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Monday, February 23, 2009

Tiger's Greatest Challenge

In 13 years on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods has proven that he can handle any challenge, but those facing him in 2009 may prove to be the toughest of his career.

Woods will make his first tour appearance since limping to the U.S. Open title last June when he tees it up for the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play Championship this week.

In a sport where repetition and consistency are crucial, it will be interesting to see just how much “rust” the greatest player in the world shows. There is little doubt that over the last eight months Woods has approached his rehab from major knee surgery with the same kind of competitive drive, determination and focus that made him the best golfer in the game. However, while he will likely be physically in better shape than in recent years, it will be interesting to see if going several months without playing the game will have any impact on his performance.

If history is any indicator, Woods is going to be just fine.

Woods would certainly be pleased if his return to the game this spring follows the form of that charted by another golfing great who returned to the game after an extended absence. In January 1950, just 11 months removed from a major automobile accident that nearly cost him his life, Ben Hogan made a triumphant return to the tour at the Los Angeles Open (now known as the Northern Trust Open).

Hampered by circulation and leg injuries that would impact him for the rest of his life, few expected Hogan to contend for the tournament title. However, Hogan had other ideas and finished the event tied with Sam Snead for first place. Though he lost to Snead in the playoff, Hogan showed everyone that he was still a force to be reckoned with.

Later that year, Hogan won the U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff and went on to claim six of his nine Major titles after his accident. In 1953, Hogan became the first player in golf history to win three Majors in the same year. His accomplishment was not equaled until Woods won three Major titles in 2000.

Unlike Hogan, who was never able to play a full schedule following his accident, the knee injury suffered by Woods is not expected to seriously limit his future schedule. However, we are unsure how the other recent major event involving Woods will impact his future golf schedule.

Earlier this month, Woods and his wife, Elin, became members of the prestigious “two under two” club. Charlie joins his 20-month old sister, Sam, to form a dynamic duo that will undoubtedly liven things up for their parents.

As a former member of the “two under two” club, I can tell Tiger that regardless of whether he has any responsibilities for changing diapers, his life will never again be the same.

Now I recognize that Tiger and Elin probably have more assistance than most of us in the day-to-day upbringing of their children. However, from everything I have heard Tiger say about parenthood, I am pretty sure that he is determined that his children will not see more of him on television than they do in person.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Tiger can’t be a good Dad and still be the best golfer in the world. It just means that it is going to take even greater effort and energy than before.

When on the course, golfers have to be completely focused on the moment and not thinking about potential distractions (like the crowd, wind or shot you missed at the last hole). Spending time with your young children often takes the same kind of single-minded focus.

Kids rightfully expect, and often demand, that when their parents are with them they are 100% with them (both physically and mentally). In Tiger’s case it will mean that when he is reading books or playing blocks with his kids he can’t be thinking about the putt he missed on the 17th green at Augusta, how his swing felt in practice that morning or the tournament he has the following weekend.

Throughout his career, Tiger has strived not to be great, but to be the best. He has reached that level on the golf course and I’m willing to bet that he plans on also being the best parent for Sam and Charlie that he possibly can.

I recognized soon after my children were born that having kids and giving them my love and attention didn’t mean I couldn’t still be just as successful at my job as in the past. It just meant that I would need to find additional energy to ensure that I was giving the kids the attention they needed at home while saving enough in reserve to still do a quality job at work.

The other golfers probably don't want to hear that Woods may have to push himself to an even greater level moving forward just to stay at the top, but that may be the case. His ultimate professional desire is to be the greatest golfer of all-time and I don't think a knee injury or dedication to his family will keep him from reaching that goal.


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