Whatever happened to Tiger Woods?
Photo: Tom Hipps. Source: US Army
I’ve written about Tiger before. The golfer has been truly phenomenal. In 1997, at age 21, he became the youngest golfer ever to win The Masters at Augusta National in Georgia. His driving, his short game, his putting—all came together, again and again, to deliver win after win. Those who saw him play were convinced they were seeing something historic: a combination of skills and strength not likely to be seen again. Tiger, it seemed, was the perfect golfer.
But something happened. We know about the scandals, the tabloid divorce, the medical issues. These sorts of setbacks can happen to top-performers. For a while, Tiger seemed to come back. And the game of golf rallied with him—there has never been a ratings-magnet like Tiger Woods. Millions of people took up the game because they were inspired by his story.
Golf is a mental game, as well as a physical and skills-driven contest. Top golfers need to maintain their concentration for a significant period of time. Because of the way it is set up, golfers compete with themselves as much as they do with their opponents. Being paired with a championship player can be intimidating, but no one forces you to slice your drive or miss the green on your approach.
A lot has been written about Tiger’s troubles. It’s now been eight years since he won a major tournament. In the end, it seems, he got tired of being the best in the world—of being, potentially, the best ever. He didn’t want to keep running on the treadmill of elite athletic performance, and who can blame him? He won a lot of tournaments and sold a lot of Nike sportswear—for which he was well-paid. He can certainly afford to retire, if he wants to. But those who saw him play—when he was at his best—experienced something transcendent, almost magical.
Photo: Keith Allison. Source: Wikipedia
It’s this way with markets. Sometimes they seem to defy gravity, to go up and up and up—without a clear reason why. Only in retrospect do we learn that earnings had been boosted to new levels by innovative supply chain management or new trade relationships. Other times—like the present—the stock market appears stuck in the mud, trapped in a cycle of low demand, oversupply, tight margins and a weak economy. It seems like it’s spinning its wheels, spraying mud everywhere.
But unlike people, markets don’t retire. If one market leader slips up, a new company is ready to take its place. The human spirit of innovation and competition will always try to improve what we do, as long as policy-makers don’t smother it.
S&P 500, 1926-2016. Source: Bloomberg
Tiger stopped winning because he wanted to stop. His career is one for the record books, but we’ll never know what might have been. The markets, by contrast, deliver world-class performance all the time. And they never quit.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer