THE FRESHEST

Tiger Woods Will Never Win Again

Photo by gomattolson (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

I’m not a golfer.  I tried to play the game, was lousy at it, and quit at the suggestion of the pro who was giving me lessons (he complained I was bringing his game down).  So when I write that Tiger Woods  will never hoist another tournament trophy over his head, I do so not because I possess any particular expertise about golf.

My assessment has less to do with Tiger’s skills (which are, indisputably, top-notch) than with his loss of the more central ingredient in his prior success:  His sheen of mystery and invincibility.

Raised and groomed not merely to be a golfer, but to be a great golfer, Woods lived out that plan with meticulous determination and concentration.  Nothing, it seemed, interfered with the development of his skills.  But as he progressed as a pro and enjoyed a string of early victories, one could sense the emergence of an added dimension to Tiger’s game, as though an invisible but palpable force-field  seemed to build around him. 

You could feel it on the golf course.  Whether paired with a rookie or a veteran, Woods in a tournament was a solitary, intimidating unit of physical energy, a brooding superhero who seemed downright disdainful in the way he’d ignore whomever else was at the tee.  Crowds would part for him more reverently than for anyone else, as if his aura pushed them back, and players shied from standing too close to him, as if his aura served as a guard.

That aura–that sheen–was purposefully nurtured as Tiger’s career progressed.  With his perfect wife, his perfect children, his expertly manicured but heavily guarded image–and, of course, some damn good golfing skills–Woods’ persona grew outsized.  He became not merely a brand, but an icon.  And because so few people ever got to glimpse beyond the sheen–because virtually no one was privy to anything that would reveal him to be anything less than a focused, laser-like golfing machine–the legend of Tiger’s perfection became a surreality.

This perceived reality was, of course,  intimidating to his competitors.  In the exceedingly mental game of golf, doubt or hesitation–the presence or absence of either–is often the difference between winning and losing, and Tiger’s carefully cultivated sheen of invincibility surely had its doubt-inducing, hesitation-inducing effects on many opponents.  But to the eyes of this observer, the most profound effect of Tiger’s surreal aura of omnipotence was on Woods himself. 

Because golf is such a mental game, a golfer who devoutly believes in the legend of his own supremacy  has all but slayed the game-ruining demons of mental doubt and hesitation.  Favor that golfer with great technical skills, and the result is a virtually unbeatable golfing phenomenon.

So it was with Tiger.

The catch, of course, is that when a pillar of one’s perceived omnipotence is one’s own unshakable belief in that illusion, shattering the illusion shatters the omnipotence.  And since omnipotence is an absolute–one is either indestructible, or not–seeing one’s persona in pieces on the ground virtually precludes a return to a belief in one’s supremacy.

And so it is now with Tiger.  His spectacular fall shattered more than his marriage and his endorsement deals.  With its attendant rehab, counseling, and soul-searching, Tiger’s spectacular fall undoubtedly shattered the certitude of his belief in his own infallibility, opening the door (as his post-scandal play has shown) to those game-ruining demons of mental doubt and hesitation.

It’s sad, but it’s true.  Tiger Woods has lost his mojo.  And it’s not coming back.

~~Kenn Shapiro

[UPDATE: December 4, 2011.  With his win today at the Chevron World Challenge, Tiger Woods has proven me wrong. I stand humbly corrected.  Welcome back to the Winner’s Circle, Mr. Woods. KS]

4 Comments on Tiger Woods Will Never Win Again

  1. This is the best article written regarding the rise and fall of Tiger Woods.
    So far it has evolved into a prophetic piece. Woods no longer knows
    where he fits in the golf world. He looks frightened and confused when
    engaging the media. The proverbial deer in the headlights. His play is
    unpredictable at best. A mixture of vintage Woods and faulty play that
    surely hurts his pride and keeps his confidence cup half empty. Woods
    has moved from the staggering sublime to the supreme embarrassment
    of mediocrity. Will he overwhelm the odds and become great once
    more? Or is he doomed to fade into obscurity? Time is telling us the
    latter.

  2. I agree 100%. Tiger’s success didn’t come from his swing, he found his success on the 5.5 inches of fairway between his ears. Tiger won with the beautifully rythmic Harmon swing as well as the herky-jerky Haney – Green Acres swing. Tiger didn’t always beat every other golfer, but he caused a lot of other golfers to beat themselves. He doesn’t own the golf course anymore, he doesn’t command the ball into the hole like he used to. Now he’s just like everyone else, he puts a good roll on his putts and hopes they fall. All the way back to that last amateur title, you remember that rediculously long putt that no one thought he’d make? Well he didn’t “think” he’d make it either, Tiger knew he’d make it and make it he did. He doesn’t have that anymore and unfortunately, he’s been lobotomized into thinking the unthinkable, that he’s human after all.

  3. If I was surrounded by handlers and synchophants who told me all day, every day that I was akin to a higher being I too would start believing it. I think Tiger has several more championships left in him because its likely so much of his personality is wrapped up in being a winner that he would do whatever he could to get back to that standing. I mean think of his upbringing and what messages his father likely instilled in him. I’m not making a judgment call on Mr. Woods but finding out you are a mere mortal isnt easy for any of us when we get older. He just had a greater distance to fall. The differnce is he has a skill set and focus that most people dont posess. Maybe he isnt invicible anymore but I wouldnt count him out just yet.

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