Shipnuck: “What happened (to Tiger Woods)?”
By Stephanie Wei under Tiger Woods

SI Cover- Tiger Woods

This week’s Sports Illustrated cover features Tiger Woods with the headline: “What Happened? It Remains The Most Vexing Question in Sports.”  SI senior writer Alan Shipnuck looks back on Woods’s career over the eight years since he last won a major title, and explains why the 40-year-old former star may never regain his dominance in the sport. 

Shipnuck does an excellent job reflecting on — and celebrating the apexes of — Woods’ career and personal life from when he was a youth to the 40-year-old single father of two children. It’s a great in-depth report, especially with little contribution speaking with the subject himself (but that’s something Shipnuck is able to tackle better than anybody else in the industry IMHO).

I could throw out five or six hot takes on “what happened to Tiger Woods?” but Shipnuck’s dossier is much more balanced, thoughtful and well-reported — it’s definitely a #longread, but you’ll be fixated by the fantastic story-telling and the enigma that is Tiger Woods.

Here are some of the highlights:

PGA Tour golfer Charles Howell III describes a boating trip he took with Tiger and Tiger’s attempt to cage dive with great white sharks: “We chummed the water for seven or eight hours, but there’s not a shark to be seen. Tiger is bored out of his mind. He’s wearing a wetsuit to dive into the cage in case any sharks come, and suddenly he just jumps into open water. He’s decided to swim over to the island and get up close to the seals. The guys on the boat are going nuts, shouting for Tiger to come back, but he just keeps swimming, through all the chum … After what seems like an eternity, he swims back and casually gets back on the boat… He’s just different from normal people. Completely fearless.”

On whether or not Woods’ career is over: “He’s still Tiger Woods and he has an imprint to play great golf, and he will do it again… He just thinks differently from everybody else, which is why he was so great. If the guy were to get off his couch and show up at the Masters and win I would not be be surprised, because that’s who he is.”

Jordan Spieth talks to SI about the effect Woods’ chip-in on the 70th hole of the 2005 Masters had on him: “I was just starting to really pick golf as my No. 1 sport and fall in love with it…. That really cemented it… It made me want to go out that day, that evening, and work on my short game. It was like, you know what, I want to go try and hit that shot right now.”

Woods’ former swing coach Hank Haney on understanding Woods’ indifference as to whether or not he would beat Nicklaus’ record: “That was a big wow. I finally understood he really doesn’t give a s—. The media has always been so clueless on Tiger. They’ve always thought that beating Jack’s record is the most important thing in his life. If that’s your premise, and it’s wrong, then  all the assumptions you make after that are wrong too. It was obvious in the way his work ethic fell off and his attitude on the course that he had lost a lot of his desire. On some level he was just tired of being Tiger Woods.”

Sean Foley, former swing instructor for Woods, remembers watching Tiger prior to becoming his coach: “On Sundays [at major championships] he would walk onto the range like an emperor. Guys stop hitting balls just to watch him walk. He knows that he is going to beat you. You know that he is going to beat you. He knows that you know, and you know that he knows.”

[One quick aside: I definitely agree with Foley’s quote about how pre-scandal Woods walked the range like he was an emperor. I wasn’t covering golf full-time at this time, but I attended a few events as a spectator in 2009, and what I’ll never forget is his aura. It’s hard to describe, but he almost didn’t look or seem real — like he was some perfectly-made doll or golfing robot. He didn’t speak to anyone, but just appeared to look right through everyone, especially on Sundays. Like I hear they used to say, Tiger walked to the first tee every Sunday with a couple-shot lead already just because of his mystique and air he carried.]

’06 U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy aptly describes the vexing questions of Tiger Woods’ career: “He epitomizes a power in the universe that we don’t understand…  He did stuff that science, common sense and golf history can’t explain … We don’t get how he did it, and we want to know why he lost it and where it’s gone and why he can’t get it back. Maybe even Tiger doesn’t know. Maybe during this time away he’s searching for the same answers. But I do know we all want to see him do it one more time, to be reminded of how special it was. He certainly has nothing left to prove to anyone. It just feels like he deserves a different ending.”

PGA Tour player and Woods’ Orlando neighbor Stuart Appleby on Tiger’s solitude: “I think we all wonder about him, wonder if he’s lonely… What is loneliness? Is it having regrets for the things you’ve done? There has to be a rebooting of his life because he’s got decades and decades left.”

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