Eye on the Ball: What makes Tiger tick?

COURTESY PHOTO Golfers of all ages are wondering — what happened to one of the sport's greatest players?

Golfers of all ages are wondering — what happened to one of the sport’s greatest players?

What is going on with the man who is arguably the greatest golfer who ever lived?

On March 10, Tiger Woods announced he will not be playing this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida — a tournament that he’s won eight times and that has always been one of his favorites. This was one event he didn’t want to miss, he said, because he wanted to honor Arnie, his close friend who died in September. His reason for not playing this week is due to needing, he said, “ongoing rest and rehabilitation” for his back problems.

I can’t seem to keep up with Tiger’s countless physical problems. He had his last good year on the PGA tour in 2013 when it looked like he was back, stunning all of us by winning five times on the tour.

It appeared he had no mental or physical problems and I think that most folks wanted to see him playing again. Now, here we are just a few years later asking ourselves if he will be playing in the Masters in April.

At the beginning of the year, we were excited to see that Tiger had proposed an ambitious schedule of tournaments he would be playing. Instead, he’s dropping out of events and we realize that he has only played seven competitive rounds of golf in 18 months.

As a long-time golf professional, I keep getting asked: “Is Tiger Woods done playing in golf tournaments?” Good question. My answer keeps changing every year since the start of his decline on Thanksgiving of 2009, the day his then-wife, Elin Nordegren, took a 9-iron to his car after she heard of his infidelities.

Knowing that golf is a mental game, I blamed his golfing deterioration on his emotional state. Now, years later, it seems people are ignoring that side and blaming different parts of his body. Today’s problem is, it’s said, his back. I wonder — can he overcome this or is this where the Tiger Woods story ends?

He has banked 79 PGA Tour wins. Only the great Sam Snead has more victories with 82. Tiger has 14 majors triumphs; Jack Nicklaus holds the record with 18. Now that the Masters is just three weeks away, will Tiger be there going for a shot at his 15th major?

I predict some new body part will be hurting as he withdraws from the classic tournament. If he does compete, do we really expect him to win with only seven competitive rounds of golf under his belt since August 2015?

I don’t expect Tiger to win any more PGA tournaments or majors. Up until now, I always believed he would surpass Sam Snead’s record but I never felt he would break Nicklaus’s record.

I think he’s tired. I don’t sense that winning a golf tournament is the most important thing in his life anymore. I believe he would enjoy being a father or getting involved in some way with the military to remember his late father, Earl,  a Vietnam era Green Beret.

The good news is that I hear he and Elin have a better relationship now than they had while they were married. I feel if he had it to do over again, he would work harder at the marriage and family. I think he knows he’s not going to have anyone better than Elin and laments over the things he did.

Most people get to a point in life where they realize what’s important. Winning golf tournaments moves down on the list of priorities, especially when you have no one to share it with.

This is where he could take a page out of the book of Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer. The two giants of golf were always about family and friends and a life outside of sport. A line I remember from years ago, was a response Arnie gave when asked why he preferred having a drink with people after a round rather than practicing a little more.

“I would probably have won more tournaments if I practiced, but I would not have had as much fun,” he said.

I think Tiger would have his best chance of enjoying his life and unbelievable success if he would simplify his life. Get involved with his kids and play simple and fun games. After all, when you think about what’s important, it will always be the ordinary things in life.

If I were coaching him, I’d push for him to do things away from golf and only play and practice when he genuinely feels like it. If you want to beat the best in the world again, half-hearted practices won’t get the job done.

My final thought is that I don’t think the body will hurt nearly as much if he’s lucky enough to share a new life with Elin.