For Tiger Woods, others, golf is all head games – USATODAY.com

SAN DIEGO — Hall of Famer Ben Hogan, who dug his game out of the dirt with relentless practice to win nine major championships and 64 PGA Tour titles, paid homage to the demanding mental aspect of golf when he said the narrowest fairway was between the ears.

  • Tiger Woods tees off in his first tournament of 2011 on Thursday. He was winless in 2010 after struggling with on- and off-course distractions.

    By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

    Tiger Woods tees off in his first tournament of 2011 on Thursday. He was winless in 2010 after struggling with on- and off-course distractions.

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Tiger Woods tees off in his first tournament of 2011 on Thursday. He was winless in 2010 after struggling with on- and off-course distractions.

Tiger Woods needs no further evidence after 2010.

Shattered by scandal brought to light after a late-night car crash in November 2009, Woods suffered through a crushing collision of embarrassment, anguish and sorrow as he became fodder for tabloids and late-night network talk shows, lost millions of dollars in endorsements and was divorced from his wife of six years, Elin Nordegren.

Through what he says was the worst year of his life, the golf course offered little refuge. As he dealt with personal and legal matters, Woods, who won nine titles in 2009, wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play or practice as much as he had in years past and didn’t win a single tournament for the first time since he turned pro in 1996.

“I obviously was consumed by other things,” says Woods, who spoke to an overflow mass of news media Wednesday on the eve of his season debut in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he has won seven times including the 2008 U.S. Open — his last major championship triumph. “I went down a path I should never have gone, and now the determination is keeping my life in balance.”

His route back to the top of the game, he says, begins with his psyche. His nod to the mental part of the game is shared by many in the golf world, where a cottage industry has bloomed with sports psychologists who examine fears, frustrations and doubts that reside in a player’s mind. Emphasizing how mental and emotional hazards can be conquered, the psychologists understand a positive outlook translates into better performance on the course.

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