Sunday, December 13, 2009

Showing His Stripes

I took up golf when I was 13-years-old. Even though I had spent my entire childhood playing sports, I’d always preferred catching passes or fielding grounders to hitting putts. But with my dad’s passion for the game encoded on my genes, it was only a matter of time, and once I struck my first pure 3-iron shot, I was hooked.

Ever since then, no one’s been able to get a club out of my hand. Not only do I love being out on the course, surrounded by nature in a beautiful setting, the game gives me a special language that I can speak with my father, something that I treasure deeply. And despite Roy McAvoy’s (Tin Cup) warning that “perfection is unattainable,” I enjoy tinkering and experimenting with my golf swing in hopes of discovering that one magic move that will unleash my full potential.

But more than anything else, I am captivated by the individualistic nature of the sport – that I’m out there alone, and it is all up to me to overcome the hazards, the elements, the breaks, and even my inner demons to get that little white ball into the hole.

Each time I tee it up is like taking a long look in the mirror and being put face to face with every facet of my personality. I learn more about myself – my strengths, my weaknesses, my integrity, my spirit – in 18 holes than I ever could on Dr. Melfi’s couch.

The game has this uncanny ability to expose your true character, testing you in every way imaginable. It will deflect a perfectly-executed shot into the water. It will defy you to bounce back from a double bogey that’s completely your fault. It will present you the opportunity to cheat without anyone knowing. And the way you handle all of this – the misfortune, the adversity, the ethics – can reveal who you genuinely are as a person.

Sadly, the exact opposite appears to be true of Tiger Woods.

On the golf course, Woods is the embodiment of a champion, possessing an iconic combination of talent, skill and athleticism that has propelled him to play the game at arguably the highest level ever. With a mental and emotional approach that rivals his physical gifts, he can seemingly will himself and his golf ball to do whatever is needed to succeed (case in point: winning the 2008 U.S. open on a broken leg).

But with the recent revelation that he has been unfaithful to his wife, cheating on her with enough mistresses to field a couple of starting basketball lineups, the public persona we’ve witnessed on the fairways was evidently nothing more than a façade.

When the news first broke, I immediately dismissed it, figuring it was just the work of some tabloid publication scrounging for exposure. After all, I had seen the American-dream portraits of Woods with his family. I had watched the commercial in which he eagerly awaits the delivery of a tiny set of Nike golf clubs for his unborn child. I had witnessed the scene at the British Open, where he fell into his wife’s arms, overcome with emotion from winning his first major title since losing his father.

There was no way he could’ve done this.

“It’s Tiger,” I assured myself.

That sentiment of belief carried a lot of credence, having been built over years and years of Woods being in the limelight. From the moment he walked onto the stage of The Mike Douglas Show at the age of two, he's been a part of our lives. We may have only watched him on a TV screen or from behind a gallery rope, but we got the sense we knew him, and we cheered him on as if he was our best friend.

The personification of hard work and determination, he was the poster child for everything that was right with the world, showing us that true greatness is possible, inspiring us to keep reaching for the stars and going after our dreams.

Several years ago, when I was attempting to play golf competitively, he was the gold standard that I was always striving for. His undying self-belief and bottomless resolve to get better motivated me whenever I struggled to get up those last few reps in the weight room or thought about skipping that extra bucket of practice balls. All I had to say to myself was, “Tiger’s working,” and I was immediately back on track.

And during the tough times, when I couldn’t do anything right, and I doubted that I had what it took, I would wish that I could be more like him.

Now, I feel foolish for ever wanting that.

But beyond his failure as any sort of role model, what makes his infidelity that much harder to comprehend is that he is a golfer. Unlike other sports, where the prevailing attitude is, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” golf is a gentleman’s game, a game of honor, and every player who puts a peg in the ground is expected to uphold that.

That’s why we rake the sand traps and repair the green when our golf ball makes an imprint. We stay quiet while others are hitting. We call penalties on ourselves. And at the end of the round, we sign our scorecard, putting the weight of our name behind the number we post.

So while it may have a (much-deserved) rap for being exclusive and elitist, when it comes to honesty, golf rightfully holds its head high above the rest. And it’s shocking that a man who has devoted his entire life to the game could somehow miss out on its most basic lesson.

Look, I understand that he’s “far short of perfect,” and that everybody makes mistakes. As a young, good-looking billionaire, I’m sure he’s constantly presented with a buffet of women that any man would have a hard time resisting. And we don’t know what went on behind the closed doors of his Florida mansion…he could have a miserable marriage, or his wife could’ve threatened to go Lorena Bobbitt on him if he didn’t win The Masters every year.

There are a million different reasons why this happened, but unless he has a sex addiction – a real, medical condition he needs to be treated for – they all ring hollow to me.

Because when it comes down to it, you either do the right thing, or you don’t. You either act with character, or you don’t. You either stay true to your values, or you don’t. And the allure of forbidden fruit or the actions of others or any other excuse you can come up with should have no effect on the choices you end up making.

Fortunately for Woods, the world will eventually move on from this. We are a forgiving society, and it’s only a matter of time until our what-have-you-done-to-me-lately ADD kicks in. Sure, his first tournament back will be a circus, but once he starts winning majors again, most people will remember why they liked him in the first place – for his tremendous skill as a golfer.

But I will never look at him the same.

While he owes me no apology, he has violated a moral code that I believe in, and I cannot separate his ability as an athlete from the deceit of his infidelity. I see the whole man, and this will forever be part of the picture.

I had never doubted Woods before, whether it was his work as a philanthropist (which I will still applaud) or his capacity to overcome a five-shot deficit. But as more women come forward and more tawdry tales are told, I don’t know what to believe at this point…nothing seems implausible.

And if allegations suddenly pop up that he cheated on the golf course or was involved in shady business practices or took steroids to build his body, I’m not going to be able to automatically reject them anymore.

“After all,” I’ll cynically consider, “it’s Tiger.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

About Me

My photo
"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?