What’s up with Tiger Woods?

http://img.timeinc.net/golf/i/tours/2010/07/p1-tiger_298x445.jpg Editor’s note:  Tiger finished tied for 11th in the PGA Championship – the last major of the year.  He is not guaranteed a spot on the US Ryder Cup Team and as a Captain’s pick – Corey Pavin has yet to reveal his choices.  It is the first time Tiger has not automatically qualified for the team.  Noah Gentner’s thoughtful interpretation is a good read – and likely spot on.  Check it out: Editor – Stephen Walker, PhD

by Noah Gentner, PhD, CC-AASP

Tiger Woods…Just a “Normal” Golfer?

We have seen Tiger Woods do a lot of amazing and improbable things throughout his career.  He won the 2000 U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes and, more recently, he won the 2008 U.S. Open on a bad knee.  He has held all 5 major championship titles at the same time and generally dominated the sport of golf for over a decade.  He is truly one of the most amazing athletes in history.  He was an abnormal athlete who did abnormal things.

If you watched the Bridgestone Invitational last weekend it was hard to believe you were watching the same Tiger who had been atop the sport for so long.  He shot four straight rounds over par, had the worst 72-hole performance of his career, and finished 30 strokes behind the winner, Hunter Mahan.  Even more alarming was his behavior on the course.  At times he looked like a frustrated weekend hack who wanted nothing more than to hit the clubhouse bar.  He didn’t line up his shots, take practice swings, or have the same focus he has become famous for.  He was no longer doing amazing things.  In fact, he looked positively normal.  All of that begs the question:  What happened to Tiger?

Of course the easy answer is that his personal problems are taking a toll on his golf game.  While that certainly seems to be true, I want to dig a bit deeper to see what really is troubling Tiger. In so doing we might be able to pinpoint what has made him look so normal.  (Note: While I may be an expert in Sport Psychology I am anything but one in golf so I will stay away from any technical issues related to his golf game although I’m sure there are some).

Lack of Energy

Each one of us has a finite amount of energy we can utilize throughout our day.  Think of it as a gas tank, some have a large tank (think Kelly Ripa…is she even human?) while others have a much smaller one (think about your teenage son who sleeps until noon).  Each day we are faced with things which drain that tank (work, stress, traffic, other people, financial problems, etc.).  Fortunately, we also have filling stations in our lives.  These are different for everyone.  Some people fill up with exercise, meditation, or yoga while others may do it by spending time with friends or watching TV.  Throughout our days our energy tank is constantly fluctuating based on how many “drainers” and “fillers” we encounter.  When our tank is low our performance (whether it’s at work, home, or in athletics) suffers.

One of the most important pieces of research in Sport Psychology is the Iceberg Profile.  Developed by William Morgan, the Iceberg Profile suggests that elite athletes differ from less successful athletes on several personality characteristics.  According to this model the starkest contrast between elite athletes and others is in vigor (energy).  Elite athletes possess extremely high levels of vigor.  In other words their tanks are much bigger and they have a lot more “fillers” than “drainers”.  How does this relate to Tiger?  Well, it seems that for much of his life Tiger had a pretty full tank.  As an elite athlete we can assume that he might have a fairly large energy tank.  Furthermore, he also had few “drainers” and several “fillers”.  One of the advantages of having money is that you can pay people to deal with the things which otherwise might drain you.  So, Tiger didn’t have to deal with many of the “drainers” which you and I face.  He also was able to organize his life in a way which preserved (and added to) his energy level.  He could spend time with his “fillers”.  Maybe that was being with his family, playing cards with his friends, or, as we now know, spending time with other women.  No matter what it was, Tiger was able to do the things which “filled him up”.  As a consequence his tank was always relatively full and his career thrived.

Starting last Thanksgiving all of that changed.  Tiger now has one HUGE “drainer” which he is forced to deal with on a daily basis.  Anyone who has been through marital problems knows how much energy that takes.  Suddenly his tank is a little emptier.  What about his fillers?  Well, now his family is probably more of a “drainer” than “filler”; as for those other women, I’m pretty sure they’re out of the picture.  All of the sudden we see a tired Tiger; one who doesn’t have energy to deal with adversity on the course or focus in his typical manner.  We see a Tiger who looks like a normal golfer.

Loss of Confidence

In addition to his energy levels, one of the things which has always separated Tiger from other athletes is his confidence.  I can still see him with that smile on his face during a 60 Minutes interview when he said, “I’m aware if I’m playing at my best I’m tough to beat.”  He knew he was the best.  He never believed he was out of a tournament and he didn’t just THINK he was going to win, he KNEW he was going to win.  There is no substitute for that confidence, it keeps athletes focused and helps them push through difficult times.

In the past Tiger’s confidence never wavered.  He always believed he could come back from a bad hole, round, or tournament.  Now, for the first time we see him doubting himself.  Suddenly, Tiger isn’t supremely confident (possibly for the first time in his life).  Deep down inside he has to be wondering, “Will I ever come back from this?”  “Will I ever get back to where I was?”

In some small way other golfers must be saying to themselves, “Finally, he knows what it feels like to be normal.”  That’s what makes this situation so interesting.   For the first time in his life Tiger is normal.  He’s doubting himself just like the rest of us, and wondering when he’ll get back on track.  In the past Tiger never had to worry about confidence.  It was always there like a loyal dog.  Now, he has to find ways to build his confidence just like the rest of us.  As we all know, that can be very difficult especially when you’re a normal golfer who shoots 18 over par.

Accepting Failure

If you’ve ever watched Tiger talk to the media after a loss it’s very clear that he doesn’t accept failure.  He expects to win every tournament; anything less is intolerable.  For years golfers just accepted that they couldn’t play well every week and that it was unrealistic for someone to dominate the sport.  Then Tiger came along and flipped that on its head.  He did the unthinkable, largely because he believed he could.  He would accept nothing less.  That belief separated him from his competitors.

Through injuries, the loss of his father, and swing changes that belief never wavered.  Even for the months after the Thanksgiving incident he still was the same Tiger who bristled at the media after a loss.  He could have made excuses but he still refused to accept failure.  Last weekend I saw a completely different Tiger.  I saw a Tiger who accepted failure.  Even worse, I saw a Tiger who seemed to accept (and even expect) future failures.  For the first time he gave us an excuse.  He said he hasn’t had enough time to practice like he used to.  He had more important things to do (nobody would argue with him there) and couldn’t devote as much time to golf anymore.  While that may be true and valid, it’s the first time I have ever heard Tiger accept failure.  What I heard him say was, “I don’t have time to work at golf the way I used to so don’t expect me to be the player I used to be.”  It seemed like he was preparing us (and himself) for future struggles.

Would the old Tiger have said that?  Remember, the old Tiger didn’t use knee injuries, his father’s death, or swing changes as excuses.  I think the old Tiger would have said that type of performance was unacceptable and he would have vowed to improve.  The new Tiger still wants to improve but seems a bit more accepting of such performances.

What does all this mean?  I think it points to a more normal Tiger.  With less energy and confidence and an attitude which is more accepting of failure Tiger is starting to look a lot more like Kenny Perry or K.J. Choi…just a normal PGA tour pro with normal problems.

Check out Tiger’s scorecard at the Bridgestone Invitational – a key stop in the Fed-Ex Cup competition – where Tiger may not even qualify for the finals:

PLAYER SCORECARD

PLAYER SCORECARDS

Tiger Woods
POSITION: T78TO PAR: 18THRU: FROUND 4

Round 1Firestone CC (South Course)
Hole123456789OUT101112131415161718INTOT
Par454434344354434435443570
Strokes564443345384534535343674
Status122232223344455544+4

Scorecard:
Ace / Double Eagle
Eagle
Birdie
Par
Bogey
2+ Bogeys

Round 2Firestone CC (South Course)
Hole123456789OUT101112131415161718INTOT
Par454434344354434435443570
Strokes555433435374434425453572
Status112221212EEEEE-1-1-1E+2

Scorecard:
Ace / Double Eagle
Eagle
Birdie
Par
Bogey
2+ Bogeys

Round 3Firestone CC (South Course)
Hole123456789OUT101112131415161718INTOT
Par454434344354434435443570
Strokes464524464394334435553675
StatusE11211244433333345+5

Scorecard:
Ace / Double Eagle
Eagle
Birdie
Par
Bogey
2+ Bogeys

Round 4Firestone CC (South Course)
Hole123456789OUT101112131415161718INTOT
Par454434344354434435443570
Strokes445534454385333647443977
StatusE-1E111233433245777+7

Scorecard:
Ace / Double Eagle
Eagle
Birdie
Par
Bogey
2+ Bogeys

STATS
Round 1Round 2Round 3Round 4TOTALRANK*
EAGLES0N/A
BIRDIES232310T53
PARS10101073780
BOGEYS6556221
DOUBLE BOGEYS123T1
OTHER0N/A
DRIVING ACCURACY3621505039.3T79
DRIVING DISTANCE290.0308.5297.5314.5302.623
PUTTS PER ROUND3227263329.5T49
PUTTS PER GIR1.8181.5711.7141.8001.74319
GREENS IN REG6139395648.6T77
SAND SAVES405027.369
* Ranks are computed at the end of each round.

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