Friday, December 4, 2009

Let the Legend Shrink. For Now.

I've obviously received plenty of emails from people wondering what I think about the news of the last week. I thought long and hard about what to say and not to say. Here's where I've landed.


For 604 holes of the 2008 season, I followed Tiger Woods from the gallery. From Torrey Pines to Dubai and back again, I was there, learning what I could. I spent my whole life up till then as a Tiger skeptic, rooting against him and finding him both cold and calculating. But over the course of that remarkable season in which he won 5 of 7 events and the U.S. Open on one leg, I came to admire all the qualities that made him wildly successful. His focus... his desire to improve when no one thought he could… the way he battled through adversity… and his ability to find victory when defeat seemed unavoidable.

But what made Tiger beloved to so many was not merely that he hit spectacular golf shots under pressure. It was the way he carried himself in the public eye. In an age where professional athletes seem to split time between home and prison, Tiger was the exception to the rule -- a family-loving, tabloid-avoiding secular superstar. He didn’t need God, his inspiration and strength came from Mom, from Pops, and from within. After racking up dozens and dozens of victories, Tiger grew so confident that he believed he could literally will things to happen.

We had plenty of evidence to suggest this might be true. In 1994, he was 6-down after 13 holes at the 1994 U.S. Amateur and won. At the 2000 PGA Championship, Tiger needed to birdie his final two holes and did. And at last year’s U.S. Open, Tiger had to make a 12-footer on the 72nd hole to tie Rocco Mediate and keep his hopes of a 14th major alive. Like always, Tiger made it. He even seemed to be willing the perfect life. Blonde Swedish model-turned-wife? Check. A healthy baby girl followed by a healthy baby boy? Done.

But it couldn’t last forever. In my book Follow the Roar, I wrote that someday Tiger would miss a putt he was supposed to make, and we’d all wake up to the reality that Tiger was just a man after all, not a superhero.

I’m pretty sure Tiger would have preferred a missed putt to the events of the last week.

No matter the venue, Tiger has failed -- more publicly and with greater consequences than any inside-the-ropes defeat. The anguish he has put his family through will leave scars on each of them for the rest of their lives. He’s humbled and obviously embarrassed, maybe for the first time since he was a dorky Stanford freshman who played on the golf team and was nicknamed “Urkel” by his teammates.

I don’t excuse his actions. I don’t condone them. But given the numbers of mesmerized female fans I saw at every tour stop, I’m not surprised. The last time three girls were attracted to me at the same time, it went straight to my head. I was in 2nd grade, but still. The point is that few are strong enough to handle that life. We now know that Tiger is not one of them.

I don’t expect to hear from him. No one does at this point. But if Tiger should reach out, I know what I’d say. I’d tell him a story about something I witnessed back in 2008. It was Saturday evening on Augusta National’s putting green, and Hank Haney was watching Tiger stroke eight-footer after eight-footer. Tiger made most of them, a few missed on the right edge. After watching his pupil roll a half-dozen putts, Haney said just three words: “half a degree” -- the amount Tiger’s putter blade was open at impact. How Haney could see this was absurd, but Tiger nodded, made an adjustment, and the next batch of putts fell in the dead center of the cup. Tiger refused to ignore even the slightest weakness in his game, and fixed a problem no one else could see.

Tiger doesn’t need Hank Haney to point out this problem. But his response to it should be the same. Fix it. Failure in and of itself is not a bad thing. For out of it comes an opportunity for change and growth. As much as America loves to destroy its heroes, it also longs to see them rise from the ashes. Or as Tiger might say, to be better tomorrow than today.

But Tiger can’t will a healthy marriage into existence like a fifteen-footer. It will require a level of strength that can only come from above, not from within. My hope and prayer is that he finds that humility and grace and saves his family as a result. As much fun as it is to watch him play the sport I love, the goal of success at home far outweighs the worldly goal of getting to 19 majors.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to see Tiger pass Jack in a few years. I’d just like his family to be standing next to the green when it happens.


Golden Balls said...

It's going to be hard to set aside my detest for Tiger's actions and just enjoy his golf. I've even stopped using his character in Wii.

Average Golfer said...

Well stated. That's all that truly matters here. Everything else is just golf.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful column. Clearly you're sympathetic to Tiger. I agree...he probably could rebuild and redeem himself but i actually think it would take some drastic taking an entire year off to begin to earn back the trust of his family. (Hard to imagine it's not irrevocably lost.)

Anyway, what do you think of him taking an entire year off, disappearing, living off the yacht in the great barrier reef and not playing competitively in 2010? He'd miss four majors, save his family and still have a shot at the five (or more) major victories he so covets.

Sharon said...

Well said, Bob.

Golfergirl97 said...

Bravo, Bob.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Tiger will have to come to grips with 'limits'. He clearly doesn't see any in his life, i.e. the limit on how good one could be (he always says he can be better), the limits of ones body (witness his 2008 US Open), or the limits that come with a public declaration of monogamy to his wife.

Clearly he wanted to live both a married and bachelor's life.

If he is serious about 'mending' all that he broke, I would expect him to take a year off. If not, it's business as usual

morning glory said...

Bob Like you mentioned He did not have a need for God, He was able to do it all on his own. I have been praying for Tiger that this man would turn to God and establish a relationship with Jesus. I will continue to pray for him and his family. Only Jesus can bring the healing they need. Only when he has Jesus will he have every thing.