I once wrote the following about Tiger Woods’ proclivity for seamless responses to seemingly thought-provoking questions: “He handles each one as if there's a media coach with a direct line to his inner ear canal, producing answers that are informative without ever revealing too much … mowing 'em down like a series of uphill two-footers.”
That was in 2007 and it was meant as a compliment. Pre-scandal and pre-injury, his image remained as pristine as his on-course record.
In the past two years, though, since his personal life has become ripe for public parody and his professional career has endured a serendipitous turn for the worse, such contrite, unfulfilling answers have grown increasingly gratuitous. We’ve all heard the standard lines ad nauseam. His game is a process; his goal is a W; and just about everything else is what it is.
Woods had an opportunity to alter that reputation during his Tuesday news conference in advance of the Australian Open.
Instead, he chose to lay up and play it safe.
In the wake of former caddie – and friend – Steve Williams employing a racially charged modifier for a derogatory term about him, Woods was given a chance to show the world a side of himself that we haven’t witnessed in a very long time, if ever.
There’s no doubt he was angry about the epithet hurled in his direction, especially considering the source. Woods even addressed that feeling during the early four-minute portion of the interview session, when questions were proffered on this subject.
“It was hurtful, certainly,” he allowed. “But life goes forward.”
So “hurtful” that Woods appeared to read those words from a prepared script off a teleprompter. There was no emotion. No passion. No mounting frustration pouring out in his directive.
It has been suggested that he should receive sufficient praise for taking the high road rather than forging what could have become an ugly public spat with Williams. I concur with that sentiment. I agree that he should be lauded for rising above the fray, defusing the situation and not stooping to the level of his former looper.
However, taking that high road and showing a raw display of emotion don't have to be mutually exclusive.
In fact, Woods could have very well started with some of the same proclamations he provided on Tuesday.
“It was the wrong thing to say, that’s something that we both acknowledge now,” he explained. “Stevie’s certainly not a racist. There’s no doubt about that. It was a comment that shouldn’t have been made and was certainly one that he wished he didn’t make.”
It was after these comments, though, where Woods really could have taken a stand. He could have told us how, as a man of mixed heritage, an assault on any part of his cultural makeup is not only disappointing, but disgusting. He could have scolded such rhetoric on all levels, whether it be serious or lighthearted, in front of a room of 500 people or in a one-on-one situation.
He could have invoked the memory of his late father, Earl, a former collegiate baseball player who in 1951 broke the color barrier in what was then the Big Seven Conference. He could have spoken about how his dad wasn’t allowed to play against certain schools back then and how proud he was of the societal integration that took place during his lifetime.
He could have brought up Charlie Sifford, the African-American golf pioneer who long ago took a young Tiger under his wing, calling him “my grandson.” He could have told the story about how his life was impacted so greatly by this man that he is partially the reason his only son owns the same first name.
In the book “Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African-Americans in Golf,” written by Pete McDaniel in 2000, Woods provided an eloquent tribute to his predecessors in the foreword.
He wrote: “Golf has afforded me a stage for free expression. That freedom, however, was a gift paid for by many determined people who endured all kinds of indignities just to be able to play the game. I and every person of color who enjoys this great game can do so because of their determination and grit. I’m reminded of that every time I tee it up. I know where I’ve been.”
The Tiger who weighed in then with such elocution wasn’t present at Tuesday’s news conference. He needn’t have volleyed a service back into Williams’ court in order to use this forum to dispense an important message.
In addressing such a polarizing comment, Woods didn’t say anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean he said everything right. This was an opportunity for him to show some emotion, to speak with fervor and passion about a subject that receives too little attention in golf.
Instead, Woods once again produced answers that were informative without ever revealing too much. He mowed down the questions like a series of uphill 2-footers, but in reality these were lengthy triple-breakers, the kind which require a little extra time and effort in order to acquire the most positive result.