Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

When Tiger Is On, Everybody Else Is In The Woods (Part II)

“It was just one of those weeks,” is how Tiger Woods explained his dominating victory in the United States Open at Pebble Beach.

Sure. Winning by 15 shots is just one of those weeks. And Secretariat’s win in the Belmont Stakes was just one of those races. Woods’ display was awesome. The length of John Daly and the putting touch of Ben Crenshaw. Except better than both. And throw in the nicest chipping feel around the greens, great bunker imaginations and an accurate and long iron game and you have something close to what Woods is now.

Rocco Mediate got close when he said, “If you were going to build a golfer in a lab, he’d come out as Tiger Woods.”

He also has Nicklaus-like powers of concentration. Scotty Bowman, the NHL coach, was a marker for the USGA following Tiger’s group during the tournament. Bowman knows a little about concentration and said Woods’ focus is on the shot and his caddie, he’s oblivious to everything else. That was apparent before his last full swing of the tournament. Just 123 yards from the 18th green with a FIFTEEN shot lead, Woods and his caddie are throwing grass into the air trying to figure out how a slight cross wind might affect his pitching wedge. With a FIFTEEN SHOT LEAD!

“Anything I say would be an understatement,” commented Ernie Els, one of the best players in the world.

“I’m not surprised,” said Tom Watson, the best player of his era. Where did all of this come from?

Simple. From Woods’ measure of success. His measuring stick has always been winning. Remember when Tiger said “second place sucks” and we all thought that was so cute? So young? So true! He’s got winning on his mind and nothing else. One tour pro, paired with Tiger during the US Open said it best: “he plays every shot like his life depends on it.”

Tiger is the first great athlete to choose golf as his sport. Centerfield for the Giants, wide receiver for the Jaguars, off-guard for the Knicks, they were all possible destinations for an athlete as gifted and focused as Woods. The money in the game now allowed him to choose golf without pressure to take his talents elsewhere.

And he works at it.
Day and night, night and day.

Early in the morning, working on his putting because he didn’t like the way the ball was rolling. Late at night because he didn’t like the shape of his iron shots. A three day trip to Las Vegas with his coach where they spent the entire time on the range playing Pebble Beach in their minds, working on the shape of every shot they thought Tiger might need on every hole at Pebble.

Who else did that?

Did you see Woods walk from the 17th tee to the bunker at 17 in the final round? With his left sleeve pulled up and the wind in his face, it was apparent Tiger has spent plenty of time in the gym in the last 4 years. And it’s not idle working out. It’s focused, like his game, on making him a better player. Better strength, better balance. Eye surgery? Better to see the greens with my dear. At 24, Tiger Woods has no distractions. No wife, no kids, nothing to get between him and greatness. The funny part is how the other players are reacting. They’re throwing their hands up and saying “you win!” Most are making their schedules around Tiger’s. When he’s in a tournament, they’re not. If they want to compete in his league, they’ll have to get up early, stay late, and be relentless.

David Duval spent the off season trying to get more “athletic, trying to feel more like an athlete.” Perhaps he knew what Tiger was up to because two years ago David said about Tiger, “If he learns to hit a wedge, he’ll win 6 out of every 10 times he plays.”

As Ernie Els said, that might be an understatement.

Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser has it figured out.

“Everybody said there will never be another Michael Jordan,” wrote Kornheiser. “There already is. He’s playing golf.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Plenty of Options

Apathy is the problem. Not overzealous fans, not an overdose winning at all cost, just apathy. People really don’t care. Too many other options, too many things on television, too many things competing for our attention. Ray Lewis weasels his way out of a murder charge by lying enough to the police and prosecution to have his charge reduced to a misdemeanor, pleads guilty, testifies for the prosecution and walks out of the courtroom.

There’s no public outcry, no protests, no calling for Lewis’ suspension. Just silence. Well, not even silence, instead the clicking of the remote and the sound of sneakers on the hardwood at the NBA Finals or ice shavings on the rink at the Stanley Cup. We’ve turned to something else. Put Lewis out of our minds and moved on. He’s a lowlife? No problem, just move onto the next game. He’ll disappear in time. And he’s just like the rest of those players anyway, isn’t he?

John Rocker’s an idiot. We all know that, yet there is a public fascination with his self-destruction. What moronic thing will he say next? Will he snap and hit somebody? It’s not that we’re indignant about what he said and think he should be punished. We’re apathetic. Let’s see where and how far he’ll fall into the abyss, laugh, and move on.

And that’s the problem. By accepting these guys back as athletes (which we do every time we buy a ticket) who bask in our adulation, we’re not necessarily giving our approval, but rather saying it doesn’t matter. We don’t care. Our lives are compartmentalized. We can separate the heroes from the thugs, even when they’re the same guy. Ray Lewis in an orange jump suit and in shackles looks like anybody in court. Somehow, when he dons that #56, we’ll think it’s a different guy, and that’s ridiculous.

Sociologists have been saying for years actions like Lewis’ and Rocker’s were on the horizon. We’re asking professional football players to have a violent personality on the field, but be child a care worker off it. We want the closer for our baseball team to be bulldog tough with a ferocious look on the mound, but to be self-effacing after the game.

Our expectations are unrealistic, brought on by a clash of generations and cultures. We want some sort of 1950’s “Father Knows Best” character to emerge off the field with an eye-bulging Arnold Schwarzenegger demeanor on it. To think professional athletes play for the love of the game or for the pursuit of excellence is shortsighted. The number of sportsmen in the game is small. The athletes are entertainers, performers who command large compensation for their services.

Perhaps we’re at a crossroads looking for a solution to the current ills of professional sport. Fans have to decide what is important: winning or the competition itself. I saw the movie Gladiator the other night and got a pretty creepy feeling seeing the ‘performers’ take center stage at the coliseum in Rome. Forty-thousand ‘fans’ cheering for which side? Actually neither, just the killing itself. Is that what we’re reverting to? Just observers, wholly immersed in the action while it’s going on, and apathetic afterward. We are seeing a general detachment between fans and athletes. If that chasm grows larger, the place sports has in society will disappear. And we all will have lost.