This thought came to me slowly.
It came to me as I was reading another take on Tiger Wood. Another attempt at making sense of the whole situation. More words devoted to analyzing Woods thoughts and motives and psyche.
More noise. Lots and lots of noise.
And for a second, it was all too much.
The greatest athlete in the world is mired in one the most bizarre stories of the decade.*
*OK, so this decade is over. Now what do we call it? The aughts? The 2000s? The aughties? More on this later.
And this story has everything. And, of course, we don’t know what is true. We don’t know what to believe. There are things that are plausible. And there are things we want to believe. And there are things that are hard to believe.
And then, there’s this: This whole Tiger story could be the biggest sports story in the world right now. At the very least, it’s the most fascinating. And it’s definitely the most bizarre.
And the one place that seems to be grabbing every morsel of information… the one place that seems to be breaking every new scoop is … wait for it … TMZ.com.
TMZ? You know what’s funny. Until about two days ago – when I was researching information about this Tiger story for work – I had know idea what TMZ stood for.
Funny, I always just figured the “M” stood for media. You know. It was a gossip site. It had lots of funny pictures of celebrities doing weird stuff. It was kind of like Deadspin.com for girls. So “M” must stand for media, right? No. It actually stands for Thirty-Mile Zone, a nickname for the area around the Hollywood studios. Ain’t life great?
The story is nearly two weeks old now. It seems like every few minutes, we hear about another woman – another mistress – who claims to have been with Tiger for two months or 21 months or three years.
This will probably continue until TMZ and E! and all the other gossip-hounds call off the dogs.
Like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank, they are swimming through a river of (stuff). But this river is flooding and even Tiger can’t fix the levees.
But you know what? From the beginning, I didn’t care much about the (stuff).
Yes, it was scandalous. And yes, the details of Tiger’s car accident were more than bizarre. And yes, people are drawn to affairs.
We want to know why people cheat. Why would this guy cheat? And yes, we probably all had these thoughts.
But for the majority of people, I don’t think this Tiger story was about the river of (stuff).
For most, this story has been about Tiger.
And perhaps you can’t separate the two — the (stuff) and the man — but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.
And I think that’s been the story the whole time.
How would he handle this? What would he do next? Where will this story go?
And for me, it all comes back to one thought…
The Machine is mauling Tiger Woods.
The Machine… is winning.
This is the thought that has been marinating somewhere in the back of mind for the past week.
We all know the basic story of Tiger Woods.
We know he was child prodigy and he became an amateur champ and he went to Stanford. He turned pro and he won the Masters in ’97 and he became an international icon – and advertiser.*
*(I am Tiger Woods.)
But of course, we didn’t know much more about the guy.
And that was fine. Because he won four majors in a row. And he won the U.S. on a broken leg.
He was a the Terminator with a 5-wood, a golfing savant who could dance out of trouble on the golf course with the flick of the wrist.
And this was all we needed. Yes, he was a golfing cyborg. But maybe he had to be, we thought. After all, who has a better chance against the Machine than another machine?
And we are, back to the Machine.
And when I think of the Machine, I think of Earl Woods.
Most people seem to know the basics of Earl Woods.
They know he was Tiger’s father, and that he raised and molded the greatest golfer of all-time.
Most seem to recall that he served as a green beret in Vietnam.
And they remember that Earl gave his son the name. Tiger.
The name, of course, was the nickname of one of Earl’s army buddies — a colonel in the Vietnamese army named Vuong Dang Phong.
But most people – even people from the Kansas – seem to forget that Earl Woods was a Kansan.
They forget that he was raised in Manhattan in the late 30s and early 40s. They forget that he was the first black baseball player at Kansas State, the first black player in the history of the Big Eight.
They forget that Earl Woods is buried in Manhattan. His childhood home… and the place where he learned the brutal truth about discrimination.
But years after Earl Woods suffered the racial abuse. Years after he was barred from staying in hotels in small Midwestern college town. Years after all that, Earl Woods would give birth to a son. And he would teach his son the game of golf.
And 20 years later, in 1996, Tiger Woods was on the verge of conquering the world.
He was the greatest talent the game of golf had ever seen. And now that the world was getting to know Tiger Woods, Earl wanted the world to know this:
Tiger wasn’t just a golfer. He was going to change the world.
And he we are, back to the machine…
So, yes, we’ve been thinking about Tiger and the women and Earl.
But this thought keeps weaving its way back to the words of Gary Smith.
Smith, of course, is the brilliant senior writer at Sports Illustrated. In most circles, he is the best sportswriter in the country. And he may well be the greatest non-fiction writer of any kind.
Well, in 1996, Smith crafted a complete manifesto on Tiger’s battle against the Machine.
Smith, like everyone else, wondered this:
Could Tiger come through? Could he meet expectations? Could he maneuver through the media, overcome fame’s temptations, and grind against the spoils of money and power? Could he dodge the grenades that are heaved at our most revered celebrities?
Could he live up to Earl’s vision?
Here is an excerpt from the story:
It was ordinary. It was oh so ordinary. It was a salad, a dinner roll, a steak, a half potato, a slice of cake, a clinking fork, a podium joke, a ballroom full of white-linen-tablecloth conversation. Then a thick man with tufts of white hair rose from the head table. His voice trembled and his eyes teared and his throat gulped down sobs between words, and everything ordinary was cast out of the room.
“Please forgive me…but sometimes I get very emotional…when I talk about my son…. My heart…fills with so…much…joy…when I realize…that this young man…is going to be able…to help so many people…. He will transcend this game…and bring to the world…a humanitarianism…which has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live in…by virtue of his existence…and his presence…. I acknowledge only a small part in that…in that I know that I was personally selected by God himself…to nurture this young man…and bring him to the point where he can make his contribution to humanity…. This is my treasure….
Mr. Woods? Do you mean more than Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, more than Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe?
“More than any of them because he’s more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.”
Anyone, Mr. Woods? Your son will have more impact than Nelson Mandela, more than Gandhi, more than Buddha?
“Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he’s playing a sport that’s international. Because he’s qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He’s the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power.”
And here we are, back to the machine.
The thought has been stewing in mind for days. Dancing somewhere in the back, then coming to the front whenever another woman came forward with another story — another steamy allegation.
And then I opened Sports Illustrated.
No doubt, Smith had been paying attention to the story, to the details, to the battle that Tiger was losing.
Smith wanted to weigh in – he had to weigh in.
And so he wrote this:
“…For 13 years Tiger beat the machine. Sort of. He kept it backpedaling, never giving it much to grasp and grind. But to do that he had to hide in front of the world’s eyes, seal himself in a bubble. His humanitarianism manifested in efforts to help children and fund a cutting-edge academic complex in California, and his domination of a pale-faced sport opened millions of eyes. But world-altering? Unless Tiger figured out how to change humanity without showing his own, Gandhi and Mandela were safe.
“…Perhaps there was a price to be paid for sealing himself in that bubble, dark energies that built up and had to find release. Tiger’s response thus far has been to reseal and retreat even further, but the machine, at last, is rallying, its molars multiplying with every mouse click.
And he we are, back to the Machine.
And we don’t know what’s coming next for Tiger. We can’t know.
We hear so many things and so many stories. And how can we know what is true, and what is false, and what is located in that fuzzy gray area in between.
Tiger will hit more golf balls. He will win more majors. He will still be the greatest golfer of all-time.
And perhaps that is enough.
But here it comes again. Here comes the Machine.
The one obstacle he couldn’t climb… the one opponent he couldn’t outlast… the one rival he couldn’t conquer.
And from the looks of it, the man never had a chance.