Commentary

Tiger's situation not unique to PGA Tour

Originally Published: August 25, 2010
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

PARAMUS, N.J. -- Listed among the many pages of the PGA Tour's voluminous book of records is every statistical highlight, groundbreaking victory and postseason award on golf's most elite level.

Not included -- for obvious reasons -- are players' battles with personal strife. Although the scandal surrounding Tiger Woods' private affairs and his recent divorce has been the most publicized off-course story in the game's history, it is hardly the first account of a pro golfer enduring difficult marital problems while simultaneously pursuing professional success.

The great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."

Well, using that math, you can double it for golf.

And so, in this ultimately mental pursuit, the pressing question on most minds is: Now that Tiger has finalized his divorce from Elin, how will it affect his future on the golf course?

"This is my job. This is what I do," Woods said after his pro-am round Wednesday in advance of The Barclays. "I'm going to have to put together all the things we've been working on and hopefully have it come together."

Whether he returns over the long haul as the dominant player who has totaled 71 PGA Tour victories and 14 major championship titles or continues as the player still winless this season remains to be seen. There's no doubt, though, that the disharmony in his personal life has led to one of the most disappointing years of his career.

Such news shouldn't come as a surprise, either. Just ask others who have endured similar situations.

"With what's going on in his life off the course, I know he can't be out there thinking solely about golf," said Steve Flesch, who went through what he calls an "amicable" divorce last year. "He's thinking about his kids and his life. It doesn't surprise me in the least that he has struggled. Before, he had no worries; he's just going out there and playing golf. Now he's worried about his image, what his peers think about him, what the world thinks about him, contractual obligations. It's difficult. And who's to say how he's going to handle it?"

"I know what he's going through and it's a lot harder than people think," explained Chris Couch, divorced for five years. "The fact that you're not going to see your kids as much as you used to really is hard on a good father -- and I think he's probably a good father."

Though no active player has gotten divorced following the kind of professional success Woods has enjoyed, others have witnessed varying results in their own careers while enduring the process of marital separation.

"I was playing on the Nationwide Tour at the time and was either No. 1 or 2 on the money list," Couch said. "She delivered divorce papers after I shot 68 in the first round, then I went out and made a 9 on the first hole the next day. So that just goes to show you how it affects your mind."

"At first, it was kind of tough," recalled Mark Calcavecchia, whose divorce proceedings began in 2000 and ended three years later. "I've always been pretty good at leaving things in the hotel room. Once I got out to the course, it was actually the best I felt. Some guys can't do that, but I was able to play fine. There were occasions where I thought about the divorce on the course, though. There are all kinds of things that go through your head."

"When I was going through all of it, my game suffered because I didn't know how to cope with it," said Boo Weekley, who got divorced in 2006. "I didn't know what to expect from life in general. I felt like I was losing everything that I've ever had. Really, I wasn't losing nothing; I was just gaining new character. You've got to look at the positive side of it, you know.

"It motivated me a little when I was going through it. I felt like I had a little more to prove, because I've got a little boy at the house. I felt like I had to prove it to myself, so I went out and worked a little harder."

On Wednesday, Woods maintained that going through the divorce was "a lot more difficult than I was letting on." Still the game's No. 1-ranked player -- however fleeting that title may be -- is on the precipice of his first career winless season.

From errant tee shots to indifferent approaches to dozens of missed putts, he has appeared on the course to be a man with plenty on his mind.

"At that level on the PGA Tour, if your mind cannot be totally on playing golf, you're really going out there without all of your weapons," Flesch said. "I mean, these guys are so good. The strongest part of Tiger's game in the past was his mind. If he's not able to go out there with a sound mind and focus on golf, it's too hard a game to go out there if you're not fully committed and fully prepared to play."

Now that his divorce has been finalized, Woods might now be able to turn the page on the part of his life that has reached the public eye over the past nine months. If he is to return to his former glory, putting this in the rearview mirror might be the first step in that direction.

"No matter how hard things are -- and they can get pretty hard -- as time moves on, you get past it. You keep plugging away," Calcavecchia said. "He'll start playing good again and everything will be all hunky-dory."

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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