Two Troubling Signs The Answer May Be "Not So Much."
In his recent Nike commercial, a stone-faced Tiger Woods stares into the camera as he listens to the voice of his late father, Earl. The commercial closes with the question, "Did you learn anything?" In the words of an adolescent we know, this 30-second masterpiece is "creepy-good."
Two moments at the Masters suggest that Tiger, assuming he is sincere about his recovery process, is a long way from where he needs to be. These moments tell us more about his nature and addictions than any words Tiger is likely to say.
Moment 1. His failure to acknowledge Phil Mickelson
Moment 2. His defensiveness about his temper
Phil Mickelson is being called the "anti-Tiger," because they are at opposite ends of the character spectrum. While Phil was devoting himself to the care of his cancer-patient wife, Amy, (as well his similarly-stricken mother, Mary) Tiger was devoting himself to an extravagant bout of cheating and lying. While Phil was hugging his kids and his wife in the winner's circle (a wife who had gotten up from her sickbed to fly across the country to hug him) Tiger was speeding away from the course in the back of an SUV after only a few terse comments about himself and his game. His wife Elin and the two children were elsewhere.
How could Tiger slink off without saying a single word of congratulation to Phil Mickelson? How could he fail to acknowledge not only Mickelson's brilliant play but the heroics of character that his rival displayed over the last few years? If anyone had a remaining doubt that Tiger Woods is a consummate narcissist, oblivious to the feelings of the rest of the world, this moment should prove it.
Tiger had publicly vowed to limit or curtail his profane explosions of temper. Other players had called on him to show more respect for the game of golf, so as to set a better example for his millions of fans. His first test of these vows would come on the holy grounds of Augusta. He flunked. Instead of exhibiting the calm he claims to have learned from his Buddhist mother, he blew up extravagantly, sending a loud "Goddammit," a "Jesus Christ" and a couple of club-whacks out to a few hundred million people around the world. (Note for further research: Find out why Buddhist golfers don't shout "Buddha!" when they hit a bad shot.)
But it's not the tantrums and the broken vows to control his temper that is the most worrisome behavior. The real problem, for Tiger and for any other addict, is that he got defensive when asked about it after the round. Defensiveness in the face of feedback is a hallmark of addicts of any type. True to form, Tiger got defensive when the interviewer asked him about some of his outbursts during the rounds. Tiger's reply was that people are making too big a deal of it. His answer caused our hearts to sink, because in working with 20,000 people in therapy and seminars over the past four decades, we have heard hundreds of addicts say virtually the same thing. Here's an example:
Therapist: Your wife has expressed a lot of concern about your drinking. She told me you passed out in front of the kids last weekend.
Client: Aww, she's making way too big a deal of that. That's how she is -- she blows everything out of proportion.
In recovery circles, that type of response is often called "executing the messenger." The addict seeks to minimize or belittle the people who are bringing the feedback to him or her, so that their concerns are trivialized.
The Tiger Of Our Dreams
Like millions, we've loved watching the masterful brilliance of Tiger Woods on the golf course. But we want more from him. We want this man who plays with such passion and purpose to apply those awesome talents to building a life of integrity.
What would a healthy Tiger say instead of the brusque, self-centered words he uttered at the end of the Masters? Instead of "People are making too big a deal of this," a healed Tiger would say something like this: "I really appreciate people calling my attention to my outbursts and holding me to my word. I blew it a few times out there. I apologize for offending the values of a lot of my fans, and I especially apologize to those viewers of faith whom I insulted by using sacred names in vain."
Instead of storming off after the round without acknowledging Phil Mickelson, a healed Tiger would say something like this: "I played poorly and I'm mad about that, but rather than focus on me, this is a moment to focus on Phil's incredible victory. His devotion to his wife, Amy, and now his mother during their cancer struggles, inspires me to be that kind of man some day. That's a lot more important to me right now than hitting a ball with a stick. I am TERRIFIED that I won't be able to create a life of integrity. I'm re-dedicating myself to that now, and that's all you need to know about me for a while."
We hold a vision for a healed Tiger, whether a month from now or a lifetime from now. After spending more than a third of his life as a wealthy, famous icon of golfing excellence and impeccable character, Tiger's crash came faster than almost anyone in history. Only time will tell the trajectory of his re-emergence. We're cheering for him.
Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks