And then the killer comes out and shoots 71 on the first day of The Masters.
I suspect this will be the last piece I write about Tiger Woods, but I’ve been skeptical about it before and it’s back with something worthy of further comment and reflection. The combination of human achievement and the skills of mankind in this man is rivaled only by that found in some of our greatest artists: Gauguin and Van Gogh, going steadily in Arles, or Robert Schumann, hearing voices telling him of the notes that went where, confusing the tertiary syphilis of inspiration, Or Virginia Woolf, walking the Ouse in her pockets full of stones. To me, he’s Tiger Woods, always full of surprises.
He plays great golf, and people pay me to write about it. He crashes his car and his marriage on one terrible Thanksgiving night, and people ask me to write about it. He came back and played poorly at the PGA in Rochester in 2013, and people ask me about it. He was arrested in Florida for falling asleep at the wheel, and people are asking me to write about it. Then, 14 months ago, he rolled his SUV, did an estimated 84 in 45, smashed both legs, and right right so bad that there was talk of her amputation, and people asked me to write about it. They had to get him out of his car with an axe. So here we are, on a weekend in Augusta, unleashed 71 on the first day of my master’s program, and people are asking me to write about it.
The reason why people asked me to write about various events in this man’s life is the first thing I wrote about him. In the winter of 1997, when I was a itinerant writer in GQThe editor, David Granger, asked me if I’d like to write a cover piece on Tiger Woods, who was then at the beginning of the supernova period. It will be shown in the April issue of the magazine in anticipation of Woods’ victory at the Masters that year which most observers deemed inevitable. (Narrator: It was). She agreed immediately and flew to California.
The first report came in La Costa, where Tiger won the Mercedes championship in a playoff across the green plains into which the mob had invested all of the Teamster’s pension money, beating Tom Lehmann for one more hole. He beat Lehman Bank by nearly hitting his ball through the rain and into the hole. This is how things were with him at the time. Not only did he win. He has overcome opponents and golf courses in total surrender.
The next day, I was appointed—and bargained rigidly, as you will see—a short time. This consisted of a limousine ride from his mother’s house to a photo shoot, taking the same photo, and then back in a limousine. I was explained (over and over) that I would have that amount of time, not milliseconds more, with my subject. Then this happened:
I gave the photographer an hour. One hour. Sixty minutes, flat, in front of the camera. In the studio, which was crammed into a Long Beach alley behind a copy shop and next to Andre’s tailoring shop (if you need an Aztec firebird on your hood quickly, Andre is your man), Panther was dressed very sharply by four beautiful women who He met all his needs and flirted with them at about nine. Tiger replied. Tiger told us some jokes.
Here are some of the jokes Tiger made:
Little rascals at school. The teacher wants them to use different words in the sentences. The first word is love. Spanky replies, “I love dogs.” The second is respect. Clover replies, “I respect how much Spanky loves dogs.” The third word is dictation. There is a pause in the room. Finally, the buckwheat raises his hand. Buckwheat says “Hi Darla.” “How is my penis delayed?”
There was more of this, then
It’s an interesting question, made even more clear when Tiger looked at me and said, “Hey, you can’t write this.”
“It’s too late,” I told him, and was very serious, but everyone laughed because everyone knows there is no place in the Panther Bible for such jokes. Tiger gave the photographer his watch, and we were in the car with Vincent and drove back towards Tiger’s mother’s house. “Well, what do you think of the shoot?” Tiger asks, yawning, because being transported in a limousine and being handled by beautiful women and photographing for a magazine cover will put him 296 times in the next year, if he chooses, can be very stressful work. He says, “The key to that is to give them time and stick with it. If I say I’m there for an hour, I’m there, on time, for an hour. If they ask me, I say, ‘Fuck, no damn it.’ And I’m out there.”
And now, after a quarter-century of time spent rigorously negotiating two hours, all these other quests in all other events of an eventful life, on reconstructed legs, unleashed 71 shots on the first day of The Masters. I mean, damn it.
It didn’t become a thing until Fuzzy Zoeller opened his guild device.
The piece hit the stands at the end of March of 1997. And it wasn’t until then that Lisa Hintelman, the boldest Wrangler daredevil, was. GQHe told me how miserable the negotiations were, which led to me taking two hours. She said it was the worst experience of its kind in her career, and Lisa had to regularly deal with Hollywood publicity. As I came to learn, Tiger and his management team, Shark Tank known as IMG, wanted him to appear on the cover of a major magazine in anticipation of the Masters, so they ran different magazines with each other, and for reasons known only to the Sharks, GQ She won honors.
Once I hit the piece, there was no immediate recoil, to my astonishment. Oh, the Earl Woods went with Charlie Rose and accused me of bugging the limo driver, and Charlie waved a copy of the magazine and bragged to the Earl that he didn’t intend to read the piece. (In response, the late Art Cooper, his memory may be a blessing, told me, he would send a box of the case to Rose’s office. I don’t know if he ever followed through,) A prominent golf writer called me Nonsense on national television. But that was pretty much it. The infamous portions of the piece were obliterated in the public eye by Woods’ masterful victory in Augusta.
Honestly, I was happy with that. I was not an expert in man. I was just someone who had a tough negotiation with him for two hours of time to hang out, saying some things and telling some jokes that went against the carefully designed public image that I already felt had become a burden to him. I thought with God.
Then Fuzzy Zoeller stepped onto the CBS cameras.
“He’s doing really well, really cool. This little kid is driving really well and he’s doing fine. He’s doing whatever it takes to win. You know what you guys do when he gets in here? She pats him on the back and says congratulations, enjoying him and telling him not to serve fried chicken next year.” I get you. Or collard greens or whatever they serve.”
Zoeller was hit by the entire train. He lost his sponsorship deals with Kmart and Dunlop. But then came the backlash against backlash. Bad-willed actors from all over the media started declaring that Zoeller had been “cancelled,” as we say these days, while Woods skated on what he was quoted as saying in GQ. (The racial aspect of this argument, similar to racist arguments against affirmative action, has been under scrutiny.) I’ve had a few interview requests, mostly from people I know and trust. But I took a step back, got rid of the madness, and moved on to write about other things.
I have always been bothered by Janet Malcolm’s famous anatomy of the craft of journalism. I thought it was exaggerated by half. (The Milgram experience? Really?) But as the eventful life of Tiger Woods over the past 25 years has unfolded, and people have kept asking me to write about return, aborted and otherwise, messy family scandals, and near-fatal car wrecks, I wondered if Malcolm was right when she wrote:
He is a trusting type man, who takes advantage of people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like a silly widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings wasted, so he learns the subject of consent in a piece of nonfiction – when the article or book appears – his hard lesson. Journalists justify their betrayal in different ways, depending on their mood.
I mean, what did I really know about this guy anyway? What made me an authority? Two hours of time lounging in a limousine and warehouse up the alley from an auto detailing joint? During the Thanksgiving episode, she was suspended as long as the matter was still in the hands of the police. When it just became a horrific family disaster, I checked it out. I wasn’t the go-to authority for anyone’s libido. including my own. I think this is a reasonable position to prevent me from having horrific nightmares.
And now that Woods is almost dead and back to hit some pro golf, I don’t know more about how that happened who – which than anyone else in the world. We shared two hours at once, a quarter of a century ago. I know now what I knew then, and nothing more. As for Woods, well, I hope he finds his way into those red numbers again. Go with God, tiger. Hire a driver.