Tiger Woods is changing his swing, and he's changing his life while trying to recover his domineering form.
He hasn’t won in 17 months. He hasn’t won on U.S. soil in almost two years. He’s gone through a scandal that ranks among the most lurid in recent sports history. He went through a divorce. He is changing his swing, not to mention his life.
This is the public life of Eldrick Woods, the Tiger who made golf on TV a must-see event. His mere presence on a course caused other pros to three-putt and misfire. He had an uncanny knack of making the clutch putt or hitting the miraculous recovery at the right time, seemingly every time, and that made him appear, well, if not inhuman, most certainly invincible.
Now he’s a solid but hardly domineering pro who can make runs in golf tournaments but can’t close them. He no longer strikes fear in the hearts of others; rather than wait for others to make mistakes, now they wait for him. And with a new swing and a rather shaky countenance on the greens, the wayward drive or devastating three-putt never seems too far away.
He's middling in driving distance, accuracy, greens in regulation and putting. He can glue it together for one round, but the adhesive expires around dusk. Back-to-back hot rounds are a rarity now.
About a year ago at this time, Woods sat down with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi and answered questions about what he was going through—treatment, marriage issues, facing other family members about his actions, and of course the changes to his impermeable public image. [http://sports.espn.go.com/golf/news/story?id=5015614]
The repercussions have been at times unfair, and for him facing the world afterward can’t be easy. But it’s also something that he brought onto himself. Since his scandal erupted, Woods has been a ghost of the most dominant golfer of the modern era. But we still watch.
No matter how good Jack Nicklaus was, he wasn’t Tiger Woods in his prime. Woods is stuck on 14 major championships, four behind Nicklaus. Now he’s swinging into prime golf season. The Players Championship, the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow and then the Memorial are his regular stops prior to another run at the major, the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.
With Woods’ words from the Rinaldi interview, we can get some perspective on the multifaceted onslaught that has pierced the invincibility of Tiger Woods.
He played 91 holes on a long, difficult course, and he prevailed for another U.S. Open title at Torrey Pines. And he did it on one leg.
“A lot has transpired in my life.”
On June 16, 2008, a Monday in La Jolla, Woods battled a determined, gutsy Rocco Mediate in a playoff for the U.S. Open title. On the demanding par-4 15th hole, Woods' drive faltered way right and landed in a bunker on an adjoining hole. His predicament seemed dire in that par was going to be difficult, and bogey very likely. Here’s why:
1) His lie in the sand was good, but the slope of the bunker placed the ball below his feet. This tends to make pure contact more difficult, and pure contact is essential for escaping Torrey Pines bunkers.
2) He had to hit a hard draw to avoid trees and get the ball online to an opening in the green, which after a week of USGA preparation had the consistency of an airport tarmac.
3) He had only one good knee. In fact, just days later Woods underwent surgery for a torn ligament and had micro-surgery on his fibula. He was in immense pain.
Naturally, Woods pulled off the miraculous shot, and that led to an easy two-putt par and carried him through to the 19th hole before Mediate, hitting out of a bunker, misfired his own approach out of a bunker. Woods had his 14th major.
Controversy came out of his play in Dubai, perhaps as a sign that he's letting his frustrations supercede his desire to improve his image.
“I saw a person that I never thought I would ever become.”
There was the loogie in Dubai, which prompted an apology. There was the interview after his final round of the Masters with Bill McAtee of CBS that had a combination of contempt and frustration. In the end, we see a man who can be at times very hard to like.
At the same time, arrogance carries athletes to their highest achievements. It’s rude and strong and overbearing, and absolutely needed when you’re trying to defeat more than 100 other guys over the course of four days of golf.
Jack Nicklaus had it, so did Arnold Palmer. “It” is the sensation that they give off just by walking onto the grounds. Everyone knows he’s ready and most likely the one to beat.
Since Nov. 24, 2009, that sensation has disappeared.
Tiger Woods is more than a person now. He's a brand. It represents something, and his actions in the past have coste him business relationships.
“Well, I owe a lot of people an apology. I hurt a lot of people. Not just my wife. My friends, my colleagues, the public, kids who looked up to me. There were a lot of people that thought I was a different person and my actions were not according to that. That's why I had to apologize. I was so sorry for what I had done.”
Two professors from UC Davis estimated that the fallout of Woods’ scandal of reported infidelities, which ended some off-course business relationships, cost an estimated $5 billion to $12 billion in shareholder loss.
And right there it might have been the first time that Woods, whose life had been sealed behind a high, thick, ever-adapting wall of close friends, agents and handlers, realized that his actions had an impact on others.
He might have understood in the abstract, but perhaps the events that erupted on November 27, 2009 and on through all of 2010, including the completion of his divorce from wife Elin, he understood firsthand that actions have consequences.
Interestingly, that year Woods had been named the highest paid sportsman in the world by Forbes Magazine, with an estimated off-course income of over $100 million annually. But thanks to Nike and EA Sports, to name two, Woods’ endorsement income remains above $50 million. He’s not hurting, to say the least.
But he knows that from now on, when he is sitting at the table discussing a business deal, the people across the table are wondering, “Is another waffle house waitress or porn star going to pop up and make us look bad for associating with him?”
He had won three straight U.s, Amateur titles, and was ready to explode at the professional level. But Tiger Woods was still very young.
“Well, just one [transgression] is, is enough. And obviously that wasn't the case, and I've made my mistakes. And as I've said, I've hurt so many people, and so many people I have to make an amends to, and that's living a life of amends.”
Making amends is one thing. Having to make amends is the issue.
In so many ways, the life of Tiger Woods had been fault-free—from our perspective, anyway. It might have been staged, all for public consumption, but it worked. That’s what happens when you are incredibly successful and incredibly rich and surrounded by people who help you make your dream life a reality.
The metaphor of it all was his huge yacht named Privacy. It’s big, luxurious and capable of putting space between him and the prying eyes of the curious public.
Granted, Woods, even though he is the most popular sports figure on the planet, deserves some privacy. But he went to amazing lengths to seal off his off-course life from those he would normally come into contact with on a regular basis.
Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and other golfers of the modern era who rode atop the game eventually realized they had to work with those who provide the foundation of their success—the reporters and media people who cover golf. Woods never did.
It happened once. A story that appeared in the April 1997 issue of GQ revealed a bright, sometimes puerile young golf star. [http://www.gq.com/sports/profiles/199704/tiger-woods-profile]. Since then, he’s been cut off.
No one has been let in. And perhaps the circle got smaller and smaller, to the point that even his wife, Elin, was excluded. And having to tell her what was going on had to be incredibly painful for both. It might be a pain that never dissipates.
Making amends with mother Kultida Woods had to be painful.
“Because I hurt them [Elin and Kultida] the most. Those are the two people in life who I’m closest to and to say the things I’ve done, truthfully to them, is … honestly...was very painful.”
Since his earliest days, it was Kultida Woods who provided the emotional support for Tiger. She’s focused, sensitive and alert. By his account, it was she who instilled his killer instinct. It also was she who set the standards about high school homework and neatness. And when Woods had to come clean to his mother about the “transgressions,” or to have her hear about dalliances with more than one “escort” in Las Vegas, you can imagine the shame.
The power of shame isn’t so much about what you did, but what it makes you feel about yourself. As he told Rinaldi later in the interview, “[S]tripping away denial and rationalization you start coming to the truth of who you really are and that can be very ugly.”
For the first time, Tiger might have realized inside that he has his faults, and there’s no doubt that such strong emotions can come out under pressure, such as during the final round of a major golf tournament.
Tiger, daughter Sam and Elin Woods looked content during a 2009 Stanford game. A week later, everything about Tiger Woods seemed to change.
“Because I hurt them [Elin and Kultida] the most. Those are the two people in life who I’m closest to and to say the things I’ve done, truthfully to them, is…honestly...was very painful.”
Ever since Woods won his third straight U.S. Amateur Championship in 1995, you can make the overstatement—but not much of one—that he’s been in a Nike corporate jet ever since. Not literally, but figuratively.
Woods’ capabilities on a golf course, and what they came to mean to his image, became a very, very powerful tool from which one could extract enormous amounts of money from, say, major corporations who want to associate their products with the ultimate winner. Woods made a lot of money, and he also made a lot of other people a lot of money.
In other words, it might not be too far from the truth to say that the busy bees of the International Management Group and agent Mark Steinberg more or less told Woods then and continued to tell him for a decade that he could have anything he wanted.
And, being young and personable, there’s no question as to why he wouldn’t take them up on such an offer. But such a world can make a person rather myopic; it’s all about him, and what happens to others doesn’t matter.
From what it appears, that insensitivity carried over to Elin. When he had to call San Diego cocktail waitress Jaime Grubbs and tell her to take his number off her calls, lest Elin see them, you can see he didn’t think the matter through with diligence. Because, before, he didn’t have to.
She's beautiful and from what little we know, inner-directed and smart. Yet maybe Tiger Woods made a mistake in getting married.
“I was living a life of a lie.”
To be young, famous, rich and free of mundane limitations and wanting to explore the thrills that life can offer is totally natural for someone like Tiger Woods. George Best, the famous English soccer player, put it best about how he ended up broke after having so much money: “I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted.”
Wanting the thrills is natural. Wanting and then getting the thrills behind the back of the woman you are married to, that was wrong. And that has harmed Woods’ image in the eyes of the public. And you know that PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem isn’t all that happy about Woods’ actions and then so-so play in light of what impact his play and his public image have on negotiations with broadcast partners and corporate sponsors.
What may come out of all of this is a realization for Woods, one of the deepest and most telling of all: He failed.
He married a beautiful and—by all indications—smart and caring woman. In light of his transgressions, it seems he wasn’t ready to get married. Maybe he got married because he felt he had to. Perhaps he sensed that his father, Earl Woods, would not be long for this world (Earl died in January 2007). Perhaps there was pressure to produce grandkids.
But with all the extraneous women who have said they have been with Woods (and I’m not sure I believe all of them), his marriage looks in retrospect like a sham. It might have been immaturity, thinking that he had to at that time. But he didn’t realize that the thrill-seeking desire was still in him.
Either way, considering that the divorce rate in the U.S. is about 50 percent, he’s not alone in making that mistake.
He failed in marriage but he's not a failure in life, something many of us can say.
“Why? Because I loved her. I loved Elin with everything I have.”
In retrospect, that statement seems to fly in the face of reality. There are few women who like Tiger Woods now. It isn’t the sex but the betrayal that brings their scorn.
His shield of invincibility has been shattered, and he’s trying to get that back. I believe he will win again, and I think he will win more than 18 majors, surpassing Jack Nicklaus.
I think he’s got much work to do in order for the public to accept him for what he is, a human being of immense talents and desire, an athlete who has demonstrated amazing skills, persistence and will.
No one has made more amazing shots when they counted most. No one—save for Nicklaus—made more putts in the final holes to win tournaments than Woods. It’s a matter of time before that comes back.
To do it, it seems he has to forgive himself. But before that, he has to accept himself. Today. As is. Maybe it starts by letting us see Tiger Woods as he really is—a single father, businessman, golfer and failed husband. He can let us past the huge walls of the private and personal estate and into his private life, just a little, to show us what he does to relax off the course, to show us him outside the Nike golf apparel.
We won’t just accept him. We’ll embrace him.