Tiger Woods Missing Bay Hill and maybe the Masters?

Today is the start of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando.  Usually the talk is about who is playing, the tournament, and the great venue, but this past week it has been about Tiger Woods not being there.  Tiger has taken a break from tournament golf since the first round of the Torrey Pines tournament in early February.  He is supposedly practicing and working hard to get his game back into tournament shape.  The short game problems were quite evident in his recent tournament outings in Scottsdale and San Diego, but in reality all parts of his game were off.  One of Tiger’s best friends, Notah Begay, has been close to the situation and has reported that he is just not ready to put his game to the test in competition.  I thought for sure that he would be back for Bay Hill, because it is not that hard of a course and he has had so much success there in the past.  Now the mystery of his absence deepens and his comeback more suspect.  The Masters would be too big of a stage with difficult short game challenges to think he could compete successfully after this long of a break from competition.

Arnold Palmer has an opinion that Tiger is lacking in confidence.  I will agree with that, but how is he going to regain that confidence.  Tiger has a giant ego.  Will he be willing to display his weakness for public viewing?   I doubt that.  Many players have suffered major collapses in their games and have battled back.  The most recent is Sean O’Hair.  However, even though he was once a top ten player in the world, you really didn’t know he was struggling unless you were a fan of his or a devoted follower of the PGA Tour.  Many have lost their games and were never heard of again.  O’Hair’s journey back took four years.  I again doubt that Tiger would be willing to subject himself to that ordeal.

Tiger was raised in an environment that promoted his greatness.  He was systematically trained for success and his uniqueness. His troubles can be traced back to incident on Thanksgiving of 2007, but I think the real downfall was his father’s death in 2006.  Tiger was sheltered and protected and his father was his guide.  With him gone, he just let loose.  When he was exposed, he lost some of his invincibility.  With that, his ego took a beating.  In my opinion, he has been searching for invincibility in the form of perfectionism in his golf swing.   That is the wrong approach. 

At the age of six, his father gave him a list of affirmations.  These are the affirmations that he had posted on his dorm room wall at Stanford University twelve years later.

I will my own destiny
I believe in me
I smile at obstacles
I am firm in my resolve
I fulfill my resolutions powerfully
My strength is great
I stick to it, easily, naturally
My will moves mountains
I focus and give it my all
My decisions are strong
I do it all with my heart

His talent and skill were a level above the players on the PGA Tour, but his biggest asset was his mental strength.  He religiously listened to tapes of these affirmations and repeated them three times each, ten times a day.  They engrained themselves into his belief system and his successes throughout his career only strengthened his belief in their validity.

Now there are questions.  Now you see cracks in the armor.  He must be questioning his belief system.  I wonder if and how he is dealing with those issues?

What advice would I give to Tiger Woods?  First, I would have to have more information and a heart to heart talk with him, but I think he needs to get back to just playing golf and enjoying it.  In 2004, I watched him play the first round of Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill.  He was going through a swing change by Hank Haney.  He took 10 or more practice swings between shots and was noticeably not swinging naturally.  However, when he missed a green, he automatically didn’t give his technique a thought and just took a practice swing, trusted his vision, and pitched or chipped the ball close to the hole.  No thought, just did it.  Now there is thought about every aspect of his game.  As a teacher, I would never prescribe that formula for success on the golf course.

Your vision leads your action.  What you envision, your body with try to achieve.  The golf game is about basics.  Tiger should get back to basics and play instinctively.  He should go back to his greatest victories and remember his mental state and recoup that feeling.  What he is doing now is any body’s guess.  One of his affirmations is, “my will moves mountains.”  If he overcomes this obstacle, he will have truly moved a mountain.


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