Wednesday 18 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Tiger is great, but now we want him to be good'

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

We are not easily pleased, we humans.

We watched Tiger Woods winning 14 majors, we saw him giving leadership to our whole species using all the astounding talents he's been given plus some other mysterious kind of talent that is called "greatness" - and we appreciated it at one level, but then we also asked ourselves: is he a great guy too? Is he a good husband and father? Is he generous with his time and his money to those who are less fortunate than himself? Is he temperate in his ways?

There's no end to it really, we just can't be satisfied.

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And then this superior being had a few problems in his marriage - which are absolutely none of our business - and what did we do? We cancelled him.

Though when I say "we", regular readers will know I would not be including myself there. I did not cancel him, for many reasons - though the one that was uppermost in my thoughts was probably the time that he won the US Open with a broken leg...

It was 2008, when Tiger won the US Open with a broken leg, a time when the "financial services sector" was plundering the world - but in Torrey Pines, a man was winning the US Open with a broken leg. A double stress fracture of his left tibia, and cruciate ligament damage.

Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters in Augusta, Georgia last Sunday
Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters in Augusta, Georgia last Sunday

Now in any vaguely healthy society, it would immediately be recognised that Tiger winning the US Open with a broken leg (did I mention the bit about the broken leg?) was a significant moment for humanity in general.

Somewhere amid the torrents of corporate bulls**t, a man had done something that was not bulls**t, something that was indeed great and marvellous and inspiring.

Yes, he had really done that thing. He had not just issued a statement through his PR company pretending he'd done it. At one of America's darkest moments, it truly had found its champion.

And that's not even counting the 13 other majors he had won without a broken leg, which some of us at least had found great enough and marvellous enough and inspiring enough to give the man himself a free pass when it came to certain issues around his personal relationships - which had nothing whatsoever to do with any of us.

Alas, this was not the unanimous reaction of commentators and critics, who, in their assessments of Woods, now seemed to be giving more weight to his less-than-ideal record in the pursuit of cocktail waitresses than to his heroism on the course.

Indeed, they had always been belly-aching about his behaviour on the golf course, how he'd be spitting and using bad language - though they would then justify their invasion of his private life by claiming he brought it on himself with his "squeaky-clean image".

Not that my love for Tiger is blind. Oh no, I believe it was a terrible mistake on his part to make that public apology, to make that ugly accommodation with the inanity of our times. And personally I will never forgive his mother for making him do it.

He has troubled me too, by playing golf with Trump, which is clearly far more unacceptable than any amount of adultery or debauchery, or his alleged tightness with money (that somehow hasn't stopped him donating millions to good causes), or that supposed aloofness towards his fellow professionals - several of whom were somehow standing and applauding him at Augusta last Sunday like he was their best buddy.

Yes, the Trump thing was hard for me to take - but you know what? I took it. Not just because he won the US Open with a broken leg, but because it tells us something quite important. It tells us Tiger Woods may have a flaw here or there, but these are mere peccadilloes next to the massive flaw in our culture as a whole, which did not understand the true scale of his achievements as much as Donald Trump did.

Just imagine that….imagine Trump was ahead of the game on this one. Imagine there are many supposedly smart people who on this particular subject were actually way behind Donald Trump?

But they're all seeing it now, as big as a basketball. Tiger had to come back from numerous surgeries and savagings and a few pictures of him in the papers looking very, very drunk; and he had to win the Masters again after all that before he could satisfy his detractors he was worthy once more of their appreciation.

Meanwhile Rory McIlroy, who has the talent to win 20 majors but who may never win another, remains for some a more pleasing figure - unlike Tiger, he seems to have found having about $100m will help you make it through the night. For Tiger, if he had $10,000m, he would still be trying harder than everyone else.

So there he stood, the champion again, with many remarking on the unrestrained nature of his celebrations. Yet he was also showing some restraint in this sense: since he had once mistakenly declared he had been a great disappointment to many of his supporters, this was perhaps the time to correct that, and to speak instead of what a great disappointment they had been to him.

He rose above that too.

When normal life makes no sense

From Tiger Woods, it seems natural to move to Bob Dylan, and not just because they are both golfers. Yes, it is believed Bob Dylan has played golf, to a handicap of 17, which at first seemed like one of the maddest things I'd ever heard - but then what do I know about Bob Dylan?

I think I know quite a lot of things, from listening to his records, but then people think they know a lot of things about Tiger Woods too, from watching him play golf - and they may be right too, but they are probably wrong.

There is this small category of ridiculously brilliant and ridiculously famous people, like Woods and Dylan, for whom the concept of normal life has become so abstract it doesn't really make much sense for them to have anything to do with it - because it has become as inaccessible to them as becoming famous is to everyone else.

Yet we'd still like to hear that they are "very down-to-earth", as if there aren't enough of us already who are very down-to-earth.

My favourite story about Dylan's fantastically strange dealings with the real world, was told in The Guardian in 2015 by the Armagh-born cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who arrived at the home of a musician friend of his in LA to be told that Bob Dylan would be coming for dinner that night.

McGarvey was as excited to hear this as Dylan was disorientated by the presence of this unexpected dinner companion - indeed, Dylan pulled the toggles on the hoodie he was wearing, and proceeded to eat his Mexican food though this small hole. He could be heard but not seen, though "at one point he started playing a little children's keyboard and sang an old gospel song. I can't think of a more searingly surreal moment in my life," McGarvey recalled.

And it didn't get any less surreal after Dylan eventually left, only to return to explain that he had no gas in his battered old truck, and he would need someone to come with him to fill the tank for him because... well, I guess if people see Bob Dylan at the gas station, it can turn into a long night.

McGarvey went with Dylan, who drove past numerous gas stations to get to one that he "knew" - and when McGarvey had duly filled the tank, and handed Dylan's credit card back to him, Dylan wouldn't let him back into the truck. "No man, I gotta go, I got to go," he explained, leaving his passenger with no direction home.

"I've worked with Bob since but I never mentioned that strange night to him," the cinematographer concluded. It seemed to go without saying that Bob never mentioned it to him either.

Salah scores important goal for humanity

If there is such a thing as a superstar who is also a "well-rounded person", the main candidate is Mo Salah, who last week made the cover of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People issue, with a piece by John Oliver which stated that "Mo Salah is a better human being than he is a football player. And he's one of the best football players in the world."

In Time, Mo called for change in the treatment of women in the Muslim world. That was the "better human being" bit, while the "best football player" has been banging them in again for Liverpool, where the fans have tended to regard these as false distinctions - when you can score goals like the one that Salah scored against Chelsea last Sunday, it is hard to draw some imaginary line where the great footballer stops and the great human being starts.

Indeed, people have told me that they found that goal to be a deeply emotional experience, more so than would usually be the case when your team scores an important goal. Grown men and women wept, for reasons they did not fully understand. And it wasn't just because Mo is a great guy too.

There was tremendous outpouring of happiness too - and of grief - when Tottenham beat Man City in the Champions League, a riot of emotions that was all the more amazing because it was ultimately caused by a VAR machine with no feelings at all.

Still they say that VAR is taking some of the humanity out of football, but sometimes the humanity has been giving us the wrong result. At some point very soon, someone is going to look back through all the big football matches that were decided by goals which the VAR would now show clearly to be offside, and a kind of tragic alternative history will be written.

Soon we will also ideally be seeing a goal by Mo Salah that is wrongly disallowed for "offside" and then confirmed as a good goal by VAR - making the world a better place all round.

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