The meteoric rise and precipitous fall of Tiger Woods has been astounding to watch – like a modernized version of “Chutes and Ladders.” From 1996, when he first became a professional golfer to Thanksgiving Weekend, 2009 he had it all – fame, fortune, adulation and, yes, envy. He was not only “Mr. Golf,” but his fame and influence transcended his sport. Woods was viewed as a strong role model, especially for African Americans, and according to Golf Digest he had earned in excess of $1 billion in his career.
Virtually singlehandedly, he had revitalized the sport of professional golf. His focus on weight training revolutionized the way golfers trained. Physically, he looked like an NFL safety as much as a golfer. Record numbers of people took up the game. Corporations fought for the right to sponsor the telecasts. Tournament operators competed with each other to lure him to their venues. Millions watched him on tv. Even non-sports fans followed his exploits. You might love him; you might hate him. You watched to see him win, or you watched to see him lose. But, you watched. He was the best golfer in the world, and, perhaps, the best ever. He was so much better than the rest of the field that some tournaments became anti-climactic. He didn’t just win. Often, his margins of victory set records. Many opponents were beaten before the match even began. He was challenging Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 victories in majors and Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 tournament wins. (Now, he appears to be “stuck” at 14 and 79, respectively.)
And, then, suddenly, it all came crashing down. Suddenly, we learned that he was an uncontrollable womanizer. His cool, aloof, at times, arrogant demeanor, which fans had overlooked in view of his outsized success, became problematic. He suffered one injury after another – his back, his knee, his shoulder. His swing deserted him. He parted ways with his longtime caddy. He changed swing coaches multiple times. In his mind, they were to blame for his sudden lack of success. He went through a very public and messy divorce. Suddenly, he went from the unbeatable, best golfer in the world to one who could not win a tournament or even compete on a regular basis.
And, then came the DUI, not from alcohol, but from excessive and ill-advised use of various prescription medications. We are all familiar with the story. A policeman found Woods parked in his car asleep at 2:00 am last Monday morning. When the policeman awakened him Woods was not cognizant of where he was and how he had arrived there. Furthermore, his speech was slurry. At first, he appeared to be inebriated, but it was later determined that his impairment was due to a reaction to a combination of prescription medications. Either way, his situation appears to be serious.
Eldrick Tont (“Tiger”) Woods was born on December 30, 1975 in Cypress, CA. His father, Earl, was African American, and his mother, Kultida, is of Thai descent. He is their only child, although he does have one half-brother and one half-sister from a previous marriage of Earl’s. According to Kultida, the name, “Eldrick,” was derived from the first letter in Earl’s and Kulida’s names (“E” for Earl and “K” for Kulida). Tont is a traditional Thai name. The nickname, “Tiger” is an homage to a friend of the family, Col. Vuong Dang Phong, who was also known as “Tiger.”
Earl was a single handicap golfer, and he exposed Tiger to the game at an early age. Tiger became a golf prodigy. Before the age of three he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show where, in a piece that became famous, he putted against comedian Bob Hope. At age five he appeared in Golf Digest and on That’s Incredible. By age seven he was winning “age” tournaments against older competitors. He was an All-American at Stanford and turned pro at age 20.
To paraphrase the opinions of some sports talk radio hosts, reporters and commentators, such as ESPN host, Dave Rothenberg, WFAN host Mike Francessa and many others, Woods has become a tragic figure. Regardless of one’s previous opinion of Woods, now, one can almost feel sorry for him. At the other extreme, some other people still feel animosity towards Woods, particularly because of his uncontrollable womanizing. They feel no pity for him. In their opinion, he is getting what he deserves.
In any event, I think most of us would agree that his current problems transcend the game of golf. Rather than being concerned with whether or not he can regain his golf skills and surpass Nicklaus’ and Snead’s records, we should root for him to regain his health.