I certainly realize I'm in the minority, but I just throw out stuff from my personal, perhaps sometimes misguided, point of view. As you likely know, I'm not to go with the flow too often, and certainly am not a "homer". Playing the "devil's advocate" is kind of fun sometimes, even though I fully expect to get nailed from various sources over it. But hey, somebody's gotta do it, and things are looking up elsewhere. My way early picks to win championships, the NJ Devils of the NHL and the Miami Heat of the NBA are rolling along. Plus I have two brand new itty-bitty yorkie puppies, and you can come baby sit any time you want, cuz those little guys are wearing this old man OUT. LOL. Have a good one.