Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Yips

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

I’ll start where the last column ended - with Tiger Woods.  Show of hands.  Who read it?  To those reaching for the heavens - assuming you aren’t shameless liars - thanks.  Hopefully you were entertained.  For those fiddling with phones and refusing to make eye contact, you have some explaining to do.  To assist, “I was north of Antarctica on a Greenpeace vessel battling illegal whaling”, is a good excuse, but I’ll need proof.  “Trust but verify”, a wise man once advised.

Why Tiger?  The alternative was a loathsome diatribe on the punchless Washington Nationals, a team currently scoring as often as a World Cup soccer team. Such depressing things could threaten a community’s spring groove and he who dares interrupt the spring groove after a heinous winter invites the people’s wrath.   

Of course Woods’s story is hardly uplifting.  The once incomparable Woods entered The Masters last week ranked a 111th in the world, sandwiched between Tomohiro Kondo and Hennie Otto.  Who coulda thought such things?  Tiger Woods?  Fourteen majors?  Greatest golfer of his generation?  111th in the world?  That’s two more “1’s” in his ranking than we are used to. 

The long descent from numero uno to 111th took a while and was filled with enough drama to fuel a reality show.  Woods lost his father Earl, a significant influence on his life and career, in 2006.  He had reconstructive knee surgery in 2008 and detonated his marriage a year later. Woods dumped his long-time caddie, Steve Williams, in 2011, has rifled through swing coaches like mistresses and had his schedule disrupted by nagging injuries and last year’s back surgery.

While Woods hasn’t won a major championship since 2008, he has remained competitive and shown flashes of dominance despite that burdensome personal and professional chronology.  This year, however, Woods has been inconsequential.  He finished seventeenth at the Hero World Challenge in December, missed the cut at the Waste Management Open in January and withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open in February due to non-competitive play.  “Non-competitive” is being nice.  Woods lost the ability to strike a golf ball flush with a wedge.  He sent balls ripping past the hole or launched chips over the green altogether.  He looked…like me!  Tiger Woods had the yips.  His days as one of golf’s best appeared over.

My wife asked me once when I learned the rules of football.  I’m sure I did – no one is born being able to identify illegal procedure – but for the life of me I can’t remember not knowing the game.  I doubt Tiger Woods, once featured on That’s Incredible! as a five-year-old golf prodigy, ever remembers not being the alpha dog on a golf course.  Yet there he was in February, completely lost on the links, his lifetime haven.  He was a suit-less Iron Man, Sampson without his hair, Superman adorned in kryptonite.  It was equally fascinating and disturbing.

Work, save for the few who pursue their passion professionally, is not typically the desired human condition.  Recreation, hobby-indulgence or sleep are preferred.  But work we do, to meet obligations, pay the bills or to just pacify our consciences.  We teach, build, supply, farm and engineer and procure defense systems.  In time, we get quite good at it – what we do – and assume that our skills and the opportunity to continue our craft will persist.  The professional yips?  An afterthought. 

Fortunately, golf - as any golfer will attest - is far more mercurial than the average job.  Woods, with a solid performance at The Masters last week, appears to have rebounded.  Still, the site of Tiger lost with a golf club in his hand was jarring.  Oh, look at the time.  I need to end there.  It’s past my bedtime and work beckons tomorrow.  My commitment is renewed.  Bills are inbound and retirement is a distant dream.  I have to drill it down the middle when I “tee off” tomorrow…and the next day, and the day after that.  Hope you do the same.  I suspect a case of the professional yips for either of us would be far more consequential than a double-bogey or a missed cut.

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