NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Try as he might, and he tries hard, Tiger Woods can’t not make news.
He came to the Aronimink Golf Club on Tuesday to promote his tournament, the AT&T National, and his charity, the Tiger Woods Foundation. The club president made some remarks. The head of the Tiger Woods Foundation made some remarks. Tiger sat, still and silent, on a high stool wearing Nike running shoes and a striped shirt and a Nike baseball cap, the brim much curved, flying in the face of street fashion. Eventually it was question time for the world’s 12th-ranked golfer. The first one, of course, was not about the tournament. It was not about his foundation. It was about his health.
And in drips and drabs, the news came out. He hasn’t hit a ball since a front-nine 42 in the first round of the Players on May 12. He’s been walking around home with a boot on his left leg and crutches under his arms. He suggested that it’s unlikely that he’ll play in next week’s Tour stop, the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, Jack Nicklaus’s event. Asked about the Memorial, Woods raised his left hand in the air, shook it back and forth (but nothing like the Queen of England making a wave) and said, “It’s certainly doubtful.” He didn’t come out and say he’s not playing because he hadn’t “talked to Jack yet.”
He expects to play in the U.S. Open at Congressional, although he didn’t dismiss the possibility that he would not, which was certainly an honest thing to say because, with Woods these days, who knows? Who knows about anything? At Aronimink, his upper arms looked, as they have for years, massive. He leg muscles, he said, have “atrophied” from lack of use. He also said you couldn’t compare what he is going through now to other flare-ups since his last big knee surgery. “You can handle pain,” he said. “But being injured is a different deal.”
In fact, those were Woods’s final words in his press conference. There was one lone question about the AT&T National, which will be played June 30-July 3 on a Donald Ross course that, stretched out to 7,200 yards, still plays short for Woods and his brethren. Why would there be more? Tiger’s day-to-day life is so uncertain, a tournament that begins at the end of next month seems like it’s a million years away.
For years, Tiger’s professional life was set on a calendar the whole golf world knew. The majors, the WGC events, Arnold’s event and Tiger’s event and a couple of his own. Now all bets are off. He used to peak for four events a year. Remember 2007, when he was second at the Masters and the U.S. Open, 12th at the British Open and won the PGA Championship? That’s a career for 99 percent of Tour players, but you never hear anyone talk about it anymore.
Tiger has won 14 majors and talked on Tuesday of his boyhood hero, Jack Nicklaus, stuck forever on 18. “That 18 is the benchmark of our sport,” Woods said. “Nobody has played the major championships better than Jack has.”
Will Tiger get to 15? Will he get to 18? Johnny Miller used to say no, then he said yes, lately he’s been hedging. Responding to a question about remarks Miller made about Tiger’s swing, Woods said of Miller, “Johnny knows everything, doesn’t he?” Every once in a while a glimpse of the real Tiger — a smart, edgy, opinionated, interesting person — emerges.
For the most part, there is a massive chasm between Woods as he presents himself in these stilted press conferences and Woods as he really leads his life.
There’s a small charter school at 12th and Vine Streets in downtown Philadelphia called the KIPP School (Knowledge is Power Program). The KIPP high school in Philadelphia is, for this year, only ninth grade, with the school planning to add a grade each year. The school leadership has been talking to the Tiger Woods Foundation about financial support. The heads of the school, Marc Mannella and Aaron Bass, knew several representatives from the Tiger Woods Foundation would be coming Tuesday morning. With about 20 minutes notice, they were asked if they could bring one more: Tiger Woods.
The school is in an old office building. There are 100 kids in the ninth grade, all on the fourth floor. Ninety percent of them are African American and 84 percent of them live below the poverty line. The school is tuition-free and meant for kids bound for college. Woods came off the elevator with his Nike hat and his golf shirt and Mannella said to himself, “It’s Tiger Woods. That’s Tiger Woods walking toward me.”
And then he saw a side of Tiger Woods and we never see.
There were no cameras around, no autograph seekers, no reporters. Woods popped his head into Mollie Smith’s science class. The boys were in their khaki pants and white shirts and blue-and-gold ties. The girls the same, except skirts and collar ties. The class lesson was about electric cars and how to market them.
“So this is a science class, but they’re talking about marketing?” Woods asked aloud. He’s curious that way. Any courtesy-car driver who has driven Woods will tell you the same thing. Woods seemed impressed that the teaching wasn’t just dry, out-of-a-book stuff about fossil fuels. It was experiential. KIPP’s talks with the Tiger Woods Foundation are ongoing.
“There’s a lot to be learned from Tiger Woods, who he is, how he got where he is,” Mannella said.
Woods stayed for about 20 minutes and left for Aronimink. He made one quick mention of KIPP School in his press conference. Turned out to be the most interesting thing.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Tiger Woods had not played all four majors in the same year since 2007. He played all four in 2009 and 2010.