If you haven’t yet seen HBO’s “Tiger,” set some time aside.
The age of Tiger Woods was something to behold. Young or old, golfer or not, you could not help but follow his career. He redefined the level at which golf could be played, during an era when television redefined how sports could be presented.
Madison Avenue saw Tiger and created a cultural and capitalistic icon that transcended social divisions. Tiger chased formidable records that previous golf gods had established with a confidence that made it a matter of when—not if—those records would fall.
So, the pedestal was wheeled in, and Tiger climbed up on it. And, in November 2009, in front of the whole world, he took a giant swan dive into the abyss.
I am not a big fan of schadenfreude and took no joy in Tiger’s fall from grace. In fact, when I discovered how many girlfriends Tiger had been juggling, I thought: damn, this guy really is a player. What I found most thought-provoking about the whole ordeal, though, was how Tiger’s public demise affected his skills.
Tiger lost his game.
After Tiger had passed through the requisite redemption cycle, I longed for him to clear up his head and make his comeback. But he would never again reach the heights from which he dove. He won some tournaments, even a Masters in 2019 (and don’t put another big win past him), and along the way the world allowed him to put the incident behind him.
As you would expect from an unauthorized examination of a tight-lipped, even reclusive, global icon, HBO’s Tiger was not welcomed by the man. That said, Tiger holds up to a “warts and all” examination better than most of us might. He is a fascinating character, and I would love to have an off-the-record drink with him.
A man of such preternatural skill does not rise out of nothing. His dad, Earl, raised him with a golf club in his hands and a work ethic that made the most of his God-given skills. And Earl was a Green Beret: he added the dark arts of psychological warfare to Tiger’s abilities. And Tiger also has a Tiger mom—she played her own role and brought her own bag of mental tricks to Tiger’s game plan.
Perhaps the most touching statement in the biography is Tiger’s explanation of his attraction to scuba diving: “the fish don’t know who I am.” Of course, up on the ground, everyone knows who Tiger is, and there are few moments where he is not under some sort of scrutiny.
None of us can possibly know how well we would handle our lives under constant, unrelenting observation. Ultimately, we may conclude that the upside of such fame is not worth the downside. In the information age, being rich and famous might well come in second place to being rich and anonymous.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared at Planned Man.