The most amazing thing about the Tiger Woods interview on Time.com is that it exists at all. The interview was conducted by the veteran and widely respected Canadian golf writer Lorne Rubenstein. Woods almost never gives serious, long, revealing one-on-one sit-down interviews. (Or ever, really.) This appears to be one. With Woods, everything in his public life is so orchestrated, there was reason to be suspicious about Woods’s motives here. (Or there was for me.) It was a relief to learn that Rubenstein simply contacted Woods’s people, requested an interview and, after a little back-and-forth, there was one. Rubenstein told GOLF.com that the interview lasted two-and-a-half hours and was conducted at Woods’s new restaurant in Jupiter, Fla.
Woods is one of the most significant athletes of the last half-century. He’s intelligent, he has a prodigious memory, he’s endured a great deal in every way. If we knew him better we — the sports-watching public — would like him more and pay him more. In golf, Arnold Palmer is the ultimate example of that. In basketball, Kobe Bryant endured his own humiliating episode when his private sex life became public fodder. He came right through it, at least in his public life, for one reason above all others: He has presented himself as a real person, someone you can believe and, in ways, relate to. When Tiger talks, I often have no idea what he is saying. Not always by any means. But often.
This interview is different. It’s the Woods I have long suspected was there. The most moving thing in it is the obvious pain he feels for the heartbreak he brought to his home as a result of his sex life becoming public. He talked about telling his two children about his “mistakes,” and his plan to tell them “the real story” when “they come of age.”
Without being maudlin, and without oversharing, he talked about his relationships with Elin, and with the skier Lindsey Vonn. He talked about being satisfied with his career, the 14 majors, the 79 PGA Tour wins, plus a score more in various places in the world. He talked about the wide misconception that he had a list of Nicklaus’s 18 major championships on a bedroom wall, when in fact it was a timeline of Nicklaus’s age for his various wins. There’s a significant difference. For years, I have thought that Woods had an OCD relationship with the number 18, an obsessive need to match it and pass it. I’m much less sure now.
In The Big Miss by Hank Haney, his former teacher quotes Woods as saying that he is satisfied with his 14 majors. I believe it. He gave it his all.
Haney wrote that book with Jaime Diaz, the Golf Digest writer. Nobody has written about Woods with more insight than Jaime. I asked him what impressed him most about the interview. Jaime said he was struck most about what Woods said when Rubenstein asks him about where he finds peace. Woods says, “I would have to say that, probably, my only peace has been in between the ropes and hitting the shots.” It was a great question, an obviously truthful answer, and I think Jaime nailed it: It’s the most arresting moment in an interview that has many of them.
Raising kids is challenging. Living in a big house with more rooms than you could possibly need, I’ve never known anybody for whom that brought peace. Having financial security must be deeply pleasing, but it’s not the same as having peace. Tiger showed his soul in that answer. What will be difficult for him, at 40 and for the rest of his life, is that feeling that he had between the ropes in his prime is never going to return.
I have had tremendous admiration for Woods, the athlete. How could you not? On a personal level, I have found him to be arrogant and a taker, but not as arrogant as many make him out to be, and as far as being a taker one should — I should — also bear in mind how much good his foundation has done. What this interview does is show the complexities of what it is like to be Tiger Woods. It is a more complex business than being Arnold Palmer or Michael Jordan, in part because of Tiger’s nature, which is to be private and suspicious. He’s telling the truth, of course, when he says you don’t want your opponents to see that you’re hurt. He’s taking a page there from the boxers and the sprinters. Most professional golfers don’t even speak of opponents.
There’s a great deal that Lorne — a friend, as is Jaime — did not get to, understandably so. Tiger’s relationship with his father. His rules debacles in 2013. The psychic toll of his public scandal. But what he did here — what Tiger did here, really — is make himself seem more human. We knew he was, but now there’s a little more proof. The man, at 40, is coming out of hiding. He’ll only get more interesting from here, and our appreciation for him will only increase.