TIGER WOODS: BRILLIANT, BUT ...

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<p>On the heels of Tiger Woods&rsquo;s victory Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Ed Smith wonders why he can't warm to the guy&nbsp; ...</p><!--break--><p><br />From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Spring 2009<br /><br />Tiger Woods represents the apotheosis of the professional age. Maybe that&rsquo;s why I can&rsquo;t warm to him. The problem seems unique to me. In professional cricket, we were often asked to fill out questionnaires, &ldquo;Which character in history would you most like to meet?&rdquo;&mdash;that sort of guff. More than half used to say Tiger Woods. Not Grace Kelly, not Churchill, not Angelina Jolie&mdash;no, they would rather have some face time with the Tiger. <br /><br />What exactly did my colleagues plan to ask the great man? Perhaps it was just golf banter. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s this par-4 on my course, Tiger, dog-leg left-to-right, concealed pin at the front, fast greens, so where should I aim when I&rsquo;m stuck in light rough on the edge of the fairway?&rdquo; Alternatively, maybe professional sportsmen think that genius is contagious. Perhaps they just want to hang around him, hoping to absorb a splash of his mental toughness, as if by osmosis. You see, Tiger Woods is the pro&rsquo;s hero as well as the fan&rsquo;s hero. He has it all: talent, determination, work ethic, self-belief, brilliant PR, phenomenal mental toughness, countless millions, 14 major titles and a clean sheet in terms of personal history. <br /><br />Maybe that is the problem. There is something too studied about him, as though everything he says and does has been not only considered, but also evaluated on a psychological profit-and-loss sheet. You don&rsquo;t need to be a dyed-in-the-wool romantic to admire a natural streak, even in the ruthless world of elite sport. <br /><br />The same charge was made about Don Bradman, who made it his business to eliminate human frailty from the art of batsmanship&mdash;risk, in his mindset, was the dirtiest of words. The difference is context. Bradman was like a professional among amateurs, all the more interesting because he ran against the flow. Bradman plunged sport into the machine age. He was, as Neville Cardus mischievously misused the term, a deus ex machina. <br /><br />Woods, on the other hand, is an extreme version of the prevailing culture. He is modern professionalism taken to its human limits. There is nothing that unusual about him at all, except the fact that he does everything better than everyone else. <br />That is unfair, actually. There are two unique burdens which Woods has had to bear&mdash;the challenges arising from his colour, and the expectations prompted by his extreme precociousness. Either could have crushed a lesser man.<br /><br />Before Tiger Woods, golf&mdash;especially American golf, with its country-club conservatism&mdash;was always famously a white man&rsquo;s sport. Woods has changed that for ever. As the first great black American golfer, Woods has been scrutinised as intensely as any living human being. He has handled it admirably. <br /><br />Being exceptionally promising might have been even harder than being black. &ldquo;Whom the gods wish to destroy,&rdquo; wrote Cyril Connolly, &ldquo;they first call promising.&rdquo; How many indecently talented sportsmen never fulfil their promise? Nearly all of them. Most precocious sportsmen drag expectation around like a ball-and-chain. Not Woods: he has trumped popular expectation by setting his own standards even higher than everyone else&rsquo;s. <br /><br />He recently missed two majors and a Ryder Cup as he recovered from injury. In terms of ratings and glamour, golf missed him too. Woods is good for golf, but is he good for sport? Does what works for him&mdash;the 5am alarm call, the relentlessness, the apparent extinguishing of the interior life&mdash;work for others?<br /><br />One young team-mate of mine, who suffered from crippling obsessiveness, once announced to the team that he had found the answer. &ldquo;Tiger Woods&rdquo;, he said, &ldquo;is obsessed by golf&mdash;absolutely obsessed. Nothing else will stop his obsession.&rdquo; In fact, more obsession was the opposite of what my team-mate required. He needed a splash of normality in his life. <br /><br />Malcolm Gladwell <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3713412">summed up this wrong-headed thinking about sport </a>and Tiger Woods. According to Gladwell, sportsmen&mdash;ie, non-Woods types&mdash;don&rsquo;t practise enough because they can&rsquo;t face failure without excuses. &ldquo;People think that Tiger is tougher than Mickelson because he works harder. Wrong: Tiger is tougher than Mickelson and because of that he works harder.&rdquo;<br /><br />Wrong again. Woods is tougher than Mickelson because he is innately tougher than Mickelson. Practice only comes into it at the margin. And if Woods says otherwise, Woods would, wouldn&rsquo;t he, as the world&rsquo;s greatest brand in self-improvement?<br /><br />English cricket indulged in the same delusion in the 1980s. England had two star batsmen&mdash;the diligent <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/low/in_depth/cricket/2001/england_on_tour/1... Gooch and the nonchalant David Gower</a>. Gooch practised at least twice as hard as Gower. So, the argument ran, if Gower could only work as hard as Gooch, he would be twice as good, right? Wrong. Gower had a completely different temperament. Behaving against his personality would have halved, not doubled, his effectiveness&ndash;which, statistically, was almost identical to Gooch&rsquo;s. <br /><br /><img width="150" vspace="20" align="right" hspace="20" height="200" alt="Ed Smith" src="/files/fckeditor_files/image/ed%20smith-1.JPG" />For every sportsman there is an optimal amount of practice. Too little practice is dangerous, but so is too much. Rather than more and more practice, sportsmen need self-knowledge, to see how best to balance their lives. You&rsquo;d think that was the most obvious idea in the world. And yet professional sport&mdash;and professional life for that matter&mdash;seems incapable of mastering it. <br /><br />I suppose none of this is Tiger Woods&rsquo;s fault. He has merely accidentally legitimised bad thinking by being so damned good at a certain narrow version of excellence. We should admire it in Woods&mdash;so long as we don&rsquo;t expect it to work for anyone else. &nbsp;<br /><br /><br /><strong>Picture Credit:</strong> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/">Keith Allison</a> (via Flickr), Sam Barker<br /><br />(<a href="http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/authors/ed-smith">Ed Smith</a> is captain of <a href="http://www.middlesexccc.com/">Middlesex County Cricket Club</a>. He has played baseball and written several books, including <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Sport-Tells-About-Life/dp/0670917222">&quot... Sport Tells Us About Life&quot;</a>. His last article for <em>Intelligent Life</em> was about <a href="http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/story/how-arsene-wenger-does-it">Arsene Wenger</a>.)</p><p>&nbsp;</p>