Wed | Apr 26, 2017

Is Tiger on the way back?

Published:Sunday | April 26, 2015 | 4:00 AMAnthony Gambrill

The jury is still out as to why, for sure, Tiger Woods, the one-time wunderkind of golf, is now ranked 60-odd in the world.

His fall from grace and leader boards primarily began after the revelation of his having a series of mistresses, which resulted in a damning media storm.

Although he was starting to sustain an injury that is not unusual among top-class golfers, it was his self-proclaimed "sex addiction" that captured the headlines.

What has this got to do with Jamaica, you may say, apart from seeing a sporting superstar disappear from our television screen? Only recently, the controversial sports journalist Orville Higgins, in his Gleaner column, took up the issue. "Whoever heard of any man checking into rehab for giving his wife bun?" said unpredictable Orville. He puts Tiger Woods' collapse down to guilt and advised him, "Hold another press conference. Be cocky (an unfortunate choice of words?) and arrogant again. So, what if I wasn't a one-burner."

This line of reasoning should refuel the egos of thousands of Jamaican men, so ladies, beware. Of course, the press, as usual, seized the opportunity for a follow-up with articles on penile fractures (on occasion caused by, as the calypso goes, 'she pon top'), penile transplants and, for those anxious to emulate Tiger, the admonition by Bishop John Cline that humans are made to have multiple partners in his book The Monogamy Mystery: Natural/Unnatural. The Tiger Woods saga needs more than sensational headlines, and I submit deserves more compassion and understanding than he has been receiving, if possible from the mother of his children.

career start

Eldrick Tont Woods was born in Cypress, California, on December 30, 1975, the only child of an African-American army officer and Vietnam War veteran who married his mother, herself of mixed Thai and Chinese race. Called Tiger by his father after a fellow soldier, he made his first 'golfing' appearance on Mike Douglas' morning TV show at age three to the wonderment of Bob Hope, the legendary comedian, himself a golf aficionado.

He attended Stanford University and took part as a college student in a tournament watched by Nike's founder, Phil Knight, who, with fortuitous foresight, signed him up to a US$40-million endorsement contract. Securing a number of amateur golf titles, Tiger turned professional in 1996. To the astonishment of the US golf establishment, he won the Augusta National's Masters in 1997 by 11 strokes, the best ever scored in the tournament at that time. He entered the British Open later that year. Greedy to land a betting coup while I was in the United Kingdom, I plonked down £50 on him to win the British Open at 50-1. To the bookmakers' delight, he finished 22nd, despite tying the course record of 64 for a round.

By his early 30s, he was a one-man, money-making machine with multiple tournament victories and attracting multiple sponsors, among them American Express, Tag Heuer, Gillette, Buick and Accenture, a major consulting firm. Forbes magazine was soon to name him the first athlete to earn a million dollars. His impact on the game of golf was even more astonishing. In 10 years, golf tournament prize money quadrupled to US$200 million.

His tournament successes over the next several years included four US PGA, three US Open, three Open Championship and three US Masters titles. He was the first African-American to win what are considered to be golf's majors - the Masters, the US Open, the British Open and the PGA. In a moment of hubris, his father announced that his son would do more for changing the course of humanity than Gandhi and Buddha!

Tiger's personal life blossomed, too. In October, 2004, he married a Swedish beauty Elin Nordegren and began having children of their own shortly after.

For the next five years, his fortunes on the golf course were impeded by injury. Pain from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee did not stop him from winning the US Open in 2008. He won again in 2009, but announced that he would miss the balance of the year for more reconstructive surgery.

He might have been better off with a penile fracture instead of what happened next. Early in the week of Thanksgiving, the National Enquirer carried a story linking Tiger with a New York nightclub hostess. On November 27 at two in the morning, he left his house, leapt into his Cadillac Escalade and in careening down the driveway crashed into a fire plug. It was formally reported Elin smashed a car window to pull him out as he was unconscious. The injury didn't prove serious, but the vision of his wife wielding a golf club at two in the morning must have.

As a pack of mistresses came forward - including a waitress, a lingerie model and a reality-show hostess - an unstoppable media tsunami followed. The original revelation was rumoured to have rewarded its originator, Rachel Uchitel, with a million dollars. The national scandal seemed to have endless traction. Vanity Fair Magazine published a photo spread labelled 'Tiger Woods' Inconvenient Women'. Comedians described him as no longer a 'tiger' but a 'cheetah'.

In a carefully staged television address, he apologised to his fans and family. On December 11, he apologised again. Once more, three months later, he appeared on television, this time on all the major networks.

This time he looked nervous, unsure of himself, what was showing now was a different Tiger. In the past, he had been reclusive, almost intimidating. Above all, Tiger Woods was the supposedly self-confident superstar athlete and mega-celebrity. The change opened the door for doubt in his mind and the public's. And eventually his sponsors began cancelling his contracts.

The meltdown

To make things worse, he ran into the American ideal of what marriage should be, although a recent survey has revealed that 60 per cent of married men and 50 per cent of married women have had an affair. At least he could say that he had drawn attention to sex addiction in the same way as alcohol, narcotics and gambling were classified as diseases.

Despite the efforts he made, Elin divorced him, was awarded a substantial settlement and keeping custody of the children. On the golf tour, he has had such little luck that he has virtually disappeared from the scene, intending to both improve his game and his attitude - he had become abusive on the course, often hurling his club in disgust.

He reappeared in this year's Augusta Masters tournament and came through it with a respectable score. But the spotlight is now on the winner, 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, who accomplished everything that Tiger had at the beginning of his career by matching his record-breaking Masters performance.

The lessons to be learnt from the Tiger Wood's saga are possibly these: To be a great athlete, you have to have talent, tenacity and, above all, belief in yourself. To be a good husband, you have to enjoy playing the field before you marry and not after. Otherwise, keep your golf clubs under lock and key.

- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.