Washed-up champs who don’t know when to quit
Tiger Woods is one contradictory cat. There’s a human being inside that shell, a living, breathing, joke-cracking, thoughtful guy with all kinds of normal human feelings.
But there’s also a mercenary. A man who this week privately played golf with anonymous Chinese millionaires for huge sums of money. A golfing enthusiast who will rave about Australia’s world class golf courses, and how he wishes America had more courses like ours, then greedily pocket three million for the privilege of playing here.
But if you think Tiger is ruthless in the way he subjugates all dignity in his endless quest to accumulate money, that’s nothing on the way he suppresses his own emotions. At his Tuesday media call at The Lakes Golf Club, which The Punch attended, he didn’t once acknowledge the effect his marital break-up and sex scandal had on his golf game.
This isn’t to kick the guy yet again for his deeds. That’s been done. Enough people have taken that moral high ground. But yesterday, Tiger blamed everything bar the carbon tax for his failure to win a golf tournament since his private life unravelled like a cheap cocktail waitress’s pantyhose.
Tiger’s last win was in Melbourne two years ago, at the Australian Masters. The Punch was there too, and we were mightily impressed with both his golf and the man himself. Indeed, Tiger gave one of the all-time great answers in a press conference.
On the 16th hole, Tiger hit a brilliant long approach shot which nudged the hole. It was the shot of the tournament, and in the victory press conference, a journalist asked, “was that shot as good for you as it was for us, Tiger?”
Tiger cracked up. Even in the innocent days before his sex scandal, the question was hilarious. But when he finally stopped laughing, he gave a great answer. “Well, let’s just say I felt like smoking a cigarette afterwards,” he said. Touché.
That, right there, shows that Tiger Woods is one engaging dude. Yet he has mystifying chosen frequently to downplay his personality. Maybe that’s some kind of throwback to his colour. Growing up, he must have desperately wanted to prove that a black golfer could be not just better than all those white golfers, but just as marketable. Just as bland. Just as Middle America. Just as Corporate America.
And so, he got in the habit of letting his true personality run free only occasionally. For all that’s changed in his world, he’s still got the habit. At Tuesday’s press conference, he continually used the adjective “neat”. Neat? What is this, Leave it to Beaver? Dammit Tiger, talk like a man!
There’s another thing real men do, and that’s admit the obvious. They don’t shove stuff under the carpet. On Tuesday, Tiger spoke about the things which have derailed his game. The injuries, the split with his coach and the rest of it.
All of these things are real, as anyone who saw him win the 2008 US Open on one leg would know. And all of the above has no doubt contributed to his slump. But Tiger continues to fail to acknowledge the massive esteem blow of losing his wife, his full-time role as a father and above all, the biggie. His dignity.
On Tuesday he said this of his family life post-divorce. “Everything’s fantastic. Everything is in a wonderful balance, at home with the kids, they’re doing great, so everything is in a very nice balance.”
For real, Tiger?
I, for one, still cheer for Tiger because I like the real man who occasionally shines through the veneer. I can’t wait for the man to win another tournament. But it’s not going to happen until he says something more like:
“You can’t believe what it’s like having your sex life exposed in every newspaper in the world. You just can’t imagine it. I feel sick just thinking about it. But you know what? I’m not perfect. No more pretendies. I’m gonna try and be good, but above all, I’m gonna be the real me because being the fake one only made the urge to live a double life all the stronger.”
Right now, Tiger Woods is still playing the role of Corporate Tiger, Ambassador Tiger, Everything’s OK Tiger. The minute he plays the role of Vulnerable Tiger, I reckon he’ll crack the code to winning again.
As for Ian Thorpe, what a yawn. Now more a lumbering dugong than a Thorpedo, he is at least two seconds off competitive times and the London countdown clock is ticking. Perhaps they could stop it again, as happened in March.
The big question with Ian Thorpe is why return at all? Tiger is back because he never chose to leave. But Thorpey seemed happy in retirement. Speaking to him two years ago, he seemed ridiculously content with his lot, and especially enthusiastic about the work of his foundation in indigenous communities, much of which he personally attended to.
Some say it’s for money. Whatever the reason, you can’t imagine he’ll get rich being an easybeat. The number of anonymous swimmers joining the “I beat Ian Thorpe” club is now rivalling the “I saw Todd Carney at the pub” club and the “I saw Brendan Fevola playing the pokies” Club.
When Ian Thorpe burst onto the scene in the late ’90s, at around the same time Tiger Woods began winning golf Majors, the mystique around him was harnessed to the hype surrounding our backyard Olympics. That was then. In many ways, Australia no longer cares.
That’s not because Thorpe has been a bad or dishonourable person, a la Tiger. But Thorpe presents a similarly airbrushed, over-polished persona. People just don’t really relate to him anymore.
We like our sports stars real in this country. And the funny thing is, the realer they are, the more successful they tend to be. To that end, Tiger and Thorpey would both do well to take a leaf out of Shane Warne’s book.
Warney might be looking increasingly plastic on the outside, but he has always maintained his fantastic gift of not faking any aspect of his personality. He is flawed, and doesn’t pretend otherwise.
Warne, too, returns to the competitive sporting fray this summer with the Melbourne Stars Big Bash Twenty20 team. The Stars could run last and Warne would still be hailed a winner for having a go. Tiger and Thorpey must be shaking their fists with jealousy.
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