Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Did Tiger Woods fall victim to arrested development?

By DeWayne Wickham

Tiger Woods set out to master what would become his life's work by swinging what must have been the world's tiniest golf club - at 10 months old. Some three years later he shot a score over nine holes that would be the envy of adult amateurs struggling to tame the impossible game of golf with its endless variables of earth, wind and ire.

Shooting a 48 at age 3 must have both pleased Tiger and wetted the voracious drive of his father, Earl Woods, to push the young Woods to reach golf's loftiest heights. At eight, Woods won the International Junior World Golf Championships. It was the first of a long list of amateur and professional titles that has ended, at least until Woods straightens out the interactive part of his life he was least prepared for by his father, or apparently, anyone else.

Unless one spent the last two weeks in a sand trap, it has been impossible to avoid media coverage of the disruption of Woods' marriage and career by what in politics is referred to as "bimbo eruptions." With so many women teeing off on Tiger's marriage with claims of infidelity, it may be understandable - given media's dwindling audience - why so much Peeping Tom attention is being paid to this matter by tabloid newspapers and their leering TV cousins.

These purveyors of "news" have aggressively reported unverified, titillating claims, some of which may be the work of gold-diggers panning for their 15 minutes of fame. Lost in the clutter are the details of the true triggering incident and the matter of how the golf superstar and his wife are really dealing with this crisis in their marriage, which - though not new to the institution - could be instructive.

One would think that the big tumble the world's greatest golfer has taken would merit coverage that's somewhat less breathless and salacious.

It does not take a psychiatrist to appreciate that a childhood spent under the iron fist of a determined father in obsessive pursuit of the mastery of sports, music, or other such parental passion, comes at a great cost. Such a Mephistophelean deal, even a benign one as it may have been with Woods, might arrest development in other areas - especially social.

As other kids his age were experiencing what life coach and best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant calls "the natural order of child development,"
Tiger's dad was subjecting him to subliminal messages from audiotapes and motivational videos, Golf Digest reported in 2000.

While all of this has honed Tiger's physical and mental ability to dominate the global game of golf, it apparently did not prepare him to adjust well to life, love and marriage.

At a dinner honoring Tiger in 1996, his father - a former Green Beret who earned a degree in psychology and sociology from Kansas State University - prophesied that his son would one day transcend the sport and make the world a better place. But Tiger Woods is no Messiah, just the world's greatest golfer.

"He's probably profoundly traumatized. There's no way this is not a major catastrophe for him, too," said Harvard University psychiatry Professor Alvin Poussaint. "The big question is how Woods will be received back on the (golf) circuit ... because he will have to face the public again at some point?"

Woods' decision Friday to take an indefinite leave from golf may be an effort not only to save to his marriage but also undo the damage done to himself by his obsessive pursuit of the game of golf.

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