Although I miss her every single day, I’m glad my mom didn’t live to see the Tiger Woods scandal. It would have broken her heart. She always said he seemed like a “fine young man,” and of course that’s the PGA Tour’s intended judgment on all its players; a guy like John Daly is an anomaly (that’s part of what makes him so naughtily lovable, besides being able to hit it a mile). Pro golfers are supposed to be boring until the instant they tee it up. I’ve read recently that Tiger’s unearthly golfing ability, his beyond-belief powers of focus and concentration through adversity, made him the perfect corporate spokesman – not for Hooters, but for the faceless Accenture, marketed only to other big-shot businessmen who imagine themselves champions in their own pear-shaped ways. Well, that’s the sponsor which dropped him first.
Watching the O.J. trial, one had to wonder: weren’t you satisfied with your worldwide fame, your generous NFL pension, your Brentwood mansion and your hottie (ex-)wife? We can now ask the same questions about Tiger. All you had to do was to live normally. But those of us outside looking in can’t really fathom the culture of superciliousness that surrounds such fame and power. That’s why Bill Clinton thought he was bulletproof, too. Watch any episode of BEHIND THE MUSIC for more. “Tiger” is a stage name for a marketing persona. It was Eldrick Woods who revealed himself as a flawed human once he put away the tights and cape. Tiger’s brilliant caddie, Stevie Williams, says he had no idea, and I can maybe even buy that, since top pros don’t fraternize much off the course. (Though some players say it was an open secret that Eldrick was a horndog, at least with the eyes, almost from the day he arrived on tour. Did no other caddies talk to Stevie? Or Fluff, his first caddie?) But somebody knew. They had to. An international celebrity like Tiger Woods can’t travel without security. Not to excuse or downplay Eldrick’s transgressions, but there are some enablers lurking in the background, and maybe one day we’ll know their names.
The latest dish is that Tiger’s wife wants a divorce. I can’t really blame Elin. But the one and only thing he’s done right during this whole mess is to say, “I’m taking an indefinite break from golf.” His career’s not nearly as important as trying to patch up his marriage, if that’s even possible at this point: there are kids in the picture! Dodos may be thinking, he’s got all the money he needs, why not hang it up? But luxury isn’t the most important thing to a real champion. We’ll see how long the hiatus lasts, but if Tiger Woods isn’t standing in the teebox at Augusta in April for the season’s first major*, you’ll know this is bigger and sadder than anybody ever imagined. Then comes the ultimate test: playing four rounds of world-class golf with millions of eyes on him — but they’ll be squinting now. Only then can we really evaluate Tiger’s ability to focus.
*5/11/10: He did indeed stand there, and he finished fourth, not bad at all after such a long layoff. But very soon, his game showed signs of rust (he blamed neck problems caused by coming back before he was fully conditioned), and by May he was talking about missing the season’s second major.