Sunday, February 15, 2009

Son could make Tiger Woods even better

By Mark Reason

Father's day: Tiger Woods celebrates winning last year's US Open with his daughter Sam
Father's day: Tiger Woods celebrates winning last year's US Open with his daughter Sam Photo: REUTERS

Tiger has proved his supernatural abilities to the world. He has very nearly proved them to himself. But Woods hasn't yet proved anything to little Charlie Axel. Do you think Tiger Woods needs more motivation? Well, he now has the biggest inspiration a professional sportsman can get. A son.

You may think that is all psychological mumbo jumbo, but consider for a moment some facts. The last three first-time winners of the Masters had all just become fathers of a son for the first time. Phil Mickelson won his first major in 2003 a year after the birth of Evan. Zach Johnson won in 2007, three months after the birth of Will. Trevor Immelman won in 2008, a year after the birth of Jacob.

There is a name for this phenomenon. It is called the 'nappy factor' and was first identified by the betting guru Keith Elliott more than 10 years ago. To begin with it was nothing more than a hunch.

Then in 2000 the European Association of Labour Economists published statistics showing that fathers' salaries rise nearly five per cent every time they have a child and that the premium was far greater for a son than a daughter. "I'm sure a son will have an amazing effect even on someone as driven as Tiger," Elliott said.

Woods has already said he became a better golfer since the birth of his daughter, Sam. But what effect will a son have? Padraig Harrington won in America for the first time 18 months after the birth of Patrick. Ernie Els won his first major for five years a month after the birth of his son, Ben, and then finished in the top 10 in seven of his next nine majors.

The way that Woods has always spoken about his own father makes you wonder if the effect could be even more dramatic. Just last month Woods was riffing in Golf Digest about 'pops'.

He said: "Even to this day when I'm out there struggling and I don't have my best stuff I'll go back to: 'You know what, Daddy, I'm going to put the ball right there. Right there. I'm going to put that little two-iron right there, Daddy. No problem. I got it'. Boom, I put it right there. (Pause in silent reverie). Thanks pops."

Tiger, more than any sportsman you can think of, knows the value of fatherhood. He may even take 'paternity leave' and not return to competitive golf until next month. We don't know for sure yet. But the defending Masters champion Immelman knows what to expect when Tiger does return. He said: "I think he'll be better. I know him well and that's his personality."

And had Immelman heard the one about Tiger holing one shot in 10 from 40 yards in practice recently? The South African smiled and said: "That's his myth." The myth is about to become reality again.

Please welcome onto the first tee, Mr Tiger Woods, 14 times a major champion and the daddy of them all.

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