Tiger is getting to know himself
We might never know Tiger Woods, but he might finally be getting to know himself
Everybody, not just the famous, has both a public and a private face. Those two versions of ourselves are never completely reconciled, nor would most of us want them to be. Our interior life, our soul, our truest sense of ourselves, whatever you call it, is too difficult and changing a thing to summarize easily or share widely.
But when the gap between the public face and the private self becomes a vast gulf, people go into crisis. The split inside you becomes intolerable. You feel that you are “living a life of a lie.” You become reckless, partly out of self-hatred (“my behavior was disgusting”), but also because you want to put the warring sides of yourself back together, even if the cost is huge. Therapists have big words for it. But let’s settle for: You want to stop being a phony.
So, I believe Tiger Woods now. He’s so sick of being phony that he drove into a tree, risked blowing up his marriage and half his golf empire and turned the most revered name in contemporary sports into a national joke. Throughout his life, the tension between his private self, which may have been a bit arrested by his golf obsession and childhood fame, and his enormously profitable “perfect” public image has grown until the gap became unbearable.
We’ve seen the anger, the hostility, in brief bursts, like a boiling kettle letting off steam. But we didn’t guess the internal pressure.
The process took years, but, finally, Woods blew the whole thing up. When he says, “I own it. I did it. Nobody else,” we may not guess how deeply he means it. The unconscious is that powerful. Woods may have an “addiction,” but it’s as likely a symptom of long-buried unhappiness as a cause of his wanderlust.
This may be the wrong theory. But it’s mine for now. Because it’s the only one so far that get me anywhere close to “Why?”
Why would one of the world’s most public people cheat on his wife with a number of women over a multi-year period and do it so indiscreetly that he was almost certain to be caught and shamed?
Why would anyone, much less the logical, disciplined Woods, act so destructively and self-destructively for so long?
Some have said, “He thought he could get away with it.” Or, “He thought he could buy silence.” Or, “He rationalized that, because he’d worked since childhood to be a great golfer that he was entitled to play by different rules. ” Also, Ruthian appetites and elite athletes sometimes go together, so get over yourself.
Those points, a couple of which Woods alluded to, have some validity. But, now that we’ve had four months to digest the scandal, and on Sunday, got a new set of brief Woods interviews to watch, we’re thrown back on one huge and obvious question: Why did Woods, unconsciously but systematically, blow himself up? Or, more specifically, why did he blow up his public image in a way that forced him into a form of in-patient therapy so intense that a serious attempt at self-discovery and redefinition was inevitable?
Because, deep down, that’s what he wanted. What a price.
Right now, Woods is sincere, suffering, mortified and doing the best he can in his 12-step approach to “living a life of amends.” That’s my take. But I also think we’re quickly reaching the end of how much more Woods is willing, or even should be willing, to share with us about the scandal.
Who knew that a five-minute interview could be too long? Before Woods was finished speaking Sunday on ESPN and the Golf Channel, my skin was crawling, and I was thinking, “Too much information.”
Once you have said, “There were a lot of people who thought I was a different person” and that you’ve had “so many different low points” you can’t keep track and “I can’t believe I actually did that to the people I loved,” what’s left to say? Wear a “Kick Me” sign?
Tiger is in earnest. But he’s also got a stump speech down pat. We’re not getting any lurid details. “It’s in the police report” or it’s “between Elin and me.” The causes of the problem, to the degree he can find words for them, are a sense of “entitlement” and a falling from “core beliefs,” especially Buddhism. His only solution is to work on his marriage, apologize to everyone he meets (and mean it), keep going to therapy, do more good deeds, win golf tournaments and don’t hit that “adult” movie button.
Woods is going to say things that hit us wrong. He’s already talking about his therapy like he has discovered a new kind of weight machine: “I’ve never felt that type of strength.” That’s more palatable to hear after a few years, not a couple of months.
Also, the situation he has put himself in is so inherently sad but also ludicrous that he’s going to say some whoppers. Asked why he didn’t stop having affairs, he said, “I didn’t know I was that bad.”
Really? When you need a daily planner to keep ’em straight, that should be a hint.
“I get it,” Woods said about all the Tiger jokes. That’s good, because they are not going to stop. When kings and billionaires mess up, it’s a right of all us commoners to enjoy the sport.
What many have missed is that, in recent weeks, Woods has said more truly harsh and painfully insightful things about himself than perhaps any modern superstar athlete. His contrition has been dismissed as the “Re-Branding of Tiger Inc.” While “sincerity in the service of survival” is sometimes a conscious corporate tactic, Woods’s apology was not some generic jock mea semi-culpa, full of loopholes, and “now I just want to move forward.”
On Sunday, Woods said, “It was really tough to look at yourself in a light you never want to look at yourself. That’s pretty brutal,” then added later, “You start coming to the truth of who you really are and that can be very ugly.”
Woods has made it clear in his public remarks that the reason nobody has truly known him is because his knowledge of himself — aside from golf — has been so spectacularly imperfect.
To a degree, Woods has been trapped for his entire life by his fame, his talent, his domineering parents, his corporate empire and his sport. He has been told to play every public role perfectly. He could figure out who his private self was in his spare time.
Now, the private Tiger is finally getting full-time work, maybe for the first time. Asked what he expects from fans at Augusta in two weeks, Woods said he was “a little nervous . . . It would be nice to hear a couple of claps.”
No ovations, please. But those of us who aren’t quite perfect ourselves can probably spare a few more than that.