As a preface to what I’m about to write, I want to just say that I have had tremendous respect for Tiger Woods and his golfing talents over the years. I consider him the best golfer in history by a comfortable margin. And despite not liking his personality a whole lot over time, I began to warm to him over the last few years mostly because I grew to appreciate more and more just how uniquely talented he is.
CBSSPORTS.com’s Steve Elling has a good article on how this whole story is a duping of epic proportion. Many, many, many fans, AND ESPECIALLY THE MEDIA, drank the Tiger Woods Kool-Aid for years. Many marveled at his uncanny tranquility in the face of massive pressure, his ability to craft fantastic shots few others could imagine let alone execute and his ultra-cool-got-absolutely-everything-going-for-me persona. He is one of very few athletes recognized in every corner of the world and he’s achieved this level of fame both from great branding of his image and his other-worldly golf talents. It is positively staggering that he’s fallen from the lofty status he’s enjoyed to the point where people are wondering if he can now handle this public and private humiliation.
For years now golf broadcasts have devoted 70-80% of their on-air coverage time to either live action of Tiger, replays of Tiger or other information on Tiger. Look, I understand the argument “but the market demands showing Tiger a lot – it’s good for ratings”. My counterargument is simple – fine, but what if he gets hurt (like last year – ratings plummeted) or what if he does something crazy like massively cheat on his totally hot wife?
Starting from the beginning (which by the way, was 1996, in Milwaukee), the PGA Tour and network broadcast teams should have had a more sensible long-term business plan that would have carefully kept its focus on a larger core of elite players and up and comers – never giving into the temptation to just go all-out-Tiger. It should have done a much better job of helping us get to know the competition, because if nothing else this would have helped demonstrate even more profoundly, just how good Tiger is. It should have better distributed its overall focus to the game, the courses, the history of tournaments and the unique international nature of the game. Sure, they have touched on all of these things, but the all-out-Tiger temptation turned out to be too much. One example that burns in my memory happened this past year. Madison, WI’s own Steve Stricker had an eagle putt to tie the lead in a big tournament not long ago and instead of showing this critical putt, the broadcast showed Tiger Woods warming up on the practice tee for about 4-5 minutes – never showing Stricker’s monster eagle putt. That to me was a classic example of putting an individual player over the game itself.
In a way, the Tiger Woods’ led evolution of golf has been similar to the evolution (devolution?) of the NBA – over-marketing of the star players leading to a diminished level of respect for the other players and the game. The difference here is that the PGA Tour has had such a singular focus on one player – putting nearly of all its eggs in one basket. The NFL brushes with this sometimes too with superstar marketing, but fortunately, so many players and coaches contribute to a given victory that most fans won’t totally buy into TOO much single-player hype (which partly explains the backlash against the telecasts that become shameless lovefests of one player…like Favre.) Anyway, the PGA Tour decided to heavily invest in the Tiger Woods brand and I’m afraid they are going to pay now.
While I must admit I was somewhat surprised to learn about Tiger’s “transgressions” as most were, I wasn’t totally shocked and here’s why. Lots of folks consider Woods a confident and gifted person who enjoyed a strange level of privacy for someone of his profile. While I also see him that way to some extent, I don’t think “confident” is the right word to describe him. Over the years, judging from the hundreds of interviews I’ve watched and the thousands of golf articles I’ve read, Tiger Woods has shown himself to be, in my opinion, not just confident, but suffocatingly arrogant. This arrogance is part of what makes him so dominant. I chose the expression “suffocatingly arrogant” because what Tiger does to opponents is suffocate them with his massive golf confidence until they…choke. It’s happened time and time again – until, ironically, this year at the PGA Championship against YE Yang who just plain beat Tiger on the pressure-packed final hole.
But I would submit that his suffocating arrogance is what brought him to this point in his life. I understand everyone makes mistakes and that due mostly to the media, high profile types face lives of much greater scrutiny. But for Tiger Woods to think he could pull off these affairs smacks of a borderline delusional kind of arrogance. So again, while I’m surprised he wasn’t more careful because he strikes me as having a similar personality to his father – super-controlling of all situations – it’s not totally shocking that he would think he’s untouchable.
How embarrassing for Tiger and how sad for golf. I will not stop admiring Tiger Woods for his insane golf talent, but my admiration for him as a person has experienced significant bruising.
UPDATE: I didn’t realize I had posted this until I came in this morning and read Schaefer’s comment! I had been working on it, but thought I hit “save draft” instead of “publish”. I was going to post this as the golf season warmed up. Oh well, despite the odd timing of it, here it is.