With Tiger’s latest fusion surgery on his back and sidelined once again from strolling down the fairways in his quest to find the dominance that he used to display at will, I’m convinced that we are witnessing Humpty Dumpty in the flesh. As I sit here and reflect on all that is Tiger, I can’t help but think of the famous English nursery rhyme.
I can still remember the first time I had the chance to see Tiger up close during the 2000 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club. As I looked at him from a distance I can remember thinking to myself, “I thought he would be much bigger” and then as he approached all of a sudden I could not only see it, but feel it. He was bigger than life, as an air of confidence, concentration and sheer out of this world focus seeped from every fibre and pore in his body and transcended an invisible force outward that literally pushed you back. David Feherty summed it up perfectly when he said, “I don’t know what that is, but I know there weren’t two of them on Noah’s Ark”.
Where has this invincible man gone and will he ever get back to the same larger than life person that dominated and raised the game to new dizzying heights?
Humpty Dumpty Sat On A Wall
This is the perfect analogy for the glory days of Tiger as he stood head and shoulders above the competition and possessing a pure air of confidence as he rose to the number one player in the world. This incredible rise began in his early amateur years as he was waltzing up to podiums after beating competitors much older than himself and cultivating a game that would lead him to three U.S. Junior Amateurs titles in a row followed by an unthinkable three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles.
His ‘Hello World’ statement and now infamous interview with Curtis Strange in 1996 brought him to the professional ranks. He did not waste time showing why he belonged in the seat at the top of the wall, beginning with his incredible display at the 1997 Masters where he lapped the field breaking and setting nearly every record possible enroute to winning by 12 strokes.
Tiger Woods did not move the needle in golf, he became the needle. We witnessed something that was so rare, so extravagant, that now with his last major win back in 2008 and his last tour victory coming at the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational, it is easy for us to forget how good, scratch that, how phenomenal Tiger really was.
How dominant was he? Here is a condensed version as the list is almost endless:
- From the middle of the 1999 season through the middle of the 2001 season he won 20 of the 38 stroke play events that he entered, that’s winning almost 53 percent of the time.
- He made 142 consecutive cuts in a row from 1998 – 2005, which is 29 more than the second longest streak held by Sam Snead with 113.
- Tiger led or co-led following any round in a major a staggering 42 different times from 1997 thru 2008.
- He has held the 54-hole lead 45 times in his PGA career and closed the deal in 43 of them, a whopping 95.6 percent.
- He has won 18 World Golf Championships, next closest player has three.
- Only five players have won the career Grand Slam and Tiger managed the feat at the age of 24. He also won four consecutive majors owning and able to display the four trophies at the same time, known as the Tiger Slam and is the only modern day player to do so.
- He spent 683 weeks as the World No. 1, that’s 352 weeks (or more than 6.75 years) more than Greg Norman who is second on that list.
- Tiger has won more than $110 million in official earnings during his PGA career.
- He has won the Vardon Trophy (lowest scoring average on Tour) nine times.
- From 1999 thru 2003 he won an incredible 32 times, no other player won more than eight times in that span.
- He has won 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour events thus far in his career.
His domination and popularity started a shift in golf as I remember being a young teaching professional at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Canada during the late 90’s and had the job of running the junior development programs. Like everywhere, soon after Tiger’s Masters we saw an influx of juniors now wanting to take up the game with over 600 ‘I am Tiger Woods’ passing through our camps and clinics per summer.
Mr. Palmer brought golf to the world but Tiger made it cool. Overnight, purses on the tour jumped to staggering numbers, junior programs sprung up everywhere and golf was embraced world wide. Anyone, who is involved in golf or the business of golf, needs to thank Tiger for all that he has done and continues to do for the game.
Humpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall
Tiger is currently away from the game once again these days as he recovers from a fourth back surgery. Even the few times that we managed to see him tee it up this season, he looked a mere shadow of his former self. But where did this fall from grace actually begin?
There are some that will place the blame on taking what was regarded as the best swing of the modern age and changing it not once, but up to four different times. What we don’t really know for sure is if this was just his own pursuit of perfection or did Tiger know that his body was being internally ripped apart and tried to make these changes to actually prolong his career? For whatever the reason, Tiger felt a need for change. Although he continued to win with every new swing, he never truly owned his swing as he mentioned in an interview when he stated that only two men ever had (Ben Hogan and Canadian legend Moe Norman). Many will conclude that these swing changes were the beginning of the end of his superiority.
The infamous fire hydrant in Windermere, Florida. We all remember where we were for Thanksgiving 2009. I was having a cold beverage with some members in the Cayman Islands at the course where I was the Director of Golf as the news broadcast that Tiger Woods was involved in a single vehicle accident. The weeks to come would put Tiger on display in a way that nobody could have predicted. As I only know Tiger through the world of golf, I cannot comment about his personal life but have to think that the time in rehab, divorce and separation from his children had to be devastating. These circumstances could have contributed to the end of his dominance as his rivals and peers would never look at him through the same eyes and he was being forced to answer questions or think about things on the course that would take him out of his usual bubble of focus.
Nobody can truly understand the incredible bond that Tiger had with his father Earl Woods, the man who believed in his son so much that he would support and help shape Tiger into a prodigy of golf at a young age. Earl also instilled in Tiger that although he would be thrust into the spotlight for his on-course abilities, he would leave an even larger mark with his off-course endeavours and helped start up the Tiger Woods Foundation which benefits millions of children. Tiger’s best friend, mentor, confidant and father passed away in May of 2006 and it is hard to comprehend the impact this had on him. Could this be when Humpty slipped off the wall?
Tiger is now a single father of two beautiful children in Sam and Charlie. Fatherhood has a way of changing a man and for the first time Tiger has two sets of precious eyes looking at him not as an iconic golfer and dominating player, nor as a fierce competitor but as a beacon of hope and love. Tiger has stated many times that he loves being a father and anticipates every soccer match, parents day and other family activities together with great expectation and wonderment. Tiger, the man who ate, breathed and slept golf for so long may be starting to see that golf is not only playing second but tertiary behind his two loving children. He is older, more mature and practicing is getting tougher as it is not only painful to his body but takes time away from being a Dad. Maybe, this love for his children and family time is why he is not rushing to climb back to the top of the wall in golf as he has found another wall (fatherhood) that he wants to be the master of.
The injuries finally break him down. It is incredible when you look at how many times Tiger has dealt with injuries and pains during his career. Regardless if his famed knee injury resulted in a run at home or a training session with the Navy Seals, the cause is not important but the fact that it gave the world a glimpse into a crack in the armour is. Tiger has been known to discount or downplay his injuries to the media, as hey, this is his personal business and he has the right to disclose what he wants or does not and I respect him for that. Also, he is a competitor and like the old saying goes ‘never let them see you sweat’ or ‘never let them smell your fear’ holds true and he did not want to announce to the world or his competition that his body was breaking down.
However, when you look at all his known injuries, his record of dominance is that more impressive: 1994 a benign tutor relieved from his left knee; 2002 a cyst removed and fluid drained from his left knee; 2006 an injured muscle in his left shoulder; 2007 a ruptured ACL and decides against surgery; 2008 arthroscopic surgery to his left knee; 2008 reconstructive surgery to his damaged ACL, 2008 double stress fracture to his left tibia, 2008 tore his right Achilles tendon and reinjured it the following year; 2010 inflamed facet joint in his neck, 2012 injury to the left Achilles tendon; 2014 back spasms which leads to a microdiscectomy surgery; 2015 a second microdiscectomy surgery and then a follow up surgery; 2017 spinal fusion surgery.
When you think of all these injuries it is just as easy to picture a line backer in football rather than an elite golfer. The amount of will power or mental focus no longer mattered as his body was simply too battered to continue. The fall from the wall is complete.
All The Kings Men Couldn’t Put Humpty Back Together Again
All the Kings Men come in many fashions for Tiger and have or are playing a crucial role in trying to get his body and mind back in shape again for yet another comeback in the world of golf.
For whatever reasons Tiger decided to change his golf swing, the first Kings Men would be Butch Harmon, Hank Haney, Sean Foley and Chris Como. These four men have had the incredible opportunity to work with the most gifted golfer if not athlete of our generation. The amount of scrutiny and second guessing from the armchair critics, media, other coaches and possibly Tiger’s fellow playing competitors were and are thrown at these four men from every direction. To change Tiger’s swing and keep him competing at the top level is a gifted art form that these instructors have displayed. Again, nobody but them and Tiger know if there were any behind the scenes needs to change his swing and the mere fact that he kept winning throughout these changes (although no wins with Como as of yet) is a true testament to these coaches and their abilities.
Team Tiger consists of a lot of behind the scenes people but one that is out in front regularly is his agent Mark Steinberg, as he is always the voice to the media or public when Tiger is not available. Steinberg and the rest of Tigers PR team have been hard at work his entire career and have the task of keeping Tiger in the spotlight while downplaying any negatives that are often (just or unjustly) thrown in his direction. His image is still a valuable commodity with not only the PGA Tour but his sponsors and is always under the protective watch of Team Tiger.
The surgeons and medical team that have been involved in Tiger’s procedures are definitely trying to literally put Tiger back together. His body may have been battered and broken but with neurosurgeons Dr. Charles Rich and most recently Dr. Richard Guyer entrusted to operate, hopefully he will be back to better health soon. Will this latest spinal fusion surgery be the treatment that finally suppresses Tiger’s ongoing pain and allows him to swing freely and powerfully bringing his came back to the heights of old? We will just have to wait and see if Humpty, I mean Tiger, has finally been put back together again.
This year’s big Easter Egg hunt has recently come and gone with all the colourful eggs being collected. However, there is still one fragile egg left out there somewhere painted in its traditional Sunday colours of red and black and I hope that someone can find it soon and place it back to where it rightfully belongs… on top of the wall.
See you in the fairway.