For Woods, hiatus from golf is smartest thing he could have done

Tiger Woods
Fred Vuich/SI
Tiger Woods said he needed a break from golf to focus on his family.

Never underestimate this Tiger Woods. He will make you look like a fool. Yes, what we've learned about him since Thanksgiving has been sordid. He's not the first famous person to be a serial philanderer. But he is the most famous person to call himself out. His announcement Friday night, that he's going to take an indefinite leave from professional golf, was the smartest thing he could possibly have done. On Friday night he said in a statement, "It may not be possible to repair the damage I've done, but I want do my best to try." The hyper-realist.

For 15 or more years now, the guy always looked so smart in public, on the course and in a hundred press tents. Look at the way he's picked his way around the Old Course, golf's great mystery chest, in his two British Open wins there. He picked his spots, picked his spots, picked his spots, taking the full four days to bury 149 other guys. It's OK to stand in awe of it: it was majestic. In front of the mikes, he was never inspiring, but he didn't want to be. His goal was to keep us out, and he did it well.

For reasons best known to him, he didn't want to be known as a black golfer. Maybe because his ancestry was so mixed. Maybe because he knew that conversation wouldn't help him win more majors. He got the conversation to change. Yes, he was terse and stingy, but he wasn't an automaton. When he was asked to summarize what his late father had given him, he said it all in a single word: "Love."

And then came Thanksgiving and everything after it, and suddenly he looked so dumb. So sloppy. So inelegant. All these women coming forward, with their tapes and their texts. If you were going to be a serial philanderer, Tiger, wouldn't you be a little smarter about it? I really didn't want to know anything about his sex life — a person's sex life is private, right? — but there it was, all over the Internet, every damn day. We had always thought his heroes were Nicklaus and Mandela and Earl, right? And suddenly it looked like he was taking his cues from Babe Ruth and Wilt Chamberlain and John Holmes and who knows who else. And the saddest part was that it was pretty obvious that his wife, Elin, was finding out about it right along with us. I don't think she attacked him with a golf club. No act of violence was going to ease her pain.

Maybe — maybe — this move will. When the news of his infidelity first broke, the cynics said he must protect the brand. Protect the brand, protect the brand, protect the brand. Screw the brand. Tiger's made his money. If he never wins again he's won enough. I'm not even sure how much he likes golf. I'm not going to venture a guess about the nature of his relationship with his wife. What business is that of ours? I can almost assure you that there's nothing more important in the world to him than the welfare and happiness of his two young children. I say that for the same reason you would, if you're a parent yourself. And I say that because you could see the intensity of the bond between Earl and Tiger — so obvious and so real. If you've had that, you'd want your kids to have it, too.

How long will he stay away? Your guess is as good as mine. He could never come back. Right now, the idea of him going to the driving range is completely unrealistic. There would be helicopters hovering over his head, and in his head, too.

His appetites, it seems, are like his athletic skill: outsized. Could he ever be happy, just he and Elin and the kids, off on a boat somewhere, or in a condo in Sweden, or in the gilded prison called Isleworth? From what we've heard, you're tempted to say no. And that question is not even half of it. Not close. Will Elin ever trust him again? Are her wounds so deep they cannot be repaired? Is the worst news already out? (Probably not.) Their children, Sam and Charlie, had no chance at a normal life, whatever that means, in the best of circumstances, and these circumstances are horrid. It's not just their father's infidelity. It's that the whole world knows.

Ambition is a strange animal. We push it in this country, we push it and push it and push it. Earl pushed it. I don't care how Zen-masterish he sounds in his books and his quotes, he pushed it hard. Be the best, be the best, be the best. And Tiger became the best, way earlier than he expected. He amassed more and more and more, more trophies, more fame, more money. Oh, Tiger, Tiger, sign my book for me! Tiger, take me to your room! Tiger, take my $100 million endorsement, Tiger! And what did it all get him? A golf bag filled with tsuris and a babe who would give up his texts for a check and some passing fame.

You and I, we have it better than we could ever know.

Tiger says he wants to be a better father and husband and person. Raise your glass to the man. So do I.

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