Tiger’s Return to Golf: A Step Toward Denial or A Step Toward Recovery?

By Dr. Jack Singer

Tiger Woods Announces Return to Golf After Sex ScandalThe media is abuzz with the return of Tiger Woods to the golf circuit. He issued a statement today indicating that he will begin his 2010 season at the Masters.

Here’s the full text of his statement:

“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta.

The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it’s been a while since I last played.

I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment. Although I’m returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life.

When I finally got into a position to think about competitive golf again, it became apparent to me that the Masters would be the earliest I could play. I called both Joe Lewis and Arnold Palmer and expressed my regrets for not attending the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I again want to thank them both for their support and their understanding. Those are fantastic tournaments and I look forward to competing in them again.

I would also like to thank the Augusta National members and staff for their support. I have deep appreciation for everything that they do to create a wonderful event for the benefit of the game.”

The PGA welcomes this as their ratings have slipped since he has been absent. In fact Tiger’s announcement is great news for ESPN and CBS. Nielsen and CBS are predicting record ratings. Beyond that, most people want to see if he can pull together and start winning tournaments again.

Tiger’s personal issues (media reports claim sexual addiction) have unfortunately become fuel for the tabloids and even to some degree for respected media outlets. He has much repair work to do regarding the pristine and wholesome image which has become severely, and perhaps irreparably tarnished over the last several months.

The issue that everyone wants to address is whether Tiger can compartmentalize his personal issues with his family and focus on playing winning golf.

As a sports psychologist, that is not the key issue for me.  My hope is that Tiger understands that his recovery and ultimate sobriety from his addiction will take years of focused attention and commitment. Playing golf and convincing his wife to move back in to the family home does not make for recovery.  Instead, he needs ongoing treatment, especially since his golf travels will put him in precisely the same situations that triggered his addiction(s) in the past.

So, if Tiger is going back into the game because he believes he is “cured,” then this will serve as a major example of emotional denial. On the other hand, if he is re-entering golf in order to focus on the healthy aspects of his career, raise his confidence and use his occupation as an adjunct to (rather than instead of ) his ongoing treatment, then I believe he is truly on the road to recovery.

Ultimately, I wish him and his family the best and will continue to observe his progress with great interest.

Jack N. Singer, Ph.D.
Certified and Licensed Sport and Clinical Psychologist
Diplomate, National Institute of Sports Professionals, Division of Psychologists
Diplomate, American Academy of Behavioral Medicine
Certified Hypnotherapist, American Academy of Clinical Hypnosis

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