Tiger’s Extraordinary Dilemma

As an avid golf fan, I am still reflecting on the performances of the world’s elite golfers during the recently completed US Open. Like a lot of people who follow this great game, the plight of the once untouchable Tiger Woods fascinates me. His once predictable performances had most of us feeling like one of Professor Skinner’s well-trained pigeons. But his recent downturn has given us insight into how those same pigeons must have felt the day when Professor Skinner changed the rules of the game. The volatility that Tiger’s fans are hoping not to become accustomed to in Tiger’s game is remarkable to me since it seems so much out of the ordinary. By the way, I should add that I have always believed that it is an “out of the ordinary set of circumstances” that gives rise to an “extraordinary performance”.

All of us can cite examples of people who, in situations that would stop most of us in our tracks, have accomplished amazing things. For example, some of the people whom I have admired include, among many others, Jennifer Bricker, Terry Fox and Rick Hansen. Although I have never met Tiger Woods, it strikes me that the circumstances of his childhood were out of the ordinary in many respects. Up until Tiger came along, as a pre-kindergarten child on the Mike Douglas Show , every kid I knew played either baseball or football or basketball or hockey or soccer. I had never heard of a small child who wanted to play golf previously. So, to my way of thinking, I felt that back in the late 197o’s Tiger Woods was a somewhat unusual child. Or maybe I was simply witnessing the signs of a prodigy in the making — a child whose lofty path in life had been pre-ordained. Even his unusual nickname seems a matter of destiny. I cannot conceive of a guy performing at anything less than a superhuman level getting away with calling himself Tiger.

The theme that underlies the remainder of my article involves my belief that Tiger’s “extra-ordinary” circumstances, although they gave rise to a great golfer whose quest to overtake Jack Nicklaus cannot ever be discounted (even now), might also have resulted in what, in some ways, might be a unidimensional human being. In other words, while other kids were busy doing what growing children do, a certain amount of Tiger’s childhood must have been focused on developing the mind, the discipline and the focus that would later dominate the golfing world. This leads me to speculate that, on the one hand, Tiger developed traits that most kids aren’t even aware of, hence his unbelievable domination of his sport. At the same time, I have to wonder if Tiger was victim to a double-edged sword that also resulted in certain aspects of his development being, for lack of a better word, underdeveloped. Again, I have never met Tiger Woods so I am merely speculating from the comfort of my armchair. Nevertheless, the possibility of extreme traits in the same personality make me think that, despite Tiger’s seemingly stalled career, the possibility is ever present that he can muster one final run at the record books.

Of particular importance to my perspective is my understanding that Earl Woods, Tiger’s dad, played a dominant role in shaping the man who would become the most ridiculously dominant golfer of his era. To me, Earl’s role was more than crucial for one reason in particular. Namely, I have always believed that for us boys, as much as we love our moms, our primary relationship is, in fact, with our fathers. The need to emulate our dad and to please him, in my opinion, underlies a basic desire for their approval. Making our dads proud of us and of our accomplishments is a strong driving force for a lot of us guys. In the case of Tiger Woods, then, it seems to me that his career can be notably divided into two periods: pre and post the passing of Earl Woods.

If my point is valid, then Earl Woods was the rock upon which Tiger’s extraordinary accomplishments were built. Earl was the glue that kept the various components of Tiger’s life together. When Earl died, something that had anchored Tiger for his whole life was suddenly no longer available to him. The rudder that could have helped steer Tiger through the turbulence that, in some form or another, crosses paths with everyone from time to time was no longer there. In my mind, this raises the possibility that, for perhaps the first time in his life, Tiger had to rely exclusively on himself and this would not be an easy skill to develop late in life. Without Earl as a sounding board, all the decisions that would affect Tiger’s life would rest solely on Tiger and, consequently, the real Tiger was now exposed. And with all due respect, the real Tiger seemed to be a little more shallow and underdeveloped in some fundamental emotional and psychological areas than many of us would have liked to believe. This, for lack of a better word, “revelation” was further compounded when Elin publicly aired a previously unsuspected stratum of Tiger’s dirty laundry and Earl’s stabilizing, often proactive, influence was no longer there to keep the situation under control. Subsequently, notwithstanding the fact that Tiger’s talent still shows the occasional flash of his golfing brilliance, for the most part his career has been spiraling steadily downwards. Indeed, approximately four years ago, Johnny Miller drew an analogy to Mike Tyson’s dominance in the boxing ring prior to his encounter with Buster Douglas compared with the Tyson who seemed to emerge a different man following that defeat. But then again, Tiger’s performance in 2013 is a stark reminder to the naysayers that he may reappear at any time. If Tiger’s personality traits trigger extremes, his lows will be really low but his highs can still be incredibly high. Indeed, even in tournaments where the entire golfing world agrees that Tiger has been playing poorly, he has often still played better than many of his elite peers, some of whom miss the cut while Tiger hangs around for the weekend. This speaks not only to Tiger’s superior talent but also to the higher standard to which his scrutiny is held.

As I suggested above, maybe Tiger is undergoing a late-in-life emotional and psychological maturation process that may be exerting an influence on the current state of his golf game, which is so diametrically opposed to Tiger’s first dozen years on the PGA circuit that, in many respects, it seems impossible to comprehend.  I am admittedly speculating here, but I wonder if during the past few years Tiger has been undergoing certain emotional and psychological dynamics that most of us underwent at a much younger age. If so, then he may be in the midst of an emotional and psychological learning curve as he comes to grips with dynamics that may not be fully familiar to him. It is for this reason that I believe there is a realistic chance that Tiger Woods may yet shatter the remaining pages of the record books. At some point, an intelligent person, which Tiger seems to be, will complete his maturing. Father Time may turn out to be his only adversary.

To close the loop on why I think that Tiger may be undergoing a belated period of personal growth leading to a possible renaissance, I need to address some of the more sensitive issues that have surrounded him in recent years. For example, he is not the first man to be accused of infidelity in a marriage; but, in my experience, most (but not all) men who cheat on their spouse usually do so with one woman; and they often develop feelings for this “other woman” and sometimes pursue a relationship with her. As more and more sources in 2009 and 2010 revealed an ever increasing number of women in Tiger’s life (see, for example, the daily news, gawker and the Post), I began to see Tiger as unusual in that regard as well. Namely, he appeared to have no real emotional investment in those other relationships. In my experience, men who cheat with a lot of women simultaneously are acting out an inability to be intimate — a pattern of behavior that is emotionally superficial and is akin to using women’s bodies to get their proverbial “fix”. Again, I have never met Tiger Woods so I certainly cannot generalize the preceding statement to include him. But profiles usually develop as a result of repetitive observable patterns; hence, this possibility has crossed my mind as potentially further proof that Tiger may be treading on emotional territory that is uncharted in his life. As a consequence, the once fully synchronized machinery that was presented to the world as Tiger’s life has lately been running as though something is either missing or damaged. And I believe that the steadying hand of Earl Woods is the missing ingredient.

As further proof of Tiger’s awakening, many articles now describe him as “more human” than in the past and not as closed to the world as he used to be. He has even been seen laughing and clowning around with his peers during tournaments. Perhaps he is just now joining the world that the rest of us mortals who do not have a God-given superior talent in any area have been residing in; but the basic gift that God bestowed upon Tiger is still underneath everything that has happened. Hence, I think you cannot write him off just yet. It is quite possible that he could win another major or two and, if he should win them in relatively quick succession, then Jack’s record may still be in jeopardy.

About Dominic Spano

Dominic Spano is a Canadian anthropologist, musician, hockey player and former salesman who now spends his time writing and teaching. His books include: (i) Pathways to SOLD! The Science Behind the Sale; (ii) In The Twilight of the Moon; (iii) The Defendant: Insights & Motivation for the Salesperson (in Everyone); (iv) The Riddled Mystery at Pirate Cove; (v) A Blue Collar Introduction to the Accordion; (vi) A Blue Collar Introduction to the Guitar; all six texts are available as electronic books (e-books) through www.amazon.com
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