SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Throughout a muggy morning on the Lake Michigan shore, Steve Williams dutifully held the non-business end of a golf club to Tiger Woods forehead during his swing, a drill to keep the world No. 1 from swaying off the golf ball.
Most, maybe even Woods himself, believe the real problem with Woods’ game rests within the 12-inches of gray matter behind the handle of Williams’ golf grip.
What CBS Sports analyst David Feherty called a head full of slamming doors is now public enemy No. 1 in a fitful comeback that has gone from promising to painful.
How did we end up with reverse osmosis? How did we go from a T-4 at the Masters to a T-78 at Firestone? Woods has always improved with reps, but the traffic has been moving in only one direction of late.
Simply put, there’s nothing wrong with Tiger Woods’ swing that some time on the “sharing couch” and a little clarity of thought couldn’t cure. He needs a session with Dr. Phil not a Sunday showdown with Phil Mickelson to wrest himself from the clutches of the worst season of his career.
On Tuesday before the prying eyes of the press, Woods, in his own subdued way, seemed to acknowledge as much.
“I really took solace in going out on to the golf course after my dad passed because it brought back so many great memories of us growing up,” Woods said. “(Now) every time I come out here it’s been a little bit more difficult.”
On Tuesday Woods talked about attaining balance in his life and finding his equilibrium, all of which looks good on a bumper sticker and in “self help” books but a spiritual journey is not exactly conducive to winning major championships and chasing history.
Woods took a positive, and surprisingly public, step at Whistling Straits on Tuesday, walking his front nine with swing coach Sean Foley and acknowledging the possibility that the two could work together.
Foley is not your off-the-shelf instructor, sprinkling in copious amounts of existential thought in among swing mechanics. He will not simply tell you to maintain three degrees of spine tilt through impact but will give you your motivation for doing so.
But Foley can only take the reclamation project so far.
In short, the answers Woods seeks can’t be found inside the ropes of high-profile golf. For the first time in a charmed life the game is no longer a refuge.
Last week at Firestone Sergio Garcia, who has gone through his own share of mental mash-‘em-up following his very public split with Greg Norman’s daughter, said he is going to take an extended break from golf following this week’s PGA Championship.
Make no mistake, Tiger Woods could use a similar health-and-happiness hiatus. Whatever negative short-term impact on golf an extended break would have would more than be recovered if Woods returns with some peace.
“Sometimes golf is a refuge,” said Dr. Gio Valiante, a sports psychologist whose list of current clients includes Sean O’Hair and Justin Rose. “But over time golf catches up to you. Tiger’s problems are many right now. He has a two-way miss going and I don’t mean mechanically.”
At Whistling Straits Woods repeated a familiar theme, saying things were beginning to feel like normal, and in many ways that seems true.
He played his practice round on Tuesday with O’Hair and Hunter Mahan like a man without a care in the world and even his press conference, which have become more contentious of late, had some rare moments of levity if not guarded optimism.
“I’ve seen him at Isleworth a little bit and he’s got his laugh back, it’s not forced. He’s having fun with people,” Valiante said.
Perhaps, but Woods slogged his way to a final-round 77 two days ago at Firestone with the look of a man hoisting more baggage around than an episode of “Jersey Shore.”
“It’s been a long year,” Woods sighed on Sunday in Ohio, and his appears to be getting longer following news late Tuesday that U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin will make him a pick for this year’s squad if he doesn’t qualify.
Without question, America needs Woods in Wales. We just wonder if Woods needs the pressure and intensity that the biennial grudge match always delivers?
Foley will fix the swing. The Ryder Cup may even fix the slump. But only time and an emotional epiphany away from prying eyes will fix the man.