The symptoms continue for Tiger Woods, once the envy of aspiring golfers everywhere as the perfect dude on and off the course. Now he is buried up to his Nike cap in the sand trap of life. Not only that, but Father's Day is this weekend, along with another U.S. Open, and this was their time of year.
He misses Earl Woods. Badly.
That's the problem.
His father was his everything, and even though Earl died of prostate cancer during the spring of 2006, Tiger hasn't stopped grieving the loss of the former Green Beret who finished two tours in Vietnam. The older Woods was so hands-on before his son reached adolescence that he never hired a babysitter. In fact, during the first 30 of Tiger's 41 years on earth, Earl stayed within a wedge shot of his son more often than not. So this makes sense: Tiger has spent the aftermath of his father's death stumbling from bad decisions to worse ones, you know, doing such things as driving while hallucinating on prescription drugs.
Earl and Tiger, Tiger and Earl. They were one, and during these past 11 years featuring the son without his father, Tiger has done all sorts of crazy things that would have made Earl cringe.
"Yeah, his father would have been on top of everything," the late Don Slater told me seven years ago of Earl's likely response to Tiger's mounting issues, even back then. And who was Slater? He did everything from delivering meals around Manhattan, Kansas, for elderly folks to running a tutoring program for children, and he spent decades as an unofficial younger brother to Earl since they grew up a block apart on the city's south side. "Tiger wouldn't have been anywhere close to this mess if Earl was alive, because Tiger, as a rule, wouldn't do anything he thought would embarrass his father."
You should be way ahead of me here. Even so, let's go back to Slater's Tiger, and that was the Tiger who flashed signs of slippage as a player soon after he crashed his vehicle into a fire hydrant near his Florida home over Thanksgiving weekend in 2009. Insiders say he was speeding away from his fuming wife during an argument over his infidelities. Months later, Elin Nordegren divorced Tiger, and her former husband became even more of a tarnished superhero by entering rehab for an addiction to sex and prescription pills.
Those were symptoms. The same goes for reports this week that Woods is heading to another rehab center regarding his use of prescription pills (he previously sought treatment in 2010 for similar issues). He has a court date on July 5 in Palm Beach County, Fla., after he was found asleep at the wheel of his damaged Mercedes-Benz on Memorial Day. His mugshot went viral, and according to the Palm Beach Post, the arresting officers found Xanax and Vicodin in his system to support his claim that he had "an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications." Xanax is used for anxiety, and Vicodin sent Tiger to rehab the first time. At least one report says Tiger is seeking help for his latest addictions to keep from losing joint custody of 9-year-old daughter Sam and 8-year-old son Charlie.
As for Tiger's golf game -- it's not good. He hasn't won a major tournament since 2008, and in general, he has done little worth mentioning when it comes to driving, chipping and putting. He has undergone four surgeries on his creaky back, but none of that is his ultimate problem. It's the lack of Earl whispering into Tiger's ear, which brings us back to their time of year.
Starting with the moment the older Woods practiced golf swings in front of Tiger kicking in his crib, and then moving through their trip on national television featuring the father having his 2-year-old son shock Merv Griffin and the nation with his perfect swing, and lasting past Tiger's rise as a legendary amateur, they had this tradition. They would gather somewhere on Father's Day to watch the U.S. Open. When Tiger turned pro, the whole scenario reached its zenith, with the son often dominating the tournament while the father beamed in the gallery. It's just that, with Father's Day upon us, along with the U.S. Open in Erin Hills, Wis., Earl is only present in spirit these days, and Tiger is without anybody to help slay his growing demons.
Well, at least in Tiger's mind.
"With all of the negative things going on with him, and as these majors come and go, and he's not winning, and he's lost his dad, and his marriage turned out to be a disaster. His life has, pretty much, been spiraling down with his back injury and everything else happening," said Patrick J. Devine, who has never treated Woods, but has nearly 40 years as a sports psychologist, including stints with pro teams before his current role as professor of industrial-organizational and sport psychology at Kennesaw State University.
"There hasn't been a lot of 'up' in his life, and then comes the U.S. Open this week. It's kind of like, 'Gosh. Dad and I used to watch these things when I was a young kid, and that was our thing.' You have to believe that he really wishes he had that reassurance from his dad these days, especially now that everything is going wrong."
When everything was going well for Tiger, I stood there, rubbing my eyes with others at Augusta National in April 2005, when Woods sank a chip shot of 30 feet that rolled on the 16th green for the longest time. Finally, it made a right turn toward the hole, where it sat on the lip for one second, then two. Maybe it was three seconds before it dropped in. Two holes later, Tiger had his fourth and last green jacket, and he did something nobody had seen the younger Woods do before in public. He cried, with tears sliding down his normally stoic face while he choked on his words.
"This is for dad," Tiger said, referring to a dying Earl, who watched his son's victory on a TV set away from the course.
I could tell back then how much the son loved the father.
I can tell right now how much Tiger needs him.