Tiger Woods owes me nothing.
Not an apology, not an explanation, not an itinerary of where he’s been or what — and who — he’s done. He broke no laws that I know of, although his association with that Canadian doctor accused of dealing in performance-enhancing drugs is very troubling. All Tiger did was earn a traffic citation for his errant drive off a fire hydrant down the street from his home.
He doesn’t need a tearful televised confession with Oprah. For one thing, that is so not Tiger. For another, it’s a no-win situation. No amount of remorse for his caravan of mistresses can make him a sympathetic figure. The court of public opinion has already ruled on this case. Oprah or Dr. Phil? Ignore the Nike motto and just don’t do it, Tiger.
Those loud media voices calling for full disclosure and yet another (more detailed) apology as a necessary means of healing are looking out only for their self-interests. Another helping of juicy, sensational nuggets will simply drive more viewers toward the content these voices sell and profit from. That does not help Tiger.
Launching a charm offensive would be the obvious long-term fix upon Tiger’s return. That would mean doing things Tiger has never done. Signing autographs for extended periods (like, ahem, Phil). Answering questions thoughtfully, sincerely and at length (like Jack). Informally fielding more questions with writers in scrums after press conferences (like Jack). Building personal relationships with some media members (like almost everyone else). Hanging around the locker room and getting to know some players beyond a cursory “Howzit goin’?”
Tiger’s competitive edge is in his genes, though. His father raised him on a diet of you-and-me-against-the-world. His let-no-one-inside-the walls approach has served him well on the course. A tiger, this Tiger, cannot change his stripes.
The more likely alternative is a Tiger further removed from the media and public. His recent disappearance is remarkably Howard Hughes-like. His approach to the media if and when he returns may fall somewhere between Steve Carlton’s wall of silence and Ben Hogan’s occasional grudging but limited conversation. (Like when a young Gary Player called him with a question about the golf swing and admitted he played Dunlop equipment, not Hogan clubs. The answer he got was “Then call Mr. Dunlop,” followed by a click.)
Tiger’s path and his recent out-of-marriage behavior means he’s already missed the turn in the road toward Beloved Elder Statesman of the Game, but he is on course for Iconoclastic Hermit. Which would be a shame.
NBC’s Johnny Miller had the guts to say that Tiger’s actions have damaged golf, and Miller is right. But that is because the PGA Tour, thanks to Tiger’s dominance and its own desire to expand its reach and revenue far beyond its traditional niche, focused on Tiger to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. If Tiger had a sex-addiction problem, the tour has a much worse Tiger-addiction problem. At least Tiger allegedly sought help for his issues.
Tiger built his legend and a fortune in 12 years on the tour. He made millions for the tour and its denizens in that time, helping purses quadruple to giddying heights and lifting golf to the front page of sports, sometimes even the front page of the whole newspaper. Plus, his arrival may have singlehandedly rescued a sinking Golf Channel.
Any perceived debt has long since been paid in full by the fruits of his amazing success. If Tiger decides to give up golf and go diving or mountain biking or search for the meaning of life, that’s his choice. He is welcome to move on if that’s what he wants.
Tiger’s only obligation is to his wife, his children and his conscience. Those apologies, in whatever form they may take, are their personal property. His family’s bond is threatened and his right to privacy is almost certainly permanently revoked, the victim of incredible wealth, fame, sex scandals, bad judgment and a coming wave of relentless paparazzi.
That should be payment enough. His road ahead looks steep and rugged. Tiger Woods owes me nothing else.