CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In a lonely press center, just past the lunch hour here in this cozy corner of Dixie, the truth arrives like a blast of early summer humidity.
Framed by empty lawn chairs, the vacant podium and silent microphone speak volumes. There was no reference to the “process” this random Tuesday afternoon. No talk of “reps” and proper “traj.” No reminders to the AWOL members of the press corps that the work with “Sean,” the endless hours in pursuit of perfection, was ongoing.
No Tiger Woods.
No questions asked, none answered and maybe that’s for the best. After 16 odd years, maybe there was no new ground to cover, not for the scribes or the subject.
After 14 majors, 72 PGA Tour victories and 2 ½ of the most turbulent years the sport has ever witnessed, the banal fallback, “So, how ya feeling?” just wouldn’t do. So this week Woods called an audible, bypassed the standard media Q&A and took his message to the people, or at least the people on Twitter and Facebook.
To be fair, there never was a social contract.
There is no bylaw that requires players participate in pre-tournament news conferences, although considering how long Woods toed the line, one would have thought that the Tour suits had Red Shirt on a lifetime retainer.
More so than any other golfer, Woods has endured far more than his share of media slings and arrows over the years. He wasn’t always entirely forthcoming, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that his oft-frosty relationship with the press was economically motivated.
But on this, Woods’ record is clear. Dating back to the 1996 U.S. Open, there are 1,076 transcripts of Woods' Q&As, and that’s not counting the endless television, radio and undocumented print interviews.
But still, he did it, over and over again. At least until this strangely steamy Tuesday.
Not that Woods’ track record made his absence any less eerie.
There were no gems like this one from 2010, the last time he played the Wells Fargo Championship, when he was asked about his wayward driving:
“The right is caused by hitting it left,” he smiled. “This morning I was warming up, I was hitting it left, and on the golf course, I hit it right. So there you have it.”
Or this from the same year when he was asked if he would name who recommended he see Dr. Anthony Galea, who was under federal investigation for illegally prescribing performance-enhancing drugs.
“No,” he said flatly.
OK, so Woods never really said much. In fact, some contend no one is better at saying nothing at all. After some 1,076 Q&As and counting, some would call that a necessity. Some would even go so far as to consider it a defense mechanism.
But surrounded by empty lawn chairs and an unused microphone, the silence was deafening. That 14-minute social media experiment was nice, but for those conditioned to weekly clichés, Monday’s video begot silent Tuesday, which did little to fill the gaps.
What does he make of the criticism leveled against him for his club-kicking incident at last month’s Masters?
Does he agree with swing coach Sean Foley’s assessment that the “tearing down” of Tiger Woods must stop?
How’s the left leg? Knee OK? Achilles?
What does he make of the Tour’s plan to go to a fiscal-year calendar?
Who would he have taken first in last week’s NFL draft?
But the microphone offered fewer answers than normal.
Perhaps this is the new normal, a transformed reality for a player that has won once since the 2009 BMW Championship. There are 15 2012 Tour winners in this week’s field, and just four were called to the press center for pre-tournament meet-and-greets at Quail Hollow.
It’s worth noting that no one was clamoring for Justin Rose, who won the last World Golf Championship. No one spent the day pining for Kyle Stanley, whose bounce back victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was nothing short of storybook.
To hold Woods to a higher standard at this juncture, is simply not fair. We can always expect more from Woods, but that doesn’t mean he has to comply.
Maybe Foley was right when he figured last month on Sirius/XM Radio that Woods deserves a break. But that didn’t make Tuesday’s empty interview room any less lonely.