Tiger Woods & Fear: The Paralyzing Lay Up

The U.S. Open of 2012 in San Francisco gives us more than just a story of average defeat. Here is what happened. You shanked it. Your eyes squint to follow the ball as it snakes left and drops into the first of seven traps on the third day of play of the first hole of the U. S. Open, a contest most will never dream of playing much less winning. But you’ve won it before, three times, so you know what is at stake. Tiger Woods, they say you tried to be positive even in the face of utter defeat. I’m not so sure.

The last three days of your every step, shot, and decision executed has felt like slogging through acid on a spaceship, every inch of forward momentum feeling like a sting against your nature, taking you a million miles away from your goal. When you started it was all about winning. Now you’d be willing to deal away your first born for a chance to finish in numbers that won’t mar an already clunky comeback.

You are paralyzed by the magnitude of your failure in performance, a condition your top competitors, McDowell, Furyk, Simpson, Els and Westwood have so far seemed to avoid (though some of them will fall, too). At the outset they still have the gait and expression of men working from a place of warrior optimism that they’ll find their look; they have a chance to win. You have already decided today is not your day.

The mere thought of not getting what you want so desperately, to win, to gain back the respect and ground you have lost has you locked into a kind of tumbling inevitability.

I’ve played golf since I was eleven, and never well, but sometimes okay. I have never been to a Master’s but I have watched Tiger Woods chip a shot from 150 yards away toward the pin, and wonder in amazement at his sheer talent as he walked fifteen feet from me on the green to find that the ball had hit and broken the pin, dropped in the hole, and counted. It was the AT&T Pro Am at Pebble Beach and I fell in love with the serendipity of the game of golf, understanding in that moment the metaphorical grace it has for mirroring life’s deepest mysteries.

This Father’s Day 2012, I watched the U.S. Open with my husband and cringed in pain as Tiger collected 6 bogies in the first six holes of his third day. What I wanted to say to Tiger Woods as he teed off the first hole that final round, as his Inaugurial drive found its way into the sand and he began to free fall into the paralysis of cascading failure, is what I am supposed to share with you now:

…the first six holes of your own personal U. S. Open test may produce pain of an excruciating nature you will never forget, but we are never judged ultimately by how many times we laid up in the rough; we are judged and should only ever judge ourselves by how boldly we choose the next right club, by how confidently we shoot our way out of the weeds and toward a possible hole in one, and by how humbly we stand, proverbial wanker in hand as the replays of our shank carnage are played to millions who revel in our pain as if we had it coming.

When the first six holes suck it is because sometimes they do. Odds dictate this. But there are 18 holes in a single round, and an estimated 35,000 golf courses in the world. (1)

The next round, the next course, the next step—they could be simply, stunningly glorious. Sometimes you do things like sleep with prostitutes while married (or the bone-headed, metaphorical equivalent), or you perform badly for a stretch because you’ve taken your eye off the ball. This is why hope is supposed to spring eternal and odds are you will live to fight another day.

“Right now” may indeed suck wind. But tomorrow, or even five minutes from now … well, it just might not suck. It might be your time.

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More On The Subject:

On Tiger’s Loss: Boomerang

David Feherty on The Open: June 16, 2012

About Golf

Why does golf have 18 holes?

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(1) Saito, Dr., Osamu. Measuring the Lifecycle Carbon Footprint of a Golf Course and Greening the Golf Industry in Japan, 2010