Friday, February 6, 2015

Deactivated or Finished?

Tiger Woods, Deactivated or Finished?
Is this about Tiger, or is it about something bigger than any individual?  The latter, I think.  This is about why we do what we do, in work and in play, about who and what we choose to represent our ideals, and about how we manage tarnished images.  It might also be about how we know when it's time to refocus our physical and mental energies, about how we manage change when what we're doing no longer brings a greater measure of joy and delight than pain and suffering, when what was at one time an exhilarating challenge has become a grinding, painful drudge.  But I think at the core this is about letting go of an icon.

Whether or not Tiger's competitive golf career is behind him is a matter I'm simply not competent to address.  On that question, I look to the experts and their take on Tiger's situation is hardly uniform:  Nick Faldo thinks Tiger needs to find a swing that won't put so much torque on his spine.  Phil Rogers, who cured Jack Nicklaus of the yips thirty years ago, thinks Tiger's strength has always been in his ability to select the right shot and commit to it, and he lacks the confidence to play with that iron-clad commitment.  Phil Mickelson thinks Tiger will come back with his short game, always the first to go and the quickest to recover.  Notah Begay looks to the numbers, the fact that in his last eight entries Tiger's missed more cuts and had more voluntary withdrawls than finished events.

I was watching Golf Channel and keeping an eye on my Twitter feed when Tiger withdrew from competition during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.  While that kind of multitasking can result in mental and visual jerks, it can and in this case did add value to what I witnessed on the golf course.

Tiger's drive that went flying off into the wild blue yonder wasn't really anything new and didn't evoke much comment in either medium.  His attempt to get back to the short grass was a bit unusual and drew some comments from both the Golf Channel and from Twitter.  Then it began -- Tiger's farewell handshake with playing partners Billy Horschel and Rickey Fowler, the golf cart exit, the parking lot scene with his caddie stuffing his bag into the back of Tiger's Porsche, Tiger's "my glutes wouldn't activate" statement to the press, and the long, lingering camera focus on the parking space Tiger had vacated while play continued on the course.

Forget Horschel and Fowler.  Forget Nick Thompson carding an 8-under 64 on the North Course to take the lead over Michael Thompson  Forget Dustin Johnson, coming back after a 6-month layoff to address "personal challenges," holing out on the South Course Number 4 with an eagle.  Forget rookie Brooks Koepka, coming off his Waste Management victory and carding a 6-under 66 on the North Course.   Tiger was gone.

That long, lingering shot of the empty parking space said it all, or did it?  The focus shifted to Tiger's explanation -- "my glutes wouldn't stay activated" -- and Twitter went wild.  I watched as Tiger's glutes went viral for the next hour.  They eventually got their own Twitter account, complete with 19 followers and 2 Tweets: @tigerglutes.

Dave Andrews confessed that his glutes hadn't activated for 20 years.  Translations were offered: Did "activate my glutes" actually mean "get my ass in gear"?  Is the swing thought, "activate my glutes" a sure sign that a golfer has the yips?

Is this about Tiger, or is it about the way we're responding to Tiger?  The latter, I think.  The longer, lingering image of the empty parking space, the explosion of TwitterHumor, the carefully measured responses from his peers forge an intricately juxtaposed imagery.

While James Smith, a member of the Google+ Golf Community has suggested that Tiger, the Man "needs something other than practice, a trophy girlfriend, and a swing coach," I'm left wondering what it's going to take to repair or replace the cultural icon that was Tiger Woods, now reduced to an empty parking space and biting TwitterHumor.        

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