Last Monday President Trump awarded Tiger Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I wrote this piece two years ago, just as many in the golf media were wondering if Tiger would ever recover his game, his public image and his confidence. I think it puts Tiger’s amazing Spiritual Journey in perspective…
To Find Tiger, Look Inside
Among golfers, the topic of conversation is the dramatic, sometimes pathetic, but always disturbing demise of Tiger Woods golf skills. We all know the stats, so let’s just address the question, “Will the Real Tiger ever be back?”
The answer is no.
Not because he has permanently lost his touch. Not because he is physically too broken down. Not because he has been listening to too many voices about how to adjust his game. No, none of those reasons hold up under scrutiny.
I could go into the fact that in 2009 he was Tour Money Leader and the Associated Press Player of the Year. In 2010 he was PGA Player of the Year. Or that since 1998, Tiger has rebuilt his swing at least three times.
No, Tiger is not in this current funk because he is confused about his swing, or because he is so injured he can’t swing correctly. His problem is not in the physical part of the game. It is in the spiritual part.
We all know it is a bad idea to mess with the Golf Gods. The Golf Gods are not forgiving. Tiger knows this full well, because he has often said his “luck” comes from hard work. He is never surprised by his success because it is derived from his design. He has been the epitome of focus and tenacity. He taught himself the art of self-hypnosis at an early age so he could tune out distractions. He has said he is able to reduce his heart rate when it starts racing, so he can fully focus his energy towards the result he wants.
Tiger learned his unique physical and mental skills working closely with his doting Dad. He worshipped and adored his father and was receptive to his coaching. Tiger was his disciple. But that was when Tiger was the center of his Dad’s world. When his Dad passed in 2005, Tiger became the center of his own world. A world that he and his Father constructed to serve one purpose and one purpose only: to make Tiger the Greatest Golfer Who Ever Lived.
But that Tiger doesn’t exist anymore.
Have you ever had a really poor round of golf when for all intents and purposes, everything was lined up to be a perfect day to play well? Good course, great conditions, great company, no injuries or soreness, but you played like a dog? Upon subsequent analysis, you decide it was because you felt guilty playing because why? Maybe it was something you knew you should have been doing instead, like working. Or spending time with the family. You just couldn’t escape the distracting guilt that was a black cloud over your head all day. Every golfer knows the game is played mostly in your head—so avoiding distractions is a skill in and of itself.
Tiger is now a dad. He isn’t living in the same self-centered bubble he had constructed before he met Elin Nordegren. As a young amateur, and for nearly two decades as a pro, he was an independent contractor, free to focus on all things golf. Not anymore!
In their intense focus on building mental and physical techniques for winning golf, father Earl and son Tiger overlooked something. They failed to fulfill the spiritual needs of a growing young male. So while spending 99% of his time on golf, Tiger was poorly equipped to deal with a spiritual void. He tried to fill it with money, fame, business, physical challenges (Navy Seal training, skin diving, etc.), with a marriage, a few big houses, a yacht, and other possessions, all to no avail. Even the winning of major golf tournaments wasn’t helping, thus the sexual excursions.
Tiger needs help, and for someone who was at one time the giver of hope, the preacher of the Gospel of Golf, it is hard for him to have to live an earthly existence, and to have to ask for help. So far he has been asking for help from all the wrong people, and changing golf coaches like his socks. And things have only gotten worse, both mentally and physically.
By most reports, Tiger relishes his family time. He is a good and loving Father, when he can find the time. But the results of his divorce from Elin limits that time, as does his business commitments. Tiger has his hands full of obligations and emotional conflict. Like most of us, he is finding it hard to find faith in anything other than himself, because for most of his life, that has worked wonderfully. But there comes a time in everyone’s life where the rubber meets the road. Tiger subconsciously knows his job right now is to be father to his children just as his Dad was to him. Guilt is an elusive and subtle emotion. It has a nasty way of injecting itself at the most inconvenient times.
When Tiger finally acknowledges and accepts the responsibility that goes with being a fully engaged parent. When he accepts the reality that the WonderBoy he once was no longer exists. When Tiger looks inward and upward for help from a higher authority than a golf instructor, that is when Tiger will re-emerge from the jungle.
Just as former Dodger pitching ace Orel Hershiser famously reached out to Payne Stewart, I can only hope a close friend will take Tiger aside and reach into his soul and give him the key to finding peace and satisfaction in being the kind of father he was so fortunate to know. And if that happens, he will not only be giving his children, and himself, a priceless gift, but he may someday win another Major.
Rick Elkin is a cultural and media observer, author and columnist. His most recent book, Trump’s Reckoning: Bulldozing Progressivism, Rebuilding Americanism, is available through most online book sellers. He resides in Escondido, California. You can follow him at RickElkin.com or on Twitter @Rick_Elkin.