I went and did it again. Two weeks after vowing to stay out of trouble on Twitter, I jumped back in with what I thought was a mild comment only to learn that the Tigeristas are as vociferous about him now as they’ve ever been.
On Monday night, after reading on Twitter some of the panting from my former colleagues at Golf Channel — and many others — about Tiger Woods’ latest comeback, I could not resist tweeting the following: “Amazing to me the rush, not so much to judge Tiger Woods yay or nay, but to greet his return as if it’s the greatest event in the history of sports. This is only Comeback XXIII or so. When he plays well in a major THEN I’ll be interested. Until then, it’s all white noise.”
Let’s review what I wrote for a moment. Did I say he has no chance to succeed? No. Did I comment on his personal life in any way? No. Did I say at any point that I don’t think he’s the greatest player of all time — which I have said and written repeatedly for years? No.
Was there some hyperbole in the tweet? Sure. Woods hasn’t made 23 comebacks, but it’s close to double digits at this point. He’s playing in an exhibition that I wouldn’t watch with or without him. It’s a lot of rich guys playing for a lot of money in a meaningless event. Woods did the EXACT same thing a year ago — started one of his comebacks at this exhibition, which, coincidentally, benefits his foundation and is run by his employees.
The response shouldn’t have surprised me. Some people, real golf fans, said, “Yeah, you’re right, we’ve been down this road before.” Some said they think he’s done, which I’m not ready to say yet and haven’t said. I have always believed you never count out the elite of the elite until THEY say they’re done, so I haven’t said or written that at any point.
And then there were the Tigeristas. Some simply cursed me out: “F— You, John.” Others were furious that I didn’t recognize his past greatness. Many went down the road of “You’re a nobody.” There was real anger in many of the tweets.
What is fascinating to me is not that some people are still blindly loyal to a great athlete — that’s a universal — and I know the anonymity of the internet brings out ugliness in a lot of people.
No, the fascinating part is in how deeply people LOVE Tiger Woods. Some of this I understand. I certainly understand why African-Americans, or any minority, would have deep feelings for him. While he didn’t break any color lines in golf — men like Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Jim Dent, Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe did that — he was the first GREAT African-American player, the first to win a major, the Masters no less, and brought golf glory to the African-American community in ways no one had ever done before.
That said, it’s worth noting that 20 years after Woods’ watershed win at the Masters, there is exactly one other African-American on the tour: Harold Varner III. If Woods had Varner’s personality — outgoing, friendly, fun — maybe more minority kids would have been drawn to the sport.
But that’s never been Woods. The only joy anyone ever saw in him was when he made a big putt. He greeted winning majors as matter-of-fact because, to him, that’s what those victories were.
Even so, golf fans — white and black — adored him. If you loved golf, you had to love the way he played — not just because he was brilliant, but because watching him play was like riding a rollercoaster: it was thrilling. He would hit the ball all over the lot, make amazing recoveries and do things no one had ever done on a golf course.
I vividly remember his Saturday round at Torrey Pines in 2008 during the U.S. Open —his last victory in a major — when he hit a tee shot so far right on the par-5 13th hole that the ball ended up on the ninth fairway. There was no out-of-bounds there because, I’m guessing, no one figured anyone would hit the ball there.
The only thing to do was lay-up and hope you might get a wedge close enough to have a shot at birdie. Even that would be difficult. So, Woods took out a five-wood and went for the green. He hit the ball just over the right bunker and stopped it just before it rolled into the left bunker — about 65 feet from the flag.
It was a miraculous shot. Then, he made the putt for eagle. Are you kidding?
Eighteen months later came the night that changed his life forever: his post-midnight Thanksgiving night “accident” outside his home in Florida. Day after day, new revelations came out about the parade of women he had slept with. That led to a four-month “break” from golf and, later, his divorce. His very young children would have to deal with the consequences of their father’s selfishness later.
His first tournament back was the 2010 Masters. He was greeted like a conquering hero, not a disgraced soon-to-be ex-husband. When he eagled the eighth hole on Sunday to move into contention (he finished T-4), the roar was as loud as any I’ve ever heard at Augusta.
Apparently greatness means people forgive you for just about anything. Many of my colleagues defended Woods by saying, “Lots of men have cheated on their wives.” There’s no doubt about that. I suspect that none have been cheered to the heavens by anyone afterwards. Then came the, “With all Tiger’s been through” excuses when he didn’t play well. HE’D been through? Seriously?
It continues to this day. He HAS been through a lot of injuries, no doubt about that. I completely get the notion that golf fans would like to see him make one last comeback. It would be a great story.
What I simply don’t get — have never really gotten — is the adoration, not to mention the cow-towing by the media.
Woods gives out crumbs to the media. I believe the last print reporter he sat down with at any length in a situation where there wasn’t money involved (he spent 30 minutes with my friend Steve DiMeglio before USA Today published an excerpt from his book last spring) was me. That was in 1998 in San Diego when we had dinner.
We spent four hours debating various things I’d written. I explained why I wrote what I wrote to him; he explained why he got angry about some of it and we talked at length about his life — including his relationship with his father. I think I probably saw about as honest a Tiger Woods that night as anyone in the media ever has.
I found him to be bright, funny and engaging that night. I believe he’s capable of being all those things — especially after talking to members of last year’s Ryder Cup team about his role as a vice-captain while researching, “The First Major.”
But for 20 years now, he has chosen to be none of those things in public 99 percent of the time — except when he’s pitching a product.
Which is why I laugh when my print friends say they can’t afford to make him angry because they’ll lose access to him. What access? Having him call them by name in a press conference? Answer perhaps one question away from an interview room?
TV cow-tows to him because they want him to do those two-minute post-round interviews in which he says just about nothing. “Hit it good today, couldn’t make anything.”… “Finally made some putts. Felt good.”… “My back? It’s fine. No pain.”
When he does anything beyond that, there’s always a deal involved. In the past he’s appeared on “Morning Drive” with the head of Nike’s (now defunct) golf division—to promote Nike. He’s shown up to promote his video game, too. Today he apparently went on to — you guessed it — promote the exhibition he’s be playing in beginning Thursday as part of Comeback XXIII. Sorry, there I go again.
So, when I saw that the fawning had begun all over again, I couldn’t resist the 57 words I typed on Monday night. You see, I understand why golf fans want to see Woods play again and I understand that he is ALWAYS a news story — whether he wants to be or not.
I just don’t see any need to join the media Greek Chorus that greets each comeback as if John Glenn has just returned from orbiting the earth for the first time. Many of the tweeters insisted I’d be watching. I won’t. I have work to do and I’m just not interested in watching exhibition golf. I will check the leaderboard at the end of the day.
When Woods is on a leaderboard that truly matters — Augusta, the U.S. Open, British Open, PGA — then I promise you I’ll be watching.
John Feinstein’s most recent book, “The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,”—has now been on The New York Times bestseller list for four weeks.” His new Young Adult book, “Backfield Boys—A Football Mystery in Black and White,” was just named a Junior Library Guild choice for 2017.