Like me you may have no idea what's the difference between a long iron and a utility club. You may number yourself with Mark Twain, who defined golf as "a good walk spoiled." But you might comprehend this: If Tiger Woods were a country, he'd rank about 160 or so in the World Bank's list of 182 countries by gross domestic product. Alone he is worth more than the market value of all final goods and services produced annually in countries like Liberia, the Seychelles, Grenada, and the Solomon Islands.
Joke if you will about the importance of a $164 moving violation for running into a tree last Thanksgiving, yet when the golfer jumped the curb, it shuddered not only through the elite world of Tag Heuer, Nike Golf, and NetJets but also through the lives of thousands of ordinary people-from golf pros and real estate developers to shoe salesmen and cap vendors to restaurant owners and hotel housekeeping-who all earn a livelihood from the sports industrial complex called Tiger.
2010 was predicted to be the year Tiger's net worth would hit $1 billion. Consider the phenomenon that sum represents: Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods at age 2 putted against Bob Hope, at age 3 shot 48 over nine holes, and by the time he was 16 had won the Junior World Championships six times. Forty-two weeks into his professional golf career, he was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings, having set 20 Masters records and won three PGA Tour events his first year out. Fourteen years and 16 World Golf Championships later, and not yet 35, the empire-despite a few dips-showed no sign of slowing.
But now the sporting icon is watching from the gated surround of a rehab center and 12-step recovery program for sex addicts his achievements fade and his millions drain away. Sadder still, such tumbles, while profound, are so commonplace in pop culture they turn prosaic faster than the 40-second YouTube recap. We watch Tiger's public statement of apology knowing that the SNL skit and the Jon Stewart monologue already are cued. In our deepest hearts we long to see the creation/fall/redemption cycle have its way-a desperation voiced singularly by news anchor Brit Hume-but the quips and sound bites get the best of us.
Such publicly complex dysfunction deserves the wisdom of Solomon; instead we're treated to catcalls from the peanut gallery. "I would recommend Tiger just call it a bad experience, say bye-bye, go out and be a wonderful playboy and win tournaments and have a good life," said Donald Trump.
The importance of the Tiger Woods Unravelling-whether you are a golf fan or someone who'd prefer a walk in the park-is that it's not only about Tiger and his family but also about us, media voyeurs all. It's about the icons we create from the omnipotent media lens (a lens reflecting images back at me, thank you, so it must also be about me), and our discomfort when they turn out to be merely mortal. The discomfort should draw a line between those who don't know the landscape of repentance and those who walk it daily.
The adept sportswriter Sally Jenkins meant it as criticism when she called Tiger's Feb. 19 appearance "a fake news conference to apologize for being fake"-but that's actually what it was. Tiger himself punctured through the image-making: "I knew my actions were wrong but I convinced myself that normal rules did not apply. Instead I thought only about myself. I never thought about who I was hurting. I ran straight through the bonds that married people should live by. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled."
If this was a script, its theme-abject apology-is one Tiger has followed since his sordid life of adultery began unfolding last year. If it's the borrowed language of his therapists, it's from a subculture he voluntarily joined. If it's a moment of enlightenment for a lapsed Buddhist, it's a starting point.
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