Is Tiger a guy you want to hang with?

by Gary Shelton on May 30, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, Golf

Sunday, 4 a.m.

You stare at the picture, and you try to decide.

Is Tiger Woods a good guy?

It is a Walking Dead picture. It is a Foster Brooks' all-star picture. It was a “hey, can you spare a quarter” picture. It was Tiger Woods, drunk and despondent and driving, and he had just been removed from behind the wheel of his car.

And you ask: Is Tiger Woods a good guy?

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I'm not talking about his ability. I'm not talking about his fame (when healthy), or his riches, or his popularity. I'm talking about whether he's a guy you'd go get a milkshake with. Is he a guy you'd sit by the pool with? Is he a good guy?

Oh, you probably thought so when he was winning, and when he was flashing that million-dollar smile. We all find winners fascinating, and back then, Woods was the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with. Maybe two or three. He was the best golfer in the world, maybe the best there ever has been, and you didn't begrudge him his celebrity or his endorsements or his popularity. He was a great golfer, a great shot-maker, and it seemed as the winning would never stop.

He was the kind of player who could make you smile in those days. Sure, he was a little packaged, but the great ones often are. He was fresh, and he was new. He was tomorrow, and who doesn't like tomorrow?

Tell me: Has an athlete ever fallen further, and faster, than Tiger Woods? Think of the great athletes we have witnessed: Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps and Joe Montana. Derek Jeter and Carl Lewis and Muhammad Ali. Serena Williams and Pete Sampras and Jerry Rice. Tom Brady and LeBron James and Magic Johnson. Have any of them become ordinary so quickly?

So add it to the list. He was a serial womanizer. (Evidently, his Perkins menu had specials the rest of us don't get.) He was accused (not proven) of using PEDs. Now, he got behind the wheel and endangered everyone outside of his vehicle.

(A word about drunks. They stopped being funny halfway through the original Arthur. By Arthur II, we found drunks sloppy and boring, which they always had been. Dean Martin's act would have been extremely tired these days.)

Hey, you don't have to a bad person to get a DUI. It happens to a lot of good people who simply make bad decisions. But when we consider all the things we've read about Woods, you have to wonder: Is he a guy worth spending your time with?

For the record, Woods says he wasn't drinking, which a 0.0 result on a breath test would support. But it's  kind of splitting hairs. He still got behind a wheel while he was impaired.

Still, Tiger wants you to know you know that he had "an unexpected reaction to prescribed medicine." Woods has had years worth of surgery. Why would the reaction of his painkillers be unexpected? And why take them as you're going out for a 3 a.m. drive? It doesn't make a lot of sense.

Still, believe him if you wish. Like him if you want.

A story:

Once, at a tournament, I tried to wait Woods out for a comment over the over-zealous nature of the fans, who seemed to mistake him for a Beatle. I stood by the putting green for an eternity, a good 30-45 minutes as I recall. He saw me, but when he picked up his ball, he brushed past me. Fine. He didn't want to talk. But another guy who had been waiting had painted a picture of Tiger on a golf ball, and he wanted to swap it for Tiger's hat. (Like a lot of pros, Tiger gets a hat any time he wants a hat.) But when he walked off the green, he stopped, took the ball, and walked toward the clubhouse. The guy said “Can I have your hat?” Tiger frowned and said “I need my hat,” he said. And maybe he did. Maybe he hadn't bothered to carry a spare with him. Right.

I was in Augusta the year that Tiger had his press conference to address his philandering, and it was one of the strangest news gatherings I've ever attended. Tiger sat beside an official from Augusta National whose job, pretty much, was to call on his buddies in the sportswriting world who would ask softball questions. Talk about waving your arms; you would have thought I was trying to land an airplane on a ship. I was basically doing side-straddle hops. Instead, Tiger was getting questions like “do you like us?”

The next day, the TV critic at my own paper — who could have called me, since I was in the room — lit fire to the sportswriting media for asking easy questions. Yeah? Those were the ones that got asked. The rest of us were never called upon.

In those days, I formed the opinion that Woods' real opinions, his real thoughts and his real goals, were buried beneath a ton of publicity experts. Woods wasn't going to take a side over women trying to join Augusta National, for instance. He just made money on watches and cars and golf equipment.

It doesn't make Tiger a bad guy. Heck, most of us would do the same if we had a fraction of his talent.

But it doesn't make him a great guy, either.

Charles Barkley once suggested that Tiger isn't a particularly sociable guy.

Ex-coach Hank Haney said he was “cheap, petty and ruthless.” Golf Digest once ranked the 30 most likable golfers in the world by “charitable contributions” to “being nice to the little people” to “being nice when no one is looking” to “being media friendly.” Woods did not make the list.

The Miami New Times, listing its top 10 celebrity tippers, had Tiger at No. 1. That's become a familiar joke on the Tour, the way Tiger grips his wallet when a waitress walks by. Sergio Garcia has had a great time making fun of Tiger.

Does any of this make Tiger evil? No, of course not. (Unless you happen to be his ex-wife.)

But does it make him Mr. Friendly, the way we once suspected? Does it make him our pal? Would he give you the last slice of pizza?

Best question: Would he give you his hat?

On that one, Woods bogeyed.

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