Tiger Woods has long been one of the most dominant figures in all of sport. He’s won 71 PGA golf tournaments and an astonishing 14 majors. And thanks to his golfing prowess, he’s earned more than $1 billion in combined prize money and endorsements.
But, as those of you who follow the scandal sheets know, Tiger has suffered a spell of personal trouble. Despite marketing himself as a loving family man, Tiger was actually a raging horndog who had affairs with a sordid collection of women. When the seamy mess became public, Tiger’s marriage imploded and he took a leave from professional golf.
What’s now truly stunning is how poorly Tiger has played since returning to the pro golf tour in April 2010. He’s gone from being the top player in the game to a mundane also-ran. He hasn’t won a single tournament in the past 17 months and he’s even missed the cut a handful of times, something that was unheard of for pre-scandal Tiger. His poor form has golf pundits abuzz: Is it residual anxiety from the marriage break-up? Lingering effects of an old knee injury? A change in caddies? Or simply a question of age?
Well, based on the theories of Roy Baumeister, there may be another explanation: Tiger is expending so much mental energy resisting the urge to horn it up with skanks that he can no longer focus on the golf course.
Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University, is famous for his seminal experiments on ego depletion. The term is based on the Freudian concept of ego as the entity that controls our passions, and according to Baumeister, the ego can become exhausted from overuse and subsequently lose efficiency. Will power, then, is akin to a muscle.
In one experiment, a group of hungry students were asked to try and solve a series of puzzles. However, just before the test, they were left in a room with a bowl of radishes and a bowl of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Half the students were told they could taste the cookies, while the other half were told they could only taste the radishes. Baumeister noticed that the radish group looked longingly at the cookies and some even picked up the cookies to smell them. Afterward, when it came to solving puzzles, the students who ate cookies spent an average of 18.9 minutes on the puzzles and made 34.3 attempts to solve them; the radish group spent an average of only 8.4 minutes on the puzzle and made only 19.4 attempts to solve.
Baumeister theorized that the radish eaters had spent so much will power resiting the cookies that they had no concentration left for the puzzles. To further test this theory (and make sure it wasn’t just the power of the sugar rush), he arranged dozens of more experiments. Sure enough, subjects who were forced to exercise will power in an initial phase of an experiment went on to drink more beer, think more about sex, and spend money more freely in later phases.
As anybody who has played golf knows, the sport takes a tremendous amount of concentration. With his sponsors demanding that he clean up his image, perhaps Tiger is so busy trying to ignore the buxom lady at the iced tea stand that he can no longer successfully focus on his putting. If this is the case, he has a dilemma: he can maintain a respectable image and remain an average golfer; or hump away and regain his former greatness.
Taken from the perspective of a stay-at-home writer, the choice seems pretty clear. From my experience, writers are willing to sacrifice all standards of decency to produce a few good words. We smoke until our lungs are thick with mucous, we drink hard liquor before noon, we rush to satisfy every bodily urge. We do this because we know that staying at the computer requires such immense will power that we can’t waste a speck of it trying to quit smoking or fighting off images of the lingerie advertisement at the local bus shelter. (One famous writer once confided that when working on a book he relieved himself on average five times a day!)
So, dear Tiger, in the name of your genius, gorge yourself on women. It is a small price to pay to stand among the pantheon of greats.