The world of sports is full of long, lonely walks. From the centre circle to the penalty spot, the backcourt to the free-throw line, the bullpen to the mound in the bottom of the ninth. In these moments, the athlete is alone in a crowd of thousands. The whole world slows almost to a stop, then everything rushes back into focus, and then…The great ones revel in these moments, when every eye is on them, waiting to see what comes next.
For Tiger Woods, every step he takes on the course must feel just as lonely, just as surreal. Except, for him, the long, lonely walk never ends. Every swing counts. Every moment on the course is scrutinized and analyzed. There is no teammate to relieve the pressure with a joke, no loving wife waiting at home to console him if he fails, no one to offer him the unconditional support of a parent. He plays for no badge but his own. Tiger Woods is truly all alone. He used to relish in it, when he stood alone on the summit of professional golf, the only player anyone wanted to see. They still want to see him, but the eyes aren’t as friendly now.
It is the nature of the sport of golf which has contributed most to Tiger Woods’ astonishing freefall (78th, 28th, 12th, and 11th in his last 4 tournaments). It has been suggested that what Tiger needs is just to get out on the course, that he will escape his problems by playing golf, which will lead to him playing better golf. I don’t see it. Tiger Woods will not play his best golf until he has moved on from this scandal. Golf won’t help him. The mental must be sorted out before the sport; it won’t come the other way around.
Sports like basketball, soccer, football and the rest can be a haven for the troubled mind. There’s no time to think, only to react, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the game. Take the recently presented example of Wayne Rooney, England’s premier soccer star. Just days after a scandal, similar to Tiger’s and involving prostitutes and pregnant wives left in the dark, broke, Rooney was able to conjure up two vintage performances for England, seeing off Bulgaria and Switzerland in the European Championship qualification campaign. Rooney’s young family is in jeopardy, yet he was able to escape between the lines, at least for a little while. Golf is not like soccer, and it is not like other sports. The moments of athletic escape are few and far between. While other athletes only have moments to collect their thoughts, golfers only have moments to escape theirs. That’s fine if all you’re thinking about is the next shot, but how could that be all Tiger thinks about when he takes his long walks.
There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Tiger Woods’ inclusion in the American Ryder Cup team could not have come at a better time for him, personally and, therefore, professionally. The tournament, which will be played at Wales’ Celtic Manor Resort, from Oct. 1-3, will give Tiger the opportunity to be in the public eye under the protection of something bigger than himself, the American flag. When he steps up to the tee-box, people won’t just see Tiger Woods, adulterer, but Tiger Woods, American golfer. The value of this cannot be overstated. To be able to play knowing that the people watching him care about more than just salacious tabloid gossip, but want to see him succeed or fail based on the colours he represents, will be a tremendous relief for Tiger. For the first time in what seems like a long time, there will be people around him that genuinely want him to do well. The team environment is a cure for many ills, and I expect the same to be true in October. Furthermore, the more respectful nature of British golf fans should provide the perfect platform for Tiger’s continued rehabilitation. I fully expect Tiger Woods’ game to improve markedly during and after the Ryder Cup. Will he be amazing as soon as he puts on the American jersey? I think that it would be unrealistic to expect that, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility for the most talented golfer of his, or perhaps any, generation.