Playing mind games with Tiger Woods

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John Jeansonne Newsday columnist John Jeansonne.

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since 1970 and has covered 11 Olympic Games and ...

Remedial golf, for Tiger Woods, would entail old training techniques to reestablish Woods' proven ability to be mentally tough, said a expert on the subject.

"It's pretty obvious what's happening to him," said Steve Siebold, author of "177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class." "He's been bombarded with all kinds of criticisms, and he's going through a lot of emotions. He's a little out of balance, so it's about emotional control and getting back to Square One with his emotions."

Siebold, a former tennis pro who admitted to being "really inconsistent" in maintaining focus on the court, said he "might pull Tiger out of tournaments for a while ... to make him conscious of what's going through his mind. I'd take him to the putting green and to the course, and work with him, step by step, asking, 'What's going through your mind right now?' "

The idea, Siebold said, is to eliminate everything from Woods' mind beyond the shot he is executing at the time. Which is exactly what Woods' late father would do when Woods was a pre-teen.

"I used prisoner-of-war interrogation techniques, deprivation techniques," the elder Woods said during an interview in 2004. "He would grit his teeth when I'd throw a dozen golf balls at him when he was trying to hit a ball. Or I'd throw down a bunch of clubs as he was ready to swing. One day, I did all that and he just looked up at me and smiled. I said, 'Son, you've completed the training.' "

Woods, who used to turn tournaments into monologues, making the other players and the elements disappear, long ago demonstrated he had mastered an ability to compartmentalize, Siebold said. But Woods' failure to win a tournament since 2009 - in the wake of scandalizing reports of infidelity and the end of his marriage - and last Sunday's final-round slide to a 75 for a 44th-place finish in San Diego convinced Siebold that "he's thinking about family, thinking about his kids and all these things.

"When he's playing, he's got to be completely focused on golf, something he's been world-class at doing until all these things happened in his life. So, it's a skill he already has, and maybe he can get it back on his own or maybe he needs help. It's a big mind game."

Sports Illustrated this week is reporting rookie Brendan Steele's assessment that Woods lost interest in his round last Sunday. "I don't think he gave it everything [Sunday]," Steele told SI. "Once it started going in the wrong direction, I don't think it had his full attention."

But Siebold's judgment is that Woods' waning concentration is an unwilling act. In golf, especially, Siebold said, there is a need to block out all external matters because "it's a fine motor-skill sport. If it's running or tackling or that kind of sport, you can take nervous energy and use it. In golf, every little touch makes a difference, so he has to get rid of all these things running through his head."

Siebold's tennis coach, he said, used to tell him, "Once that gate shuts and you're on the court, the rest of the world doesn't exist."

"So, even if an airplane goes overhead, you hear it, but you don't really process that."

Back to the prisoner-of-war interrogation techniques, then?

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