Tuesday 17 October 2017

Tiger has lived a strange life in his own strange world

Where is he now, how is his form, has he hit rock bottom, is he alone with his video games, is he crying for his children?

Tiger Woods has to be somewhere, but he is one of the most famous men on the planet and he has disappeared like a puff of smoke.

Wherever he is, whatever he's doing, it's probably safe to say that the main business of every day is the struggle to get his head around what has happened. If he has a friend in the world -- and by all accounts he never had many -- that friend should be telling him not even to try: it's too early and besides, there's more to come.

But we do know that it all began within the four walls of his house on November 27 last. It was the day that his family broke apart. It happens all the time but this, of course, was no ordinary family: Woods was carrying so many particles of celebrity energy that he was a one-man Chernobyl for the fame industry.

Their home became not just the site of a domestic incident but the epicentre of a global news explosion. A nuclear family had split but the fission generated waves of radioactive prurience around the world.

It is almost impossible to imagine how harrowing the ordeal has been for his wife. Their children are too young to know what has happened but one of the many burdens Woods will have to carry is the knowledge that one day they will find out about his betrayal. He faces a lifetime of guilt.

More immediately, there is one reality that has had to hit him through the fog of grief and confusion: his aura is gone. And what an aura it was. The man didn't have power the way politicians do, but he radiated a sort of sovereign power that few statesmen could match. We doubt if there was a room he walked into in the last ten years where he wasn't the most powerful man there.

The money and the fame added to his presence but before all that, there was the talent. He began, and he continued, with the massive authority of his talent.

In the now famous essay in Esquire magazine in 1997, Woods said something to the writer, Charles Pierce, that still rings true despite what we know about him now. "You know," he said, when asked about the wealth that was already pouring in, "the prize money, that's the paycheck. That's the money I earned for myself. All the other stuff, my Nike contract and Titleist and (other contracts), to me, that's a bank account, but it doesn't really make me as happy as what I earn through blood, sweat and tears on the golf course. That money, I have the sole responsibility for earning that. Just me, alone."

He was 21 and about to claim his first major, becoming the youngest player to win the Masters and setting an all-time scoring record (18-under) in the process. The legend was launched that Sunday in Augusta and with it, the aura that came to surround him like a forcefield.

Over the next 12 years he took a game that routinely confounds everyone who tries to play it and seemingly bent it to his will; he took on rivals with astonishing skill levels themselves and bent them to his will; he demanded and received phenomenal amounts of money from big business; PGA prize money leaped from $71 million in 1996 to $279 million in 2008 -- Woods was the catalyst; he added 13 more majors and his army of fans multiplied by the millions.

Along the way he erased more and more human imperfection from his image. On the course he remained flesh and blood, a swearing, fist-pumping fighter. But back in the civilian world he was a corporate robot, half-man, half-machine. He became a sort of secular deity in public and, in private, a fortress. In the end he was as forbidding and unknowable as one of those monumental statues on Easter Island.

And then, last December, the world started laughing at him. Of all the things that could have befallen Tiger Woods, the most unimaginable was that he would become a laughing stock. Yes, he

brought it upon himself but still, it seemed too cruel. A man this serious could not possibly become the butt of a thousand jokes.

Only celebrities susceptible to the usual human follies could become the punchline in a thousand jokes. And Woods was above all that. He was so obsessed with his game, so one-dimensional, that he was almost asexual. When the women started coming out of the woodwork and the tacky rumours began circulating, it all seemed a bit . . . inappropriate. But there he was, just another superstar athlete-philanderer with a wife and kids at home.

Maybe our initial disbelief was rooted in the chasm between his image and his reality. It wasn't an image that we projected onto him; he projected it onto us as part of the selling of the biggest brand name in sports history. So, he wasn't just living a lie all this time, he was telling a lie too -- telling it and selling it. Like everything else, he also did hypocrisy on an outsized scale.

Tiger Woods has lived a strange life in his own very strange world.

the.couch@hotmail.com

Sunday Independent

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