Should Woods carry the black man's burden?
It was an unforgettable image. Tiger Woods was flailing like a weekend duffer. He grimaced as the wind and rain whipped into his usually stoic face.Skip to next paragraph
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He shot a disastrous 81.
That was the third day of the British Open last month, when the world's best golfer lost his chance to win all four major events in the same year the Grand Slam of golf.
But Woods's struggles went beyond the links. Before the tournament, he commented on the fact that Augusta National Golf Club the site of the Masters tournament he had won earlier in the year had not admitted any female members. Woods said it was "unfortunate," but "that's just the way it is" a remark that disappointed many fans.
Could Tiger's first major off-course distraction have caused the breakdown in his game? Although it is impossible to tell, it's possible Tiger's two "failures" might be linked.
How Woods recovers will be one of the subtexts at the PGA Championship this weekend at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. If he wins, which is expected, the pressure will be lifted almost immediately. If he loses, it could intensify.
Regardless, fans and pundits will continue to ask what is the appropriate social role of an athlete so dominant that he has almost single-handedly produced a revival in his sport.
Moreover, because Tiger Woods belongs to a racial minority, does that mean he is obliged to stick up for other minority groups, even if they are groups to which he does not belong?
According to Ronald Kann, a psychologist in Oakhurst, N.J., who heads the International Society for Sports Psychiatry, Woods has already fumbled his first attempt at answering these questions. In doing so, he perhaps allowed an initial "failure" to disrupt his performance in competition a trap that is common among elite athletes.
"When it's expected that he will do everything right and he comes up short, that's a defeat right there," Kann says. "This is a person who is not used to losing or looking bad. Did that subconsciously throw off his game [at the British Open]? It could have."
There are reasons, however, to believe that Woods may have already pushed the Augusta incident aside. He shot extremely well the day after he bombed at the British Open. And last week he won the Buick Open, a tune-up for the PGA Championship.
Moreover, he issued a new statement on his website that was less blasé toward Augusta's lack of female members (although critics said it still didn't go far enough).
"Would I like to see women members?" he asked. "Yes, that would be great, but I am only one voice. I'm not even a regular member."
It has always been difficult to get inside Tiger's head. This is a characteristic that clearly gives him an advantage over other golfers. Part of his success is due to his ability to rein in his emotions. He seems more comfortable than anyone else under pressure, and when he leads going into the final round, he almost never loses.
It is a characteristic he shares with Michael Jordan, who is perhaps the greatest clutch basketball player of all time. Like Woods, Jordan has tried to keep his personal life secret and stay out of politics. But racism is not a hot-button issue in basketball, which is dominated by black athletes. This took the onus off Jordan.