Tell us it ain’t so, Tiger. Early this morning, Tiger Wood’s web-site announced what many people had been suspecting—that his knee was much worse than he had admitted to. Reconstructive surgery on his ACl and a double-stress fracture on his left tibia (shin bone) means that the rest of 2008 is going to be lost for Tiger.
The euphoria that swept the golf world after the marathon US Open where Tiger struggled, but yet found ways to prevail, dissipated in a mere 48-hours. The historic battle between #1 and #158, David and Goliath, 13 Majors versus none—Tiger v. Rocco—was truly the feel good story of the sporting world, not only because of the epic fight, but because of how the two contenders had faced so many obstacles and came out with such grace. These weren’t just two great golfers—they were two wonderful individuals.
Many would now question Tiger’s judgment. How could he jeopardize not only his season, but his entire career just for one tournament, even if it were a major? Why didn’t he listen to his doctors? His goal was to catch Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors, so # 14 couldn’t possibly as important. What if this injury means that he will no longer be able to win another golf tournament? What if this ends his competitive career? What if? How could he possibly put so much at risk?
When I advise companies on strategy or risk management, one of the first questions I ask is, “Who are you?” A simple, and yet stupid question for some, while a brilliant one for others. Here’s why.
Unless you know who you are, all decisions are meaningless. The risk-reward trade-off that anyone has to make, whether in business or in private life is determined largely by who’s asking the question. Perhaps 99 out of 100 people will choose to sit out the US Open after fracturing their tribia, especially given the risk of re-injuring the fragile knee. And 99 out of 100 people will know that their chances of winning a US open was probably close to zero in such circumstances. And for that 99%, sitting out would have been the appropriate choice.
But Tiger can win (he did). He also knows that it is important to win when you can. My beloved Lakers fell to the Boston Celtics last night in one of the most massive blow-outs in play-off history. Local fans were obviously disappointed, but many pointed to the bright future—a young group of talented players, the best player in basketball, the return of Andrew Bynum from injury, and one of the winningest coaches in the NBA.
But deep down inside, the veterans, and Kobe Bryant knew what it really meant. Returning to the NBA finals is never a guarantee. When given a chance, the winners seize the moment. People who talk of the future are usually those who lose. It is not easy to put yourself in position to win an NBA championship. It was hard in 2008, and it will be harder in 2009. Kobe Bryant knows that, and so does Phil Jackson.
So in this drama that we call Tiger Woods, we ask the question, why did he pursue Major No. 14, instead of looking into the future at No. 18, when he would be at par with Jack Nicklaus?
Perhaps it is because Tiger Woods knows that if he doesn’t seize the moment, if he doesn’t win No. 14, there will never be a number 15 or 16 or 17 or 18. Because Tiger knows more than any golfer how hard it is to be in a position to win a major. When he had a chance, he grabbed at it. And when his knee buckled, he willed it into submission. Tiger knows exactly what he wants. There was no risk-reward trade-off that would make him quit.
Perhaps, more than any other golfer or person in the world, Tiger knows exactly how to answer the question, “Who are you?”