Editors’ Note: This story first appeared in the February 2010 issue of Golf Digest
It’s been a precipitous fall for Tiger Woods since his Nov. 27 car accident.
Friends have been asking me why I haven’t written my take on “the Tiger Woods deal,” so here it comes. First, let me just say that I’m still having trouble getting past the video games and Fruit Loops.
That’s if I’m to believe the report that Tiger was so distraught after his indoor athleticism became public — and turned into what some people call a Shakespearean tragedy — that he crawled into deep, lonely hiding and occupied his time playing video games and eating Fruit Loops.
Maybe it is true, and that’s why Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG, said to the media at one point, “Give the kid a break.”
Tiger Woods was a month away from 34 years of age when his debutantes began turning up in the news. He was a grown man with a wife and two children. Well, we supposed he had a wife, but that was before we learned she was only an ornament.
Kids flew B-17s in daylight bombing raids over Germany in World War II. Kids fought in Korea and Vietnam. Kids are serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan so Tiger Woods can live in a world where he can win 14 majors and match that number, the last time I counted, with 14 casting couches, most of them reserved for blondes.
Now excuse me a moment while I try to envision Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus playing video games and eating Fruit Loops while they try to deal with a career problem.
Of course, Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus never set themselves up to become future statues in Central Park.
They never pretended to be the All-American Daddy-Pop Father of the Year Who Also Wins Golf Tournaments.
They never sold themselves as the greatest Family Values brand ever, and conquered the marketplace with it, shamelessly scooping up hundreds of millions of dollars while saying, “My family will always come first.”
They were never what Tiger allowed himself to become from the start: spoiled, pampered, hidden, guarded, orchestrated and entitled.
I’ll tell you what Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus were at their peak.
They were every bit as popular as Tiger, they endured similar demands on their time, but they handled it courteously, often with ease and enjoyment.
They were accessible, likable, knowable, conversant, as gracious in loss as they were in victory, and, above all, amazingly helpful to those of us in the print lodge who covered them.
That was their brand. All the things Tiger never was.
As for Tiger’s brand, boy, did that take a hit.
For all of the Tiger idolaters out there, it must have been like finding out that ice cream sundaes give you gonorrhea.
Never in my knowledge of history has any famous personality — in sports, show biz, or politics — ever fallen so far so fast. Tiger Woods is graveyard dead, as the Southern expression goes.
Life as Tiger has known it is over. His reputation is ruined, possibly forever. His name that once meant mastery over competitive golf now invokes cringes, giggles and all the Internet jokes you want to pass along.
Sure, he can come back and even win again, if he man’s up, but if he does he will only be a hero to the “you-da-man” and “get-in-the-hole” crowd. And I can’t imagine him coming back as a “humbled man.” That wouldn’t be the owner of a yacht insultingly named Privacy, the guy the press has still slobbered over for these past 12 years.
I covered Tiger winning his 14 professional majors, but I can’t say I know him. I knew the smile he put on for TV. I knew the orchestrated remarks he granted us in his press-room interviews. I knew the air he punched when another outrageous putt went in the cup. That’s it.
I once made an effort to get to know the old silicone collector. Tried to arrange dinners with him for a little Q&A, on or off the record, his choice. But the closest I ever got was this word from his agent: “We have nothing to gain.”
Now it’s too late.
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