There’s no denying Tiger Woods is the game’s most popular golfer. He’s hit some miraculous shots, won by improbable margins, and currently owns 14 majors and 80 career wins, but — and hear me out here — Tiger Woods is not the player, nor the person, you think he is. And it’s time to concede he shouldn’t be as popular as his charade would have you believe.
Bear with me as I dispense a few points.
To start: Tiger Woods is not a team player. This past weekend was the Ryder Cup, and the United States was subjected to another thrashing by the Europeans on foreign soil. Tiger Woods, fresh off his first tournament victory in more than five years, finished the weekend with an 0–3 record. This isn’t an isolated incident. Tiger Woods’ career at the Ryder Cup is a dismal 13–20–3 (W-L-T), with a partners record of 9–18–1. Woods has the second-most lossesof any American player in Ryder Cup history. Now, one can argue being selfish is in a golfer’s nature; in tournaments, they’re out there on their own, competing against a field of 100+ players; them against the rest. But year after year, Tiger Woods is picked for the Ryder Cup team, and year after year, Americans cheer for him even when the math suggests he’ll be one of the team’s biggest detriments.
In his prime, Woods dominated the game like no other. He still holds the record for the highest win margin in the U.S. Open and he’s the youngest player ever to win a career grand slam. But let’s consider the “talent” he was competing against, and recognize it was extremely limited. Woods was beating guys like Bob May, Chris Dimarco, and Rocco Mediate. Combined, these three hold 9 career wins (May has 0) and zero major championships. That’s like the big 8th grader on the playground beating up on the scrawny six-year old. Next, think about guys like Jack Nicklaus (who currently holds the record of major championships, with 18 — an additional side note: Nicklaus finished 2nd in major championships a whopping 19 times — 13 more times than Tiger Woods). Nicklaus competed against legends like Arnold Palmer (7 majors), Tom Watson (8 majors), Gary Player (9 majors), Lee Trevino (6 majors), and Seve Ballesteros (5 majors).
Woods has never faced this kind of talent.
Therefore, Woods’ so-called dominance must be taken into account. Most people are familiar with his intimidating Sunday-red attire, Woods prowling the golf course, ready to pounce on the competition. But did you know Woods has never won a major when trailing on Sunday? All 14 major victories came when he was leading, or sharing the lead, going into the final round. He’s never been able to overcome a 1-shot deficit in majors. If this man is so dominant, how come he can’t get it done on the final day when trailing? If he’s so intimidating, why doesn’t his competition go running for the hills? Tiger isn’t just mortal on Sundays, if he’s trailing, history says he’s all-too beatable.
I also question Woods’ treatment of his fans. Growing up, I remember him always shouting into crowds, “Who took that picture?” or “Get that camera out of my face.” Even to this day, when he walks through galleries, he refuses to high-five any of the youngsters, instead skulking through the crowd with a fierce intensity normally reserved for bull-fighters. When I raise this issue with Tiger fans, they’re almost excited about this intensity. “That’s just how focused he is, man! He doesn’t have time to high-five, he’s already thinking of the next hole!” If that merits popularity, so be it, but I don’t see how ignoring a 7-year old who traveled 2,000 miles to see his idol warrants likability.
Lastly (and this is purely subjective), his game-style isn’t one I’m attracted to. It never has been. I find his fist-pumping obnoxious, his self-importance insufferable, his treatment of the media eye-rolling, and his tantrums childish. I always preferred the strong, silent-type of players. Athletes that went about their business with little aggrandizing. Athletes like Sampras and Federer over Nadal or Djokovic. Larry Fitzgerald over Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson. Venus over Serena. LeBron over Kobe. Pacquiao over Mayweather.
But from 1997–2009, when I’d raise these issues with Tiger fans, they’d brush them off as insignificant points. And then it happened: it was discovered, for years, he had been cheating on his wife with not one, not two, but dozens upon dozens of women. From porn stars to Chili’s waitresses, Woods had no filter for his mistresses. Admittedly, cheating on your wife isn’t an anomaly when it comes to professional athletes, but the way in which Woods went about it was genuinely bizarre. On more than one occasion he took his wife to the Perkins restaurant where his mistress worked, playing out some weird sadistic, sexual game. He engaged in multiple rounds of sexting, many times in his wife and children’s presence. His affairs were even discovered during a Thanksgiving Day dinner. He followed this up with a bizarre press conferencein which he (sort of) apologized for his actions. As the scandal unfolded, I felt a surge of vindication. This player so beloved around the world turned out to be a scumbag, putting his family through one of the most reprehensible tales I had ever seen.
But did this change the perception of the masses?
Strangely, for many, it only intensified their loyalty. Kobe Bryant (guilty of his own indiscretions) infamously told Tiger Woods if you want fans to forgive you, you just have to win. And many fans seemed satisfied with that. “Why should we care what Tiger Woods does if he wins?” several of them told me.
But Tiger didn’t win.
In fact, he basically left the game. He went into seclusion, locking himself away for days at a time playing Call of Duty; he underwent several knee, back, and Achilles surgeries; and he spent time training with Navy Seals in Southern California as one of his “bucket list” experiences.
In turn, golf ratings dropped and fans found themselves clamoring for his return. But he didn’t oblige, slighting his fans and even suggesting he may retire. At this point, I thought for sure fans would move on from the man who either ignored, berated, or scolded them; a man who had never been a team player; a man whose dominance in the game was like if Michael Jordan played against the Florida Atlantic basketball team; a man whose moral character was comparable to that of Ben Roethlisberger and Donald Trump. To me, Tiger was like that abusive boyfriend whose actions were perpetually swept under the rug and fans kept telling themselves “this time it’ll be different.”
Why are we so quick to forgive these athletes for their actions? I find it shocking that when you go to Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case Wikipediarecord, the page ends with “He was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008 and the Finals’ Most Valuable Player in 2009 and 2010,” as if this fact vindicates him of his actions.
Why, after so many years of abuse, do fans insist on cheering for a man who has shown them little to no love, who has treated women like objects, who has disregarded his family’s well-being? After all, Tiger’s success is not our success. What benefits do fans see when he wins? When your team wins the Super Bowl or the World Series, it’s most likely the town you grew up in; there is a sense of local camaraderie there. I get that. But when a golfer wins a tournament, so what? Why does it matter so much? And why are we so intent on subjugating ourselves to amnesia for a player like Tiger Woods? What is the appeal here? I may never know.
In his time as a golfer, Tiger has proven to be nothing more than a narcissist and I will spend the rest of my days rooting against him. I will resume my tangents at parties as to why I don’t like him (nowadays, something that’s turned into a bland party trick), and, even after I explain why I don’t like the guy, people will look at me as if I have two heads, unable to comprehend why I don’t cheer for a player they covet so much.
I’m not asking you to hate the guy, or move on from the guy, or even root against the guy, I’m just asking you to recognize him as the person he really is.
(This originally appeared on Medium on October 3, 2018)