Not long ago, I was probably the world’s No. 1 fan of Tiger Woods.
Without boring you with the many details that almost became a book, I first became totally enamored with Tiger Woods—and all the possibilities that his career could provide to golf and society—when he dramatically won his second U.S. Amateur title in 1995.
In late 1996, inspired largely by Earl Woods declaring Tiger "The Chosen One” in Sports Illustrated, I created the “First Church of Tiger Woods” on my radio talk show, then in Nashville, Tenn. In 2000, I produced the now defunct (for obvious reasons) website TigerWoodsIsGod.com, which SI once judged to be one of the three best things ever written about Tiger Woods.
It should be noted that while at least half of my Tiger-related fanaticism was intended as a good-natured joke about our celebrity-obsessed culture, there is no doubt that the Tiger Woods I thought we knew meant an enormous amount to my life.
No athlete has ever given me as much joy on the playing field. As a former TV sportscaster who had become completely cynical about almost everything in pro sports, Tiger Woods became my last real passionate rooting interest. Despite my jaded outlook, thanks to Tiger, I would look forward to major championships much like a child anticipates Christmas.
My fervor for Tiger Woods was based in two basic concepts. The first was that as a “scratch” golfer I greatly admired that Tiger was coming so close to perfecting a game that was never thought to be perfectible. In that sense, I came to see Tiger Woods as a human lab experiment, of sorts, for the potential of the tragically flawed human species.
The second component of my admiration was the positive impact that I was certain Tiger Woods would have on our country and perhaps the world. While I didn’t buy into Earl’s Messianic vision of his son, I did honestly believe that Tiger would one day be President of the United States.
For those of you who think that is nuts, I wish you could have been there in 2006 at the opening of the Tiger Woods Learning Center when Tiger handled Bill Clinton like a seasoned pro. In his speech, Clinton lied (shocking, I know) about having beaten Tiger on a hole while playing golf the day before. Instead of saying anything about it then and making that statement the news story of the day, Tiger deftly waited until he was doing a clinic in Little Rock, Ark., to tell the hilarious story of Clinton’s creative golf math.
Since Tiger’s favorite TV show is South Park, he moved to Florida to avoid taxes and is a big supporter of the military. I figured he would become the Republican nominee by 2024. It turned out that another charismatic celebrity of mixed race, this one a Democrat, would make it to the Oval Office first.
I never had delusions that Tiger was perfect. I had heard stories of him being cheap, not signing autographs and of being a bit of a jerk on the course, but I always graded him on a huge curve. I figured that no one in sports history had lived under such extreme pressure and under such an intense microscope. Therefore, he deserved some slack.
I have always believed that people should be judged at least in part by what they could safely get away with, and no one had the power to engage in more bad behavior without consequences than Tiger Woods. One of the things I once admired most about him was that he seemed like he was a much better person than his station in life required him to be.
It turns out that I was wrong.
It wasn’t just the serial infidelity that caused me to do a nearly 180-degree turn on Tiger Woods. It was that virtually his entire image was a fraud. It was that he lied (and is still lying), perhaps pathologically, about so many things. But mostly it was because he needlessly squandered a unique position in our culture that simply can not be replicated; all for some incredibly cheap sex.
We live in an age where, sadly, celebrity is everything and where contemptible behavior among our media-chosen royalty is even more common than it is among the political class. People like me thought that Tiger was different, that amidst our barren cultural wasteland, it seemed Tiger Woods was an oasis of character, substance and virtue.
He was someone whom we thought it was safe to admire. Safe to point at and tell our children, “Be like that man.”
Instead, thanks largely to a complicit golf media reliant on Tiger for their jobs and an entertainment media that wasn’t used to seeing a golfer as a prime target, Tiger was simply better equipped to keep his dark side hidden from public view.
Now that we know who Tiger Woods really is, it is perfectly reasonable for the penalty to be on the same scale as the rewards he was reaping while perpetrating his fraud on all of us. After all, to whom much is given, much is expected. Tiger let us down big time, and the punishment should fit the crime.
Strangely, no one but his former wife, Elin, (and maybe a few sponsors) seems to have actually extracted much retribution from Tiger. Most of the sports media are still frantically hoping their golden goose will start laying those perfect eggs again. The vast majority of Tiger's fans—desperate for something for which to cheer and to allow them to pretend this whole mess never really happened—just want to see his old magic restored.
However, since neither the media nor his fans are likely to get what they want anytime soon, Tiger is still being forced to suffer, perhaps in the most just and agonizing manner possible.
You see, thanks to money and fame, he can pretend he hasn’t lost his position in life. Thanks to his visits with his kids too young to know what has happened, he can make believe he hasn’t destroyed his family.
But he has also lost his magic golfing powers and, while he and his followers don’t seem to realize it yet, they are never going to return. Thanks to the ruthless game of golf, to which fame and fortune means nothing, this is a prison sentence Tiger Woods will never be able to outrun.
Soon, even his sycophants in the media will stop buying his swing changes, his “I’m close” declarations or his forced Cheshire cat grins when asked if he is ready for the next major.
After that, his remaining sponsors will realize it is safe to fade away.
Eventually, even he will stop believing his own BS.
Finally, the last of his fanbase will be reduced to wistful remembrances of the past while pointing at him and remarking, "That’s the guy who used to be Tiger Woods.”
In many ways, Tiger Woods is now condemned to a life as a modern day Sisyphus: a former king forced to spend each day rolling his boulder to the top of a mountain he will never reach.
While I have no doubt that Tiger will win again and probably has one last major still in him, he will never see the golf world again from his formerly lofty perch. Instead, my guess is that Tiger, unable to endure the indignities of mediocrity, will eventually decide to have another knee surgery and claim that this is why he is giving up the game with some shred of dignity still intact.
As for me, I continue to watch Tiger and, believe it or not, still “root” for him. But I do so only to see him get into contention so that I can get to see him crash back to the ground in the same circumstances in which he used to soar.
I just hope he stays good enough to make cuts. Otherwise, it could just get sadistic.