A mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity. That’s depression, defined by the English Dictionary. And for golf fans and fans of greatness in general, depression has set in as the result of watching the painstaking erosion of one of the truly great athletes of our time.
Eldrick Woods is suffering from an undisclosed back injury, and due to such withdrew from last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. His fate regarding this year’s Masters remains to be decided, and due to the “classified” umbrella of secrecy he’s always insisted upon operating beneath; you, I, and everyone else who’ve enjoyed the unprecedented level of intense, awe-inspiring, and “did he really just do that” moments provided by Tiger Woods, will be on the edge of our seats for the two weeks leading-up to the 2014 golf season’s unofficial kick-off.
Sadly however, I’m here to tell you; he ain’t comin’.
Tiger Woods as we knew him, is dead. Sure, the somewhat familiar guy in the black and red Nike get-up will win a handful of tournaments, throw in a great round here and there, and provide rare glimpses of the athlete we used to make time for. But what used to be Tiger, has been replaced by a mortal named Eldrick, dismantled by one-too-many swing reconstructions, and a shattered psyche resulting from a sequence of ethical missteps and the subsequent social beheading few could hope to survive.
Eldrick isn’t Tiger anymore. Gone is the uber-confident, hyper-talented, soldier-like competitor who dominated the world of golf for more than a decade, and he’s been replaced by a shell of what he was, humbled by a game designed to prey on mental weakness.
He knows he can hit bad shots, knows he can miss 3-footers, and knows he won’t always recover from one or more of the aforementioned regularities previously irregular to him. But what used to be reserved for the average to good professionals of the game, has intruded upon arguably the greatest that’s ever swung a club. Couple that with several knee surgeries, a broken leg, an Achilles injury, and now a recurring back ailment, and you’re left with a sports icon inching closer to an end, nearer the beginning than most had hoped for or thought possible.
Woods is 38 years old. Ancient by professional athlete standards, but only about 12 holes into a professional golfer’s window of winning. Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 46, Vijay Singh won 22 tournaments after his 40th birthday, and in an era of fitness-minded players aided by modern equipment technology, it isn’t crazy for a player to think he can win well into his late 40’s, and even into his early 50’s. But winning the Erie, Indiana Soup Kitchen Open is not why we watched Tiger Woods, and not why Tiger Woods teed it up on the PGA Tour. It was winning majors and surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record that motivated him, and how he went about it that put you on your couch, in front of your television every time the self-professed “Cablanasian” was in position to do just that.
He had a flare for the dramatic. He did what he needed to do, and others couldn’t when they had to against him. He was just better, he knew it and he knew others knew it too, which offered the perfect combination of superior talent and the confidence to overcome the type of misstep likely to send others into a flat spin out to sea. When he said he could win without his “A-Game,” he was right, and his peers were all too aware of it.
Now his “A-Game” rarely comes out to play, and when he doesn’t have it, the field is good enough to put his “B-Game” in the rearview mirror. He’s lost his edge, and with it lies the difference between “Eldrick The Good,” and “Tiger The Great.”
I am depressed. In recent years I’ve fought the notion that Tiger would fail to regain his legendary status. I assumed he’d master his new swing, regain his legendary swagger, and once again dazzle us with his unrivaled ability to swing the sticks. But it’s been six years since he won his last major, a bit more than four years since his domestic dispute, and never since I thought or said the following: Tiger Woods is done, and Eldrick is all we have to look forward to.