Because we’ve known Tiger for so long, we immediately ascribe a tragic narrative to him, whether it’s real or not. He was Tiger Woods, greatest golfer of all time. But after the Thanksgiving 2009 incident, we realized there was a real, live human being under the Nike swoosh, and he hasn’t won a major since, and now there’s this and Tiger’s life is out of control. We’ve turned him into Mike Tyson or Pete Rose, an otherworldly talent torn down by personal demons.
The facts do not support this story. Tiger might not have won any more majors after the 2009 incident, but he did win the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award in 2013, the second oldest man ever to receive the honor. Tiger did not collapse once his life became tabloid fodder, and in fact he returned to near his previous greatness. Eventually, his back issues flared up and truly sidelined his career, but you don’t get back issues from living an out of control, partying lifestyle. You get them from playing golf every day for 30 years.
It’s a familiar athletic career arc: Phenomenal talent explodes onto the scene, dominates his sport during his prime, reaches a level of fame and wealth that causes some personal relationships — including a marriage — to fray, suffers from sport-related injuries as he ages, eventually is too banged up and middle-aged to be a superstar anymore.
Tiger Woods isn’t winning golf tournaments anymore, but it’s not because he has lived some wild life. It’s because he got old. It happens to everyone. Even him.
We all want to find a reason that Tiger was once that and is now this. But that’s trying to convince ourselves that we know Tiger Woods.
We don’t know Tiger Woods. We never did. That’s O.K. He has provided decades of entertainment for fans, inspired legions of athletes to push themselves to be their best and, oh, yes, made millions of dollars for many people. We don’t own him or his story, and we don’t get to ascribe a tragic narrative to him that might not even be true.
He doesn’t need our faux concern. He is his own human being, not yours and not ours. His story line belongs to him and no one else. He’s not your friend. He’s not your family. You don’t know him at all. Please just let the man get old like the rest of us in peace.
Will Leitch, “You Don’t Know Tiger”, The New York Times (3 June 2017), A21.