The Earthling

The Brother From Another Planet

Talk to us, Tiger: What’s the secret of life?

I think Tiger Woods owes the world an explanation. With yesterday’s victory in the PGA tournament, he put between himself and all mortals who have ever played golf. Even Jack Nicklaus, long considered the greatest ever, now concedes that he was never this good. The only question left is: What exactly is Woods’ secret? That is the question that Woods is now morally obliged to address.

For Woods not to reveal his secret is to hoard a precious resource. It’s like OPEC deciding to stop oil production altogether. In fact, it’s worse than that. Oil is just oil. What Woods possesses is the secret of life. After all, the things that keep you from succeeding in golf (I speak from experience) are things that can keep you from succeeding in life: getting unhinged by recent mistakes, getting nervous about what observers will think of you, letting your intense dislike of rivals distract you from the important task of abjectly humiliating them, and so on. The key to golf is focus, the key to life is focus, and Tiger has the key.

I’ve done my share of armchair theorizing about what makes Woods great. I’ve argued that he uniquely manages to reconcile Attila the Hun’s competitive fury with a Gandhiesque equanimity. I’ve argued that his Buddhist upbringing was essential to the equanimity part. But enough speculation. It’s time for Woods to venture beyond the terse, stock answers he gives on those network TV interviews, to speak candidly about matters of golf and spirit. He needs to spend an hour with a probing interviewer. I volunteer for the job.

Now, I realize Woods is a busy man. So I hereby offer him FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS to sit down for an in-depth chat with me. And I may be able to use my Slate connection to land a matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which would bring the total up to a cool one thousand. Plus, Slate’s editor, Mike Kinsley, after some cajoling, has agreed to throw in a dollar. Let me summarize: As much as ONE THOUSAND AND ONE DOLLARS can be Tiger’s for answering a couple of dozen questions about life and golf, and one or two questions about my backswing.

I’m serious—not about me doing the interview, but about the need for somebody to do a revealing interview. TV interviewers typically use their two or three minutes with Tiger to ask questions such as: How does it feel to win the U.S. Open on Father’s Day? (Correct answer: good.) We need questions that will generate news you can use. For example:

1) Woods has said Buddhism is important in his life, but, to my knowledge, he hasn’t elaborated. Does he meditate every day? By answering “yes” he could change the daily rhythms of life for millions of golfers, maybe even inject a little ashram ambience into suburban country clubs. (Ever seen the movie Caddyshack? Picture Rodney Dangerfield in the lotus position.)

2) Bobby Fischer, the eccentric chess champion of a few decades ago, once said that his favorite thing about chess was the moment when he looked across the board and could tell that his opponent’s ego was crushed. Does Tiger have similar feelings? Or has he attained the sort of detachment that the Buddha would counsel, and that in principle should be good for your golf game by screening out distracting impulses of animosity?

And so on … Until people start asking Woods such questions, and he starts answering them, he’ll remain an enigma. He might as well be a visitor from an advanced civilization in another galaxy—which, actually, is a theory I haven’t ruled out.

Postscript: In my last column on Woods, by way of stressing the natural link between Buddhism and golf, I noted the importance of emptying your mind of conscious thought at the moment of your swing. A reader wrote in to “The Fray” arguing that baseball sage Yogi Berra had made the same point in saying that you can’t swing and think at the same time. (This prompted another reader to quip that maybe that’s why they called him Yogi.) It’s true that thought can be the enemy of performance in just about all sports. The difference is that in most athletic endeavors—including hitting a baseball—you’re reacting to something, so you don’t have time to think anyway. Many sports have their momentary exceptions, such as shooting free throws in basketball (which, as Shaquille O’Neal has proved, can become a serious mind-control problem). The nearly unique thing about golf is that it is never reactive. Every shot you take is an invitation to overthink, to become a head case—an invitation that it has always been my policy to accept.