Tiger Woods, Us, and the Legendary Tiger Woods


It is now a little more than half way through the second round of the Masters Tournament of this year, 2012. I'm kicking myself, since I have had a feeling since before the tournament, and I wish now, looking back, I had written it out. So I am doing it now.

There is no way to be certain about such things, but I have a strong feeling that there is no way that Tiger Woods is going to win this year's Masters. The T.V. commentators are talking about the position of his feet or about his confidence level following different missed putts, and so on. But my reason is psychological and not only about Tiger Woods' psychology but also about ours.

I am, like many people, a Tiger Woods fan and always find myself wanting him to win. Yet there has been a tension I have felt while watching him over the years. I have felt he was, to put it bluntly, obnoxious. I thought a man with his talent and position should not swear when he missed shots. This is just one example. And it was not just behaviors, but it was his whole attitude. After his rounds, when he was being interviewed, I never liked the way he talked about his game. I'm not sure what it was. I'm not even going to try to put it into words. But, generally, not only was he arrogant, but he didn't seem to know it.

As a psychologist, I see golf, like all sports, as a relation between the golfers and the fans. If we are not interested, the sport will not be a public spectacle. It will fade and become a private game played in private, or, in the case of golf, a game played with three others in a "foursome." If we didn't want to see Tiger Woods play, he wouldn't be playing on T.V. He might not be playing at all.

What makes golf a sport, a spectacle, and not just a game, is that we the spectators are involved. We have expectations, and these expectations are from deep within ourselves and are generally unconscious. We watch and are fascinated but don't know why and usually don't care why. But, when we start to examine ourselves, I think we might find the following: when we watch Tiger Woods we want to see and experience something extraordinary, something bigger than life, something like out of a myth, something even supernatural. We are looking for this, not for an ordinary human playing a game. We aren't even wanting to watch skillful golfers (many of us lose interest when Tiger isn't in contention; what is a myth if there are only humans in it?). We want to be transported to another, unfamiliar world, and we don't want it disturbed by human personalities, not even by Tiger's, with its vanities and irritabilities and swearing. We don't care about Tiger Woods, the man. We don't care about his own analysis of why his putting was bad or the details of his own views as to his swings. It is not just arrogant for him to assume we are interested; it is a misunderstanding he has about us. He thinks we are interested in him, but he means nothing to us. It is the mythological Tiger Woods, the legend of Tiger Woods, that means something to us.

I was not at all surprised by the revelations of a few years ago about him and all his women. I was not at all surprised to see his, what to me, seemed like false or, at least, superficial apologies and promises to change. I was not surprised — and I guess no one, deep down was surprised — by the string of losses or even by his injuries and withdrawals from tournaments and by his operations. These were all necessary, part of the myth he (and we) are living out. It is a story. It is about an image from our imaginations. It is an image of a god, of his dethronement and humanization, and, possibly of his redemption and rebirth as a god (or as a god-man combination).

How could we — forget about him — how could we allow him to win yet after what we saw all the revelations about Tiger Woods the man? The myth requires the dissolving of the mythic Tiger Woods into a man. It requires a humiliation of the god image into a man. He must see it, and we must see it. Once he and we are absolutely clear that Tiger Woods is a man, like all men, then and only then can we accept a win from him. As long as Tiger Woods tried to pretend, in his real life, that he was the Tiger Wood of the myth, that he deserved everything because he was so great, that he could do anything he wanted, how could we accept him winning anymore?

I sense a different Tiger Woods this year. I don't know about his swing or his coaches or his caddies or his clubs or even his attitude on the course. I am talking about his attitude to us, when he faces the camera. I see a human being or the beginnings of one. Yesterday, after his game, he didn't seem to be trying to appear confident. He didn't appear to be explaining the bad play as an easily correctable aberration. He didn't seem to be promising us the win we want and demand from our hero. He didn't seem to be telling himself and us that he was still a god. He seemed sheepish and honest and even humble. On the course today he seems the same. I bet if you time his pace and measure his stride, his pace of walking on the course today is slower than at any time in the past, and his stride, I bet, is shorter.

Let's say he were to start sinking putts and hitting perfect drivers again today, as I watch. And let's say he begins to feel charged up and begins to walk confidently ahead and give his power fist — would we want this from him now? Are we ready for this given what he has done in his personal life? Will we ever want this from him again? I don't think so or, at least, not yet. At least not me. I want him to win again. I want him to be greater than ever. I want him to dazzle with unimaginable, magical, miraculous, other-worldly shots. I want him to be the Crazy Horse of golf, I want to see in him the magic I see in lions and tigers, but I want him to do it from down under, from a human-ness, from a point of humility and redemption.

And I think he wants that too. I think he is hovering around. He has not gone away. He is waiting for the right moment when there is just the right combination of his own feelings and the feelings from his crowd. He is waiting until he feels he is ready to move ahead without people hating him and wanting him to fall down. He is waiting until we (he, the human Tiger Woods, and the rest of us) are all ready to go together into worlds where none of us have yet been. So it is not his confidence with his swing that is the problem. It is not that he has lost his drive and that he has to get his drive back (drive in the sense of inner energy and focus). It is not that he is rusty or that he is still adjusting from his surgery. Some or all of these things may be true, but why are they true? And the answer, to me, trying to look at him and me, him and us, as much as this is possible, is that we are all living out some myth. And, since it is a living myth, one that we are in, none of us are sure which way it will be going or even which way we want it to go or need it to go. We are all in the middle of a collective dream; we are in it and the man Tiger Woods is in it, and we are all watching it unfold.

By the way, I still am hoping he will pull out of the slump he has been in today (I think he is now on the 14th hole). I hope he comes alive and leaps ahead and pulls the whole thing out of the ashes. But, sadly, another part of me knows (or thinks it knows) that this will not happen and that it can not happen, because none of us are ready for it to happen — not me, not him the man, not us. We haven't reached the place in the collective story, the collective dream, where the comeback fits and is proper, and so the comeback can not happen yet in reality. It is a little late to say what I am about to say, because he is seven shots behind at this exact moment, but, if you came to me with a bet, I would bet against him (though I don't know how we would set the odds for this bet to work). He can't win (is what I feel at this moment) — unless something deep down changes. We all have to wait for him to have another major win. He's not ready for it, and, deep down, we're not ready for it.

Tiger won two weeks ago, but it was not in one of the four major tournaments. It was a big thing for him to win even a regular tournament. I believe he hadn't won in almost two years. I think the time was right for that. It was correct for him, correct from the point of the myth. But I don't think the time is right for him to win a major, for him to be on top of one of the mythic tournaments. If I'm wrong, I'll be the first to admit it, and I'll be happy — on some level, but he just can't win the Masters yet, and he may never win it again.

P.S. If we are all in a collective dream or myth — we meaning us and Tiger Woods the man — then I want to try for a psychological analysis of this dream.

PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS: If you stop and think about it, how much is Tiger Woods as a person responsible for his outlandish behavior with all the women? Sure there is personal responsibility; no one could deny that. But there is also collective responsibility. We and our heroes are a team working together, and we are all responsible. We want heroes and pay them enormous sums of money and worship them. We mold them to be what we want them to be, and we encourage them and want them on T.V., and, when they're on T.V., we watch them and, in effect, pay them to be there in front of us.

Tiger was on T.V. when he was four, I believe it was. I saw him hitting golf balls on the Johnny Carson show. Blame his parents or blame Johnny Carson for exploiting a four year old, but who watched? We did. I did. We watched, fascinated by this tiny kid, this miracle kid, who could hit the ball unlike any little kid ever. We watched the way we watched tiger cubs on T.V. or at the zoo. We marveled and cheered him on, and wanted to see him when he got older. We would have been upset, maybe even angry, if we had heard this little cub wanted to be a doctor and had given up golf: "What a tragedy! With his talent! He could have been one of the greats! Instead, he chose to be a man, an ordinary man!" Who could have resisted the temptation to push on and to play out this role we were all demanding of him?

But what about the man, Tiger Woods, the male? When did he have time to play out what we all played out on the high school grounds and at the high school dances? He didn't have time to explore what his instincts must have pushed him to explore, because he was living out our dream for him (and his parent's dream and, I suppose, his own dream). Small wonder — not to forgive him — that all his instincts should burst out and explode at some time. Psychologically it is understandable. Tiger Woods, the man, is a kind of Bobby Fischer or Michala Petri (the recorder virtuoso) of golf. When geniuses try to turn normal it can be an ugly sight. And, again, they choose their lives, it is true, but if we hadn't been willing to pay to watch, would they have chosen their lives?

So it is as much us as it is Tiger Woods, the man. We have a need to watch a super-human, and he has the ability to play the role. We have the need to believe that there are super-powers, and, in fact, there are. It seems to me, as a psychologist, that we all have super-powers lodged within us if we are willing to tap into them and do what it takes to liberate and tame and mold them to our purposes. But the time and energy necessary to do this means that we have to give up something. And what we have to give up is being human, our human-ness. We can't listen to the calls and pleas of friends and relatives. We can't follow our needs and learn, by trial and error, how dangerous it can be to give into temptation. We have no time to do what is necessary to have a two-sided relation or really to think about anyone else at all. Our genius (our genies, our muses) require our full allegiance. This is the story of Faust and of Phantom of the Opera, and, in religious terms, it is the story of the temptation of Christ in the desert in which the devil offers him power.

In world mythologies there are animal gods from which we can acquire super-human physical powers and other gods from whom we can acquire insights. The first type lies behind sports geniuses and great warriors, and the second type lies behind scientific, moral, and religious geniuses. But, in all cases, to follow ones genius is to turn from ones human-ness. To feel and hear the calls of the gods is to become deaf to the calls of family and friends.

So there is a conflict, a dramatic conflict, that goes on in each and every one of us. On the one hand is the need to survive (and to help others who depend on us survive), and this requires us to develop skills and powers to the best of our abilities. Sometimes there are super-human, impossible challenges that set us on dangerous journeys to find powers hidden in some deep, dark crevice of our beings. On the other hand we have needs for relationship and intimacy which require us to lay down our skills and powers (our weapons) and to set aside our search for new and better powers, and to meet others on common ground — as equals, as flawed and limited ordinary humans. We go back and forth between these poles all day long, all life long. They are contradictory. Each is necessary and has its value and merit, and each has its dangers. Each pole wants to dominate the other. Each wants the other to sacrifice itself for the cause. Harmony between the two is difficult and feels impossible. Forging a way for the two poles to work together for the good of the whole is not something reason or consciousness seems capable of. But the world of imagination — of myths and dreams — seems to rise to the occasion.

I think this is the meaning of the Tiger Woods myth, for him and for us. It is an attempt to harmonize the super-powers in all of us with the human in all of us, the power in us with the love in us. It seems to me we are not ready (and Tiger Woods, the human man, is not ready) for the return of the super-powers he had been able to tap in to. We are not yet familiar enough with the man.

In our current age, in the 21st Century, in America, it seems we need both poles, in ourselves, and even in our heroes. It seems we are in a different age than that of Alexander the Great in which people were happy and content with the idea that their heroes really were gods. Here is a coin from the reign of Alexander the Great. This is a portrait of Heracles wearing a lion skin headdress. Heracles (Alexander) is a Lion.

Silver Tetradrachma — Perga mint — 221-220 B.C. from the reign of Alexander III (the Great) — Herakles with lion skin headdress

We are no longer a hundred percent comfortable with our heroes as Lions or Tigers. We are curious about their human sides, whether they are sports heroes or presidents or movie stars. We insist on learning the details of their private lives. Lucky for Alexander that he isn't alive now.

I think we Americans need a human Tiger, because we need a human America, an America that, for all its super-powers, is also just one country among all countries, no better or worse, equal. There could be a Declaration of Independence for countries that says, "All countries are created equal."

What we need, I think, and what the myth is moving towards (I hope) is that Tiger will become a full human being, humbled by life, with serious flaws, and, from that position, he will make a comeback and become a major champion again. We need a human Tiger. We want a human being, like us, to perform a miracle. That would be a real miracle, a 21st Century miracle!

So, as I see it, the problem isn't that Tiger's body isn't lined up right or that his short game has fallen apart. These shouldn't even be taken as signs of his having lost his confidence (following all the problems he has had of the last few years). They are his playing out, in front of our eyes, the finding of himself as a man — which is also the finding of ourselves as men and women. For the announcers on T.V. it was sad to see Tiger's play collapse today. In the past he would never have made such mistakes, he would never have lost control of his club and his body. But is it sad for Tiger or is it sad for us? We want to see him shine, but is shining good for this man at this time. To the psychologist, this loss of control, this ordinariness of Tiger, is his salvation and redemption. He is human; he is morphing into an ordinary human being.

And, I think, though we miss the shining Tiger, we too need Tiger to be human (at least for now), we need him to sink into his human-ness, and I think, deep down, he wants this also, even though part of him is obviously upset. I think he looks more relaxed than he ever did, maybe a little more humble, maybe a little more happy, maybe a little more ordinary, maybe a little less like a god and a little more like a man. Some can't stand this and want him to get back to the way he was (and it is bad for T.V. golf ratings), but, as I said, deep down, maybe we're not ready for it. And, who knows, maybe the gods (and, specifically, Fortuna, the goddess of Luck) aren't ready for it either.

Overall, I think it is better for us to have Tiger continue to linger down here with us — for now —, and I think it is pretty clear that it is better for him also. The collapses and the humiliation is the best therapy a doctor could prescribe for Tiger, at least for Tiger the full man, even if it is the exact opposite of what his coach might prescribe for him. And I think Tiger knows it, deep down inside. He is finally feeling his human-ness. He is finally feeling close to his fellow creatures — which is a good feeling. He and each of us need it as much as we need to reach the stars. We, as Americans, need it as much as we need to reach Mars or own an Apple iPad. We are all forced to choose if we want Tiger to be a fulfilled and happy man but without his super-powers or if we want him to re-capture his super-powers but lose his human-ness. And we have to decide this for ourselves also and for our children and our spouses and our parents and our teachers and our priests and our soldiers and our presidents.

Now here is the big question, and I think it is the deepest problem posed in the whole Tiger Woods story and myth and dream. The question is, "Is it possible to have both? Is it possible to be human — a nice person — and also highly skilled? Is it possible for each of us?" That is the real question. But, if we don't want to or can't face the question about ourselves directly, we can see it reflected in the Tiger Woods dream we are in. In the story the question becomes, "Will Tiger Woods be able to fall apart and become fully human (as is happening before our eyes) and then to regain his super-powers and re-take his position of king of the pack of his rivals? And if he does this, will he be able, at the same time, to still be human and to hold on to his human-ness?"If he can do all three of these things, that, I think, would be a true miracle ending for the story. And it would hold out the possibility that each of us could pull off the same thing, that each of us has it in us to find a deeper, more powerful and profound self without losing who we are.

The 2012 British Open

The game of golf is more than a game of putting and driving and chipping, and it is not a simple combination of these, and it is not a combination of these plus the right mental attitude; it is a game played by a whole person. And, to me, everything I wrote about the Masters (in the last section) still applies today at the beginning of Tiger's last round of the 2012 British Open (I am writing this while watching him on the third hole). They say it is difficult for tigers to change their stripes, and I think Tiger still has not changed his stripes enough to win a major. — (Of course, since I do not know him personally {and so can't give any sort of professional opinion about him}, I am just speaking as a fan who has a psychological orientation; and, as with the Masters, I hope I am wrong, because I am a fan and I still want him to win.) — And I am writing this prediction out on my web site, partly to commit myself to it publicly, so I can't waffle later.

I don't see Tiger as ready to win, as a whole person to win, you have to think, deep down, that you deserve to win (even if you don't), and I have the feeling that Tiger doesn't feel he deserves to win. This isn't based on a clinical judgment but on a feeling I have (like one I might have about a friend): I feel he's still not humble enough, ordinary enough — maybe close, but not there. Maybe in the PGA later this year, or maybe he has to go through another whole season and sink deeper into himself and to face what he has done and, eventually, to make amends for what he has done and to forgive himself.

Even if my predication is right and Tiger does lose, it doesn't mean much, because he started the round at five back, so the odds are he will lose. Still I am trying to test my intuition, and, as I said, my written predication is part of me testing my intuition. And, though, on one level, everyone hopes their intuitions turn out to be right, I will be happy if I am wrong, because I am a fan.

Breaking News!

This morning we have official news that changes the picture with which we psychologists have been working. There is an official press release that Tiger Woods is dating Lyndsey Vonn, a star American skier who has recently had a significant injury to her leg. There is a picture of the two of them smiling and appearing quite happy. This is, from a sports psychology angle, a possibly good match from the point of view of athletics as both are stars and both have had leg injuries. She has claimed publicly that she is not worried about the serious injury to her leg and that, after surgery, all she will need is a month to train for the next Olympics. Tiger, on the other hand, is in a sport that requires good legs, but the knees are under a different kind and amount of stress than the knees of a skier. Tiger, he has said publicly, has trouble with his knees, even after surgery, and blames some of his problems winning tournaments on his problem knees. If Lyndsey Vonn could teach Tiger how to master knee injuries and keep on going at a competitive level — Wow! What a match! What is in it for her, I am not sure and would not want to guess, because I know next to nothing about her. [Reminder: I am speaking of all this on a psychological level.}

Still, however, from the angle of this overall ongoing article about the Myth of Tiger Woods, as a psychologist, I still predict America is not ready for him to win a victory in any one of the four major golf tournaments. He is on his way, but the time isn't ripe.

What needs still to happen? From the psychological angle, there are things that need to be resolved with Tiger Woods on a personal level, at least in terms of his relation with women. For example, Lindsey Vonn, from the very little I know of her, seems like a very nice person, and, so far, Tiger Woods, though I don't know him personally, has, to many, seemed not to be a particularly nice women, with men, perhaps, but, definitely with women. We, as a public, would probably want to be sure that Tiger will treat Lindsey very very gently and nicely, with her damaged knee and all. If it turns out they do get married, and that this is really what they both want, he will have to continue treating her good for a year or so until we begin to trust him again. Then and only then will we, at least those with this sensibility, be ready to accept, in our minds, the idea that Tiger has reformed enough to be worthy of winning a major and important and international tournament.

What a good marriage is, just what it is like to treat someone well, just what it is for men and women to treat each other well, is a question with which we are all struggling.

The British Open, 2013

It is now 9:13 AM in Los Angeles on July 21, 2013. The last round of this year's British Open is probably about half over, but I have resisted the desire to look at the standings. I would like to say, in the spirit of my comments over the last year or so, that I think Tiger Woods (who, at the start of this round was two strokes behind), may win, but my intuition is that he won't. This is partly because he is a few strokes out among stiff competition; partly because he has had a bad knee over the last few months; but it is not because of these factors that I am making my statement.

I am speaking psychologically, and I am speaking about the psychology of we fans as well as the personal psychology of Tiger Woods. And I'm not sure we (I) are ready yet for him to win a major and to be at the top again.

If you remember, I think that, besides the man, Tiger Wood's, own physical state, his own motivation, his own abilities, and so on, we have a mythic, mostly fictional, Tiger Woods we carry around in our imaginations and that this mythic story is ever-changing. Since the scandal, I argued, the myth demands moral redemption before any new rise to the top. The mythic Tiger crashed to the ground and has to come together again to rise.

In the last note I spoke about his return to normality by becoming involved with a popular woman athlete. The relation continues, and Tiger seems to me, in his interviews, to be somewhat more "normal," more relaxed, more like "one of us." Of course, the media is also a factor in all this. They are responsible, in large part, for assembling the myth by presenting just what they want us to see. So it is a complex question of reality, news coverage, and our fantasy world. But, all in all, why ever and however it came to be, it seems that the image of Tiger Wood has improved, bounced back, and continues to improve. It could fall apart, but, for now it is getting better and to the point that I wouldn't be surprised if, soon, we will allow him to win a big tournament again. I realize we are only one of many factors that determine victories, but if your image will not allow it, if we are mentally and emotionally and "spiritually" against him, it will, I think, be hard for the man, Tiger Woods, to win.

And I think it is not quite the right time. He seems different, but it isn't quite clear. In my mind, in my myth, I think he, as a man, needs to suffer more until he could become a man I could empathize with and accept as a friend. — Again, all this is in my imagination, but what takes place in the imagination is part of our realities.

Myths come and go, and the myth that has captured me (and I think others), the redemption myth, may fade. Other myths can arise, even around the man, Tiger Woods. His girl-friend is Lindsey Vonn, an athlete who has made a near miraculous return from a physical injury. Tiger Woods has had physical injuries, and maybe the new myth, the new story, will be how it is possible, with the right attitude and with a lot of work, to overcome physical problems and function at a higher level than ever before. If he doesn't win for a few more years, the myth of Age versus Youth can kick in.

In any case, I am not quite ready for Tiger to win a major, and I predict he won't win this one. Now I'm going to Save and Close this article and look up what happened.

After Torrey Pines, 2014

For the first time in his career, Tiger Woods missed a cut. This is, from the point of view of winning golf tournaments, falling to an all time low, and it has led to theorizing about why this happened. One theory I read a few days ago is that he has been working out too much and that he has gotten too big. This is a physical theory. I will offer a theory (really a speculation) in line with the view that I have developed over the last few years in this on-going article.

A few days before Torrey Pines, it was announced that Tiger's girl-friend, the Olympic Alpine skiing champion, Lindsey Vonn, will not be able to compete in the coming Winter Olympics in Sochi. In today's headline news we are told that this is very upsetting to her. She is quoted as saying that watching the Olympic Alpine skiing "is going to be so hard."

Could it be that Tiger Wood feels something for this young lady, cares for her, maybe loves her, and wants her to feel better? If so, wouldn't it be natural for him not to want to win at a time when she has lost (that is, can't compete)? Psychologically, it is possible that he lost so as not to show her up, so as not to make her feel worse.

If this is true, and he has come down to earth and has become a more or less normal human being, then, according to the theory of this article, he (and his fans) are now ready for him to win a major tournament. There are many factors that might make it so he will not win another one, but, at least from a moral angle, it may be that the situation is ready.

Honda Classic, 2014

The announcement, "Tiger Woods drops out of Honda Classic with back pains," comes as no surprise if you accept our Torrey Pines evaluation. Lindsey Vonn drops out of the Olympics, and he has dropped out of a tournament. They both dropped out for health/pain reasons. Maybe he really does care about her, doesn't want to show her up, etc.

If this is right, then, by our theory, he has truly come down to earth and is ready to win again, and we will be ready for him to rise again. Will he? It will be a lot of work, and he may, deep down inside, be wondering if it it is worth it.

A Question for the Reader/Fan

If you had to choose, would you rather have Tiger Woods, the man, as a more normal, relatively good and relatively happy person but no longer a mythic giant of gold OR would you rather be return to being the mythic, record-setting, giant of gold and who cares what his personal life is like?