Things will be different for Tiger, but this scandal won't ruin his image

Things will be different for Tiger, but this scandal won’t ruin his image

Tiger Woods will likely play his next golf tournament in January.
Simon Bruty/SI

So Tiger now admits to “transgressions.” Plural. Whether that means both Rachel and Jaimee, or just multiple sessions with Jaimee, I don’t know and I don’t care. A line from the Judd Apatow movie “Funny People” springs to mind. Adam Sandler plays a comic named George, who thinks he’s dying. Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann, plays Laura, George’s former girlfriend but the true love of his life. Laura says to him, “Why did you cheat on me? I was so hot.”

Men are strange. We know that. Elin Nordegren: I don’t know her, but I’ve seen her around. She’s beautiful, smart, dignified. Swedish. Why did you cheat on me? I was so hot.

But Tiger did, and now he’s done what he shouldn’t have to do: admit it in public, just like Bill Clinton. Kenneth Starr trapped Clinton and the tabloids trapped Tiger. Both men were put in a corner where they had no choice but to confess. Many sane people will hold Clinton to a higher standard — he was the president of the United States — but Clinton has remained a beloved figure to many. I think Tiger will emerge mostly unscathed as well.

(An aside: I had always thought Tiger was so smart. Turns out, Maxwell Smart was smarter. He never cheated on the beautiful Agent 99. And how did Woods think, in this plugged-in age, that he would never get turned in? Didn’t he follow the Eliot Spitzer story?)

Still, you underestimate a man’s desire to have sex at your own peril. Others, men and women both, crave other things: proximity to celebrity, illicit excitement, fame no matter how it arrives. This used to be the stuff of novels. No need to make things up these days.

Things will be different for Tiger now. The racists, too numerable to count, now have more fodder, and they will hate Woods even more but continue to express it anonymously. Others will simply be disappointed in the man. But a far greater number will see Woods as more human, more interesting, less robotic, more like us. That is to say, flawed. And that will be good for Woods. Be recognized as a member of the human race, it’s nice. Moralists will point to him, red-faced, finger shaking, and say, “Sinner!” But they will continue to buy Nike sneakers whenever they go on sale at SneakerTown. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Tough grammatically, but otherwise a pretty damn good sentiment to remember right about now.

Sportswriters will be freed up, at least for a while. For years now, if you asked Woods about steroids or politics or his home life, he gave you close to nothing. Guys basically gave up. Or I did anyway. Now that he’s no longer untouchable, it’s a new day. Who knows? It’s not likely, but maybe Tiger will talk more about himself now. A safer bet is that others will now be more willing to engage in Tiger talk.

Not one sponsor will drop Tiger. This whole thing will have absolutely no effect on his golf game. He’s not as good now as he was in 2000, but nobody is ready to stand up to him week in and week out. Phil will have his weeks, but Tiger’s a marathoner and over time — the next five or eight years — he will wear you out. He’ll get to 19 and fade away.

I don’t imagine he’ll see Jaimee Grubbs, the cocktail waitress and alleged West Coast girlfriend, on his January trip to SoCal. According to Us Weekly, he did call her on Nov. 24, when the National Enquirer story was first going around cyberville. Did you hear this tape? People often ask, “What’s Tiger like?” There are more answers on that tape than you’ll get from any “60 Minutes” profile, that’s for sure. (But not more than you’ll get from Gary Smith. Re-read his ’96 story.)

Speaking slowly, a voice that sounds like Woods says, “Hey, it’s Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor. Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off that. Just have it as a number on the voicemail. You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. Bye.”

That first “please” comes out with almost pathetic urgency. It was the first time I ever heard Tiger needing something from another person. As it turns out, he didn’t get it. Still, he never sounded so human. And by the way, let’s not overdo the robotic thing. Did you see young Tiger hug his father when he won his first Masters in ’97? Or the embrace he had with Elin when he won the British Open in ’06, some months after his father’s death? Have you heard him curse or seen him throw a club? He’s human. He’s just more human now.

I will not speculate on what this means for his home life. When Clinton got caught, he brought the preachers into the White House. How’d that go? Who knows? I do feel I know Tiger well enough to say that there’s nothing more important to him than raising his daughter and son. He has said many times that he wants to be the kind of father to his kids that his father, Earl, was to him. Traditionally, that’s easier to accomplish with everybody under one roof, like Earl and Tida and Tiger were in their modest home in Cypress, Calif.

Tiger is nothing if not traditional. He wrote on his website, “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone.” What, you’re not going to take Elin by the hand, stroll across a stage in Chicago and do a tell-all with Oprah? That’s old-school, brother. I salute you.

Tiger’s from another era, really, the era when dating boys referred to their girlfriends as “my girl,” when the media was the press and telephones didn’t have cameras and tape recorders in them. John Kennedy and Mickey Mantle and Martin Luther King and Gandhi, those men never had a Jaimee problem, not in public. Woods was playing military golf courses with Earl, a former Green Beret, at age 10, in the company of men who were 30 and 40 years older than he was. They had been to war and back. They were men’s men. They didn’t watch Dr. Phil, but they shaped Tiger.

Arnold Palmer once told me, “I admire Tiger tremendously. But I wouldn’t trade my life for his for all the money in the world.” Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have told me almost the identical thing. Those icons could have a private life. And Tiger Woods cannot. He cannot fail in his private life and keep it private. If you didn’t know that before Thanksgiving, you surely know it now.

No wonder there’s not really a close second to him. Who would want to live like that?