Regular readers of this column will know that I am a keen Tiger watcher, and an unapologetic fan who probably errs on the awed and slack-jawed side if anything, but lately I've noticed a change in his living conditions. In a very short period of time, he's gone from being the best golfer to one of the most recognizable entertainers in the world. I say entertainer because he has transcended his sport in the same way as Muhammad Ali did, and wherever he plays, the atmosphere that surrounds him is more like a rock concert than a golf tournament. It's easy for most of us to imagine how perfect his existence must be. He has the private jet, the beautiful homes, fast cars, famous friends etc., and the kind of life of which most of us can only dream. However, I think in many ways it must be a nightmare.
One day last week, I returned to my room at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, after a typical day of Tiger hunting. For a media person, which I now reluctantly admit I am, gaining access to Tiger is becoming increasingly difficult. When I was a player, I remember how time-consuming and inconvenient interviews could be, and I had to do considerably less of them than Tiger. On this particular day, I followed him for a couple of holes, with the intention of doing a short interview for the Late Night Show. He and Mark Calcavecchia had risen long before anyone else that morning, in order to play a fast, quiet, practice round at Pebble, but by the time they had reached the inward half, it had turned into the usual circus. I counted four camera crews excluding mine, and a gaggle of print journalists, all trying to tear off a stripe for themselves, all wanting to ask the same questions. Last year at this stage, he was on a five-event winning streak, about to make it six in a row. Last week, he came to Pebble having lost five in a row, about to make it six, so what the hell is going on?
My first question to him was going to be: "Do you think that not winning any of the last five constitutes a slump?" It was to be a sarcastic inquiry, in order to tee him up to give me the fact that he has finished in the top 10 in more than 40 of his last 50 or so starts. After he had putted out on the last green, I stood with Steve Williams and watched, as the parasites, of whom I am one, attached themselves, and started to feed. In the ensuing frenzy, some blundering idiot of a spectator actually managed to hurt Tiger's knee. Now there's something that never happened to me. After about 30 minutes, Tiger fought his way clear, and joined us. He looked weak, tired, and maybe just a little irritated.
I don't know, but I guess I'm never going to be Ed Bradley. I looked at him as he flashed back a smile, and I did my job. I asked him if I could get a couple of minutes on camera up at the range, where I knew he was headed. As always, he agreed, but in truth, I had already made up my mind to leave him alone, not because I didn't need him, but because I didn't need him to come off as anything other than his usual wise-assed, friendly self. It might get me fired, but I think he's a precious commodity these days, and I worry about him looking bad. I think that we have a responsibility to protect him in more ways than one. He would be the first to say that his life is good, and he is lucky, but I think it's fair for me to report that his life is often hard, and to me, he looks unlucky at times. There's no reason to feel sorry for Tiger, but when you are the defending champion almost every other week you play, the chances are, in comparison to last year, you'll be in a slump. What we tend to forget is that Tiger's slumps are higher than most people's peaks, and before long, the same writers that are scribbling about his lack of form, will be singing his praises once more. I just hope he doesn't get so jaded with dopey questions and harassment, that he loses the enthusiasm, and the boyish recklessness, that has made him a touchable, smiling hero to so many of our children. I could care less about the adults.