Monday brought the inevitable news that Tiger Woods resumed hitting golf balls last week in his latest step toward a return to competitive golf. Inevitable because – let's face it – this was always going to be part of the plan anyway.
"The doctors said he could hit golf balls again, and he's listening to his doctors and to his body," Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, told USA Today. "He will keep listening to his doctors and body. … He's feeling pretty good."
Because he's Tiger Woods, because he's chasing the all-time PGA Tour victory record and the all-time major championship record, because he's the most polarizing athlete of this generation and because, frankly, the soft launch of the 2014-15 season isn't drawing much attention so far, this news will be scrutinized and Woods will invariably be criticized by anyone with even a tangential connection to the game.
He needs to work harder, they'll say.
He needs to stop working so hard, they'll cry.
He needs a new swing coach, they'll maintain.
He needs to do it alone, they'll contend.
He needs to come back as soon as possible, they'll proclaim.
He needs to take his time, they'll insist.
We’ve seen and heard it all for years. Woods’ name reaches the headlines and all of a sudden, everyone becomes an expert on what is best for him moving forward.
Well, far be it from me to avoid uniting with the masses like the lemming that I am, so allow me to join the chorus in offering some unsolicited advice for Woods:
He needs to do whatever he thinks will help him return to high-level competitive golf.
OK, so that may not be the scalding hot take most consumers of such information are seeking in light of this recent news, but it is the only logical one.
What often gets lost in the constant scrutiny of Woods – from his swing to his workout regimen to his injury status – is that he’s done just fine managing himself for the past two decades. He’s become one of the greatest players ever by maintaining a routine that has worked for him. Some of it may be unorthodox; some of it may not work for other upper-echelon players. But it’s impossible to argue that whatever route he’s taken has somehow resulted in a failure.
And yet, every time he is seemingly confronted by a crossroads, whether recovering from injury or relearning his swing, offering up opinion on why (and how) he can (and should) improve isn’t just fair game. It’s the most popular game.
Funny thing, though. I still have yet to run into anyone who knows Woods better than he knows himself.
Don’t get me wrong: Like any accomplished athlete, he is forever open to criticism within the confines of his performance. However, it feels like the erstwhile No. 1 player is too often deemed guilty until proven innocent.
His swing appears too stilted – until he starts winning once again. His body is too muscular – until he starts winning once again. His practice regimen is too faulty – until he starts winning once again.
Stop me if you see the pattern here.
Woods won’t rid himself of any critics while taking some batting practice cuts on the range at Medalist or his backyard or wherever he chooses to get back into the groove. He likewise won’t push them away in his next competitive event, believed to be his own Hero World Challenge during the first week of December, if all goes according to plan. He might not even dissuade them if he charges into next year with victories at veritable home games like Torrey Pines and Bay Hill.
No, Woods may not silence all of the doubters until he turns over that major championship odometer from 14 to 15, which will be seven years in the making when the calendar soon turns over.
He certainly won’t quiet them in the wake of Monday’s news that he is once again hitting golf balls.
It has become lively sport to react to his name in the headlines with contradicting charges. Not that he cares, of course. Woods has taken delight in proving naysayers wrong over the years and he’ll undoubtedly relish fueling himself with any criticism regarding this latest comeback, as well.
If there comes a point when someone understands his game, his swing, his body and his injuries better than himself, then Woods should start listening. Until that time, he should continue doing what he’s always done – exactly what he thinks will work best for himself.
Hey, it’s worked for him this long. So has ignoring the scrutiny.