News & ToursJuly 22, 2010

'Why Tiger won't catch Jack'

This is the headline on an article by prolific author Charles Murray in The American, the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

First, his credentials : Murray has a Harvard degree in history and a Ph.D in political science from MIT. The book for which he is best known is also his most controversial, "The Bell Curve" (co-authored with the late Harvard psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein), regarding IQ and its role in society. He also authored a book, "Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950," to which he alludes in arriving at the conclusion that Tiger Woods won't equal Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships.

Murray argues that players like Woods and Nicklaus possess qualities he terms "freakish," including, in Woods' case, his ability to hole important putts at critical junctures of tournaments, including the last hole with the tournament hanging in the balance.

"That's not just a matter of reading the greens accurately and having a good putting stroke," Murray writes. "It's a product of a mental state that the rest of us can barely imagine, the product of a Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths--including, one sometimes suspects, telekinesis.

"The role of those psychological strengths is why so much of the commentary about Woods's play since he returned is beside the point. The commentators focus on whether his component skills are returning to their pre-scandal levels. He can return to precisely the same place on the bell curves of the component skills that he occupied before the meltdown in his personal life, but the package will not be the same. Tiger Woods has experienced a sort of concussion to that Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths, and there must be some residual damage that won't ever go away.

"The long-term effects can be quite small. When we are talking about the extremes of human accomplishment, there is no wiggle room. The package changed at all is no longer at the one-in-many-millions extreme that is required. Woods will still be a sensational golfer, winning a lot of tournaments and probably a few more majors. But to predict that Woods can win five majors between now and the end of his career--something that only 17 other golfers have done in their entire careers--assumes that nothing in the last year has significantly degraded the freakish combination required for extreme accomplishment. I find that assumption untenable."

-- John Strege

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