Wow, I’m pretty blown away after having just finished reading Wright Thompson’s 10,000-word dossier for ESPN.com on Tiger Woods. It’s not that I’m so much surprised by the revelations (as most of us already know about or have always suspected Tiger’s social awkwardness and military obsession) — the feature is just an incredibly well-written, well-reported and comprehensive look into his guarded life.
If you haven’t already, it’s definitely worth taking the time to give the piece a close, thorough read. Here are a few anecdotes that stood out and several revelations we learn.
*Tiger is weird. (Duh.)
Marina staff members come across a lot of celebrities, and when they gather away from work, they tell stories, about how Johnny Depp is down-to-earth or how Tiger isn’t a diva but is just, well, he’s just really weird. Once, when his dog left a tennis ball in the harbormaster’s office, Tiger called down and asked someone to “secure” the ball until a crew member could retrieve it, and the staff still laugh and roll their eyes about it. They don’t know that he often uses military lingo, a small window into how deep he’s gotten into that world, words like “secure” and “downrange” and, even in text messages to his friend Michael Jordan, “roger that.”
*As insiders have known, Earl Woods, Tiger’s late father, was a cad and cheated constantly on his mother. While Tiger and Earl were extremely close, Tiger wasn’t happy with his dad’s extracurricular activities.
The most serious rift between them, which festered for years, centered on Earl’s love for women. Tiger hated that his dad cheated on his mom and cried to his high school girlfriend about it. His parents never divorced but moved into their own houses, and the only reason they still needed to communicate at all was their son’s rising golf career; like many overachieving kids in a broken home, Tiger found early on that his talent could help create the family he wanted.
*Tiger’s obsession with the Navy SEALs was very real.
Eventually, Woods learned how to clear a room, working corners and figuring out lanes of fire, doing something only a handful of civilians are ever allowed to do: run through mock gun battles with actual Navy SEALs. “He can move through the house,” says Ed Hiner, a retired SEAL who helped oversee training during the time and wrote a book called First, Fast, Fearless. “He’s not freaking out. You escalate it. You start shooting and then you start blowing s— up. A lot of people freak out. It’s too loud, it’s too crazy. He did well.”
*Tiger was out clubbing in NYC with Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter and asked for their advice on how to talk to girls.
The sexual bravado hid his awkwardness around women. One night he went to a club in New York with Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan. Jeter and Jordan circulated, talking with ease to one beautiful woman after another. (Both declined to comment about the episode.) At one point, Tiger walked up to them and asked the question that lives in the heart of every junior high boy and nearly every grown man too.
“What do you do to talk to girls?”
Jeter and Jordan looked at each other, then back at Tiger, sort of stunned.
Go tell ’em you’re Tiger Woods, they said.
*It’s no secret that Tiger is cheap. He once went out to lunch with a group of SEALs and awkwardly didn’t pick up the tab.
Then there’s the story of the lunch, which spread throughout the Naval Special Warfare community. Guys still tell it, almost a decade later. Tiger and a group of five or six went to a diner in La Posta. The waitress brought the check and the table went silent, according to two people there that day. Nobody said anything and neither did Tiger, and the other guys sort of looked at one another.
Finally one of the SEALs said, “Separate checks, please.”
*Tiger probably injured his left knee during his obsessive training with the SEALs.
On July 22, he finished tied for 12th at the Open Championship, and then came home. In the weeks afterward, he’d announce that he’d ruptured his left ACL while jogging in Isleworth. His news release did not mention whether he’d been running in sneakers or combat boots. At the time, he chose to skip surgery and keep playing. Tiger’s account might be true, as might the scenario laid out in Haney’s book: that he tore the ACL in the Kill House with SEALs. Most likely, they’re both right. The knee suffered repeated stresses and injuries, from military drills and elite-level sports training and high-weight, low-rep lifting. A man who saw him doing CQD training says, “It’s kind of funny, when you have an injury it almost seems like a magnet for trauma. He almost never had something hit his right knee. It was always his left knee that got kicked, or hit, or shot, or landed on. Always the left knee.”
*His longtime agent Mark Steinberg tried to intervene with Tiger’s seemingly unhealthy fascination with military training.
That night after dinner, Steinberg took Tiger into his downstairs office, a room in his finished basement. What they talked about remains private. But this was the moment when Tiger could have connected the dots and seen how out of control things had become. Everyone felt good about the talk. Afterward, Haney wrote, Tiger was different and the military trips became less of a distraction.
*Tiger’s close friend Michael Jordan is worried about him dealing with coming to grips on retirement.
All driven people experience a reckoning at the end of their life’s work, but when that work feels incomplete, or somehow tainted, the regrets can fester with time. This reckoning is coming for Tiger, which worries his friend Michael Jordan, who knows more about the next 10 years of Tiger’s life than nearly anyone alive. It’s jarring to be dominant and then have it suddenly end. “I don’t know if he’s happy about that or sad about that,” Jordan says. “I think he’s tired. I think he really wishes he could retire, but he doesn’t know how to do it yet, and I don’t think he wants to leave it where it is right now. If he could win a major and walk away, he would, I think.”
*Jordan also had this to add…
They texted in November, the day after a big group went out to dinner at Tiger’s restaurant. Tiger got drunk and they all laughed and told stories, and Michael thought Tiger seemed relaxed, which made him hopeful. Tiger talked about his injuries a lot but not much about the future. “The thing is,” Jordan says, “I love him so much that I can’t tell him, ‘You’re not gonna be great again.'”
*Finally, other revelations in the article include that Tiger believes in ghosts, buried his father in an unmarked grave in Kansas and read books about physics.