James Corrigan: With all his troubles does Woods need a coach who thinks he can save the world?
Nobody should doubt the sincerity of this Robin Hood in a Nike-sponsored visor; least of all a cynical Brit. But what can be queried is Tiger's need for all this
Monday 04 April 2011
Do you keep yourself awake worrying what they will say at your funeral? No, me neither. Yes, occasionally we may lie there fretting nobody will show up as an all-too-deathly silence consumes the chamber. But we've dutifully trooped along to enough ourselves to know anyone kind enough to attend won't have done so to heckle.
They'll find something nice to say, even if they have to scrape the barrels of our existence. Rather like that clergyman at the internment of one particularly wretched vagrant who began: "Whatever else might be said of the deceased, we all agree he was a good whistler."
Yet Sean Foley is concerned about the specifics of these glib obits. His poor mourners will have to work for their sherry. "I think about it all the time," Foley told Golf magazine. "It's not morbid. It's just a reality. Forty years from now if somebody tells my son what a great swing coach his Dad was, I've missed the point big time."
Foley is a swing coach. Whether he is great one or not is still at the debating stage. This week at The Masters his radical overhaul of the Tiger Woods motion will come under the most intense scrutiny since the work began nine months ago.
Some say he is ruining Tiger with his mechanics, turning Mona Lisa into Max Headroom; others insist he should be given time. Yet perhaps everyone not a member of the "Pretentious? Moi? Club" on Fulham Road may feel he should lower his sights ever so slightly.
"I'm not here to revolutionise golf instruction," says Foley. "I'm here to touch the individual lives of the people I work with, while recognising the old saying, 'To whom much is given, much is expected.' When you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night the goal is to leave the world in a better place than you found it."
Pass me a bucket of balls. But then, the Canadian has made no secret of his intention to quit those driving ranges nestled deep in the valley of rampant self-interest for higher ground.
"Ten years from now I see myself more as a vehicle for social change through philanthropic opportunities," says the 36-year-old. "To disperse any wealth that I might have, to focus on issues like poverty, childhood hunger and stuff like that."
Nobody should doubt the sincerity of this Robin Hood in a Nike-sponsored visor, least of all a cynical Brit. But what surely can be queried is Tiger's need for all this. Hunter Mahan, another student of Foley (as is England's Justin Rose), is quick to applaud his mentor, a man who lists Aristotle and Descartes as coaching influences. "I really appreciate that Sean never stops improving himself as a person and teacher," says Mahan. "He knows that will make his students better people and better players.
Woods is a self-confessed addict who has sought professional help to become this "better person". His therapists should stick to the sex; Foley should stick to the slice. As strong as the mind-body relationship may well be – and, with his escapades Woods hardly stated the case too persuasively – Tiger definitely doesn't need to hear any more delusions to non-golfing grandeur. That's what landed him in his mess.
Remember when Earl Woods declared his boy would be "bigger than Gandhi" and "more important that Nelson Mandela"? From a young age it wouldn't be enough for him to be "Tiger Woods, faultless golfer". He had to be "Tiger Woods, faultless human being." So when the myth came crashing down it did so courtesy of an explosion of irony.
Tell me, what is so lowly about being a sporting superstar or even a coach to that sporting superstar? They have the power to spread wonder and joy, help fellow men forget their troubles awhile. Why shouldn't that suffice? Granted there have been sportsmen who gone on to greater things, who have shaped mankind's future. Menzies Campbell, Lord Coe, David Icke. Yet these are the blessed exceptions.
Nowadays it is professional golfers who seem most prone to these visions of virtue. Maybe that's because more than any other sportsmen, they hang around with the genuises who run this great world. Only the other day President George Bush – the wrinkly one without the 'W' – graced the Houston Open with his presence and vast security detail; mid-round Phil Mickelson walked over to extend his best wishes.
Lefty felt obliged. President Bush is a friend of American golf, as proven by his entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year. Previously the most baffling thing about the museum in Florida was that it has an "International" ballot within the "World" Hall of Fame. Sandy Lyle, with two majors, has yet to be invited. The Bush family, with two Gulf Wars, have been.
Whatever happens next, Woods is assured of his place alongside such plus-foured, khaki luminaries. Yet there could be something more awaiting. Not world peace or the eradication of famine, but to be unarguably the greatest of all time, to win the five majors required to displace Jack Nicklaus. What will that take?
My crass guess is less David Brent, more David Leadbetter. Woods needs to revisit the days when he would tee off with his mind uncluttered, not concerned with any inner-self advancement, any holistic approach to hitting a small white ball, any deep thinking. Just to do it – four majors in succession. "I think therefore I slam." Keep it simple, keep it real. And whistle while you're at it.
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