Golf: Tiger and the seed of destruction

By John Harms

It’s official. Tiger is bigger than climate change. Bigger than Copenhagen and the ETS and greenhouse gases and ozone layers. Bigger than global self-destruction. Bigger than any of the statesmen and stateswomen who are trying to understand what is happening to this planet, and what might happen to this planet, and how we get on with each other while still living comfortable lives.

Walk into the newsagent and take your pick: papers galore being sold on the basis of Tiger’s infidelities. I’m surprised there isn’t a box in the top right hand corner of the front page with a number in it: Tiger Tally.

Usually, these matters are of little interest to me. A sportsman caught sleeping around? Derrrrr. A sportsman caught relieving himself in a laneway? Derrrrrr. A sportsman telling a few pork pies thinking he’s making his public life a little easier? Derrrrr.

Usually I couldn’t care less, and I’d be calling for sports reporting about sport. But in this case I think it is quite different. Not because a lot of us feel we’ve been had. (Tiger has been likened to the great prophets of human history – by people as silly as me.) Not because we are disappointed that there is a chance (albeit rather small) that Tiger won’t play golf again.

The reason this is of interest is that it must affect how he plays tournament golf. It just must. And those of us who have struggled with the game ourselves are fascinated with what impact this is going to have. That might sound a little callous in that we might also be concerned for his family life, and his well-being (poor Tiger?).

But we want to see what having a stuffed up mind – like the rest of us – does to his golf.

We are somewhat different to Tiger: it didn’t take liaisons with a dozen cardboard cut-outs for our golfing minds to be all over the place. We brought weird shit that 40 counsellors on 40 couches could never disentangle, to the golf course, every time we teed it up in the Saturday competition.

Jack Newton said in an interview recently, “Golf is a psychological game.” Derrrrr.

Although he is wrong. Golf is the psychological game.

And I reckon it goes beyond that: golf is a spiritual game. For what is form?

The brilliant thing about golf is, of course, that you (with all your troubles at home and work and at Rotary) can stand over a 5-iron on a 154m par 3 across water and mulga and pestilence, swing it like honey, and have the ball pitch metres from the hole, check, and trickle towards the pin. All is right with the world.

The down-side of such a fine shot is in the understanding that if you can do it once, you should be able to do it every time. Should. What a shocking word. A word of spiritual torment.

But you are so filled with the legacy of failure and the attendant fear it brings, so filled with white-knuckle dread, and with the fact that you’ve lived in your own skin for years, that you are filled with self-doubt. You stand over the golf ball, not only facing the reality of your inconsequential existence, but wondering where the hell it’s going to go.

There is golfing shit in my head. And there is life shit.

The golfing shit:

For many years I was a 6-handicapper at Indooroopilly, a fine sub-tropical track on the Brisbane River. To play to my handicap I had to break 80. Queensland golfers have a false sense of the game. The wind hardly blows, and it takes a single holiday to the Mornington Peninsula to learn how impotent a high ball-flight is. (Did someone say impotent?)

Often (enough), at Indooroopilly, I would walk off the easy par 5 12th looking at a pretty solid round. I would be in (monthly medal) contention. The 13th is a 185 metre shocker on the steep bank of the river with 5-metre pampas on the left and a heavily bunkered peanut-green set at an angle. “You’re in this,” I’d tell myself, as I gripped the 3-iron. “Don’t hit it left.” The rest is history. I continue to despise my own weakness (and my 13 handicap – but I’m going to work on that).

The life shit:

Too complicated and convoluted to begin.

That’s the stuff we bring to the golf course. And that’s why we are so fascinated with Tiger. It’s not the sexual gymnastics. It’s that a flawed man will stand over his drive when he is (finally) announced on the first tee of a course somewhere. What will happen?

This is intriguing stuff.

Nearly as intriguing of the reality that humans can (and probably will) oversee their own destruction. But that’s an even bigger psychological issue for another day.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. John Butler says

    Golfing shit indeed JTH

    I moved up country last year, joined the local club, and harboured dreams of improving my shakey game. I’ve proceeded to go to pieces. I can no longer even pretend to know where my back swing should end up, how my hands should work, blah blah.

    Some unfortunate local pro will have to deal with my golfing shit in the new year.

    Somehow I think Tiger will handle it better.

  2. Great article,
    Sums up how I feel precisely, however as I have never had a lesson in my life I carry extra baggage, having never broken 100.

    The life shit – 25 years old and facing a receding hairline. The golf shit, I am incredibly inconsistent – I can hit a drive 250m on the 3rd then scuff it 150m on the 4th. I’ll be on the green for 2 and then 4 putt…

    I am sure the day will come when I will break 100. I reckon I only need two things – a few lessons and a hat!

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says


    that’s the thing about life and sport. We get into sport to escape life and then come out of it learning a little more about both, whether we like it or not.

    From what I hear Tiger is currently negotiating his way out of some rough on the 14th.

  4. JTH – that’s brilliant. The thought that before every horrible slicing, hack shot I ever hit on the golf course I had some of what you talk about going through my head is pretty scary. Imagine the mental turmoil that must preceed an “airy”.

  5. JTH,

    Monty agrees with you re Tiger.

    Speaking of golfing destruction I was at Troon in 1997 when the Dark Shark eased his way round the Ayrshire links in 92 strokes and promptly and correctly withdrew.

    A report came in on Radio 5 (brilliant live commentary when you are walking the course) that IBF was having ‘a rather tough time of it’. I thought I’d better investigate. I think I was watching Seve play the Postage Stamp at the time.

    IBF’s travails were confirmed when the group scores first came into view. Ian Baker-Finch +17.

    Todd Woodbridge was caddying for him. I particularly remember his tee shot at the par 5 16th. No sooner had IBF completed an awful duck-hook swing that sent the ball headed for the burn that a follow-up ball was already placed on the tee. Will he run out of balls I thought?

    I followed IBF on the 16th and 17th. I couldn’t watch him play the 18th. It was embarrassing and I felt a real sadness. He played like me.

    Note that a mere six years earlier at Birkdale where he was crowned Open champion, he played the last nine of his 3rd round in 32 and the first nine of his final round in 29.

  6. Debbie Kairn says

    I have avoided the Tiger tales up until now – it did require me to almost hibernate though.
    JTH, that is exaxtly the only point of interest in in for me – how he will play when he next lines up. Will he be Tiger of old or miss the sitter ala Richo??
    But there is even worse,he could play like me and if there is a chookhouse within cooee of the course he will hit its back wall.

  7. Debbie,

    I think I know that chookhouse.

  8. Peter Flynn says

    Did anybody see Tiger miss the cut this morning?

    43 on the back-nine. His worst round since an 81 at Muirfield. A round that was played in the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced.

    There is now open criticism of his demeanour/temper and, more interestingly, a number of golfers who believe that he has used human-growth hormone or performance-enhancing drugs (a Sports Illustrated survey published yesterday).

    This is a fascinating tale.

  9. Happens to the best of us Peter, including me this morning.

    ‘It is was it is …’

    Both I and Tiger will be back though mate. :)

  10. John Butler says

    Speaking of chookhouses…

    I once had a mate who went looking for an errant shot on a course up country (near Bendigo).

    He was then heard to utter the phrase “a pig’s got my golf ball”.

    It did, and proceeded to swallow it.

    It took a while for him to regain his composure.

  11. At Oakey Golf Club (now that would be an Almanac event for the ages) a crow would pinch balls from the fairway, mainly the seventeenth) and fly off with them, out over the thirteenth green towards the wheat paddocks which stretch out all the way to Aubigny. I used to sit in Year 9 Geography doodling (MCG scoreboards, and the head of a wedge behind a B65), dreaming of finding that crow’s stash. The old farmers there believed a dead crow hanging on a post would scare other crows away. So I played some of my early golf in the presence of a ghoulish dead crow impaled on the hazard marker at the kink in the dog-leg on the fifteenth. I can report that a deceased crow has no effect on live crows whatsoever, at least on the Darling Downs.

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