He is famous because he hits a golf ball better than anyone else, not because he found a cure for cancer or rescued 12 kids from a burning building. A golfer by trade, a control freak by nature, Tiger Woods officially began his extreme makeover with a globally televised apology to a room full of his closest friends. Words of passion delivered in overly staged fashion, an embattled man looking for a little privacy in full public view.
As oxymorons go, this one was a bit more stylish than most. Woods looked and sounded very sincere, fully aware of the damage his behavior produced. His first appearance post-fire hydrant occurred under terms commonly associated with a dictatorship, but when you make $100 million a year, own 14 major titles and hole every 12-footer that really matters, people tend to accommodate your requests.
For all the judges and jurors who have appointed themselves to evaluate the motives and content of Woods' 13-minute disquisition, I will attempt to decline but not digress. Having spent the last 13 years covering the PGA Tour and getting to know Tiger as well as any objective source on earth, I thought he came off pretty well. The guy at the podium seemed a lot different than the sharp-witted, salty-tongued superstar on the practice green – completely disarmed and obviously contrite, but then again, not without a fight.
The words that struck me with the most impact where these: “I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I only thought about myself. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me.”
If conventional wisdom says the world’s best golfer must be inherently selfish, Woods took the precept far beyond the standards of acceptable behavior, and not just as a serial adulterer.
Maybe he’ll change. Although I’m sure Tiger will improve as a husband, so must his persona as a golfer. The cussing after bad shots bothers some more than others. My biggest concerns are his utter lack of sensitivity toward those who pay their own way to attend tournaments, his aloof tendencies as a person of great importance to his sport, and his inability to comprehend the notion that privacy isn’t a 10-foot wall you hide behind, but a precious and dwindling commodity once you’ve become very rich and ultra-famous.
Woods has been quick to accept the blame and enunciate the shame, but when you dismiss all related media inquiries and stomp on every question before it is asked, you impart a suspicious vibe that undermines the credibility of your message. Some would call it a contradiction. Others will just tell you it rubs them the wrong way.
If he’s really, truly, unconditionally sincere about becoming a better human being, the changes in Woods can’t happen only behind closed doors. For instance, he should commit to playing in Tour events such as the John Deere Classic, where he was granted a sponsor exemption in his third start as a pro back in 1996. He should stop and sign autographs for the throng gathered behind the 18th green everywhere he plays, if only for 15 or 20 minutes, knowing the pandemonium he causes will be dwarfed by the dozens of young lives he touches on a personal level.
He should dump the ring of armed escorts that whisk him from point A to B without so much as an ounce of eye contact with anybody, and while he’s at it, Tiger can chuck that assassin’s game face he wears from Thursday morning to Sunday night. It would not cause him bodily or competitive damage if he made himself more available, accessible and approachable. A post-news conference media scrum would not afflict him with a case of rabies.
Woods’ fame has ascended steadily for a very long time – 15 years is basically two eternities in Fameville – and in the process, a man of flesh and blood turned into a caricature of greatness and excess. Now that fame has dealt him an excruciating blow. There are tabloids and paparazzi and inquiring minds that want to know, a few $10 million endorsement contracts in the trash can, and a guy who desperately wants to fix his life still wants to dictate the terms of the reconstruction.
I don’t blame him. Tiger Woods usually gets what he wants, but as he heads back to that sexual-addiction rehab facility in Mississippi, he should spend a bunch of time thinking about what he actually needs. Only then will he recognize the huge difference. Before long, so will we.