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If You Dont Have Anything Nice to Say

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Bill Macatee is a friend of mine so when I watched him interview Tiger Woods this past Sunday on CBS at the Masters I was particularly interested in the exchange. With the tournament still going on and Tiger with a glimmer of hope hanging in the humid air, questions and answers were exchanged. Some didn’t like the questions, nobody liked the answers or the way the answers were given. Which got me thinking, what obligation does Tiger, or any athlete, have to talk with the media?

Nowhere, as far as I know, does it say that a golfer must, after finishing his round, talk to the media. He has to show up on time, abide by the rules, sign his card and he is free to go. Of course, we want more. We want him to tell us the story, fill in the blanks and give us sound bites that are clever, free of clichés and do all this in a civil manner.

Are we asking too much? After all, to quote Maximus Decimus Meridius from the movie “Gladiator,” “Were we not entertained?” I most certainly was. I was beyond entertained; I was engaged and my head was spinning with the maelstrom of birdies and eagles. Yet, I wanted more, I wanted Tiger to say, “Well Bill, it felt good to be in the hunt late on Sunday in a major and I hope Brandel is choking on his analysis of my swing. I hope he knows by now that my ‘faux’ finish is real and it works.”
Better yet, he could’ve said: “I don’t know how this is going to end but I want to thank the patrons for their support this week and like the rest of the golfing world I’m going to go watch this tournament end and hope that I get to play more golf today. Nice talking to you, Bill.”

Instead Tiger was terse and short, possibly distracted by thoughts of what might have been or angered by what might have been. Nonetheless, his chance to connect with the fans on any level other than a visceral one was missed.

Why agree to talk if you’re not going to cooperate and what prompts Tiger to be so consistently smug, when he is interviewed? Most agree to talk after a round, either with TV or writers, out of a sense of obligation to their sponsors who pay them large sums of money for exposure and because there is much to gain by telling their story. Perhaps unfair judgments are made immediately, as to the intellect of the individual – whether he is nice, whether he is tough minded, whether he is bitter or emotional – but regardless, we all want to hear what they were thinking as they played. Having just jumped out of the fire it is understandable if players are not as interesting as their golf led us to believe, but we are a forgiving audience, who by and large, just want to know that the player is worthy of our interest.

Arnold Palmer gave so much to the throngs of reporters and they loved him for it and continue to love him for it, evidenced by the fact that he is still one of the highest paid athletes in the world and hasn’t won on Tour since the early '70s. Jack Nicklaus was respectful of journalist’s jobs to tell the story and was always appropriate.

Today, Phil Mickelson is good when dealing with the press, calls them by name, smiles and gives more than he is asked and when a question isn’t well phrased or isn’t clear he is accommodating, knowing that interviewers make bogeys from time to time too. Phil makes millions because of many things – because he wins, the way he wins and the way he answers questions, all of which make him a very attractive spokesperson for companies. CEOs of the companies he represents tell me he is worth every penny.

Tiger, despite not winning last year and despite losing sponsors, made over $70 million and was the highest paid athlete in the world. What is he being paid for? Is it just to win? Perhaps it is and that is enough for his sponsors, but if he wins and then is rude, does the sponsor get what it is paying for? Does the sponsor get the positive association that they hope will bias a viewer to buy its product? Maybe it doesn’t matter what Tiger says after an interview or how he says it, but I suspect it does.

It does matter and the millions Tiger is paid are for what he does after he wins, when we all want to connect the dots and figure out if he is worthy of our attention. He is free to be terse and short and smug but I suspect it will hurt him eventually, because skills fade, legacies endure and after the curtain goes down, companies pay for legacies. In the meantime I think Tiger should just say no and let his golf speak for him, because at least that gives us hope.

Years ago, when enduring a long series of questions after a round, Ben Hogan said, “ I hope one day that a deaf mute wins the U.S. Open, so you guys will have to figure things out on your own.”

I’m sure Tiger feels the same way, but since he is neither deaf nor mute, he should give his sponsors what they are paying for or give the money back. After all, he is not obligated to talk after a round; he is paid to.

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