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Tiger Misses His Dad

Does Tiger Woods Need a Father Figure as a Coach?

Posted Mar 23, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

Tiger Woods 3

Even his renewed determination to beat the record of 18 major championships set by Jack Nicklaus, doesn’t quite convince us that Tiger Woods will actually do it.  The problem is that he still misses his dad, who died in the wake of the US Masters, five years ago.

 “I know I can do it. I just need to put all the pieces together and get it done.”  This was the assertion from Woods last week about a target which has remained his raison d’etre since he pinned it on his bedroom wall more than 20 years ago.  For a while, it looked as if the record was comfortably within his grasp, but the uncovering in late-November 2009 of seriously self-destructive behaviour, changed everything.

Since then, Canada’s Sean Foley has replaced Hank Haney as Woods’s coach.  In this context, the extent to which a hugely-gifted player constantly highlights the importance of a coach in his life, may seem rather curious to rank and file golfers, except when we look at the role his late father played.

When Earl Woods died, Woods left the tour for nine weeks, from the Masters to the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, to work through his grief.  “Coming back and playing was a lot more difficult than I thought,” he said after missing the cut at Winged Foot. “All the things I had to go through and my preparation for tournaments, my dad taught me all those things.  Overcoming and getting out and playing and practising, I didn’t what to do that because I’d always think about Dad.  That was the hardest thing …..”

Those of us familiar with Woods’s early years in professional ranks, weren’t in the least surprised by this.  It was necessary only to recall his torment on his Ryder Cup debut at Valderrama which came, incidentally, only five months after a stunning, 12-stroke win at Augusta National.

As it happened, Woods experienced serious putting problems on the Saturday at Valderrama.  That was when he sent a putt across the green on the long 17th ruinously into the water in fourball partnership with Mark O'Meara and they lost by 2 and 1 to Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood.  In normal circumstances he would have gone straight to his father for help, but Earl wasn't there.

Woods senior had declined to travel to the Ryder Cup because the PGA of America refused to include him in the official party.  And when Tiger phoned him on that Saturday at his home in Cypress, California, Earl was out playing golf with friends.  His wife, Kultida, left a message that he was to phone their son urgently, but because of the nine-hour time difference, it was the middle of the night in Spain when the call came.

As bad luck would have it from Tiger’s perspective, the Spanish operator in San Roque refused to put the call through on the grounds that the player was sleeping and shouldn't be disturbed.  When Earl rang a second time, at 7.00am Spanish time, the players had already left for Valderrama. The upshot of it was that father and son never made contact and after a shock, 4 and 2 singles defeat by Costantino Rocca on the Sunday, an emotional Tiger was reduced to tears as Europe retained the trophy. 

"It was my fault," Earl Woods later claimed.  "Tiger was having problems with his putting and he doesn't trust anyone with it except me. I should have been there to support Tiger when he needed me.  I won't let it happen again." The upshot was that Woods delivered only one and a half points to the American cause, in an event he was expected to dominate.

Of course he has won numerous tournaments since his father’s death, but the recent, self-inflicted trauma has left him without a tournament victory for more than 16 months.  And I believe that his prospect of re-establishing himself as a serious force in the game, will depend on finding a father-figure capable of filling a successful coaching role beside him on the practice ground.  If Sean Foley doesn’t fit the bill, Woods’s prospect of breaking Nicklaus’s record could become more elusive than we ever imagined.

- Dermot Gilleece             

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