Northern California golf fans and television executives were disappointed when Tiger Woods announced he would not be playing in this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament, but Woods decision to skip the tournament that has turned into a celebrity circus may be the best thing for his golf game, which means the game of golf benefits as well.
After four years of struggles with his health, personal life, and swing, Woods seems to be putting his golf game – and his personal life – back together this year. Gone are the porn stars that fulfilled his fetishes – Woods has reportedly been dating American skier Lindsay Vonn for the last nine months. Gone is Steve Williams, who had been on his bag during Woods’s most seminal and sentimental moments on the golf course. Gone is the swing coach who helped reconstruct his swing last decade when golf courses started to “Tiger-proof” the holes.
When he won at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, Woods was much better at reading the speeds of the greens, which is something he has struggled with the last four years. His golf swing, which has gone under at least three significant reconstructions, seems to feel natural to him again.
He may have doubted parts of his game for the first time in his life the last four seasons, but that seems to be gone as well. And Woods in no way wants to risk regressing by playing in a Pro-Am tournament that must seem to a man whose life’s goal has been to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors more absurd every year.
Consider the first three rounds of this year’s Pro-Am. ESPN announcer Chris Berman was heinously swinging a golf club like it weighed twenty pounds, giving Charles Barkley a run for his money for the ugliest golf swing. Kenny G and Carson Daly were on the course. Dustin Johnson was paired with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. This pairing would not be significant except Johnson happens to be dating Gretzky’s daughter Paulina, an Instagram and Twitter sensation for her antics and nearly all of the wrong reasons. Condoleeza Rice nailed a spectator in the forehead with an errant tee shot.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was swinging a golf club for the first time in nearly a year. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was yapping it up with his pal, Jim Nantz. Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish fame was there. Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was playing catch with his dad in one of the fairways. The circus-like atmosphere and the bad golf may even be contagious. On Saturday, Phil Mickelson, fresh off a victorious week in Phoenix, hit two balls into the Pacific Ocean and took an 8 on Pebble Beach’s famed 18th hole, one of the most spectacular finishing holes in all of golf. He also fell flat on his keister trying to look for one his golf balls that sailed toward the ocean on that hole.
According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Woods did not specify why he returned to play Pebble last year, but may have done so to “fulfill a corporate obligation to AT&T, a onetime sponsor.”
But Woods has avoided the Pro-Am because he has been disenchanted with the tournament’s “sketchy weather, long rounds and celebrity-driven crowds.”
Woods’s sole focus is on breaking Nicklaus’s record of 18 records and less on sideshows that have too often dominated his life since he last won a major – on one leg – at the U.S. Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines.
When he won at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, it was the seventh time he has won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Woods went on to win a major in 5 of the 6 years in which he has won the tournament at Torrey Pines. In order to give himself the best chance of winning a major – or three – this year, Woods decided he would be better off if he skipped tournaments like the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
And it is tough to argue with him.