The golf world thinks Tiger Woods is a head case -- and leaving the sport might fix it

Every theory for what’s wrong with Tiger Woods acknowledges one reality   — the mental edge that he exercised over the sport for more than a decade is gone.

Some think he suffered some sort of mental breakdown in the shame and humiliation of his affairs going public. Some think five years of injury-plagued mediocrity has dismantled his once impenetrable self-confidence. Some think he’s just older now.

For all his injury issues and swing changes, the idea that this Tiger isn’t the same as he used to be between the ears has gained traction in recent weeks.

Golf writer Jaime Diaz, who has covered Tiger forever, wrote a column on Monday about his theory that Tiger never recovered from the psychological trauma of the sex scandal that changed his personal life in 2009.

“The line of demarcation is clear, because as a golfer, Woods has not been himself since,” he wrote. “I believe it’s fair to posit that the trauma of being publicly shamed changed him. Before, he possessed the right makeup for a dominating champion. Ever since, he hasn’t.”

This is something armchair psychologists have talked about for years. But now it’s coming from someone within the game.

Tiger woods backDonald Miralle/Getty ImagesTiger withdraws with an injured back.

In an interview with BI, Diaz said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing when Tiger started showing signs of the chipping yips at the Hero World Challenge in December.

“That was shocking, literally shocking,” he said of Tiger’s short game. “It’s not unusual for pros to have problems with chipping. But usually the degree to which it’s bad is such that someone who’s not a pro wouldn’t even notice.”

“What he was doing was a complete and total meltdown. Coming from him in particular was just so shocking. To me that’s not technique. That’s not injury. That’s psychological. That’s internal. That’s profound. Something happened to this guy’s nervous system.”

Diaz thinks that Tiger needs to take time away from the game to deal with his unresolved personal problems.

“The way to overcome it is to get away and really look at your life in a holistic way.”

Notah Begay III, Tiger’s old college roommate and current Golf Channel analyst, went on the Dan Patrick Show on Monday and said his friend is now buried under “an avalanche of doubt and self-guessing” when he tries to play golf.

Interestingly, he also floated the idea that Tiger could take some time off to reboot his game.

“If he were to take three to six, nine months off and come back at the age of 40 he could still have three to five really good years left in him,” he said.

Unlike Diaz, Begay attributes Tiger’s confidence issues with his injuries. He explained how getting hurt affected his mental state:

“The physical limitations start bleeding into your technique and your mechanics. Your body starts to compensate. Golf is a very precise sport. Trying to get that clubhead on the ball and create a pretty straight shot is a difficult thing to do over 72 holes.

“So the mechanical deficiencies leaked into his confidence and then confidence leads into doubt and then it’s just an avalanche of doubt and second-guessing after that. That’s kind of what we’re seeing, this culmination of physical scar tissue from his injury, mental scar tissue from playing a lot of bad golf, and now [his] confidence is definitely lower than it’s been in a long time.”

The thinking has always been that Tiger is one of the most maniacally competitive people in the sport, and he’s going to do everything he possibly can to chase down Jack Nicklaus’ majors record. 

But now even that is coming under doubt.

His ex-coach Hank Haney (who, it should be noted, isn’t exactly on the best terms with Tiger) said on his radio show that Tiger is actually content with what he has accomplished in his career, and doesn’t care about Jack’s record anymore.

In an interview with the Scotsman, Haney questioned whether Tiger has the same mental focus that he used to:

“After all that went on at Isleworth in December, Tiger came back with the line that he had hit ‘thousands and thousands and thousands’ of chips before Phoenix last week. I wonder when he did that. He said he was sick for a month over the holidays. Then he was in Mexico and Houston designing courses. He was in Italy watching his girlfriend ski. He was getting his tooth fixed. And he presumably spent time with his kids. Yet he found time to hit ‘thousands and thousands and thousands’ of chips?”

Everyone who likes golf wants Tiger to make a comeback. But right now he has serious issues — a bad back, the chipping yips — that even the most self-confident players have trouble recovering from.

“Knowledgeable golf people are very, very doubtful now,” Diaz told us of Tiger returning to dominance. “You start adding up all the components and factors, and there are very few positive trends. Everything is trending negatively.”

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