Rise and demise

After winning six PGA Tour events and pocketing $10.5 million in 2009, Tiger Woods was back on top of the golf world. Now, while his sex scandal continues to unfold, his career should take a back seat to being a better man.

David Catt
David Catt

Sitting in a dark corner of Fred P. Ott’s bar and grill on the Plaza, I gazed at a grainy flat-screen TV and witnessed what I still believe to be the Halley’s comet of athletic feats: Tiger Woods’ third round at the 2008 U.S. Open. As his competitors struggled to make pars, Woods made two ridiculously hard eagle putts and a birdie chip en route to a (three under par) on the back nine. Two days later, he hoisted the silver trophy into the air for his third U.S. Open victory. And, oh yeah, he did it all on a broken leg, visibly wincing and gasping in pain throughout the tournament.

I was dumbfounded, positive that Tiger Woods was one of the best athletes the world had ever seen. Golf fans were pretty sure before, but now it was definite. Woods had become something bigger than life.

Flash forward a year and a half, and I am dumbfounded again as the haze created by his sex scandal continues to thicken, enveloping Woods and his superhuman status. I tried for a while to tune out the tabloid reports, but the truth about Tiger is evident now. Considering the lengths he would go for these rendezvous and willingness to risk his image and family life, I believe he has a severe case of psychological sex addiction and a tough road of rehab ahead of him. It’s no surprise that Woods allegedly checked into a Mississippi rehab center roughly a month ago.

On Dec. 11, Woods decided to take an indefinite leave from golf to focus on his family life and atone for his “transgressions.”

The media and critics have talked extensively about the financial fall out of decreased TV ratings, sponsorships and purchased merchandise during Tiger’s absence. Talk show hosts and other celebrities have slammed the superstar as well, but few people outside of golf can understand the true sadness of Woods’ actions and what he has meant to the game’s developing generation of players. In the past eight years, I’ve played in more than 100 competitive junior golf tournaments. And at any given tournament, during the final round, there were bound to be a few players wearing a red shirt and black pants or shorts—Tiger’s traditional Sunday outfit. A few more would don a hat with Woods’ logo, and a few players might even be playing with Nike golf clubs, a brand the company literally built around Woods’ dominance.

Tiger wasn’t just a role model; he was an idol, a standard of success, the epitome of an industry. Young golfers patterned their games after him, started working out to keep up with him and dreamt of making the crucial putt on the biggest stage just like him. ‘Be like Mike’ turned into ‘Be like Tiger.’ Now that aura has melted away, like an ice sculpture on a hot, sunny day.

To those who wonder how a scandal of this magnitude could happen, I ask: What do you give the wealthiest, most recognizable athlete in the world? This is a man who has made a traditionally boring sport the most exciting thing on TV; a man who creates such a fervor at tournaments when he plays well that fans literally sprint around the course just so they can see every other shot he hits; a man who, through the guidance of his late father, has donated millions to various philanthropic endeavors. Well, you probably give him whatever he wants.

Herein lies the foundation for Woods’ demise. As a society, we placed him on the highest pedestal, thanking God we live in the same era as someone so amazing. Maybe Tiger literally began to believe he could do anything, socially acceptable or not. Since his father’s death (ex-marine Earl Woods taught Tiger the game and developed his mental prowess), Tiger has probably answered to a select few people: his caddy on the course, his swing coach on the range and his agents during business meetings. Other than that, he probably does what he wants. Until now, that game plan has worked pretty well.

Everything Woods has ever been associated with has always been seen in an extremely positive light. From his golf game and charity work to his friendship with tennis great Roger Federer, Woods has portrayed the supreme image of an all-world athlete and role model. So it comes as quite a shock when something this degrading occurs.

Still, most ask, why would he do this? Who knows? Maybe the money corrupted him, or the adrenaline rush of living on the edge drove him crazy. Maybe he needed another outlet for the insane amount of passion he has for life, or maybe he really does have a sex addiction.

But it doesn’t matter now. The disturbing aspect is not that it happened; it’s that nobody stopped it.

Judging from the magnitude of this scandal, I find it hard to believe that some of Woods’ closest friends and associates didn’t know of his exploits. It’s extremely disturbing to imagine that those who could have prevented this debacle stood by and enabled it to happen, stood by and watched a role model ruin his spotless reputation.

It’s no different than a teenager standing by and watching his or her friends bully someone. It’s no different than the U.S. government watching innocently as African Americans died for their civil rights in the 1960s. Humans tend to repeat their faults; history tends to repeat itself.

Sure, Tiger will come back to golf and probably be just as dominant. Married or divorced, his ability to focus on the course is so incredible that he’ll be able to block the media and fan scrutiny out and break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 16 major championships. Yet, that matters little now.

The ultimate test will be whether Tiger Woods, in the distant future, can look in the mirror, as we all should, and believe he is living his life to the best of his ability, faithfully and passionately as a husband and father. I hope, for his sake, that he can.