When Is It Time To Quit?

On a fall afternoon in 1973, I remember watching my home town Washington Redskins do battle with the San Diego Chargers.  I was only 12 years old at the time, but the image of Johnny Unitas, struggling to stay upright, and fully embarrassing himself at the helm of the Chargers offense will always be etched in my mind.  I was too young to remember Unitas in his glory years, but recall my father telling me how great he was as the leader of the Baltimore Colts.  I was a little sad, and was left to ponder why someone would extend their playing career past their ability to compete.  Thankfully he retired after that season.  Unitas was 40 years old.

For athletes who’ve competed from adolescence through the present day, the hardest thing for them in life is to know when to quit.  Usually the deterioration in capacity is gradual, with the mind remaining sharp as the physical skills slowly atrophy.  Derek Jeter comes to mind, with his retirement feeling timely and right.

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers Photo by ESPN
Tiger Pulls out of Farmers
Photo by ESPN

For the last two years, I’ve been watching the Tiger Woods saga and pontificating about his decline in performance and how his chances of catching Jack Nicklaus were nill, and how maintaining this charade of injury and comeback attempts was no longer continuing to the betterment of the professional game.  We all know that golf is a unique sport in which players can compete at the elite levels for longer because the physical demands are not the same as other professional sports.  However, Tiger’s performance at The Farmers was Johnny U.  He’s clearly done from a physical standpoint and should retire before the embarrassment gets worse.  We can hold on to the greatness of the Tiger memories, but too much time in the gym, too much Navy Seal training, and too much repetitive stress on his back and legs has taken its final toll.  I actually believe he is capable of recovering from his mental foibles, but his body is sending a clear message.  It is time.

Do we continue with the false hope that he’ll somehow recover the old magic, or is it time to take his seat in the booth next to Jim and Sir Nick?  How do you see it?

10 thoughts on “When Is It Time To Quit?”

  1. Brian

    Tough call, and tough subject for those of us who have marveled at Tiger’s accomplishments over the years. I’ve always maintained over the years, from his mini 2004 slump to his 2009 fall from grace, that if anyone can bounce back, it’s him. And he has.

    This time, even as an optimist, I’m really concerned. At this point nobody knows, but it’s not looking good. I hope that somehow Tiger can muster up a few more good years, but only time will tell.


    1. Josh,
      Surpassing the Nicklaus record has been programmed into Tiger’s psyche probably from as early as he can remember. It seemed inevitable at the height of Tiger’s greatness that he would get there but father time got in the way. It has to be tremendously difficult for Tiger to deprogram and realize he will not achieve the objective. Second in majors, second in career PGA titles, and a 24 percent winning percentage for career starts, and a case to be made for greatest player ever seems good enough to me. I think it’s time.



  2. Brian

    I knew this topic was going to be raised very soon. I am not really a Tiger fan, but due respect his ability to play golf. He is easily ranked in the top 5 of all time. I think that most of Tiger’s challenges are mental. Physically, he is struggling, but he is not the mentally tough player of old. It is almost like he is waiting for something to go wrong.

    I agree that he should retire if he sees no way back to an elite form. However, knowing Tiger Woods that would be a very difficult pill to swallow. If he is not hurt, he will likely continue to play on and off until he goes to the Champion Tour.


    1. Jim,

      I like you, am not a Tiger fan, but immensely respect his full body of work. Unfortunately, he’s a mental basket case AND a physical wreck. When the golfer’s main power supply (legs and torso) continually fail, he loses all effectiveness regardless of how sharp the mental game is. IMO, Tiger is done physically. When he was in the field, I felt more compelled to watch, until now. Holding on to the slim chance of catching lightning in a bottle ala Nicklaus at the ’86 Masters or Norman and Watson at the British Open as of late, is not in the best interest of the game. The young guns are just too powerful and nobody fears Tiger any more. I would have more respect for the man if he realized where he was and retired at the right time rather than try to drag his career through the mud in the pursuit of every last dollar and dream that is no longer reasonable.

      That being said, there is no indication that he’s received the message, so I guess we’ll keep observing for a while longer.



    1. Pete, indeed it will be. I’d just like to see him do it now rather than put us through another couple years of the same antics. However, he has earned the right to try if he wishes.



  3. The “Tiger vs. The Field” days are over. And for the rest of his career, Tiger will hold himself, and be held by others, to a different standard given his prior dominance. But I can’t help but think there has to be several layers of middle ground for him between Tiger woods of 1998-2008, and what became of David Duval.

    I think you’re spot on about Nicklaus’ major title record. I wonder if that would be the sole motivation for continuing to compete professionally, or if he is such an athlete, through and through, that he will still relish trying to beat his competition?

    And I’ll be very interested to see if there is an actual fix for what ails him physically, or if his body has crossed the threshold into deterioration? A lot of questions will have to be answered before I begin to disagree with your premise.

    1. The deterioration in performance is certainly looking Duval-ish and what has to be a concern is the different body parts that keep breaking down. At least with a guy like Fred Couples, he knew it was his back, but that was it. When the back felt well, he competed. Tiger’s maladies are all over the place. I truly think he’s finished but the next time he posts a 66, everyone will get all excited; count on it. Thanks!


  4. As a fan of the game I hope Tiger keeps playing and figures out a way to play the game at a high level again. It was only 2 years ago that he won 5 times. His recent decline is undeniable and it seems to be a chink in his mental armor more than anything else. It really looks like he doesn’t believe he can make the swings he needs to. I really don’t know if he will ever compete at a high level again, but you are right that it is tough to watch.

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