The Kids Are Alright
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, became first-time parents less than three weeks ago. Ever since the news of his impending fatherhood came out late last year, Woods has been asked how it might affect his ability to maintain the singular focus that has allowed him to win 57 tournaments, including 12 major championships, since he turned professional in 1996.
A few days before he finished tied for second in the U.S. Open last month at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh, Woods said again that, "I don't really know how my game is going to be affected by it because I've never gone through it before. All I know is that Elin and I are excited, and this is far more important than any game of golf. This is an opportunity for us to raise our first child, and we're really looking forward to it."
Woods need only look at the records of a number of Hall of Fame golfers to be assured that a new addition to the household hardly translates to more bogeys than birdies and soaring scores that would threaten his status as the No. 1 player in the world.
Consider, for example, Jack Nicklaus, whose records Woods has been chasing since he hung a Nicklaus poster in the bedroom of his boyhood home in Cypress, Calif. Jackie, the first of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus's five children, was born in 1961. Nicklaus won 73 tournaments and all 18 of his professional major championships after Jackie arrived. His fifth child, Michael, came along in 1973, and Nicklaus won 19 times over the next five years, and his last six major titles came after Michael was born.
"You've got plenty of time for a family and plenty of time to play golf," Nicklaus said recently. "That's not a big deal. . . . You can't practice all day long. I never was a guy who spent a lot of time just beating balls, because I don't think you accomplish anything by beating balls. Early in the year, you need to put in some mileage. As the year goes on you start to get ready for tournaments. You condense what you do in a couple, three hours, and then go to the golf course. You get your work done and you prepare. So Tiger will do fine."
Arnold Palmer had only one victory when his first child, Peggy, was born in 1956, and he went on to win each of his seven major titles and 61 more victories after she arrived. Tom Watson's oldest child, Meg, was born in 1979, and Watson had the best year of his career in 1980, winning seven times and finishing in the top 25 in each of his 22 starts.
"It certainly affected me," Palmer said, adding that he became an airplane pilot after his children were born to get home faster. "I realized I could fly from my home to golf tournaments or to exhibitions. I could go in the morning, do my job and then I could be home to be with my family, and that all had to do with my family -- my two girls."
Nicklaus's only girl, Nancy, the third of his five children, was born in 1965. The day she was born, Nicklaus had played in an exhibition match in Columbus, Ohio, with Bob Hope and James Garner, and they were all sitting down to dinner that night at the Nicklaus house when Barbara excused herself. About half an hour later, Nicklaus said he became aware that she hadn't returned.
"I went back in the bedroom," Nicklaus recalled, "and I said, 'What are you doing?' She said, 'I've got my bag packed and I've called the doctor. Would you like me to take a taxi so you can be with your friends, or would you like to take me to the hospital?' I said, 'No, Barbara, I think I'll take you to the hospital.' I went back down and those guys disappeared, just like that."
On the way to the hospital, the Nicklauses decided that if it was a boy, they'd name him Robert James, after Hope and Garner. Nancy spoiled that plan, but many years later, she named her fourth child, Nicklaus' grandson, Robert James.
Over the years, having children around the house hasn't slowed down most top-tier golfers. Among the 36 winners of multiple major championships since 1960, most of their victories came when their families were either starting or expanding. Of those 36 players, 13 won a major title the same year a child was born.
"It's more anecdotal than anything scientific, but children give [professional athletes] more reason to play well," Robert Troutwine, a psychologist who works with pro football and baseball players, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. "They feel a higher level of accountability and responsibility, and then in turn, they work harder in the offseason and play harder. What carries over is the stability as a force from their emotional and personal life, and that leads to fewer distractions on the field."