This is going to sound very, very wrong... because, well, it is very, very wrong. But I'm sorry. I'll admit this straight out: I am fascinated by this Tiger Woods accident story. I'm fascinated, and I'm paying close attention, and I will read whatever stories come out about it. Sure, I know it's wrong. I know it's gossip. I know it's rubbernecking on a highway. I know. Tiger Woods and his family deserve some privacy in their lives. They should have the right to go on without having to share the most personal details of their lives. They should not have to deal with reporters and photographers stalking them. And so on. I believe these things with all my heart.
And still... I'll read every word. I cannot help myself. I'm dying to know. But I suppose I should clarify I'm not dying to know what really happened that night. I have a pretty good guess at that. No, I'm dying to know how Tiger Woods and his people are going to handle all this.
See, here's the thing: Someday, mankind will invent a robot that can make birdies on every hole. I have no doubt in my mind about this. I don't believe it will ever be fun to watch robots play football or baseball or basketball there's something physical about those sports that craves humanity. But golf is different. Because in golf, reaching a robotic level of perfection is the ultimate goal (see Hogan, Ben). Can you repeat your swing under pressure? Can you read the wind? Can you read the greens? Can you drain all the emotions from your body and make the big putt on the 18th green? These are the traits of the super-robot and even now the mind can imagine a golf-playing robot that will repeat the perfect swing every time, calculate the wind perfectly and will have the sensors necessary to read every blade of grass on the green.
I believe that golf robot will be built sometime in the next 20 years, I really do. And, beyond the initial curiosity, I know that I won't care about it. I won't have any interest in watching that robot stripe drive after drive, hit perfect shot after perfect shot, make putt after putt it seems to me that's not the interesting part of watching golf. The interesting part is the human part. The interesting part is watching Jean van de Velde blow up on 18. The interesting part is Arnold Palmer charging on the back nine. The interesting part is Tom Watson coming to 18 with a chance to pull off the greatest triumph in golf history and hitting his approach shot TOO WELL. (Is there another sport where doing something too well hurts you?) The interesting part is a 10-year-old boy with a poster of Jack Nicklaus on his wall and a dream of one day winning more major championships than Jack did.
That 10-year-old became Tiger Woods, and he has made his life mission at least his public life mission to (1) Win those 19 professional major championships; (2) Make a billion dollars; (3) Make sure people know as little about him as possible.
These are all perfectly reasonable goals, though they can conflict. Golf, we are told, is the most illuminating of sports. Corporate types talk all the time about how they want to play golf with clients or business partners or employees or adversaries in order to measure them. Golf (they say) can tell you about a person's composure, a person's decision-making skills, a person's level of daring and so on. Billions of people have watched Tiger Woods play golf under the most extreme pressures, so you would think we would have learned some things. And we have. He's damned good at golf. Also, he swears a lot.
Then, for an athlete like Tiger Woods to make billions of dollars, he needs to be in the public eye, as a spokesman for a company, as a star of commercials, as a person people can believe in and even love. You would think the person would need to show a little bit of himself even if it's fake and just a persona. People who knew Johnny Carson would often say that he was nothing at all like the person who hosted The Tonight Show. That was a character he played when the camera lights popped on, night after night after night.
But Woods well, remarkably, he really has not even created a public character for himself. He is, instead, a blank slate. People talk about how Michael Jordan was the first to create that blank slate the "I am whatever you want me to be" form of sports celebrity but I never thought that was quite true. Jordan had a persona as a wisecracking basketball player who was not trying to change the world but was instead perfectly content to joke around with Spike Lee, play in a movie with Bugs Bunny and cut your heart out with a big shot in the final seconds. Later, he had the weird baseball period of his career*, and the gambling stories emerged, and he could not walk away from basketball, and he had that sad Hall of Fame speech. But the sense in his prime was that people KNEW Michael Jordan, even if they didn't really know him at all.
*I know people have made fun of Michael Jordan as baseball player and others were wildly offended by it but I always loved that Jordan tried it. I don't know all the reasons he did... maybe some of the conspiracy theories about it are true. But it seems clear that he wanted to see if he was good enough to play ball at the highest level. I think that's a very human thing. Jordan was not good enough, or he started too late, or whatever. But he tried. And when I think back on Michael Jordan's career, it's probably my favorite thing about him.
Tiger is different. I don't think people beyond his close circle really feel like they know Tiger Woods. And maybe even those people don't know. Is he funny? Some say yes, but I've never really heard him say anything especially funny. Does he like talking about politics? Movies? Sports? Can he tell a story? Is he a good listener? Does he have interesting thoughts about faith? Does he get on the floor and play with his kids? Which Austin Powers movie did he think was funniest? Any of them? Is he happy or unhappy with the direction they are taking Jim and Pam on The Office? Does he put money on Free Parking when he's playing Monopoly? Does he park near the entrance or exit when going to a Target? Who does he think writes better, Delillo, McCarthy or McDermott?
We don't know. We know he was raised to play golf. We know he plays it better than anyone in the world. We know that he does not like cameras clicking during his backswing, and he has a remarkable ability to get himself out of golf danger, and he does not miss many important putts. We know he married a Swedish model, and they have two cute kids and a couple of dogs. We know that he is friends with Roger Federer, though what this means is really anyone's guess since Federer is not exactly an open book himself.
Beyond these few tidbits, you can go to Tiger's Web site and go to the "Did You Know" section to find out more juicy details such as:
• Tiger's alarm clock is set at 5:00 a.m. sharp.*