Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tiger Woods and the leveraging of ‘access’; Blog comment helps change upcoming book title

It was 42 years ago today that man landed on the moon. I am—for both better and worse—old enough to remember the day vividly. I remember Walter Cronkite wiping his brow and saying, ‘man on the moon,’ in disbelief and I remember my father saying we would tell our children and grandchildren about this someday. I’ve told my kids about it on a number of occasions. They look at me and say something like, ‘okay fine, can you leave us alone now so we can go back online.’

C’est la vie.

Of course three months after Neill Armstrong took those historic first steps, the Mets won the World Series. Now THAT was impressive. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Tom Seaver, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee—they are all historic figures to me.

Where have you gone Rod Gasper, I turn my lonely eyes to you.

Okay, so that was a bunch of meaningless drivel to start the day but the moon landing and the Mets first World Series title (of two as all Mets fans know) remain seminal events in my life.

So was covering my first British Open—which was at Royal St. George’s in 1985. Look, no one is ever going to mistake the place for St. Andrews or Muirfield but if you didn’t enjoy Darren Clarke’s victory on Sunday then you probably shouldn’t be wasting your time watching golf.

If you’re reading this you no doubt know Clarke’s backstory and the genuine tragedy he’s dealt with. Plus, he’s just a decent guy, someone who is about as close to normal as the multi-millionaires who play the game at its highest levels can be. I know all the Tiger lovers don’t want to hear this but I think golf is heading into an era that will truly be fun.

You can love Tiger Woods as much as you want or you can be like me and not like him but recognize his brilliance. Either way, it is impossible to attach the word fun to his 15 years of dominance. Yes, you can say it was FUN to watch him pull off impossible shots but there certainly wasn’t any fun in the man. He loved to win, he loved to make money but the only thing that was fun to him was winning trophies and cashing checks. It was part of his greatness.

The newer stars aren’t going to be as good as Woods was at his best. Not even close. There’s only one player in history who belongs in the same sentence with Woods and that’s Jack Nicklaus.

That said, Woods held his sport hostage—and to some degree still does—for 15 years. It wasn’t that he won so much it was that everything had to be HIS way. Remember those bogus night matches he played in as part of his Disney contract a few years ago? Technically, those events were run by The PGA Tour. When Steve Williams showed up wearing shorts one year—this was before caddies were allowed to wear shorts on tour—a tour official told Woods that Williams had to put on long pants.

Woods told him in no uncertain terms that not only would Williams wear shorts but if Tim Finchem didn’t like it he might just go play in Europe the following year.

Forget the fact that the Tour should have allowed caddies to wear shorts years ago—heck, they should let players wear shorts if they want to—or that Woods was right to stand up for his caddie in that situation. The point is this: The instant Woods threatened to go to Europe, even in a brief moment of anger, the Tour backed down faster than I can eat an order of McDonald’s french fries.

Woods bullied the media constantly. Some TV announcers were allowed to interview him, others were not. At different times he boycotted Peter Kostis and Jimmy Roberts. Their networks dutifully sent someone else to talk to Woods. People were constantly telling me that they let Woods dictate terms of interviews or backed off when his people got angry about something because, ‘we don’t want to lose our access to him.’

WHAT ACCESS? To get him to stop long enough to say nothing? Seriously, think about this for a second: When was the last time Tiger Woods said something that was really interesting. I’m not talking about announcing he’s playing or not playing a tournament or admitting he cheated on his wife—which everyone knew by the time he talked about it anyway. I’m talking about saying something that gave you some insight into him, into his game, into his view of the world.

Never happened. Not because he wasn’t capable, he’s more than capable but because Tiger Woods never gives away anything. That’s the way his father taught him and he learned his lessons well.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be another anti-Tiger diatribe. I’m really criticizing all the people who simply took it from him—including Finchem—all those years. That said, in a sense they had no choice. He was that good and that powerful.

And, for the record, for those of you who think I criticize Woods because he wouldn’t talk to me for a book or one-on-one at some point, I swear to God that has nothing to do with it. I just don’t like the way he treats people. And, for the record, the ONE time I asked him to sit down and talk one-on-one he said yes. If you want details, well, read my next book. (Hey, I feel like an ESPN guy now: “After the break, we’ll tell you the real reason Tiger Woods and John Feinstein don’t get along.” Only problem is there is no real reason but the story about the one-on-one is kind of interesting).

A few other notes today on random topics. First—foremost—THANK YOU to the poster who sarcastically pointed out that the title of my new book was the same as titles used in the past by (among others) Spike Lee and Christine Brennan. Bad title searching on my part because I never knew. I could live with sharing a title with Spike Lee. At least he’s brilliant. Christine Brennan, not so much. So, since there was still time to change the title, it’s been changed. The new title is: “One on One: Behind The Scenes With The Greats of The Game.” There are also a number of non-greats in the book but what the heck. So, thanks for the tip. I was clueless.

To the Golf Channel poster who responded to my tongue-in-cheek column saying that the key to Tiger’s comeback would be hiring Chubby Chandler (some apparently missed the humor) by pointing out that I’m not exactly thin: Ya think? Thanks for pointing it out. As if I don’t look in the mirror every morning and moan out loud. But I HAVE lost six pounds this summer. Only about 25 more to go. Finally swimming regularly again. Not fast, but regularly.


Gunnar said...

Great blog post John. Golf has been fun for the past two years with Eldrick on the sidelines, and it is going to be great for a while. Dustin, Ricky, GMac, Rory, etc. I think Kyle Stanley is going to be the next great early 20's star to break out...he almost did it at John Deere 10 days ago. Els, Fuyrk, Mickelson, Stricker are becoming the "old guys" we will be rooting makes me feel old.

Even if Tiger was still a good player, I do not understand why a company would want them to represent them. The guy is a jerk, it is proven on film. If you can't get along for 2 minutes with Peter Kostis or Bill Macatee...good luck interacting with other people the rest of your life.

cd1515 said...

great point, John.
never understood media people treading lightly around Tiger because they were afraid to tick him off.
what do they have to lose exactly?
they're getting zero access from him as it is.

charles pierce said...

OK, I'll bite.
What's with you and Chris Brennan?

Anonymous said...

John - you think Woods and folks gave Stevie Williams hush money to walk? If not, that'd potentially be a heck of an interview!

Anonymous said...

Mystery solved!

"And to the one guy who posted that he is glad to be rid of me: good for you. Enjoy the broadcasts. Why you wasted your time reading the blog or posting any thoughts at all is a mystery to me. "

Same guy who clued you in on the book title; It was meant to be.

You're welcome.

Gunnar said...

Wow, Stevie, Earl, Elin, Butch, Hank, all gone over the past 5 years. He doesn't have anyone to lean on. This story may not have a very good ending. He may go down Duval/Baker-Finch avenue...and he is less likable than those two.

Anonymous said...

Mystery solved!

"And to the one guy who posted that he is glad to be rid of me: good for you. Enjoy the broadcasts. Why you wasted your time reading the blog or posting any thoughts at all is a mystery to me. "

Same guy who clued you in on the book title; It was meant to be.

You're welcome.

Forgive me, but I almost choked from laughing so hard. John, are you going to change the book title again?

I'm biting as well. I'm not the biggest Brennan fan either, but why is she also on the list of people you hate (a list that seems to grow longer the older you get)?

Jim said...

How apropos that you write this on the day Woods parts with his on-course partner, with nary a word but what comes out on his website. Who's going to be his next caddy, Notah Begay?

Anonymous said...

You dare to play the Rod Gaspar card!? Al Weis had a slightly worse year but not as bad as Ed Charles. Cal Koonse had a better BA than the other 3.

Always use a body guard in Mexico.

Anonymous said...

second the motion. one-on-one with steve w, former caddy/sgt-at-arms/blocking back. please.

pulmcrit1 said...

Another great blog, John. Just wondering if you've seen the "Feherty" program on Golf Channel. I really enjoy his interviews, but he talks about Eldrick in reverential tones, which gets a bit old after awhile. Any opinion on this? I too enjoyed watching Eldrick's victories, but golf is a lot more enjoyable now, and I frankly don't care if he ever plays again.

Anonymous said...

The media were classic enablers of Woods. Abuse victims always feel the abuser has more power they cannot match, when the truth is they generate that power. JF was one of the few who criticized Woods early on for his attitude, etc. Don't let other media members off the hook now when they claim they "always knew" about TW but separately "admired" his golf. Do we separately "admire" OJ for football, or do we look at him as the whole person he is?