Understanding Tiger Woods golf tantrums

April 13, 2010

I saw some of Tiger Woods' press conference last week, where he talked about being a better person on the golf course, and then also saw how he was cursing at himself this weekend at The Masters, and I thought about how hard it is for an intense competitor to really control themselves. You can say you're going to try, but it's one of those things that's much easier said than done.

So I wasn't surprised when Tiger lost his composure, and I also wasn't surprised to hear an industry pundit like Jim Nance call Tiger out for his outbursts. After all, he did say he would act better.

Understanding Tiger Woods' competitive nature

I've written about this before, but I think I understand at least a little of what's going through Tiger's mind during a competition. Simply put, you're in the heat of a battle, you've built up your competitive juices, and you're so intense into what you're doing that it's hard to control yourself and act "civilized". Things like the crowd and the cameras aren't really on your mind.

A great example of this intensity is when Mike Piazza's broken bat went flying near Roger Clemens in the 200 World Series, and Clemens proceeded to pick up the bat and throw it back at Piazza (here's a link to a long YouTube video of this event; fast forward to 2:25 for this incident). I completely understood what was in Clemens' mind. As a pitcher, you're in the heat of the moment, focused solely on what pitch you're going to throw and where you're going to throw it, willing yourself to get this batter out, and you're bringing up all of your competitive juices, which also includes real anger. So if a bat comes flying at you, you're easily angry enough to pick up that bat and hurl it, whether it be at the batter, or whether you throw it to another location that is probably more "rational".

A similar example for me happened during a baseball game in high school. I was a pitcher, and during one particular game a batter was standing very close to home plate, and in fact his right knee was over the plate, i.e., in the strike zone. As a pitcher you own the strike zone, and you have a right to pitch in the strike zone, so I told the umpire about this batter's knee. The umpire said something to the effect of "Just pitch, son", which made me even more angry. So on the next pitch I threw a fastball right at the batter's knee, and he didn't move, so it nailed him pretty good. (Yes, he went down on the ground, holding his knee.) I didn't feel bad about it then, and frankly, as I write this, I don't feel bad about it now either; the pitch was a strike, and his knee was in the strike zone, and he and the umpire had a chance to correct this problem.

When it comes to competition, I think Tiger Woods has these same feelings, so I know how hard it is going to be for him to control his emotions on the golf course. Frankly I don't know if Tiger can be the great player he has been without this anger, because he needs that intensity, and I think they come as a package.

One thing I find funny

As a final note, I have to say, I think it's funny that a Buddhist would yell "Jesus Christ!" like Tiger did when he was angry. I'm not sure what I expect him to say, but as a Buddhist, something like "Buddha!" seems a lot more appropriate, lol.

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