Tiger Woods has begun to do what golf fans have demanded for years: to be honest with himself and with us, and to give more insight into what he thinks and feels beyond the typical hackneyed sound bite one offers the Golf Channel following a tournament round. He is no longer denying where his game is, which is lost, or pretending that his 2009 sex scandal never happened or that it didn’t have a big impact on his life.
Tiger Woods is finally coming clean, and doing so with humility and introspection. It is awful.
Last week, Woods acknowledged for the first time publicly that his best days may be behind him. Speaking at a press conference to mark the start of the Hero World Challenge, a small-field event Woods hosts but couldn’t play in this year because his body is broken, the 14-time major champion said that there is no “timetable” for his return from the latest back surgeries he underwent in September and October. “Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know,” he told reporters. “There’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards.” When asked how he spends his time, he explained that he takes walks and has become “really good at playing video games. Really good. I swear, that’s basically how I pass a lot of my time.” Woods described any other achievements that he may, against all odds, rack up on the course from here on out as “gravy.” That’s an excellent state of mind for him to be in. But it’s just an incredibly unpleasant one for golf fans to accept. The truth hurts.
Shortly after this press conference, Time published a wide-ranging interview with Woods to mark his 40th birthday later this month. It’s difficult to describe the wobbly sensation in my fingers as I type “wide-ranging interview with Woods,” so unfamiliar is the phrase. The rare and fascinating conversation offered both additional insight into the non-existent status of his game and commentary from the man himself on the Scandal, the sequence of events following his sex scandals and split with his wife that unfolded across tabloid covers for months around this time six years ago. Aside from a perfunctory apology his agents and PR handlers ordered him to give addressing the Scandal in 2010, Woods’ public posture ever since toward “all that” had been to act as though it never happened.
Though he has no intention of ever officially retiring—golfers rarely do—he has “reconciled” himself to the possibility that he may never be able to truly compete again. “Anyone I’ve ever talked to who has had procedures like I’ve had, they say the same thing: you don’t know,” he explained. “With a joint, you know. With a nerve, you just don’t know.” He says that he’s come to realize “now” that getting to “have a life with [his] kids” is “more important than golf,” something that he wasn’t so sure about a few years ago. His relationship with his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, has recovered—“She’s one of my best friends”—and he explained that he’s softly begun to tell his children about what transpired so they don’t discover all the sordid information themselves via Google:
I’ve taken the initiative with the kids, and told them up front, “Guys, the reason why we’re not in the same house, why we don’t live under the same roof, Mommy and Daddy, is because Daddy made some mistakes.” I just want them to understand before they get to Internet age and they log on to something or have their friends tell them something. I want it to come from me so that when they come of age, I’ll just tell them the real story.
So much Pardon the Interruption–style golf commentary has been exhausted over the past six years about what’s going on between Tiger’s two ears. Aside from his short-lived return to form in 2012 and 2013, Woods himself has fed the typically unfounded speculation with his own—err—wishful thinking about the state of his body and his game. “I feel great. I feel really, really good. It’s great to be back out here competing again,” Woods said as recently as last December. “There should be no long-lasting effects from the surgery, and it should not impact the longevity of his career,” Woods’ representatives said in April 2014, following the golfer’s (first) microdiscectomy. It’s hard to count how many times Woods has said he was just a few “reps” away from returning to peak form when he clearly wasn’t, or how often he’s declared himself to be in ace bodily shape when he was weeks away from another surgery.
Now the spin machine has stopped, and Woods has forthrightly provided the answers to the commonly asked questions. This is a personable, likable Woods, digging into his soul and sharing what he finds. Talking about his kids and how happy he is not playing golf.
And isn’t that just so depressing? I mean, good for him and all that. But an honest Tiger is a finished Tiger, and to golf fans at least, that’s not at all fun to think about. Tiger may have been lying all those times when he said his body was fine, his mental state was fine, and his newest swing was some concrete number of practice hours away from perfection. It was that lying that kept him motivated and kept us hoping. As long as Tiger was lying to golf fans, golf fans could still avoid the unpleasant truth. Now, by introducing golf fans to his vulnerabilities, Tiger has introduced us to ours: This is it, isn’t it?