By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
After months in seclusion, we’ve spotted the life form we’ve known as Tiger Woods and the one that recently became America’s most famous serial cheater. The world paused last Friday as Woods apparently emerged from, judging from its effectiveness, the same bunker Dick Cheney used during his Vice Presidency to issue an obligatory public apology for his outrageous behavior. Tiger’s disappearance, of course, followed the bizarre incidents over Thanksgiving weekend and the public unveiling of his countless affairs. Tiger’s always been obsessed with breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. Having won 14 so far, he was (and still is) very much on pace. But who knew he was also on pace to challenge the claimed sexual exploits of Wilt Chamberlain and Gene Simmons? My goodness, using his mistresses, I think we could all map to Tiger within six degrees of separation. Eat your heart out Kevin Bacon.
Seriously though, what Tiger did was reprehensible and, to date, unexplained (he’s allegedly a sex addict, although he made no such admission). The man was simultaneously living the life of a rich, successful playboy and a married father of two young children. Not even Tiger Woods can balance those two realities without causing collateral damage. So after a lengthy hiatus, he finally did what he knew he had to do: publicly apologize and take responsibility for his actions. His statement hit all the marks, didn’t seem “lawyer-ed up” or overproduced and seemed reasonably genuine. Only Tiger knows if it really was and time will tell if he can live up to this new self-imposed moral standard. To be honest though, his words matter little. The event itself was captivating in that it portrayed Woods, the biggest fish in the sporting world’s pond, as small and unassuming in the sea of everyday life.
It was fascinating to see this giant sports figure completely disarmed – neutered if you will - by his personal actions. Even if it was an Academy Award winning performance, we’ve never seen Woods even flirt with humility, but last Friday we saw Superman bleed. Here was the endlessly arrogant Woods facing the harsh consequences of his actions, desperate to reclaim the life he once had but recklessly discarded. To that end, he appealed to three distinct groups, asking each to treat him better than he ever treated them. He asked the media, a group he has routinely dismissed and barely tolerated, to leave his family alone during this difficult time. He asked fans, the people from whom he has expected the reverence peasants bestow on royalty, to believe in him again. And most importantly, he apologized to his family and specifically his wife, a woman he completely humiliated. Forget for a minute how difficult it must be to be Tiger Woods at the moment and consider what it must be like to be Elin Woods.
We can only wait and see what the future holds for Woods. It is unlikely the media will heed his request to back off. The sensational - good or bad - is the foundation of today’s press. And anyway, I’m not sure Tiger’s in a position to be anyone’s moral compass. Golf fans (me included) will ignore his domestic sins the minute he returns and cheer his unrivaled performance in clutch situations. But Tiger Woods, the brand, has likely peaked. He will never return to the transcendent, iconic level he had reached right up to the moment his SUV hit that fire hydrant last November. As for his marriage, that’s between him and Elin. Marriage is challenging without fame, fortune and countless girlfriends. With all that (particularly the latter), it might be unsustainable.
The outcome of his reconstruction aside, Woods is almost certainly thinking beyond himself and considering something greater than golf and 19 majors: his personal legacy. While his obsessive focus on golf is fundamental to his greatness, perhaps for the first time Woods understands that personal failings are a lot more significant than missing a three-foot putt and losing a major. As we know, golf is small; life is big. Welcome to every man’s world, Tiger.
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