Earl Woodss psychological training gave his son the reservoirs of resilience needed to recover from a decade of ugly ordeals
They say Earl Woods was a poet laureate of profanity, that he knew so many curse words that he could cuss for 30 minutes straight and not repeat himself once. Earl told Golf Digest that this was a family thing, a habit he inherited from his father and passed on to his son. Tiger was 11 when Earl started to swear at him during training. Fuck off Tiger, he would say during his backswing, motherfucker hed utter, you little piece of shit. Tiger said later he didnt mind and even encouraged his fathers swearing, that eventually, I started laughing at it.
His father was not the first nor last man Tiger Woods heard shout those words, or worse. I heard it at school and during tournaments. Which is exactly why Earl repeated them to him. He abused his boy because he wanted to teach him how to take it. He helped, Tiger wrote, in ways other people thought were hurtful.
Others would call it tough love, but Tiger describes it at as psychological training. They even agreed a code word for Tiger to say when he felt he could not handle any more. Tiger never used it. I was never going to give in to him, he wrote. I was a quitter if I used the code word. I dont quit.
This time last year, Woods almost did quit. He wasnt sure he had any other choice. He was six months in to his recovery from a fourth round of back surgery. The surgeons had fused two of his vertebrae, and he couldnt hit the ball a hundred yards.
At the Presidents Cup last September, the press asked him whether his career might already be over. Definitely, he said. Im not sure what the future holds for me. Back then, he had not had a top-five finish, let alone won a tournament, in four years and had fallen out of the top 1,000 in the world rankings for the first time in his professional career.
Woods says now that his biggest worry was whether he could get his swing working again. If I could somehow piece together a golf swing I felt like I could do it, he said on Sunday. My hands are good enough, I just didnt know if I could piece together a golf swing. But somehow Ive been able to do it, and here we are. He makes it sound as if his comeback was just a matter of technicalities, of arranging his feet in the right alignment, fixing the position of his left arm during his backswing, thinking about how tall he should stand as he brings the club down, and where his head ought to point when he hits the ball.
For the millions who have been watching him play this year, who saw him take the lead on that last afternoon at Carnoustie, make his Sunday run at Bellerive, and win at East Lake last weekend, it has been about much more than that. And deep down, in places he does not go during his press conferences, it surely must have been for Woods, too.
Plenty of golfers have had back problems, plenty more have had to rebuild their swing. But nobody, in any sport, has suffered the sort of long, public humbling Woods has endured this last decade, when every last little detail of his private life has been laid bare for the world to pick over.
The anecdote about Earls swearing is unusual because it is one of the few Woods chose to tell himself. It is in his book, Unprecedented. There are a lot more stories that he would rather have kept private. But it is all out there, every last little wart, flaw and pimple, in the countless unauthorised biographies and profiles and news and magazine stories, from his fathers unusual funeral arrangements, to the sex messages he exchanged with his girlfriends, to the prescription drugs he was using when he was arrested. If you want to read the break-up letters Woods sent to his first serious girlfriend, or learn about Earls sexual preferences, all you have to do is Google.
Well, Woods and his sponsors earned their millions by selling those bits of himself he was happy to share, of course. His public image helped pay for his yacht, which he named Privacy because it felt like it might be the only place he could get it.
So you could say he was only reaping what he had sown in the good years. Fame is not a game you get to dictate the rules to, after all, though goodness knows his representatives have spent years trying to do exactly that.
But even so, it feels like Woods has suffered a Jobs lot, now, that this merciless ordeals run on so long public sympathy has turned full circle and now people even see him as the underdog again.
Woods went through what one writer called his freak show period. And the fans are glad theyre over. Watching the gallery crowd around him on the 18th at East Lake on Sunday, it felt like people just want to enjoy watching him play and win again. The point of all Earls swearing, Tiger wrote, was that it taught him to shut out what everyone else was saying and concentrate on his golf. Did they think they could get to me? They couldnt, he wrote. I saw but didnt see, I heard but didnt hear. That strength has been tested in the past decade like never before, and incredibly, it has held firm.
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