John Feinstein Blog: Tiger Woods Never A Truly Happy Person

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DUBLIN, OH - JUNE 03: Tiger Woods looks at the crowd following the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance at Muirfield Village Golf Club on June 3, 2012 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods (Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

When you drive past the entrance to Congressional Country Club on River Road in Bethesda, Maryland, you can clearly see the driving range. Which is why early commuters on Wednesday morning, were treated to the sight of a large gaggle of people armed with cameras, notebooks and tape recorders, crowding around one spot on the far side of the range.

They all wore media badges and armbands and they had arrived at Congressional shortly after sunrise to record every possible movement—swing, deep breath, swig of water—made by Eldrick Tiger Woods. This wasn’t before Woods teed it up in a major championship. It wasn’t even before he played in a weekly PGA Tour event. It was before he played in a Wednesday pro-am.

Yes, boys and girls, Tiger Woods is back—again. Woods has made more comebacks in recent years than Richard Nixon and George Foreman combined. Often, he has been hurt. Once, he got caught in a humiliating scandal that destroyed his marriage and his family. But each comeback is almost exactly the same in one important way: People in golf treat it as if he’s an Apollo 11 astronaut who has just come back from the moon.

There’s a very good reason for that: Woods is one of those rare transcendent athletes who ratchets everything up when he shows up. Attendance goes up; sponsorships go up; TV ratings generally double; media attendance soars and people who don’t know a golf ball from a hockey puck at least take note that there’s a golf tournament going on.

The only other golfer in history who has had this sort of affect on golf’s popularity is Arnold Palmer, who first made golf a viable sport for corporate America and TV in the 1950s, with both his golf and his charisma. Palmer won a lot of tournaments—including seven majors—and charmed just about everyone he ever came into contact with along the way. Even today at 84, Palmer is still charming people.

Woods is a much better player than Palmer. At 38 he has won 14 major titles and 79 PGA Tour events in all. Actually, he won those 14 majors by the time he was 32 and appeared to be a lock to go past Jack Nicklaus’s all-time majors record of 18 wins long before he was 40. Now, unless Woods wins five of the next six majors, that’s not going to happen. Whether he will ever surpass Nicklaus is in serious doubt. Even so—at worst—Woods is the second greatest player of all time. The case can be made that when he was his most dominant—winning four majors in a row and 7 of 11—no one, not even Nicklaus, was his equal.

But if Woods is vastly superior to Palmer as a golfer, Palmer has always left Woods in the dust when it comes to charm.

Woods CAN be charming—but his charm always drips with phoniness. He’ll smile for the cameras when it suits him; when it involves a sponsor or a payday. The old saying is that the measure of a person is how they treat those who can’t help them in any way. Woods has failed that test regularly for years—whether it be with kids lined up for autographs—he’s the king of the sign and walk when he signs at all—media members or the guys who work in locker rooms on tour where he is notorious for being a lousy tipper.

Whenever I bring these things up, the cadre of Tiger-lovers in the world—and there are quite a few of them—accuse me of the following:

Disliking him because he wouldn’t talk to me for a book. In fact, the one and only time I asked him to talk to me for a book—in which he would have played a minor role since the book was on the major championships and he didn’t win a major that year—he actually said YES until his father ordered him not to do it. I respected him for being honest with me about it and for telling me himself rather than sending a flunkie to do it.

Being unfair to Woods since, “none of you hacks would have jobs if not for Tiger Woods.” Actually I had a job long before Woods came along. For the record, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” my best-selling golf book contained one reference to him since he was an 18-year-old amateur when I wrote it.

Being angry because he doesn’t speak to me one-one-one. Woods doesn’t speak to ANYONE one-on-one unless he’s pitching product—ever see him on ‘Morning Drive,’ without someone from Nike sitting by his side?—or has a specific agenda. And, to be honest, until the day comes (probably never) that Woods actually wants to share his true feelings on any issue, I have zero interest in talking to him. Woods’ PR guy, Glenn Greenspan—one of the world’s true lost souls—asked me once why I never attend Woods’ press conferences. My answer was, ‘why bother?’ He never says anything interesting.  “I feel good; I’m glad to be back; we’ll see how it goes; I think I’ve learned a lot; I do it for the kids.”

Take your pick, you know it’s coming.

And finally, “you never played golf, what do you know?” I’ve played golf since I was 14, I’ve just never played it WELL. Here’s what I have done though: talked to (at length) and watched up close the best golfers in the world for a long, long time. The point—at least to me is to write well about people, not birdies and bogeys. Can I analyze a swing or a golf course if asked? Sure. But it isn’t what I do. Dan Jenkins, probably the best golf writer ever, was a good player—but not anywhere close to being good enough to compete as a pro. Same for Jim Murray. Frank Deford wasn’t much of an athlete. It didn’t seem to hinder him when it came to writing about athletes did it?

My point here is not that I dislike Tiger Woods. I don’t know him well enough—and never will—to like or dislike him. I do feel sorry for him because I believe his father ruined his life. He stole much of his childhood from him; put unbearable pressure on him to become a star—and, thus a human ATM machine for his dad—and then ensured that he would never trust anyone after Tiger found out that he had been cheating on his mother for years.

Tiger became a great, great golfer. But never—and I have observed him now for 18 years—a truly happy person. Winning gives him momentary joy; making money gives him satisfaction; but I’m not sure anything makes him truly happy for any length of time.

The person who is worthy of true dislike is Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent, who revels in being able to bully people because he works for Woods and is arrogant almost beyond belief. He’s also not very good at his job (unlike his boss). The 2009 disaster could not possibly have been handled worse. If there’s a wrong way to do something, Steinberg will almost always find it.

What I ultimately don’t understand is this: I know why people still want to watch Woods play golf. They want to see if the genius will come back, if it still lives somewhere inside him because when he was great he was great in ways no one has ever been great.

But why—WHY—are so many people still emotionally involved in Tiger Woods? Why do they get SO upset when he loses or when he’s criticized by ANYONE? The golfer is certainly worthy of our attention. The person? Sorry, not so much.

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