I know the Hero World Challenge happened in December, but I hibernate then, so here are a few thoughts about that event.
It epitomizes exactly what the professional tournament golf is all about – great golf played in a dream setting in the Bahamas for the benefit of charity with a bountiful purse.
First, the dream setting: as I watched the telecast, the cameras frequently panned several monstrous private yachts moored in the harbour. One absolutely gorgeous, three-deck beauty with dark paneling sat waiting for its owner. I couldn’t help but wonder if it belongs to Tiger Woods.
The benefiting charities for the Hero Challenge are the Tiger Woods Foundation, which provides educational opportunities for underprivileged children, the Tavistock Foundation (medical research through anonymous donations) and the Albany Scholars Foundation (scholarships for those in financial need).
Currently, the total served by the Tiger Woods Foundation is about 150,000 kids and Tiger’s admitted ambition is to get that number to 1-million.
The $3.5-million purse for 18 players included a payout of $1-million for first place collected by Hideki Matsuyama. When you add in the opulent surroundings of the Albany resort in Providence in the Bahamas, you get a dream setting for the rich and famous.
On its own merit, the Hero Challenge would probably not generate Neilsen ratings of major significance, but the big news was the return of Tiger Woods after missing 446 days due to back surgeries.
Going right into the storm of college football and the NFL at critical times in their seasons, Tiger moved the needle close to double the number of 2015.
I was one of those interested to see the “new” Tiger model test drive his new body with his new swing and his new/old equipment.
My immediate reaction was he looks older to me. His face looks a bit drawn and his hair is definitely thinning with few more touches of grey, but more than that, he looks a lot less like the Michelin Man, a bit more human.
He also appeared to be very humble and peaceful when he spoke. I’ve always felt he had a certain anger boiling just below the surface that he overcame by appealing to his magnificent smile as a disguise.
Referring frequently to the tremendous support he has had from the “family” called the tour pros gave me a feeling that he never thought of his fellow competitors as people, just adversaries. During his time of recovery I think he has had time for reflection and found out a lot of these guys actually like him instead of fearing and respecting him.
He says a lot of the same things about his ambitions to win and set more records, but somehow the words rang hollow. He spoke them because we expected to hear them.
My sense was that he believes a percentage of his make-up still has what it takes to dominate and shoot mind boggling scores. The problem is the percentage has gone from 100 to 75 per cent.
He conveyed a little less conviction than before. In my opinion this erosion began during his sex addiction therapy. Remember, Tiger was programmed as a little boy to perform at extraordinary levels. To do so, he had to have the expectation he had something nobody has ever been given before and believe in it wholeheartedly.
He applied this right of privilege to every part of life until suddenly. during his treatments, he learned that it only applied to golf. This revelation had an effect on his inner belief system and his entitlement.
Ultimately, combined with his surgery, we are seeing and hearing a different Tiger. In fact, he joked about being the eldest player in the field and referred to scary times over the past few months
Tiger’s new swing is one I wish he had found years ago. It is in balance, very smooth and far less physical, instead of one filled with a lashing violence. This new more natural looking swing resulted in some wonderful irons shots that produced 24 birdies.
TV commentators remarked that he drove the ball poorly as he has done his whole career, but on a couple of occasions his ball found more punitive locations than the swing deserved, making it seem to be a worse performance than it really was. I thought, generally, he drove the ball better than he has on previous occasions
During his interviews, he claimed not to be in top physical condition due to riding a cart to play in preparation for this event. He was having trouble walking 18 holes. That’s not the old Tiger. Showing up to play and not being in top condition is not his usual MO.
Tiger is 41 years old and has lived a punishing life on the tour for 20 years. He has had Lasik surgery twice and a multitude of surgeries and procedures. Reading his medical records would make you think he was a bull rider not a golfer.
Following this last bout of back injuries, he requires one hour of stretching and massage before he plays and another two-and-a-half to three hours of treatment after every round He cannot bend to practice putting endlessly, pitch/chip balls and/or make use of his private driving range at the rate of 600 to 700 balls per day.
A lot of things have changed.
Fans love to watch him. Players love to compete against him. Sponsors love the ratings when he plays. Tiger Woods will go down as one of the greatest players of all-time, but has he jeopardized his long term health to do it?
Instead of betting how many majors he will win, I think a good bet will be when he will have to say goodbye.