The relationship between Tiger Woods and the golf media has always been a story of unrequited love. Tiger — brilliant, untouchable, distant — set the terms of the romance, and we scribes followed.
If Tiger had called a press conference in a garbage dump, dozens of writers with bad golf shirts and Marriott pens would have traipsed through the muck to get there. (Twelve-shot wins at the Masters can make even the most jaded journalist go gaga.)
But on Thursday night, after two days of discussion among its board members, the Golf Writers Association of America voted not to participate as pool reporters for Woods’s appearance Friday at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where he will make his first public comments since admitting to infidelity.
What will this mean practically for the media coverage of the statement? Not much. The Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters will attend Friday’s event, it will still be broadcast live, and the majority of GWAA members will still report on it by monitoring on television. Heck, who knows if Woods will even notice our absence? But by rejecting the initial offer of three pool reporter spots, and a subsequent offer of six, the GWAA hopes to make a statement.
With this decision, a one-way relationship has changed.
The reasons for the boycott were two-fold. First, the insistence by Woods and his handlers to limit media access to a pool of reporters. Second, Woods’s decision not to field any questions. But there were also deeper feelings in play, and complicated ones, too. This is an association filled with members who had covered Woods, by almost all counts, fairly and with respect, chronicling his golfing feats even as he bristled at times at his media obligations.
It was an awkward dance between Woods and the scribes, but he and his camp were always in the lead. They set the time and place for discourse, and that was that.
But after going underground for nearly three months after his post-Thanksgiving scandal, Woods thought he could return and set the ground rules as always. The GWAA, in the end, said it would not be party to it. [Late Thursday night, the Associated Press reported that Woods is on a weeklong break from therapy, which helps explain the timing of the statement.]
“I cannot stress how strongly our board felt that this should be open to all media and also for the opportunity to question Woods,” said Vartan Kupelian, president of the 950-member group, in a statement. “The position, simply put, is all or none. This is a major story of international scope. To limit the ability of journalists to attend, listen, see and question Woods goes against the grain of everything we believe.”
For the GWAA — which has voted Woods its player of the year a record ten times — the boycott ended two days of at times tense conversation among board members, including this reporter. On Wednesday night, I wrote in a message to the board that it was a “fiasco” for the Woods camp to choose how many reporters could attend, and that the whole situation was foul, including the Tour’s decision to host him. Still, I didn’t care if Woods read his statement from a teleprompter or scribbled notes on his hand, I wanted to be in that room to hear him. A journalist wants to be where the story is.
By Thursday evening, after further reflection and discussion, I saw the other side of the story, that calling a pseudo-press conference stocked with family, friends and handpicked media outlets wasn’t journalism but a photo op.
I voted for the boycott.
The Woods story has gone everywhere and nowhere in the last three months, and it is impossible to know how the story will end. Eventually, the GWAA will be back behind the scenes, where it has been for much of its 64 years of existence, as an organization whose original goals included “an improvement in press facilities” and “interviews with players.”
That’s all the GWAA wanted Friday, an interview with Tiger Woods. He won’t give it. So the GWAA won’t be there.