Monday, December 14, 2009

One thing is true with Tiger, the future is an absolute guess; Bill Hancock continues to smile in response

I would really like to write this morning about Army-Navy weekend, just tell a few stories about the people I encountered and the game and how I got caught (again) tearing up during the playing of the alma maters.

But it’s simply impossible to just drive past the train wreck that is Tiger Woods. I’ve said and written a lot about Tiger the last 13 years but I honestly never thought the phrase, ‘train wreck,’ would appear in a sentence describing his life. That, however, is exactly where he is right now.

It’s interesting the sort of panic that his statement that he was taking an ‘indefinite,’ leave of absence from the tour set off on Friday night. I was about to leave my hotel to meet people for dinner when Golf Channel called. They were about to break into their programming to go live with the story. Could I come on by phone and ‘react?’ Sure. I work for Golf Channel so when they call I’m there to do what they ask even if I seriously doubt I can add that much to the equation. I did the interview with Rich Lerner while standing on Broad Street outside The Philadelphia Palm before I joined everyone for dinner.

By the time we walked out of the restaurant a couple of hours later I had 18 messages from various media outlets on my cell phone. CNN—which is always there when it needs you—had called no less than four times: ‘Larry King Live,’—whose producers consistently say ‘we don’t do sports,’ whenever I have a book out even though I knew the host well when he lived fulltime in Washington—suddenly was doing sports. Same with Anderson Cooper, not to mention their regular news shows. The other calls were predictable ranging from local radio to ABC News.

The only people I called back were those I work with on a regular basis. The larger point is this: NO ONE knows what the hell any of this means. One of the reasons I’m really not that eager to play Tiger pundit right now is that anything I say is an absolute guess.

The questions are predictable: When do you think Tiger will play golf again? Answer: I have no idea and my guess is neither does he right now.

What does this mean for his career?

Again, who among us knows? Maybe golf will become his salvation in light of all that’s gone on and he’ll play better than in the past. Maybe other players won’t be as intimidated by him. Maybe he won’t feel so all-powerful on the golf course because he’s been humiliated off the golf course.

What does this mean for The PGA Tour?

Nothing good, that’s for sure. Commissioner Tim Finchem has always used the following line to pump up his sport, especially when wooing sponsors: “The most famous athlete in the world plays on our tour.” Well, he still does but he is now as infamous as he is famous. Of course there’s no way to measure the impact Tiger’s ‘leave,’ will have until we know how long he’s going to be gone for.

Does Tiger have to actually talk to the media at some point and stop hiding behind his carefully crafted statement on his web site?

Actually no, he doesn’t. He can continue to play the, ‘this is my private life,’ card and a lot of people will buy it. He’s also going to have his apologists running around acting as if he’s a ‘victim,’ of some kind—which he is if you count the fact that he’s a victim of his own selfishness and stupidity. Charles Barkley did some kind of commentary on TBS the other night that was actually embarrassing, trying to claim the whole thing is the fault of all the ‘losers,’ in the media who continue to report the story. Hey Chuck, if the media are such losers why don’t you get OUT of the media. And of course there’s my friend Mike Wilbon (pal of Chuck) who keeps insisting that every famous person on the face of the planet has done this so it’s a non-story.

That’s the way it always is in these situations. There are people who still blame Woodward and Bernstein for Richard Nixon’s resignation and others who insist that what happened to Bill Clinton was a ‘right wing conspiracy.’ It’s worth remembering that Bernstein probably would have still been covering Virginia state politics and Woodward local cops and courts if the burglars hadn’t been caught and that there isn’t any evidence that Monica Lewinsky was working undercover for Rush Limbaugh.

It’s human nature when we screw up to initially try to blame someone or something for our troubles. There’s an old saying among golfers that you can tell the truly great players because they always tap down a spike mark in their line after missing a putt. You see it can’t be THEIR fault. Part of what makes them great is always believing that they made the putt; something simply conspired to keep the ball out of the hole.

There is no one more like that than Tiger. The looks to the heavens; the eye-rolling; the club tossing are all part of that mentality. Sometimes you feel as if Tiger has the hardest life every lived, that he is the first and only player to have a putt do a 360 around the hole and stay out. It is one reason why he always seems to make the next one, as if he’s saying, ‘no matter what you do you won’t get me!’

There’s no doubt that’s how he feels now. He’s certainly surrounded by people (with the likely exception of his wife) who are telling him that every day. They are all Barkley times ten in large part because they’re trying to save their jobs. Some people have called for Tiger to fire IMG; to fire Steve Williams; to fire everyone on his payroll. Look, I’m no fan of IMG and would love to see Steve Williams in a parking lot holding up a sign that says, ‘will caddy for food.’ But if Tiger wants to fire the person responsible for all this he’d have to fire himself.

Personally, I hope he comes back before The Masters. Golf is better with Tiger than without Tiger and anyone who believes different is a fool. But I also hope that sometime between now and his return he goes outside his circle of sycophants and asks for help whether it be from a crisis manager or someone else as long as it is someone who has NO financial involvement in Tiger Woods Inc. And I hope whomever that is tells him that stonewalling is never the answer; that blaming others is never the answer.

He’s admitted his “infidelities,”; he admitted “letting people down.” People need to HEAR him say it, need to get a sense if he means it or if he’s just saying it because that’s what his spinners have told him to say.

There’s another more selfish reason why I hope Tiger starts talking sometime soon: CNN will stop calling me. I swear to God they called again while I was writing this. Maybe I’ll give them Barkley’s number. I’m sure he’ll talk to them—he’s on their payroll.


On a far lighter and more pleasant note: My pal Bill Hancock from the BCS dealt with being bombarded with his usual good humor during dinner Friday night. He answered NONE of the questions posed to him—most by former Army and Navy football players, I just sat and watched—to anyone’s satisfaction. I think my friend Jim Cantelupe, the co-captain of the Army team I wrote about in ‘A Civil War,’ summed it up well at the end of the night: “Everything he says is wrong but he’s so nice about it you can’t get pissed off at him.”

What was funny was Bill saying that a four team playoff would still have left out an undefeated team when everyone at the table was calling for at least eight teams. When someone asked him about the presidents adding a 12th game strictly to make more money, Bill shook his head sincerely and said, “you know a lot of presidents were against that.

I couldn’t resist jumping in at that point and saying, “not a majority though, huh Bill?”

He just smiled in response.

He also made the mistake of trying the “regular season has more meaning,” argument which was shouted down by people noting that TCU and Boise State could have had NFL teams on their schedule and still wouldn’t have gotten a shot at the championship game.

“I hope I’ll still have some friends left when this is all over,” Bill said after dinner.

I promised I’d always be his friend—which I will—no matter how wrong he might be.


Dana King said...

I'm already tired of Tiger, but this post brought a couple of other things to mind.

Wilbon's good, and I still read him (usually), but ever since he's gone on TV he's become a total celebrity apologist,and is happy to berate anyone who disagrees with his assessment that Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, etc. deserve kid glove treatment.

John, you were on the Sports Reporters several weeks ago talking about hard times on the LPGA tour, and whether the tour could survive. I don't doubt things are tough for them right now, but I never, ever, hear anyone talk about any sporting venture scaling down. So what if purses come down 30% to keep the sponsors interested? The golf is still the same. They would try any less hard to win. We seem to have this attitude that, if purses and salaries don't always go up, the venture may no longer be viable, and I really don't see why that would be true.

I'd love to see you address this some time, show me where I'm missing something.

Matt Dick said...


I don't doubt that those women on the LPGA would try just as hard if the purses went down 30%. It's the depth that would suffer. Those women who occasionally win a tournament would split less money, and would still get endorsements.

It's the players who are barely hanging on, the 25% who are barely eking out a living, who will leave. Then the tour is smaller and a larger percentage of players are barely hanging on or are part-time. Now I wouldn't cry for someone who's working hard to play golf for a living, but it makes the tour less interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hi, John. Have you seen the video ( of Roy Williams getting into it with a fan of the visiting team the other day, and then telling security to kick the fan out? Is this normal or acceptable behavior for a college basketball coach? Apparently the guy simply yelled "miss it!" before Deon Thompson took a free throw. I understand that coaches probably aren't accustomed to hearing fans of the visiting team in the high-roller seats behind the bench during home games, and I understand that the Smith Center probably sounds like a mausoleum late in the second half of a 40-point win (and that thus Williams can hear heckling that he might not hear during, say, a close conference game), but I'm also a Maryland fan who's perfectly willing to assume the worst about anyone affiliated with UNC basketball, and it certainly seems to me that Williams was being incredibly petulant and mean-spirited in having the fan kicked out, and was afterward hiding behind his normal "aw-shucks" persona while refusing to answer questions about whether the fan was actually being vulgar, and was completely ridiculous in comparing the fan to "an idiot who runs out onto the field," as if yelling "miss it" is at all tantamount to running onto a field or a court from the stands during a game. And he also seemed incredibly childish and belligerent in yelling to the fan, from what I can tell, "Why don't you shut up," and "Yeah, I'm talking to you." I can't imagine that the ACC or the NCAA want their coaches getting into it with fans during games, do they? Am I off-base in thinking that he looks like a complete jerk and should be disciplined by the ACC?


Steve in Reno

Anonymous said...

Tiger has done so many things wrong in the last 18 days. He has backed himself into a corner. He has received bad advice and shows little remorse or insight into the depth of his problems beyond the obvious high risk behavior. Could it be, is it possible that Tiger has just been looking for way out of his manufactured, processed, marketed and sold life? Maybe subconsciously he longs to be a person instead of a Tiger

hellstromo said...

Lets be honest, Tiger isn't going to forget how to play golf no matter how bad the scandal gets. This means he will be back, more famous than ever. After an interview with Oprah discussing his sex addiction affliction most of this will be forgiven and while maybe not forgotten, it will slip away.

Remember Marv Albert and all the freaky stuff he was doing. He sodomized some woman and was found guilty of assault and fired by NBC. Nobody at the time would have believed you if said a few years later he'd be calling the NBA finals for NBC.

I never liked Tiger. He always seemed like a jerk to me and I actually would be happy if his career was over. The guy actually told one of these women he wasn't financially stable! Guys got a billion dollars. But, unfortunately he will eventually return and continue winning and be bigger than ever.

Anonymous said...

Tiger Woods is a great golfer. Tiger Woods is a lousy husband. In all likelihood, no matter how hard he tries, he will never be a great husband.

Is Tiger Woods going to want to spend the next 25 years doing something that he is poor at, or doing something he is good at?

It is probably appropriate for him to take a break to try to improve his relationship with his wife, but unless she is an absolute gold digger, I think the relationship is beyond repair. If she has given him an ultimatum that he cannot play golf, that will only speed up their breakup.

Tiger might like money, but I believe that the thing he likes most is winning golf tournaments. If he doesn't play in the Masters, that Sunday when somebody else puts on the Green Jacket will be when he decides to start playing competitively again.

He might have to play as a single man without any sponsors at all, but he might find that he's a lot happier that way. And I think that his real fans will welcome him back. I've always enjoyed watching him play golf, and I'll like him even more if he starts acting like a human being instead of a PR-directed robot.

Anonymous said...

There was a Tour before Tiger and there will be one after. The purses will be smaller and the tournaments fewer but there will be purses and tournaments. Like anything else on an atmospheric rise it can't go up forever. If it wasn't Tiger it would be something else. Nobody on the tour is starving. Last I looked there were 30 + golfers with a million $ or more in earnings and virtually all earning 100K plus. Not bad for playing a game. All is not lost without Tiger.

Anonymous said...

John - in your opinion, will he play in the Masters?

This is a question both as to his likely intention as well as to the likely action by the Masters Tournament Committee.

AD said...

"Most important athletes in history" -- really John? When did athletes become important? What do they do that is important? Besides direct money into their own pockets and those of a few sports franchises and corporate sponsors. And hit, or throw, or catch a ball. Don't get me wrong, I like to watch it. But it's not important, in any way. That list of ten most important athletes in history -- none of those people is really important. Delete The Babe from the history books, and life goes on. Maybe Jesse Owens, in Berlin -- but that's only because of the political context of the sporting event. Tiger's a cipher. Ditto MJ, Ruth, Bird, Gretzky, Montana. Important athletes -- Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente maybe -- again, only because of context.

Anonymous said...

AD - By giving no one individual an ounce of importance is asinine as you are, in a sense, saying that sports plays a role in society. I don't know what planet you live on where society is the same without its influence. I'm not saying what level of importance and I've never thought of how to 'rank' it, but to acknowledge it as a piece is just plain wrong.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me - you are saying sports DOESN'T play a role in society.

cd1515 said...

the only thing I'm more tired of than the Tiger story is the constant updating/speculating of what his sponsors will do.
the guy has what, $50 million in the bank?
I don't believe for a second that he cares about sponsors right now, nor should he.
and nor should we.

The Tinamou said...

The only way Tiger could receive more attention than he previously enjoyed/suffered...was to either kill Bin Laden with a Nike-logoed bayonet on Youtube while wounded --or, this fine mess. In either case, the ratings would/will go through the roof upon his post healing return.

That said, I respect the simple truth of John's "I don't know." Nobody knows.

Still, opinion ranges from Reilly/Gola on one end to the Barkley/Whitlock back-off brigade on the other. We're talking about a gap that wider than the one between Tiger Woods and The Ten Commandments -- but, regardless, it's one thing to humiliate yourself; it's far worse to it another you purport to love. And even if we come to discover Tiger's behavior was somewhat justified because, oh let's say Elin regularly left unsatisfactory vacuuming patterns on the carpet or sacrificed goats every other weekend, whatever, their two kids will one day read all about it...and there will be nothing left to say. "Sorry" won't cut it, millions won't fix it. It will have to be a quarter century committment to humility, uncomfortable questions, and serious action with nary a guarantee...just for showin' up.

thedean said...

I just was told that Tiger's dad, Earl, was divorced from his mother. Is that true? This would lead to speculation that maybe the apple does not fall far from the tree! IF Tiger was NOT married he would be a God to most guys. Golf all day (and get paid for it) have a different fling each night - a bacholer's dream come true! Which begs the question, why did he bother to get married?

Anonymous said...

It may not be premature to start thinking about the fact thatTiger Woods could walk away from the game of golf permanently..Other great athletes have walked away in their prime under the "best" or "ideal" circumstances.. TW stands ridiculed in the public square, admonished as a 'philanderer" and has become everyone's "moralistic" barometer of what is wrong with athletes. Not withstanding that each of us have our own "issues" that we would not readily admit or would want anyone else to publish. I forsee the end of the TW era..he will still hold his own among the legends of the game....but life is larger than any game...