Today, a handful of friends either emailed, IM’d or text messaged me about Rick Reilly’s article on Tiger Woods’ temper problem. (I’d like to point out Shane Bacon said the same thing two days earlier.) So I figured I should add my two cents.
I agree and disagree with Reilly. To be honest, I’d never been the biggest Tiger fan. I’ve never been one to praise anything and everything he does. I cheered for him on rare occasions. Without a doubt, he’s the best player in the world and he has done leaps and bounds for the game. Still, I always felt like he was kind of an arrogant jerk and just wasn’t personable; perhaps not enough of a role model or “ambassador” the way Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have been. I know we can’t expect Tiger to do it all. But he does have a TREMENDOUS impact on not only golf but the entire sports industry – perhaps it even goes beyond that. Along with Michael Jordan, he’s the most well known name and face in the world.
But, the guy has grown on me. Over the past few months, I’ve taken a closer look and realized that Tiger’s behavior is part of the reason why he’s so good. (I mean, duh, right?) He’s a competitor. He goes out there and expects to win every time. I respect him for his sincerity; he doesn’t “play to the crowd” to be liked (in contrast to some of his contemporaries). I think it says a lot about his character. Even Tom Watson commended Tiger for how he deals with the media hype and constant attention every week. And until the British Open, he’d calmed down quite a bit – there were less tantrums and he was more affable.
No doubt Tiger acts like a baby sometimes. And yes, the cursing and the club throwing are bad examples to set for kids. In fact, watching Tiger at the ‘98 PGA Championship probably scarred my image of him. I was 15 and it was the first time I’d ever seen him play live. On the 13th hole at Sahalee, he hit a bad drive. His reaction was the usual – club slam and F-bomb. The fact that I remember it so clearly says something in itself (I’m actually shocked I recall the exact hole). I was horrified; some of the kids I played junior golf with threw clubs or acted like jerks and it always bothered me. When I saw Tiger do it, it did almost make me think it was “OK” to behave that way. Personally, I didn’t catch on, but being that kids/teens are impressionable, it’s fair to say many would.
In Tiger’s defense, he could be doing worse. If you compare him to Roger Federer, which is probably the best one, then he’s bad. However, if you compare him to some high-profile guys in the NBA or NFL, he’s a dream role model. They get arrested for drugs, sexual assault, guns and the likes. They’re (read: Kobe) still “role models” and most are regarded highly by their peers, fans and the media. For Reilly to say that Nike should be concerned about Tiger’s behavior is kind of ridiculous. If they were to address anyone’s misconduct, they’d have a long list of greater offenders before they got to Tiger.
So you say golf is different, it’s a gentleman’s sport and etiquette is an important part of the game. Of course I agree. I don’t necessarily condone Tiger’s behavior but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Look at it this way, no one would be writing about Jordan flipping out after missing a free throw in game 7 of the NBA Finals; or A-Rod striking out in the 9th inning of a World Series; or Eli Manning throwing three interceptions in a Superbowl. Golf is a sport, like the others, right? So it’s OK for those guys to get mad but not for Tiger? I’m not saying he or the other players should start cursing, trash-talking or throwing clubs left and right. But the stars are supposed to show up with their A game for the biggest events and when they don’t, they should be visibly upset. If they didn’t, I’d be concerned with their determination to be the best.
[Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Europe]