Finally, they’re playing golf.
Of course that doesn’t mean the ‘Tiger Talk,’ is over and it doesn’t mean it will stop when he tees it up at 1:42 this afternoon. I’m now convinced it may never end. Yesterday there was another story about another woman, this one a 21-year-old neighbor in Isleworth. Then there was the new Nike commercial which includes Earl Woods saying to Tiger, ‘Have You Learned Anything?’ Oh please. Nike needs to drop the notion that Tiger is a great person and focus on the fact that he’s a great golfer. The rest is now myth. Period.
There was also the surprise of Augusta National chairman Billy Payne criticizing Woods during his annual, ‘State of the Masters,’ address to the media.
In case you missed it, here is what Payne said several minutes into his prepared remarks, most of which usually centers on what a great job the club has done spending money on itself.
“Finally, we are not unaware of the significance of this week to a very special player, Tiger Woods. A man who in a brief 13 years clearly and emphatically proclaimed and proved his game to be worthy of the likes of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. As he ascended in our rankings of the world’s great golfers, he became an example to our kids that success is directly attributable to hard work and effort.
“But as he now says himself, he forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility. It is not simply the degrees of his conduct that is so egregious here; it is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grand kids. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.
“Is there a way forward? I hope yes. I think yes. But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par; but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change. I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing, but would settle for his smile.
“I hope he can come to understand that life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who bring joy to the lives of other people. We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here tomorrow in positive, hopeful and constructive manner, but this time, with a significant difference from the past. This year, it will not be just for him, but for all of us who believe in second chances.”
There are some people who have accused Payne of ‘ripping,’ Tiger. Read what he said. The words are very careful and—as he points out—mirror a lot of the things Tiger has said about himself, except in milder language. Some of what he says is eloquent—‘every kid he passes on the course wants his swing, but would settle for his smile.’
I think what shocked people is that almost no one in golf has dared say anything even mildly critical about Woods since the whole debacle began. Only two players—Jesper Parnevik and Ernie Els—have publicly criticized him for anything. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has been hiding under a rock ever since this began which is why Payne’s comments caught people off guard.
What I think is this: If there is one entity in golf that doesn’t care what Tiger or anyone else thinks it is Augusta National. That’s always been their attitude: it’s our club and our tournament (or as Hootie Johnson used to say, ‘toonamint,’) and if you don’t like us or our rules, you’re welcome not to take part. If Tiger read Payne’s comments and threw a fit and said, ‘that’s it I’m never playing again,’ the CBS people might have a heart attack; the ESPN execs might need shock therapy but the green jackets would just say, ‘next on the first tee….” and move on. That’s just the way it is.
In the meantime, if it is true as Mike Tirico and Jim Nantz have indicated to people this week that neither network is even going to ADDRESS the Tiger issue, they should both be ashamed of themselves. Personally, I think there will be a brief mention and that will be it. The green jackets may not be afraid of Tiger but just about everyone else in golf is.
A few other Tiger tidbits: Good news: He came to the annual Golf Writers dinner last night to accept his player-of-the-year award and, unlike in past years, stayed until the dinner break—even watching Els accept an award. He has never done that in the past. (Why my colleagues felt obligated to hire a bunch of sheriff’s deputies to check people in and turn the dinner into yet another security headache I don’t know. I was told, ‘we’re afraid the paparazzi might show up.’ So what? What are they going to do, take pictures of Tiger walking in and out of the building with Mark Steinberg and Glenn Greenspan? Since when is it OUR responsibility to ‘protect,’ Tiger or anyone else?)
Bad news (or at least disappointing): He opted not to play in the par-three yesterday. No big deal, but I think it was a mistake. It is the most fan friendly event of this week and he could have shown his fun side (which does exist) AND could have auctioned off getting to caddy for him. (Something a number of players do). The dollar figure would have been huge and he could have donated the money to the charity of the winner’s choice. Maybe next year.
And finally: Over the past few months a few posters and e-mailers have said a couple of things that just aren’t true: 1. I’ve never approached or been interested in a book on Tiger or with Tiger. I was not the least bit upset, disappointed or surprised when he didn’t talk to me for my book on Rocco Mediate. I told Rocco when he first called me it was unlikely he’d talk to anyone; but certain he wouldn’t talk to me. ROCCO was angry, I wasn’t. And, for the record, the book was on the New York Times bestseller list for three months and got as high as No. 8 so it did just fine.
2. I have NEVER claimed to ‘know,’ Tiger or have any relationship with him at all although I’d bet the one dinner I had with him years ago lasted longer than the total time many of my colleagues in the golf media who claim to ‘know,’ him have spent with him. I do know that there’s a fascinating and complex person buried inside there but that person isn’t going to be revealed to me or anyone else in the media anytime soon.
More pleasant topics: My pal Dave Kindred received The PGA of America’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award,’ last night at the Golf Writers dinner and gave a funny, touching acceptance speech. Padraig Harrington was the other star of the night talking about the relationship between the media and players and why it should be a good one on both sides and why there’s no reason it can’t be. He also told a funny joke about Tiger playing a round of golf with Stevie Wonder (with Tiger in the room). The joke was long. The punch line was Wonder saying, “I’ll play you any night this week.”
Finally, as I sit here and write Tom Watson is two-under-par for five holes with his son Michael caddying. Watson hasn’t made the cut here in years and, by his own admission, has become psyched out by the length of the golf course. Michael has been on him since they arrived to forget about where he USED to hit his second shots from and just worry about where he’s hitting them from now. Michael also proposed to his girlfriend on the 13th hole on Sunday afternoon. The whole thing was a set-up: Tom hit a four iron into the trees on the left and when they all walked over to look for the ball, Michael pulled out the ring and dropped to one knee. How cool is that? Here’s hoping Watson makes the cut. It would put a smile on a lot of people’s faces.