Dear New Shrink,

I am an avid golfer and golf follower and I just cannot understand what has happened to Tiger Woods. He was the No. 1 golfer in the world and now he can’t seem to get a grip.

There are all kinds of ideas and gossip on the golf course but I am wondering if it doesn’t all come down to psychology in some way.

He can’t have lost his skill, can he? Without some kind of physical injury, I just don’t see why he or anyone else would lose their skill.

I hope you have some ideas. Two years later, it is still quite sad to me.

Signed,

Sad Golfer

Dear Sad Golfer,

I think you are quite right. It is definitely a sad situation from a psychological perspective, but I think he might get his game back eventually.

As you may well know, Tiger Woods was a child prodigy, literally on “The Mike Douglas Show” putting against Bob Hope at the age of 2. At age 3, he shot a 48 over nine holes in Cypress, Calif., where he grew up and was in Golf Digest by age 5. He went on to win numerous under-age championships before the age of 10 and broke his first 80 at age 8.

Tiger’s father was a great amateur golfer, very athletic and was the one who introduced his young son to golf at the age of 2. No doubt his father was thrilled by his son’s skill and was his biggest supporter and fan.

This all sounds great and as you say, clearly the skill is there. And you are also correct that without a physical or neurological injury, skills are not lost. Research has shown that even long-forgotten skills can be retrieved with hypnosis.

The psychological piece seems to be a lack of self-confidence at a very deep level. Unfortunately, child prodigies often become very dependent on the praise and adoration that they receive for their skills and in so much, they develop a kind of “idealized self” instead of a real self.

We all need time to explore ourselves and our environments to develop a real self and we also need the support of our parents or caregivers to feel good about it.

When you have an idealized self that is dependent on adoration, it really does require a constant flow of adoration to keep it from deflating.

In Tiger’s case, his father died and he lost his major source of support. But apparently through his success and the affairs that he had, he had enough adoration to go on as the greatest player.

But two years ago, his world came tumbling down and he not only lost all that support and adoration but he was forced to face a great deal of disappointment and disgust from his past admirers.

From what I can tell, he deflated big-time and has not yet regained his self-confidence. Even if others no longer look at him funny or with disgust, somewhere in his mind he sees all those eyes frowning upon him. His idealized self has been crushed. It will take a great deal of reparation to find his real self and to feel good enough to play with the skill he really has. I hope for his sake that he has continued his therapy.

A similar case is Michael Jackson. He was a child prodigy who was totally adored for his entertainment of us by the age of 5 and onward. He clearly did not lose his skill but one had only to watch him after he was accused of child molestation to know that he was broken inside. And the crowds no longer adored him in the same way. Much like Tiger, he had to deal with the eyes of disdain and disgust looking down upon him. Even though Michael was never found guilty, his idealized self was crushed and from the looks of it, he turned to drugs to pump himself up. Terribly sad because it is too late for him and had he not died, it looks as if he may have had success with his comeback tour. Whether he could have then been able to kick his drug habits, we will never know.

Tiger Woods turned to another kind of addictive behavior to pump himself up and as far as we all know, he is now without it. His only choice is to continue strengthening his real self and building back his self-confidence.

Being a child prodigy is not without significant costs.

Thank you for your question; it’s a great one.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or e-mail your responses and inquires to newshrink@gmail.com. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.