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Michael K. Bohn, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Published April 13 2012

Analysis: Could Tiger Woods really have made it as a Navy SEAL?

Although he struggled at The Masters, before that Tiger Woods’ recent win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla., brought joy to him, his many fans and, most importantly, television advertisers. Woods’ 30-month victory drought in official events finally ended and the news media heralded the return of red shirts and fist pumps on Sundays.

But there is a parallel Tiger Woods story that has been running lately _ one concerning the revelations about Tiger's private life and golf game in a new book by the player's former coach, Hank Haney. Published a few weeks ago, “The Big Miss” recounts Haney's six-year experience with Woods through his swing changes, a temporary return to form, and then, suddenly, the train wreck in November 2009 when his marriage and personal integrity imploded.

Of the many insider stories in Haney's book, one really caught my eye - Tiger's infatuation with the U.S. Navy's special operations force, the SEALs. Haney writes that Woods repeatedly participated in SEAL training and exercises during 2006 and 2007, and that Woods had considered chucking his golf career and enlisting. Moreover, Haney reported that in 2007 Woods tore the ACL in his left knee during a drill in a SEAL “kill house,” an urban warfare simulator. He had it repaired in 2008 after his amazing, one-legged win in the U.S. Open.

As a retired career naval officer, I saw Tiger's SEAL affair as a stunt, especially in view of Haney's portrait of a remarkable but selfish golfer trying to be a superstar jock. Unlike the NFL's Pat Tillman joining the Army Rangers in 2002, this appeared as if Tiger wanted a macho merit badge at the expense of the American military's greatest fighting force. In my opinion, Tiger has not been the kind of man the SEALs want.

I served with SEALs in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War in a support unit that repaired their boats. We called them the “snake-eaters” because they were tough guys who could live and fight in the jungle. I worked with them ashore and have friends who were SEALs. Their unmatched capabilities at “SEa, in the Air and on Land (SEAL)” - think Osama bin Laden's death - are equaled by their integrity and preference for recruits, who, as one former SEAL put it, are “good citizens.”

Also, I occasionally have reported on PGA Tour events and have observed Tiger on the golf course and in press conferences. Sure, he's fit and mentally tough, and his focus can burn holes in the side of a ship. But SEALs tell me that 80 percent of making it as a SEAL is from the neck up. While I marvel at Tiger's brilliance in golf, I have formed a less glowing assessment of his personal traits.

The new book exposes a good bit of the inner Tiger, so I have compared his character strengths and weaknesses, as described by Haney, to the profile that the Naval Special Warfare Command uses to assess potential SEAL candidates. In my view, Tiger would have whiffed.

But first, the public affairs office at the Special Warfare Command would not confirm Haney's account of Tiger's near-war activity with the SEALs _ multiple visits, parachuting, hand-to-hand combat exercises, and live weapons training. Instead, the Navy offered a bland statement:

“Mr. Woods visited the Naval Special Warfare Command on several occasions in 2006 as part of the command's public outreach program. During his visits, Mr. Woods received command briefs, toured the facilities, and was provided the opportunity to learn about and shoot a few weapons. His visits were informational in purpose. Naval Special Warfare Command, like other U.S. Navy and Department of Defense commands, hosts individuals from various fields with the purpose of raising their awareness about today's military.”

Back to the selection criteria. The Navy's analysis points toward a favored demographic for applicants: males with a bachelor's degree who often hail from the upper Midwest and New England, areas that statistically produce more young men with outdoor and environmental interests. Additionally, SEAL officer candidates must have a four-year college degree. Tiger only finished two years at Stanford University. Also, the then-31-year-old Woods was too old to be a SEAL in mid-2007. The maximum age for SEAL applicants is 28, but Tiger told Haney that the SEALs were considering a waiver for him. A few waivers are available, but only in well-defined situations that didn't seem to fit Tiger in 2007. Likely fail.

The Navy's list of disqualifying physical ailments for special operations applicants is as long as Moby Dick's tail. Specifically, Woods told Haney that in 2002 the surgeon who cleaned out his left knee told him that his anterior cruciate ligament was 80 percent torn. Article 15-105 of the Navy's medical manual disqualifies special operations applicants for a "musculoskeletal condition which is chronic or recurrent, predisposes to injury, or limits the performance of extremely strenuous activities. Likely fail.

SEAL aspirants must score well on two armed forces intelligence and aptitude tests after their physicals. They also must grade high on a specialized test of their mental toughness and resilience on the Computerized-Special Operations Resilience Test, or C-SORT. Tiger's bright, and millions have observed his mental toughness. Pass.

If applicants have passed through all of these preliminary gates, they must take the Physical Screening Test. It includes a 500-yard swim; push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups; and a 1.5-mile run, all with minimum times and numbers. His left knee likely would have held up only after the 2008 surgery. Unable to determine.

Now, the tricky part.

The SEALs value certain personality traits in applicants. Using descriptors supplied by the Navy Special Warfare Command and drawn from www.sealswcc.com, as well as Haney's observations, here's my assessment of the non-quantitative factors integral to screening SEAL candidates.

Motivation - Achievement, resolve, self-confidence. These are all observable Tiger traits. However, when Haney began as Tiger's coach in 2004, one of the big problems he saw in his student's game was fear. Haney wrote that the “fearless” Tiger Woods “played his driver with a lot of fear.” Pass on achievement and resolve, and Fail on self-confidence.

Tactician - Mission focus, learner, listener, investigative thinker. Woods routinely tuned out Haney when the coach offered constructive advice that he didn't like. Likely Pass.

Aspiration - Competitiveness, courage, persistence. Haney marveled at Tiger's burning desire to win and win big. Pass.

Attitude - Camaraderie and positivity. Haney believes that Tiger's immense and laudable drive for perfection yielded a host of accompanying, less desirable traits that he lists in the book - “selfishness, obsessiveness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness, pettiness, and cheapness.” Hank gives several examples of Woods’ rudeness to his support team - caddie, coach, agent and trainer - and his bouts of moody sullenness. Further, Woods has erected a barrier around himself to keep even friends at bay. On the other hand, the SEALs treasure “team-ability.” Fail.

Protect my teammates - Today's professional golf is not a team sport, despite what the Ryder Cup organizers say every other year. Haney watched Tiger remain distant from other skilled players, even fellow Americans. Woods didn't want them to feel comfortable around him, which gave Tiger a competitive edge. Haney called this and other similar Tiger practices “competitive bullying.” When it was time to play a foursome or four-ball match at the Ryder Cup, Tiger's approach made for bad chemistry. The best example is Tiger's teaming with Phil Mickelson in the 2004 Cup, which resulted in two first-round losses. Further, Haney writes that Tiger's trainer, Keith Kleven, frequently grew concerned when Tiger went silent and sullen on him, thinking he was in Woods’ doghouse. “Rather than taking Keith's concern as a show of loyalty,” Haney writes, “Tiger saw weakness.” Fail.

The Navy emphasizes that their best applicants come from backgrounds in water polo, triathlon, lacrosse, boxing, rugby, swimming or wrestling.

Uncompromising integrity, “My word is my bond” and lead by example _ Tiger appears to be a serial fibber given multiple anecdotes from Haney, including misleading and lying to the news media on subjects on which he spoke more truthfully with Haney. Of course, then there's Tiger's confession of repeated marital infidelity. Fail.

Mental toughness - Honor obligations, relationship honor, be a self-challenger. According to Haney's book, Tiger repeatedly used nonverbal or oblique means to tell his coach, “When I play bad, when I don't win, it's your fault.” Throughout his professional career, Woods has fired coaches and caddies, and that's common on the PGA Tour. But blaming his team is another matter. Fail on the honor parts and Pass on challenging himself.

Most of the former SEALs with whom I spoke about positive SEAL attributes asked to remain in the background. However, I did talk on the record with former SEAL Dick Couch about desirable traits in SEAL applicants. Dick now writes novels and nonfiction works about special operations and he has a new book due out in June, “Sua Sponte: The Forging of a Modern American Ranger.”

“The best candidates come from families with high expectations,” Couch explained. “Parents who help their children set goals and teach them how to gain them are important.” As many know, Earl and Tida Woods raised their son that way, although Tiger seemed to grow up overly enabled along the way. Had Tiger started SEAL training, his expectations of special treatment might have caught the attention of SEAL instructors, who lean hard on recruits to find character flaws. As one veteran SEAL said, instructors seeing a hint of aloofness or self-importance would jump on a trainee like “vultures on carrion.” Pass.

Couch also offered a crucial point. “The best warriors are the best husbands and the best fathers. A stable family life and an overall balance in life will yield the best SEAL.” Fail.

In July 2007, Mark Steinberg, Tiger's agent, confronted the player about his military preoccupation. Haney heard less about the issue afterward.

In a final comment, Tiger Woods has been an enormous rainmaker for the PGA Tour. Between 1996, when he turned pro, and 2006, the annual PGA Tour prize money increased 254 percent in constant dollars. Television ratings during individual tournaments jumped 50 to 100 percent when he played. During the injury-prone, scandal-plagued years of uneven play, 2007-2011, ratings and purses flattened or fell, an economic recession notwithstanding.

Tiger's dalliance as a “hard guy” hurt his body, his family, and even golf tournament sponsors and advertisers. His selfishness in this didn't match the SEALs’ search for men of character and honor, and likely undermined a legend of golf genius.

About the writer

Michael K. Bohn is the author of “Money Golf,” a history of the gentlemanly wager on the golf course, and more recently, “Heroes & Ballyhoo: How the Golden Age of the 1920s Transformed American Sports.”

Bohn also wrote “The Achille Lauro Hijacking: Lessons in the Politics and Prejudice of Terrorism” (2004), and “Nerve Center: Inside the White House Situation Room” (2003). He served as director of the White House Situation Room, the president's alert center and crisis management facility, during Ronald Reagan's second term. Bohn was a U.S. naval intelligence officer from 1968 to 1988.


2012 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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