Redemption for Tiger Woods will come through action, not spilling his guts to Oprah

Thursday December 10th, 2009
My guess is that Tiger doesn't think he owes us anything.
Fred Vuich/SI

Let me start with a caveat: I've been wrong about Tiger Woods more times than I can count, including when I wrote that his value as a pitchman wouldn't be diminished by this scandal. Evidently it will. Tiger's Gillette ads stopped running on TV almost two weeks ago, and his Q-rating is in a free fall, according to Bloomberg. Of course, when I made my prediction, there were only two alleged affairs. Things changed.

Am I making an excuse? I think I am. Not good. One thing I've learned from watching another TW for about 35 years is to never complain and never explain. You know Tom Watson: "I hit the wrong shot at the wrong time with the wrong club." Or, "I yipped." He manned-up before the phrase existed. A man's man.

While we're at it, here's another time I was way wrong. When Woods turned pro, in 1996, I didn't think his chipping game and lag putting were very good, and he looked indecisive to me on many of his greenside shots. (Seems quaint, to be discussing golf, doesn't it?) I had seen Woods play a lot of amateur golf, on TV and in person, and my take was that he won often in match play through length and intimidation and will. I didn't think his game would translate to 72-hole stroke play, at least not quickly.

I said to Davis Love, then at the height of his powers, "Tiger's really good, but he's not ready to play with you guys, is he?" By that I meant Davis, Fred Couples, Ernie Els and that whole gang. Love said, "He's better than me already." A few months later Woods won his first Tour event, in Las Vegas, by beating Love in a playoff.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I'm still clinging to my original view that you will never hear Woods talk about his off-course "activities" in any real detail, or hear him do the public crying-on-Oprah apology thing. But you should consider the source. My view is that Woods takes his cues from Watson, from his late father, from Arnold Palmer. Never complain, never explain. The Old Guard used to laugh when Greg Norman offered excuses about why he didn't win this one or that one. They didn't think it was manly.

It's comical, all the free advice Woods is receiving. In The New York Times on Wednesday, a sports story has a quote from a man named Mike Paul, a "senior counselor" and the president at MGP & Associates public relations in New York. His quotes:

"There's still an opportunity for Tiger to stop the bleeding. But he cannot just remain silent, out of sight. He should have done a one-on-one interview within the first 24 to 48 hours. He should have done something like Oprah, and he needs to that type of interview — and soon." He continued later in the article: "The whole point is that he needs to do the opposite of what he's been doing. The opposite of privacy is you have to be transparent. The opposite of clamming up your heart and not showing your emotions is to have a repentant heart and allow us to see you vulnerable."

I don't know, but I don't see Woods taking advice from anybody with the title "senior counselor." For good or for bad, he's his own senior counselor. Also, Paul's script presupposes that Woods thinks he owes the public something. I know millions of people think Woods does, because of the fortune he has accepted from sponsors. You can argue that, or that he owes us something because he has spent so much time in our living rooms. If you have that view, you probably bought the message the marketing machine behind him was selling. And, yes, Woods signed up for all that. He did. He took the money and sold us an image.

But my guess is that Tiger doesn't think he owes us anything, any explanation. Walter Hagen, Arnold Palmer, John Daly: those guys needed us. Tiger doesn't. I think Tiger's view is, "I won those 14 majors all on my own." I think his view is, "Sponsors paid me because I won."

He carried himself in a certain way in public because there was a cultural expectation of how a professional golfer carries himself, and Woods is not a renegade. He took his cues on how to act in public from Palmer and Nicklaus and Watson. You can take a guess about where he took his cues on how to act in private. A southern region in the male anatomy comes to mind.

What senior counselor Mike Paul may not know is that Tiger Woods made his fortune and won his tournaments by never showing anybody a vulnerable side. Paul wants Woods to show us his repentant heart. My guess is that Woods is angry that he got caught, blames the National Enquirer for starting this whole thing, and will take it out on his golf ball when he returns to action.

If he goes on Oprah, he'll really be saying, "This is about image," while mouthing words from a script for our benefit. If he doesn't go on Oprah, he'll be saying, "This is not about you, whoever you are, but about my family." He'll be showing us and, more importantly, his wife and children that they are the priority. Along the way, by not giving in to the demands of Mike Paul and Co., he's saving a piece of himself, the piece of himself that has made him the greatest closer in the history of golf and maybe all of sports. What did he do when the whole world was screaming hysterically? He did his own thing.

Somewhere in the mid-1980s, the PGA Tour changed. The Crosby morphed into the AT&T, and corporate America started glomming on to a crafted Tour image, the polite players who had otherworldly skill but played by the rules in all regards. In the '20s Walter Hagen could show up on the first tee half in the bag and that was OK. In the '60s Palmer could carry himself with a certain rugged sexuality that came out of the Elvis era and that was OK. It was about '86 when corporate America started demanding bland and reliable, and hundreds of Tour players in pleated khaki pants lined up for their checks.

That's the world into which Tiger Woods launched his professional career, with his poor lag putting and his iffy chipping. To watch the players on TV, and to read about them in the press — and I've been typing away all through this 20-plus-year period — you could start to believe that human nature had changed and man's baser instincts did not exist in these modern gentlemen of the Tour, all of whom paid their taxes and turned in perfect scorecards and did not puff on marijuana cigarettes and certainly, oh, most definitely, never cheated on their wives.

Uh, wrong again.

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