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Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Logistics of Tiger's Return

After Tiger's withdrawal from the Dubai event, it's hard to ignore the possibility that his comeback could be cut short by back problems. And I know that many of you will think I'm just overly optomistic, but I'm not sure it's that bad yet. NOT YET.

And the reason has to do with logistics, which nobody -- media-based or otherwise -- seems to consider.


If you Google the word, the first definition of logistics that comes up is "the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies." But that's a fancy definition that actually hides the practical meaning.

To put it simply, logistics means that SIZE AND COMPLEXITY CHANGE THE WAY THINGS WORK. The reason many small businesses fail is because the owners don't understand how logistics change things. Let me give you an example I learned a long time ago, and then I'll explain how I think it applies to Tiger's comeback.

Let's say you decide to bake your friend a pineapple upside-down cake. You go to the store, pick up the ingredients, come back home and bake it. For you, the most complex and time-consuming aspect of this project is the actual baking. You have to get the oven to the right temperature, measure ingredients, mix them properly, and time your preparation so the fruit, frosting and cake layers are all ready at the same time for the "final assembly."

After you do this a few times, your friends start saying, "Wow, your cakes are great. You should go into business!" And as you consider this, you think to yourself, "How would I ever get money for a factory to do all the baking?" But you don't really understand the problem, because the baking problems will be the easiest ones to solve.

The real problem at this larger scale is making sure you have fresh ingredients, when you need them, at a price you can afford. You see, you can't just run down to the store and pick up what you need anymore, because you need way more ingredients than the store carries. Let's just consider a few concerns about the pineapples for a moment.
  • If the pineapples, cream, sugar and flour arrive in your factory at the same time, the pineapples and the cream will go bad long before you can use them all, so you have to figure out how often to have each delivered and how much in each delivery.
  • Pineapple prices rise and fall depending on how the harvests are going, which are affected by things like weather, transportation costs and worker strikes -- and you can't predict any of those accurately. At the very least, you're going to need to get involved buying and selling pineapple futures in order to get the best prices you can.
  • Have you considered consumer demand for your tasty cakes? Is pineapple upside-down cake more popular during the summer months, or at holidays, or at a specific holiday? You'll have to adjust your deliveries so you don't get too much at the wrong time.
  • Oh, did I mention that the ingredient prices you can get and the customer demand will affect your delivery schedule as much the freshness issue will?
And we've only considered a few of the issues concerning the pineapples! There are also new issues that you didn't have to bother with before. For example, you can't just deliver the cake on your best cake plate then get the plate back when your friend is done with it. You've got to consider product packaging now.

This is what I mean when I talk about logistics. The bigger your project gets, the more the nature of the problems change.

Let's transfer this to Tiger's return, and we'll start with the travel. I assume most of you have gotten stiff from sitting in a chair for too long. This is a "small logistics" issue -- if you sit in your car and drive for 20 minutes, you reach your destination and you feel okay. But if you plan a five-hour drive, you have to arrange for rest stops to avoid getting stiff and sluggish. You don't hurt, but you don't move very well either.

I can't help but shake my head when I hear the analysts talk about the pros traveling overseas. They laugh and say, "Well, it's not like they're traveling tourist." As if knocking ten hours off a 30-hour trip made it no different than that 20-minute jaunt across town!

Tiger is a businessman. He understands logistics. Most folks don't.

Last week after he missed the cut at Torrey, Tiger was asked how he felt about the upcoming trip to Dubai. And Tiger smiled and said he'd have to see how the 17-hour trip went. I remember that number because I didn't realize it would be that long in a private jet, but my mind immediately started spinning. I wondered: Would he have enough time to recover from the flight? It was clear from his interview that the three-hour flight to Torrey had been a question mark in his mind, let alone the Dubai trip.

So he arrived in Dubai and the analysts started talking about how "gingerly" he was moving. But he wasn't in pain, folks -- he was STIFF. If you'd had three back surgeries and had just traveled 17 hours by plane, you'd be moving carefully too. He probably thought he'd just take it easy and work through the stiffness as he played. It sounds reasonable.

But, according to Mark Steinberg (as quoted in this article):
Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg said the player started to feel pain on Thursday night and regretted having to pull out.

“He went into a spasm in his lower back very late last night after dinner,” Steinberg told reporters. “We tried to work it out last night (but) really didn’t get worked out.

“We had treatment starting very early this morning for the past three, three and half hours, but can’t get the back spasm to calm down. He feels terrible.”

Steinberg said the problem was not the same nerve pain that caused Woods’ lengthy absence from the sport.
Note that Steinberg used the term spasm to describe the pain -- the same word Jason Day uses to describe the sharp, unexpected but temporary pains that his back gets. Maybe I missed it, but I don't remember hearing Tiger's back pain described as a spasm in most of his WDs. Usually they just say he has back pain.

Once you look at the logistics of the travel, this explanation from Steinberg makes perfectly good sense. Tiger was aware that this trip was an experiment to see where he was in his recovery -- as evident from his post-round interview at Torrey -- and he has discovered that his back isn't ready for it yet.

And Steinberg's explanation does give us some hope that this is just a temporary setback. One of the back doctors who appeared on ESPN said that this isn't the worst level of potential back pain -- "spasm" means it's caused by muscles seizing up, not disc problems -- and probably means he just needs to take more time between tournaments.

Taking the logistics into account, I suspect it means that he should limit himself to domestic tournaments for a while -- no prolonged travel, which would mean no Open Championship this year.

While in past posts I've mentioned giving Tiger a few months before making any assessments of his future, privately I decided (back before the Hero, that is) to wait until 2018 and see what happens this year. Golfers are creatures of habit, and we fail to realize just how much these back problems have already interrupted those habits:
  • How much recovery time does he need after a flight? What routines are most effective for him now?
  • How much practice time can he count on each day? What should he practice? What CAN he practice? In what order? For how long? And do any of these change between the day he plays his first practice round and the day he plays his final official round?
  • How long can he comfortably sit or stand in a media scrum? Will he need special equipment to sit or stand on? (Remember, something as simple as the angle at which he holds his neck when he's looking at people can affect his back.)
  • Will his courtesy car need special lumbar support in the seats?
  • How will he deal with delays during a round? Can he stand, or does he need to walk (will he have the space?), or does he need to carry some kind of folding chair?
  • Does he need special sleeping arrangements to avoid potential back strain?
And all of these have to be figured out through trial and error, on the road. There are probably more that I can't even imagine, but these will give you a basic idea about what he faces now.

When Tiger was rehabbing at home, just getting a controllable swing was the hardest thing. But that's going to be the easiest part for him going forward.

It's those logistics again. Never underestimate their importance, because they rear their ugly heads at the worst possible moments.

Just ask Tiger.

1 comment:

  1. He needs a swing change that works for him, none of his 4 trainers could change his body mechanics. sean foley made it worse and likely ended his career.
    He is gone, an old man in his body and swing and needs to retire. its tragic what the modern swing can cause such tragedy for a player.