Head Of States?
Tiger Woods has said he hopes to be the U.S. Ryder Cup captain "one day."
As soon as word got out that Tiger Woods had said that he'd like to be captain
of the U.S. Ryder Cup team some day, the knees started jerking with reaction. And as with everything involving Tiger, the pendulum of response swings wide. In my view, the best way to look forward is to look back.
On No. 1 against each of his six opponents at the 1996 U.S. Amateur, where he won his third consecutive title, Tiger would move to the back left corner of the tee box, turn his back on his opponent and go into a calming, meditative trance.
It's one of the most intimidating moments I have ever seen in all of sports. Sort of golf's version of the New Zealand All Blacks doing the Maori haka war dance
before a rugby match.
Once at the Masters, and I'm guessing this was in the early 2000s when Woods was in full Tiger mode, he was walking through the roped-off area behind the clubhouse toward the first tee at Augusta National when his mother, Tida, shouted to him. He never heard her. He was in the cone of silence, staring straight ahead.
And when The Scandal unfolded and people asked me if I was surprised my answer was, in all truthfulness, that the last time I had run into Tiger off the golf course was in a restaurant in Dublin, Ohio, in 1998. He is a very private, self-contained man.
Perhaps that explains why his Ryder Cup record in the team formats -- foursomes and four-balls -- is a dreadful 9-16-1, while his singles mark is a solid 4-1-2. Tiger Woods playing with a partner is like asking Maria Callas to sing an aria from Madame Butterfly
with the Jordanaires as back-up singers. Tiger is all about arias.
Let's look back at another event. In 2004, in what was a coaching move that made James Buchanan's presidency look brilliant -- Europe won 18½ to 9½ -- U.S. Captain Hal Sutton paired Woods and Phil Mickelson not once but twice, both with disastrous results.
In the Friday morning four-ball, the Americans lost to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington 2 and 1. Then in foursomes that afternoon, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood won No. 18 for a 1-up win after Lefty hit a wild drive on the last hole and Tiger made no effort to disguise his disgust.
Through my eyes, it appeared as if Mickelson tried to make the silly pairing of less-than-friends work, but that Woods had no interest in embracing the situation. His body language was X-rated all day.
So that's my knee-jerk reaction. Tiger, to me, seems to be all about Tiger and in my mind that makes him a sketchy teammate, let alone a team leader. I thought his apology to the U.S. rookies
for his poor record in this year's Ryder Cup was odd and self-serving. It was truly a team loss, especially during the Sunday collapse.
Geniuses are not always great leaders. They see the game and play the game on such a different level that they don't fully understand the struggles of the mere mortals. As a baseball manager, Ted Williams struggled to understand why everyone couldn't hit like he did.
And there is a part of being truly special at what you do that requires a certain amount of selfishness -- perhaps the more generous term is "self-focus." When Tiger is at his best, he is not smiling and waving to the crowd or chatting with his playing partner. He is staring straight head. That is what works for him.
One of the questions The Scandal raised about Woods is what exactly his legacy will be. Has he forfeited his right to age into the role of an elder statesman in the game like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player? Would that be a factor in considering him for Ryder Cup captain?
My guess there is that the PGA of America would fall all over itself to say "yes" if Tiger indicated he really wanted the job. I mean talk about being handed a sure-fire marketing situation. The Ryder Cup would go from a cash cow to a cash herd.
It's easy to say the Ryder Cup captains get too much credit for victories and too much blame for losses. But from where I sit, Seve Ballesteros and Ben Crenshaw made a difference for winning sides while Sutton and Mark James, with his Sunday singles line-up for Europe in 1999, contributed to losses.
So, I guess what I am saying is that I think the captain can make a difference, and I'm not so sure Tiger would make a good captain. But I will say this, if he had the position, here is what he would bring to the job: Intelligence and a desire to win.
Throughout his career, Woods has mentally dominated his opponents, in part through that haka-like intimidation and in part by having a Larry Bird-like instinct as to when to hit the killer three-point shot that broke an opponent's will.
As for his own desire, well I remember being at the 2008 Arnold Palmer invitational at Bay Hill when Woods rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win. He pumped his fist, ripped off his hat and threw it on the ground and raised his head skyward and shouted to the heavens. And it was his 64th PGA Tour win.
As I watched the scene unfold, I thought: "That's why he is special. Winning never gets old for him. He is acting like it's his first win, not his 64th." Any satisfaction Woods found from a victory was quickly filed away and his focus redirected to winning the next event. That is a special gift that contributed greatly to Tiger being a special player.
But can Woods bring that passion and will-to-win to a captaincy or, like Ted Williams, can Tiger pick up the rotation of the pitch in an other-worldly way that can't be taught to others?
Certainly, the singular Ben Hogan was a winning captain, but that was well before the Ryder Cup became competitive and then morphed into European domination. But perhaps if that trend continues -- Europe is 9-4-1 since 1985 in the Ryder Cup -- the U.S. team has nothing to lose by making Woods the captain.
I have my doubts that a guy who can't play in the team formats can lead a team. But who knows what Woods will mellow into over the decade or so before he is ready to quit playing and be a captain?
In the meantime, with just a few words spoken in Turkey, Woods has once again triggered controversy. And that is also what makes him special. That pendulum of opinion will always swing wide when it comes to Tiger Woods.