Thursday 22 February 2018

Dire need for Tiger to play on instinct

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Admit it, if it's out of the question for this little island to keep stockpiling golf's biggest prizes, you'd quite like the gatecrasher to be Tiger. You're all out of morality breath-freshener, right? So the world discovered he wasn't just Huckleberry Finn with an Afro-American twist and, yes you're right, all expressions of remorse for the lie his life had become sounded a bit like a corporate sales pitch.

The world's best golfer turned out to be a creep. If CCTV picked up Julie Andrews robbing a convenience store, we couldn't have felt more conned.

But tongues are clucked to nothing now and, frankly, golf's just not the same without Woods tearing the guts out of courses that leave his opponents queuing up to lie on some $500-an-hour couch, whimpering about a difficult childhood.

Watching him miss the cut in Atlanta was a bit like watching Fred Astaire stand on Ginger Rogers' toes. It didn't sit right.

Tiger looked beaten up. Worse, he looked the same as just about everyone else around him. In other words, care-worn, obsessive, borderline neurotic. A man who craved nothing more urgently than to be mothered.

What is with professional golf that nurtures all this neediness? No other sport carries such a subculture of people upon whom the stars, quite literally, depend upon just to keep the nuts and bolts in their heads from seizing. It's as if they barely trust themselves to walk to the tee without careful prior reconnaissance.

On Thursday, Tiger was three-under after five holes, playing golf on the back of what he called "mechanical thoughts". It looked like he had found himself. Next thing, he was dropping more shots than Boris Yeltsin at 30,000 feet and went 10-over for the next 13.

"I just thought I could let it go," he said at the post-mortem. "And it screwed up my whole round."

So Tiger fell victim to instinct. It was as if the moment he parked the robot in his brain and returned a semblance of trust to the genius within, the roof came tumbling down. He needed all the artificial, zombie-speak props. Without them, his brain turned to lint.

All of which would be depressing if it didn't happen to be so everyday. In Atlanta, we discovered that Lee Westwood -- the current world No 2 -- had decided to part company with 'putting guru' Dave Stockton on the basis that the whole process had become "too technical". Hallelujah.

So Westwood was going back to just trusting himself? Em, not quite. No, he'd signed back up to the guru of all gurus, Dr Bob Rotella, and some ingenious trick called 'total unconsciousness'. Lovely. The second best golfer in the world, essentially, felt the need to be tranquilised. Last week, the golf world was allowed to eavesdrop on a private conversation Padraig Harrington had with top coach Pete Cowen at the Bridgestone Invitational. How? Because Cowen recycled the detail at a press conference in Atlanta.

Harrington, having just split from Bob Torrance, apparently asked Cowen "as a friend" to take a look at his swing. So Cowen did and was, thus, in a position to report that Padraig wasn't in possession of "a clue" as to what he should be working on.

So Pete would be assisting in the rehab? You've got to be kidding, he didn't have the time. "Padraig's high maintenance," he said, like he was talking about a spouse addicted to Botox.

Golf is so overrun with swing experts and mind gurus these days, a leaderboard doesn't so much recognise excellence anymore as identify those on day release from their demons. The sport is a basket case.

So when Steve Williams mistakes carrying a bag for winning that tournament in Akron, is he being anything other than true to an environment in which the stars are, essentially, depicted as being in need of remedial care?

I suspect Rory McIlroy bristles at this culture. The fuss over his injured arm reached an Olympian level of silliness on Thursday. Old pros harrumphed about the "wisdom" of completing his round, given the possibility of sustaining long-term damage.


McIlroy sprained his forearm for pity's sake. He hadn't suffered a coronary.

Yet, two medics followed his every step in Friday's second round and golf seemed to hold its breath every time JP Fitzgerald put a club in his hand. Asked if maybe JP should have advised him against taking on that tree root that inflicted the damage, McIlroy summoned the quote of the tournament. "He's my caddie, not my father!"

Official medical bulletins subsequently identified three separate areas of trauma to Rory's arm. On that basis, Kilkenny ought really decommission Henry Shefflin immediately. Because if they get a golf opinion on the injuries he's been hurling through, they may find that, technically, he's dead.

On Saturday night I could have sworn I saw the late American comic actor John Candy shoot to the top of the US PGA leaderboard. This guy had kiss-curls and a paunch. He looked like he'd need a lollipop lady to help him through the crowds to the marker's hut. But then maybe I was hallucinating.

Just seems to me that golf needs the old Tiger back. The guy Jim Murray once described as having "a smile like a sunrise, a swing as sweet as a banana split and the confidence of a riverboat gambler with his own deck."

Maybe there was a lot rotten behind the billboard. But he played a game you could believe was God-given, not something pieced together off a construction site diagram.

Irish Independent

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