Tiger’s Not Stupid

Tiger Woods gave it the old college try yesterday morning at The Players Championship. He stumbled out of the gate on the first hole of the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, with a soaring hook deep into the left rough…with a 3 wood he’d played for safety. The reason is that he tweaked his left knee again in his patented move to his left side on the downswing.

Once he felt that go, he tried to play on with an instinctive compensation to minimize the pain or discomfort. That put more pressure on his Achilles—which he had already strained doing the same thing—which he strained again. But he salvaged a bogey.

He made a triple-bogey on the 4th, somewhere in there his calf began to cramp up and the rest of the round withered away to a 42. In some quarters, the 42 was seemingly looked upon as an attrition of his golf skills rather than a consequence of his physical ailments.

The thing I noticed about so much of the commentary about this is the assumption that the commentator knows more about Tiger’s body and his game than he does.

Just one example of that is this column sent to me by a reader, “The Disconnect of Tiger,” by John Paul Newport in the Wall Street Journal. The thrust of the column is that Tiger is disconnected from reality. After resting the injury sustained at the Masters, he came into the tournament allegedly without hitting a ball. His doctors released him to play. His first foray onto the course was nine holes on Tuesday and another nine on Wednesday. He said he was capable of playing:

But this was lip service. He must have known that, with virtually no practice and a body so fragile he didn’t make it through a single hole without pain, he had no chance. Here’s the disconnect. Or maybe it’s disorientation.

The piece went on to entreat Woods to capitulate to the ravages of his “old” 35 years and just play “old man” golf; fairways and greens with his wizardry over his brawn.

I don’t know too many players who haven’t tried to come back from injury too soon. I’ve had a month off from the game and I can still feel the slight groin pull that hasn’t quite healed yet. But I know my body and I know what’s possible. I know that I’ve waited weeks for stuff that mattered to resolve itself and then played anyway. And the simple act of putting it through the golf motion loosened the muscles up and, with initial restraint, I was fine (except for the pinched nerves in my back; that required a chiropractor). Every player who plays the game seriously has had the exact same experience.

The commentators put great emphasis on the fact that Woods has had four knee surgeries. But he presumably had this done by the best surgeons he could find and any decision on his part to play has been made in conjunction with them. True, he overruled them in his legendary broken-legged victory in the U.S. Open. But if nothing else, the man has amply demonstrated that he is not stupid.

So I do not know why so many commentators are sounding the doom, the possible end of Wood’s career. It could be, but in the absence of any knowledge of his medical condition, they are way ahead of themselves. Just because he gamely attempted to come back prematurely for a very important tournament.

I go the other way. As ill-practiced as he was, he is, after all, still the great Tiger Woods. And if he feels that playing in a tournament is something he’s committed to, then we should give him a lot of latitude. Who are we to interfere with his self-determination, with the full self-expression of his playing talent, his possibility?

Who’s to say that Tiger’s not ready to play? Tiger. Who’s to say that he’s in the twilight of his great career? Tiger. And who would have the audacity to take those choices away from him?

His career could be over, but that eventuality is way too ominous and way too early for anyone but Tiger to know.

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