Despite Tiger Woods’ most recent meltdown at the Pro-Am tournament in Pebble Beach, where he failed to make up a mere four shots to two unknown golfers, the media haven’t figured out that the man is yesterday’s news. In the interview after the tournament, Tiger bemoaned his poor putting and, once again, failed to give credit to the man who leap-frogged over him and the two men above him to come from six strokes behind to win the tournament — Phil Mickelson, who doesn’t seem to be caught up in the Tiger mystique. But Tiger’s name continues to draw interest and followers by the thousands and when he shows up at a golf tournament the TV producers drool because it translates into large numbers and makes the sponsors happy. But the man has had his day.
When Woods fails to deliver, as he has done repeatedly since his much-publicized breakup with his wife — resulting in world-wide tabloid exposure and the inevitable whispering behind the hand upon his appearance in a room — there is considerable talk about his putting, or his stroke, or his caddy, or his equipment. But none of these things will explain the fall from great heights that describe this man’s golfing career. His ego lies in tatters beneath his feet; he will need help putting it together again. His problem lies between his ears and no one seems to want to talk about that.
I am not a trained psychologist, but common sense tells me that a man who has been told all his life that he can do no wrong, that he can walk on water, and who seems to be doing precisely that every time he strides down a golf course in his red shirt on Sunday, when such a man suddenly and rudely runs head-on into the reality that he is none of these things, his psyche must be severely damaged. When his psyche takes such a thorough thrashing, no adjustment in his golf swing can possibly rebuild the self-concept that has taken more than thirty years and repeated success to build up. The man no longer believes in his own invincibility. He is learning what happens to a man when he begins to realize that he is not larger than life.
The Greeks learned over the years by trial and error that hubris leads inevitably to punishment. Buddhist philosophy likes to talk about karma and it is more or less the same idea, present punishment for past wrongs. When we begin to think we are gods, we will undoubtedly learn that we have feet of clay. Tiger Woods is learning that lesson and until or unless he takes steps to remedy the damage to his psyche, there will be no more major victories on the PGA circuit, I predict. There may be small wins, but the big ones will elude him as long as the ghosts of his past mistakes continue to whisper in his ear as he leans over the three-foot putt. The man’s problems are not mechanical, they are psychological. Even I can see that from where I sit.
But the news media will continue to pick at the carcass because there is still a large public that still believes the man can return to the heights he once commanded, or because they have a maudlin interest in seeing a man suffer for his sins — like elbowing one’s way to the front of the crowd at a traffic accident. But whatever the motivation, ESPN, the Golf Channel, and the major networks that televise golfing events will continue to hope the man shows up and makes the cut. It’s good for business. But I don’t see it happening.
In the end, the lesson Tiger should take away from all this is the one we should all contemplate as individuals and as nations: none of us is invincible, and precisely when we think we are we had better prepare ourselves for a fall.