May 13, 2011

Is Tiger juiced out?

Yesterday, Tiger Woods withdrew in pain after playing the first nine holes of the The Players' Championship in 42 strokes. (Hey, I've shot 42 for nine holes!) TPC is the fifth most important golf tournament of the year, so quitting isn't something Woods takes lightly. His body appears to be falling apart at an oddly early age. Why?

Back in a May 2009 column in Taki's Magazine, Tiger Juice, I was among the first to publicly raise the possibility that Tiger Woods had been using performance-enhancing drugs. (This was a half-year before the bimbo eruptions, back when his mastery of the media was nearly complete, other than one bizarre article starring him in Men's Fitness.) By 2008, his last major championship victory, he was massively more muscular than when he was a wiry 24-year-old in 2000, when winning three majors.

Tiger's future is mildly interesting, but coming to a more accurate understanding of his past is more important. There's a fundamental intellectual issue that persuades me to work at trying to make sense of the career of the most famous American athlete since Michael Jordan. It's always been obvious that much of the appeal of sports is as a test of masculinity, in the basic sense of muscularity. On the other hand, we also like to believe that sports are something more than just that: a test not just of masculinity / muscularity, but of manliness, a broader, nobler concept. The emerging evidence over the last generation that so many famous athletes were triumphing by buying more masculinity / muscularity in a bottle is a little too reductionist even for my tastes. Fortunately, I could always point to golf as a sport where the guy with the biggest muscles didn't have a huge advantage. Sure, it's not a terribly masculine sport, but that allows manliness to play a larger role.

Or, at least that's what I thought, Well ...

What's wrong with Tiger besides the wounds to his psyche? (Golf fans really do take respectability seriously, unlike NBA fans. For example, in 2001, Bill Clinton's feelers for membership at prestigious Westchester County golf clubs like Winged Foot were repeatedly rejected, in part because of Monica Lewinsky -- he ended up at the Century , a Jewish club with a fine but not very famous course. For whatever reason, Jewish country clubs tend not to host big tournaments. Are they discriminated against by the very WASPy USGA, or do they not like to share? For the last 20 years, the USGA has required a quota system for membership of private clubs hosting USGA tournaments -- all memberships must be integrated, e.g., have at least one black member -- and perhaps Jewish clubs don't want to deal with quotas. I don't know. It's an interesting topic, but not one that is discussed much other than off-the-record out on the course.)

Tiger's body appears to be falling apart at an age, 35, when most golfers are in their primes. In early 2008, I had calculated that Woods was on track to smash Jack Nicklaus's career record of 18 pro major championships with a total of 26. Today, he's still stuck on 14. His last major championship victory was at age 32 in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he played in pain.

In contrast, the primes of other golfers appear to be getting longer on average. Vijay Singh, for example, won 12 tournaments before turning 40 in early 2003 and 22 in his forties, more than Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer did combined. Walking six miles per day on soft grass is not normally a physically debilitating lifestyle. It's like an ideal hunter-gatherer lifestyle -- walk 200 yards and throw a spear at a rabbit -- without the part where the woolly mammoth tries to toss you with his tusks.

In the Wall Street Journal, John Paul Newport comments:
Physically, after years of bodybuilding and exceedingly high-torque swinging, Woods is an old 35. Mentally, after decades of on-course domination and little in the way of comeuppance (golfwise, at least), he’s an immature 35. He doesn’t know how to adapt to decline. 
If Woods wants to win again, given his increasingly apparent physical limitations, he doesn’t need to reengineer his swing, as he has been trying to do with coach Sean Foley. He needs to reengineer himself, as a crafty veteran. With 71 PGA Tour victories and 14 majors under his belt, he’s got more wile, experience and golf smarts at his disposal than anyone playing the game – way more than enough to win tournaments with imagination alone. 

In contrast, Phil Mickelson appears to be as big an idiot on the course as he is rumored to be off the course (colossal sports gambling debt, illegitimate child, etc etc -- just rumors, of course).
Bubba Watson was right last week when he said, “I think Tiger is going the wrong way. I think he’s so mental right now with his swing. Just go out there and play golf.” If and when Tiger’s body heals enough to start playing regularly again, he needs to let go of the search for a perfect swing and learn to play “old man” golf: put the ball out there somewhere in or near the fairway, and then let the wizard within take over.

Ben Hogan won six major championships in his forties after a horrific car crash that left him permanently shuffling about. Lee Trevino was a 5'7" Mexican who got fried by lightning at age 35, permanently messing with his back, yet battled back to lead the Tour in stroke average in 1980 at age 40, win a last major at age 44, and then dominate over-50 Senior golf for a few years. 

Golf isn't that hard, physically. Or at least it didn't used to be. On the other hand, perhaps improvements in clubs and balls have reduced the element of guile in the game, making it more of a test of whose body can hit the ball longest and straightest. 

For example, Trevino in his prime was famous for playing a fade that curved left to right with some backspin. This sacrificed length but kept the ball from rolling into trouble. In his Senior Tour days, he switched to a draw that curves from right to length with some topspin to get more length after the ball hit the ground. But these days, most players have their driver and ball choice optimized by video and computer analysis to hit it long and straight. All that shaping the shot stuff sounds very 20th Century.


Anonymous said...

Blue-eyed Indian prosecutor Preet Bharara, who Obama appointed to Giuliani's old job, scores a huge insider trading conviction:

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is more mental than physical.

Anonymous said...

But he'll come back. Golf is not a very physical sport.

Anonymous said...

He should have remained Tiger Woods than turned into Jungle Tiger.

alonzo portfolio said...

I'm incredulous that nobody makes the most obvious suggestion about what specifically Woods should change in his approach to the game. Why not forget about hitting the driver 300+, accept drives of about 285, and hit more mid-irons into greens? You can still hit a 6-iron plenty high, even into a hard fast green. Then you rely on your putting, the aspect of your game where you've historically had the biggest advantage over your peers, and the one that least involves perfect musculature. In eschewing this approach, I'm tempted to think that emotionally, Tiger's just like your average black guy - "if it doesn't involve power, I'm not interested."

corvinus said...

Is it just me, or did Tiger's game go south when his marriage blew up? Could there be some correlation?

I'm tempted to think that emotionally, Tiger's just like your average black guy - "if it doesn't involve power, I'm not interested."

Humility is another trait that's utterly foreign to blacks, that would help them greatly.

Anonymous said...

As long as Tiger was "getting his White" he was winning on the course.
Would that a 40 year old Norman Mailer could arise form the grave to tackle this topic in psychosexual technicolor.

Geoff Matthews said...

I'm sure that Tiger has no problem 'getting his white', if that's what he's looking for.
Yes, the marriage blow-up is awfully close to his performance drop in golf, and most people have suggested that this is mental. Steve is the first person I've seen suggesting that steroid use may be involved (and I'm not prepared to dismiss this. With the prosecution against sports figures over steroid use, Tiger may have dropped it because of the risk, and will deal with the drop in performance).
Personally? I don't think he'll win another major. He's done.

ricpic said...

There are two ways to win at golf: 1) with a perfect swing: Tom Watson 2) on sheer determination: Arnold Palmer. No one could rev himself up and make a charge like Palmer. Woods doesn't have the perfect swing and he may no longer have the fire in the belly.

Anonymous said...

But he'll come back. Golf is not a very physical sport.

I don't think so, everyone said that last year, and he just played worse as the season went on.

The funny thing is if he did take steroids it was all for naught. The PED's might very well shorten his career as a competitive golfer significantly. The guy that predicted that Woods wouldn't finish the TPC on the Golf Channel earlier this week has said that Woods never needed to pump up anyway. Brandel Chamblee has said that he thought Woods had the perfect physique for a golfer, thin and wiry or sinewy has he put it. He was on sports radio today and said he didn't believe that Woods used steroids but that his upper body in now too big for his lower body and that it is exacerbating his knee problems. I think Woods is going to have a hard time winning tournaments, much less major ones.

Jokah Macpherson said...

The big question is always, assuming they are juicing, "how good would they have been without the chemical enhancement?"

Anonymous said...

OJ killed a white woman, his ex-wife, and eventually went crazy(though he was always kinda crazy).

Tiger got beaten and chased by a white woman, his soon-to-be ex-wife, but he'll come back, me thinks.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Not sure how we got this far into this without referring to Charles Murray's write-up last year:

For Murray, it's not even the physical aspect. Mentally, he concludes, there's no way Woods is there anymore. And every setback makes this more likely to be the case.

Still, by any measure, Woods' career is extremely impressive. He was the best golfer in the world for more than a decade.

Anonymous said...

uhhhhh, steroids/hgh are more likely to extend your prime than kill it.

Geoff Matthews said...

Regarding steroids, this is the frustrating thing. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were shoo-ins for the HoF before they started juicing. Now? They'll have metaphorical, if not literal, asterisks by their names.
The real question is, who was diminished because they didn't take steroids? My first vote is Ken Hill, and second is Marquiss Grissom.

Anonymous said...

correction to a previous comment: tiger's advantage has always been his irons

Formerly.JP98 said...

Didn't Clausewitz somewhere say that, in war, the moral outweighs the physical ten to one? I seem to recall hearing that, but Google is not complying.

G.S.P. said...

Bottom line is this: anyone who hangs with Charles Barkely and Michael Jordan is disgusting and not a man. It is way past time for men to call out Jordan and Barkley as the disgusting pigs they are. Tigers shenanigans were well known on tour, and The Golf Channel bears a huge amount of responsibility for covering for him. No one with any pride should ever buy Nike products as well. Is Tiger done? With any justice he is. Though not as bad as O.j. he is a disgusting person and has debased golf enormously. Only Gary Player seems to realize this. How sad for this once gentlemanly, and manly, sport.

Formerly.JP98 said...

I would add that Tiger's inability to concentrate since being pistol whipped by Nemesis might actually reflect well on his character. I.e., his problem might be that he has a sick conscience, which would in turn indicate that he HAS a conscience.

Someone above mentioned O.J. There's an athlete incapable of shame, as far as I can tell. I have no trouble believing that he could go straight from being caught live on TV with a severed head in his hands to performing on the field as well as he ever did.

Chris Anderson said...


I presume it's because of the daily two minutes hate from the left that you endure, but it's a shame that you don't have column in one of the golf rags.

This was far more interesting than most of the stuff I read while waiting for the dentist.

(end of suckup)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if Jewish country clubs discriminate against Christians and Muslims as to membership?

Anonymous said...

Steve, do you have any evidence for your assertion that golf fans take the respectability issue more seriously than NBA fans. Certainly Tiger lost many endorsements at the peak of the scandal, but I've seen him on the course after his comeback and he's still by far the largest draw. In television coverage you see the same. In fact, at this year's Masters when he had a great stretch and was getting into contention, the cheers were enormous and the television commentators discussed how everyone on the course knew the "Tiger roar." Quite depressing, actually.


DAJ said...

I'm tempted to think that emotionally, Tiger's just like your average black guy - "if it doesn't involve power, I'm not interested."

Humility is another trait that's utterly foreign to blacks, that would help them greatly.

When did Tiger finally become "black?" During his prime, before the scandal and fall, many of you tried your best to emphasize his non-black portion. Odd.

Anonymous said...

It's the putting, Steve. His putting is erratic now, which is a bad sign. When mid-30s golfers get the yips -- and Tiger had them on the back 9 of the Masters -- they can't win anything anymore. Think Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, etc.

Anonymous said...

OT. Will Boomers keep the presidency?

From Kennedy on, with the exception of Johnson, all the presidents were of the WWII generation until the early 90s: JFK, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush. That's six.

Boomers produced two: Clinton and Bush... and then it passed to Obama.

Though Obama may just qualify as a boomer, he's more an 80s generation than of the 60s generation which is most closely associated with the boomers.
Will another boomer take the presidency or will boomers have had only two presidencies(with Slick Willy the sleazebag and Dubya the dumbass)?

Anonymous said...

>We like to believe sports are a test not just of muscularity but of manliness, a broader, nobler concept.

Not me. I want athletes to lay it on the line in the most physical, reductionist way they can. Go Juicers! It is an athlete's duty to take all the HGH, all the steroids, all the wacky diet and exercise routines out there, to be the macho lab rats for society.

I'm 45. When I turn 55 I'm going to try a prudent version of whatever HGH/tetstosterone cocktails are available, maybe even that crazy eat-less, exercise-more stuff you see on TV. And I like to believe my sons will have a better cocktail available when they've had their natural innings. Which they will, if we still have any shadow of a free republic. Jose Canseco, you are a friend of mine.

Steve Sailer said...

"it's a shame that you don't have column in one of the golf rags."

Keep an eye on John Paul Newport's golf columns in the WSJ, like this one I quote. They're good stuff. He wrote a column once on my big article on golf course architecture.

DCThrowback said...

Steve being a bit too hard on Phil Mickelson, whom I think would make a fine stockbroker or wealth manager if he wasn't a golfer. Is he a big lug? Sure. I probably wouldn't even like hanging out with him. But he seems like a nice enough family guy (especially compared to Tiger) and I suppose that counts for something.

Here's Mickelson getting his common man on after the Masters in 2010:

And of course, he's a gambler (both in his play and in general). He made a famous before the season bet on the Ravens (for $20k! at 20-1) to win SB back in 2000. They, of course, beat the Giants 34-7.

This piece discusses all of those rumors and more (including alleged infidelities by him and his wife (with Michael Jordan!)) and comes to the conclusion that most of them are wanting.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Divorce is a huge life-changing event even, I imagine for somebody stepping out on their spouse.

I read a Greg Norman interview some years ago and he predicted Tiger's high-torque swing would abbreviate his career. I think that's all there is to this.

TrashTokkinWifTrolls said...

I always believe comments that begin with, "uhhhhh".

Anonymous said...

Why did his marriage fall apart when it did? Did Nordegren never really suspect anything, or did it only bother her when Tiger, who supposedly never wore condoms, came home with an STD? Because you don't shag that many loose women without eventually catching something. Has the (hypothetical) STD affected his health and/or sex life?

Anonymous said...

Steve, this is why you're the best. Of course Tiger took roids and you called it years ago. You dont invite Galea over for coffee. He still may be the best ever though.

I think Mickelson is a good gambler ie., huge wins on Ravens in 2001 and Florida Gators in 2007. He's certainly no idiot.

Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

Bodybuilding doesn't make anyone "an old 35."

Anonymous said...

The moralizing and preening on this thread (re: tiger, OJ) is getting annoying...

Anonymous said...

Woods because of his huge success at a very early age, never really matured passed maybe the level of a college sophomore. However he was a college sophomore with hundreds of millions of dollars and with a celebrity that was an order of magnitude greater than even most celebrities. I think he is definitely regretful, but he never learned to be humble or how to gut things out when he wasn't the most talented guy on the course. Now, he is being out-driven by all the young stars that are popping up everywhere from Italy to Japan and his body is breaking down and his personal life has been shattered. It may all too much for him to overcome simultaneously. I've heard some people say that if he injures his left knee one more time, he may done.

travis said...

The emerging evidence over the last generation that so many famous athletes were triumphing by buying more masculinity / muscularity in a bottle is a little too reductionist even for my tastes.

Great line, Steve.

When did Tiger finally become "black?" During his prime, before the scandal and fall, many of you tried your best to emphasize his non-black portion. Odd.

A similiar thing happened to Seymour "The Swede" Levov, the protagonist of Philip Roth's American Pastoral, after he falls from grace. Levov only comes to a genuine awareness of his Jewishness when he realizes that his attainment of Nordic perfection was tenuous. It was all for the best. Roth understands that perfection is boring and Golden Ages never last anyway. So who knows? Perhaps a brokedown "black" Tiger will be more compelling as a man than the deracinated, corporate cyborg Tiger who finished number one in the world the past dozen years.

Silver said...

Golf isn't that hard, physically. Or at least it didn't used to be. On the other hand, perhaps improvements in clubs and balls have reduced the element of guile in the game, making it more of a test of whose body can hit the ball longest and straightest.

Hitting longer and straighter isn't a that much of an aid with respect to the two most important shots in golf: the approach shot and first putt.

You're not going to birdie it unless you hole the first putt and you're vastly less likely to hole it from 20' than from 10' (or 5').

'Guile' will always be necessary for the approach shot because of wind and bunkers/pin placement.

(And hey I've shot 40 over 9 holes before. Awesome to know me at my best is better than Tiger at his worst.)

Steve Sailer said...

Other pros don't like Mickelson because he's a great guy with fans who makes them look bad: Phil smiles, signs autographs for hours, and tips huge at restaurants. So, they pass on rumors about him.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has ever golfed and dealt with "getting stuck" with the club behind him on the downswing (as Tiger has now for quite some time), knows the physical contortions demanded to manipulate the clubhead so that it has even the faintest chance of making contact with the ball.

When a golfer of Tiger's calibre, swinging at speeds unknown to us, brings the clubface to the ball, something's got to give.

Anonymous said...

The other reason some pros don't like Mickelson is because his interests are eclectic. Like Greg Norman before him, he's interested in a variety of topics, likes to talk on the course and in the locker room about things other than sports. I think over the years Phil might have learned to pay closer attention to who likes to talk about such things and who doesn't. In the beginning, his enthusiasm for talking about this and that was perceived as making him a know-it-all.

While pro golfers might be brighter, more educated than other jocks, many are still just jocks at heart and remain basically uninterested in conversing about much other than golf and sports.

There are many, however, like the kid from Stockton who does well in majors, Ricky Barnes, who like Phil because he's been gracious in helping them in a variety of ways.

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, golf can be a pretty all-consuming topic. Even a highly cultured golfer like Ben Crenshaw finds ample outlets for his refined aesthetic tastes in golf: designing courses, collecting first editions of old golf books, etc. Greg Norman is considered kind of an odd duck for becoming a high powered businessman in non-golf fields like wineries.

Anonymous said...

But Steve how do you account for Barry Bonds who seemed to evaluate his HR numbers at 35?

"In 130 years of major league history, only 11 times has a man aged 35 or over hit 45 or more home runs. Bonds did it five of those eleven times. Ruth did it twice; no one else did it more than once.
Since turning 35, Bonds has hit 300 home runs. The next-closest is Aaron with 245.
Bonds is the all-time leader for home runs at ages 36, 38 and 39, and is second all-time at ages 35, 37 and 41. At earlier ages? He doesn't exist. He's 7th all-time at age 28 (46 homers in 1993), but doesn't even crack the top 10 at any other age.
Prior to age 35, Bonds hit one home run every 15.68 at bats -- an extremely good rate. Since age 35, he has hit one every 8.77 at-bats -- almost unheard of. (Ruth averaged 1 homer per 11.76 AB over his career, and never did better than 1 in 10 during any 5-year stretch. The record is held by Mark McGwire, another suspected steroid user: 1 home run per 10.61 AB over his career, and 1 in 8.13 during his five peak years.)"

Tiger's knee may be f**ked, but he's not juiced out.

Anonymous said...

Steroids can aid in building strength and size one's muscles, but don't have the same impact on lingament strength. It makes it much easier to develop injuries and other health issues. We've seen this with Ken Caminiti, Barry Bond, and quite a few other MLB players.

Kylie said...

"When did Tiger finally become 'black?' During his prime, before the scandal and fall, many of you tried your best to emphasize his non-black portion. Odd."

I guess the snappy answer is when he stopped acting "white".

By the way, in my usual contrary fashion, I never tried my best to emphasize his non-black portion. I simply allowed my already negligible interest in watching any televised sports to atrophy completely, oh, about ten years ago.

Truth said...

"When did Tiger finally become "black?" During his prime, before the scandal and fall, many of you tried your best to emphasize his non-black portion. Odd."

You got it, they're always "black" when they shoot somebody, and "mostly something else" when they win a patent!

Anonymous said...

"Bodybuilding doesn't make anyone 'an old 35'."

The way steroids make you "old" is when you stop taking them. After having depended on them for an extended period of time, your body will stop producing its own endogenously, and when you stop, you'll have fewer male hormones than ever. This means your body is less well equipped to recover from injuries, etc.

Ken Hoop said...

Hitting longer isn't as important on some important courses-like Sawgrass for example.

As for straighter, US Opens are not the same generally, as when e.g. Scott Simpson won one, with a dependably straight but not long driving game. Rough was shortened so as not to penalize the longer but less straight drivers.

When Woods was at his best, Nick Price was one, I believe who pointed out all the changes in this regard in the game in the short time since he, Price was winning big.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to continue to obsess about "juicing", how about some comparative statistics? I suggest lost life as a metric.

Cigarette smoking cost roughly 10 years of life. Male homosexuality cost about 20. I found an article that found that heroin addiction costs 18.3 years. Marijuana doesn't seem to cost anything.

Alcohol is trickier. The distribution is "U" shaped. teetotalers and heavy drinkers lose life but moderate drinkers benefit. Drinking is good for your heart in moderation.

So is there much if any life lost from anabolic steroids? The most famous case doesn't count. Lyle Alzado died of a kind of spongiform encephalopathy that he acquired from extracts of human pituitary glands. He had iatrogenic kuru. No one gets HGH this way anymore.

I don't think "juicers" run much personal health risks. But I'm ready to yield to arguments and data.

I think the real revulsion felt about "juicers" is that they screw up the sports records. I am sympathetic. Cars keep getting faster. My memory is filled with zero to sixty statistics of normal cars, but now all new sports cars seem to average 550 bhp. At 6'4" and 300 pounds I used to feel right at home watching World's Strongest Man on TV but now the best contenders are more like 6'8" and four hundred pounds.

Baseball and football are sports from the 1870's. If they are unable to cope with twentieth century medicine - time to get some new sports.


Don't Squash Me Bro said...

"At 6'4" and 300 pounds I used to feel right at home watching World's Strongest Man on TV but now the best contenders are more like 6'8" and four hundred pounds." - Albertosaurus

My God! You could crush me like a bug.

OK, now for my Tiger Theory:

Golf and supermodels were Daddy Woods' dreams, not Tiger's. I submit that Tiger will rebound with some unsuspected interest in music or art that doesn't get him notoriety yet makes him happy. How much money does the guy have to live off of the rest of his life?

C. Van Carter said...

Like Tim Montgomery, Bill Romanowski, Marion Jones, and Alex Rodriguez, Woods got medical care from Affinity Health of Toronto for no particular reason.

Lady Anonymous said...

Ever since Tiger Woods was first anointed the Jesus of golf my husband has been saying he didn't think he was all that since he had the type of swing that would eventually break down, sooner rather than later. That is what we are seeing now. Whether steroids are playing a part is yet to be seen. He truly disliked Tiger's reliance on power and much preferred his favorite, Payne Stewart's, graceful swing. He loves that Tiger is fading now and can't handle it.

Formerly.JP98 said...

"Male homosexuality cost about 20."

I've never heard this before. Albert, please expand upon it. TIA.

Anonymous said...

I believe a study found that homosexuals have a life expectancy that is 20 years less than the general male population.

SR Davidson said...


Tiger had purportedly earned (or worth) over a billion dollars before his fall from grace. Who knows how much the ex-wifey took.

Anonymous said...

I was a little surprised to learn that my remark about the lost life from male homosexuality was not known to some. I expected that my remark about the U shaped distribution of alcohol would draw some comments as this fact is largely hidden or denied by the medical establishment. I thought everyone knew that the gay lifestyle was deadly.

The gay activists have long resisted the the notion that their prediliictions cause early death but its hard to deny anymore. Originally there was a study based on newspaper obituaries. This study was criticized on methodolgical grounds - and rightly so. But subsequently there have been a number of informal studies all of which indicate that male homosexuality kills you.

The problem is buggery. Anal intercourse leads to persistant infections.

Those of us in the arts typically know many gay men - or rather we used to know gay men. They're all dead now.

I was once a warrior for Nixon's "War on Cancer". A sensible and humane adminsitration would mount a similar "War on Homosexuality".

Fat chance.


lesley said...

Boomers produced two: Clinton and Bush... and then it passed to Obama.

1961 was still "boomer." Boomer lasted until about 1964. I still remember plenty of families in the 60s with four or more kids, all or most stillin grade school. I didn't notice families much during the 70s, but by 1980, few young families seemed to have more than one or two kids. Three was a large family.