Silence is golden


AKRON, Ohio – At 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon on a cloudy, humidity-laden day in Akron, the No. 1 golfer in the world finished his practice session on the range at Firestone Country Club and headed in the direction of the media center to do his pre-tournament interview.

There was media everywhere as players finished preparations for the start of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Luke Donald took a look around, smiled and departed. No one made a move in his direction. Not a single camera crew followed him and no one tried to grab him for a quick, non-interview room one-on-one.

Everyone continued doing what they were doing.

Which was watching Tiger Woods.

Had he lost weight since he was last seen on the PGA Tour, limping through nine holes in 6 over par at TPC Sawgrass? Or maybe he’d gained a few pounds? Was his swing a little deeper? Was he doing something different? Would he cast an eye at his old caddie, Steve Williams, standing at the other end of the range with Adam Scott, his new employer?

On a day when Rory McIlroy, who is not the world’s No. 1 ranked player but is probably the world’s best player right now, announced that he was almost certain to re-join the PGA Tour next year, most members of the media couldn’t have been pulled away from Woods without a court order. Or perhaps even with one.

There is no doubting Woods’ importance to golf. He has played the game at a level perhaps never seen before and has brought attention to golf from people who probably didn’t know the difference between a birdie and a bogey.

All of that no doubt explains the media’s Tiger-obsession. That said, there is only so much to be said about a player hitting balls for an hour and then going out to play nine practice holes. McIlroy was a much more important story. For that matter, what Donald had to say (especially since Woods had already done his pre-tournament talking on Tuesday) about how he felt about missing the cut at the British Open and where that leaves him for next week’s PGA Championship was probably more significant than standing around trying to guess Tiger’s weight.

But that’s the way it is on Tour even though Woods hasn’t won since late 2009 and has spent a lot more time not playing golf than playing golf. Maybe it’s Howard Hughes syndrome: Tiger spottings have become almost as rare as spottings of the reclusive billionaire were years ago.

There’s another factor: When you are someone who has made a career of saying almost nothing, people will run around hoping for any scrap they can find. The media’s reaction to Woods’ presence on campus at a golf tournament isn’t that different from the fans who crowd around to watch him walk from the locker room to the range knowing that the chances he will actually stop to sign autographs are the same as John Boehner being honored as the Democratic Party’s Man of the Year.

The Woods aura in the media is such that when the PGA Tour announced that the golf course would be closed to the public during Tuesday’s practice round, there was speculation that Woods had asked to be allowed to play his nine holes in private and that’s why the public was turned away.

The truth was that attendance at the Tuesday practice round was so sparse last year that the Tour decided it would be less costly to open the golf course to the few fans who wanted to show up than to simply close it. A few fans that showed up with tickets marked “Tuesday” who weren’t happy at being told that Tuesday tickets weren’t good on Tuesday, were allowed onto the grounds as long as they understood that nothing was open – except the golf course.

Woods had nothing to do with the decision. But, given his past, his secretive nature and the fact that everyone still working for him acts as if the simplest question is a request for Tiger’s cell phone number, one can understand why speculation would abound.

Example: Wednesday afternoon someone asked a member of Team Tiger if Woods was going to play the back nine (since he played the front nine on Tuesday).

Answer: “I don’t know. He played the front nine yesterday.”

It was also Tuesday so thanks for the insight.

That’s the way it is in Tiger World. He says nothing and then the media analyzes what he didn’t say at great length. Woods isn’t to blame for this. He’s just doing what he’s done for years. One can’t help but wonder how the public would react if the media didn’t report constantly on what he didn’t say or didn’t do and just allowed his golf – which is the only thing anyone should care about – be the story.

That’s not to say that Woods doesn’t owe the public more of his time. He should sign more autographs and it would be wonderful if he ever decided to talk honestly about what’s happened in his life since Nov. 27, 2009.

But he chooses not to do that – which is his right. There are plenty of golfers who are willing to talk to the media at length on a number of different topics. Of course if no one is listening because they’re too busy watching Tiger talk to Sean Foley, they aren’t going to learn very much.