On a Thursday morning in April 1997, four days before Tiger Woods won his first Masters, Jimmy Davy walked into the Media Centre at Augusta National, ambled up the steps to a seat in the fifth row and threw the latest edition of the world's most venerated sports magazine onto his desk.
"Ah see Sports Illustrated have discovered that athletes are doing drugs," he snorted, in a thick southern drawl.
The cover, an impressively muscular bicep being pierced by a syringe, carried a bold headline 'Bigger, Stronger, Faster: Don't Be Fooled. Athletes of All Kinds Are Still Using Drugs to Improve Performance - And They're Getting Away With It'. It was set in a curious lime-green hue, which might have been a nod to the subheadline: 'Irish Gold Medalist Michelle Smith: Did She or Didn't She?'
Jimmy wrote for The Tennessean and was soaked in the trade. "In 1984," he said, "ah wrote an award-winning story about drugs and interviewed this huge powerlifter about prevailing attitudes. 'Well Jimmy,' he said, 'it's like this. If we thought eating Brillo pads would help lift an extra ounce, there wouldn't be a clean pot in Nashville.' And that about summed it up."
I laughed and asked him if I could take a quick look. "Bee ma guest," he replied. "But don't go polluting your mind with that trash - stick to golf. It's a whole lot cleaner and a lot more fun."
I retreated upstairs to a quiet corner of the dining room and dived straight into Smith.
"If all were right, Michelle Smith, the Irish swimmer, would be an athlete of formidable celebrity . . . She is a handsome woman with bright eyes and bright teeth, her head framed by wavy reddish-blonde hair. She speaks well, when she chooses to speak, and has strong opinions, when she chooses to share them.
"She's fluent in Gaelic and Dutch as well as English. She's a hard worker. She's driven. Her parents, middle-class Dubliners proud of the accomplishments of all four of their children, are modest and kindhearted.
"Do you think it would be difficult for advertising agencies and marketing departments and publicists to package all this? Is it hard to imagine a full-page ad for Aer Lingus in USA Today featuring Smith as a mermaid, half-submerged in the sparkling Irish Sea, floating above the words 'Come Swim In My Waters?
"There's no such ad. There will be no such ad. Eight months after her triumphs in Atlanta, Smith is virtually ignored outside her own country and her own sport. Your plumber, your neighbour, you kid's kindergarten teacher, they all know more about Eddie Edwards, the nutty British ski jumper, than they do about Smith, the most accomplished Olympic athlete in Irish history. That is because Smith, with her broad shoulders and thick biceps, carries a taint."
It was my first time to marvel at the genius of Michael Bamberger.
My mother left Hamburg, Germany, for New York as a young girl in 1938 with her family, amid the rise of Nazism. She was Gerda (her father's name, scrambled) Frank at birth and Dorothy Bamberger after her wedding. She taught English in the same school system on Long Island that my brother and I attended. She knew how Davis Love's mother, Penta, got her name as the fifth girl in her family. From the Greek. See: pentagon, pentagram, pentathlon.
My mother did the New York Times crossword puzzle at breakfast, played Scrabble with my brother and me on rainy Sundays, could run certain categories on Jeopardy! Golf was not any part of her life until 1974. That's when, as a young teenager, I got bit by the golf bug, courtesy of my eight-grade gym teacher.
A tribute on Golf.Com to his recently deceased mother, Dorothy
It's the first Monday of March. We're sitting in a room of his home in Mount Airy, a leafy suburb of Philadelphia, talking about his parents and the things that have formed him. "I'm extremely close to my father," he says. "Like my mom, he also came over, fleeing Nazi Germany as a kid and . . ."
He pauses for a moment and smiles.
"Now I always use that phrase 'fleeing Nazi Germany', and my father would say, 'Yeah, you shouldn't say fleeing.' To him, fleeing is one of those road signs you see in Southern California - a black silhouette of a terrified mom and kid - warning motorists to be careful. They got on a boat. They presented papers and got on a boat. To him that wasn't fleeing. Like a lot of people for whom English is not their first language, he is very sensitive to the nuance of words. And both my parents really used English with precision."
Precision has always been a hallmark of Bamberger's journalism. He also has a brilliant mind and illuminates his subjects with remarkable clarity and depth. But it's his unbridled curiosity and forensic eye for detail that really sets him apart.
The month is July 1991, and he has travelled to a small golf club in Scotland to take a lesson from a crusty sorcerer called John Stark: "Stark was a behemoth, two or three inches over six feet and a stone or two over 200 pounds, with a deep, booming voice and a rich Scots dialect.
"He wore white loafers, shiny blue nylon sweatpants, and a white golf shirt a size or two too small. Around his neck hung a gold chain, and the borders of his teeth were lined with gold too. He had a heavy compassionate face, and thick white hair combed off his broad forehead. He smoked a cheap cigar. He was 60 years old, and he looked it, except in his eyes - he had ageless, piercing, wise blue eyes."
The month is November 1996, and he has followed Michelle Smith to Easons in Galway where she's signing copies of her new book, Gold, A Triple Champion's Story: "Smith smiled nicely for the girls and their camera-wielding mums. She wore chic cream-coloured wool pants, a matching jacket and a simple gold necklace. Her face looked rounder and softer than it does on the back jacket of her book.
"In that photograph, taken in the pool in Atlanta after one of Smith's victories, her flexed arm looks as if it belongs to a strong man, and her jawline seems to be on loan from Mark Messier, the New York Ranger, with the haunting, prehistoric face. Smith signed the proffered books with penmanship that was careful and girlish, right down to the tiny circle with which she topped off the second letter of Michelle."
The month is April 2004, and he has been invited to a dinner party by some wealthy friends, where the guests of honour are the tennis player Jim Courier, and M Night Shyamalan, the Oscar-winning director of The Sixth Sense: "You could tell that Night - with his sagging ears and swollen eyes - heard and saw everything going on that night. I watched him watching a housekeeper remove a wineglass from a serving tray, hold it up to the light, and disqualify it for soap streaks.
"How Night read this simple act of professionalism, I do not know, because I did not ask. My thing as a reporter has always been to get to the bottom of something, ask the right questions of the right people. Night's methods, I guessed, were totally different.
"I got the feeling that he had some secret move up his sleeve, one that let him come up with a big idea, invent a killing phrase ("I see dead people"), and sell close to $700 million worth of movie tickets across the world. I wondered how he did it."
The month is March 2020, and he is sitting in a car on Market Street in Philadelphia, watching a man who has travelled from Dublin to meet him cross the street: "I've always felt that character reveals itself at the most unsuspecting moments," he says. "So, the way you crossed the street. There wasn't a lot of traffic coming - you didn't need to jog - but that told something about your eagerness to get going. Your thoughtfulness toward me."
It was his mother who first noticed this gift for seeing things. He was five or maybe six years old and they were down at the local grocery store when she caught him foraging.
"Why were you looking underneath the cigarette machine?" she asked.
"Oh, I was looking for change," he replied.
"What made you think there would be change there?"
"Well, I've observed that when people buy cigarettes they're often nervous. And they drop the change and don't go and get it."
He smiles now at the memory. "She said it was the first sign I might become a reporter, or a detective. I would not have known the phrase 'nicotine fix' but I knew people were jangly when they needed a cigarette."
In 1959, when Khrushchev was coming to the United States, Mike Wallace was on TV conducting a contest: What one place should US officials take the Soviet leader to show him the real America? The winner would get a car, and our family - with me on the way - needed one. In my father's entry, he said the American hosts should have Khrushchev throw a dart at a US wall map and wherever it stuck was where he would go, so that Nikita and his comrades back home would understand that democracy thrives everywhere in the United States. How did that not win?
Men in Green
He grew up in Patchogue, a small town 60 miles east of New York City on the South Shore of Long Island. His father, Joe, was an engineer. His brother, David, studied law. And a week before his 13th birthday, Michael decided to become a journalist. It was the opening day of baseball season in 1973 and he had skipped school with David to watch the Mets and the Phillies at Shea Stadium.
"Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton - two legendary pitchers both now in the Hall of Fame - were playing," he says, "and a reporter from the New York Times interviewed us on cutting school. We were just two paragraphs in the story but it made a big impression on me: 'What a life! This guy just goes to the ball game, meets some kids and it gets in the next day's paper!
"There was another thing. My father had this famous biography of Bobby Kennedy, a big thick book, by a man called Arthur Schlesinger. There's a photo of Bobby on the steps of the King David Hotel with a reporter's notebook in hand, covering the formation of Israel in 1948, and I used to look at it: 'What a life! That seems great.' So I was very much drawn to newspapers and becoming a reporter. That's all I really wanted to do."
In 1982, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English and American literature, he started applying for jobs. "There was a newspaper recession in the early 1980s - a general recession - and my memory is that I applied to every single newspaper in New England, which had a great tradition of small-city daily newspapers.
"I went to interview at various places, and the only job offer I got was at a weekly newspaper, the Vineyard Gazette, on Martha's Vineyard. I knew little about Martha's Vineyard but I had a roommate and he knew the area. I said, 'Could you interview at the Cape Cod Times in the morning and the Vineyard Gazette in the afternoon?' He said, 'Yeah, it's possible, but you better check the ferry schedule.' I had no idea it was an island."
The Vineyard looked a beautiful but closeted place. His first taste was a directive from his editor: "If you don't get something right, you're going to see that person in the grocery store, and they're either going to punch you in the nose or freeze you out."
His first assignment was a town meeting in Gay Head (now Aquinnah), where some Wampanoag people had filed a land-claim suit. "I covered this meeting and was talking to one of the town leaders afterwards, and then he left and I was in the middle of this godforsaken nowhere. It was so dark, so pitch black, that I could not find my car in the parking lot. I'm like, 'What have I gotten myself into here?' And feeling just so . . . lost."
The bonus was the people in the grocery store.
The fire chief at Gay Head was Hugh Taylor, a brother of the songwriter, James. The land being disputed by the Wampanoag tribe was owned by Jackie Kennedy. Michael's next-door neighbour, Bart Giamatti, was president of Yale, a future Baseball Commissioner, and father of the Hollywood actor, Paul. Another neighbour, John Farrar, had pulled Mary Jo Kopechne's body out of Ted Kennedy's Oldsmobile at Chappaquiddick.
And then there were the media stars. He met the columnist, Art Buchwald, and Mike Wallace, the host of America's most-watched TV news magazine 60 Minutes, at a cocktail party one night. Walter Cronkite, the celebrated news anchorman, was another regular on the island.
"What you saw on Martha's Vineyard was a microcosm of everything," he says. "I was writing about common people and working people . . . painters and fishermen from all walks of life, but a lot of prominent people as well - well-known actors or musicians who would be coming through town.
"I went out and saw Mike Wallace earlyish one morning. He was unshaven, his hair was a mess and he was wearing a bathrobe (laughs), just like every other American dad on a Sunday morning. So I got over the awe factor of (meeting) well-known or accomplished people, and that's an extremely useful thing for any reporter. And if you do it at a young age it's even better."
"Why were you visiting Wallace," I ask.
"I was going to pitch him some story ideas for 60 Minutes," he says.
"So you were ambitious?"
"Yeah, I was ambitious."
At first I thought Brown didn't hear me when I said hello to him. Then I realised he wasn't just not saying hello to me, he wasn't even riding elevators with me. Before long I knew that any effort I might make with Brown was futile. His hostility toward me was both sly and overt. He had a habit of walking out of the manager's office while I was posing a question. A mistake in the Inquirer was like a present to him. Once in a story I had Roger McDowell on the mound, struggling, when it should have been another pitcher. Brown ran the paper to McDowell. Another day I wrote that the Phils had gone through the motions in a routine loss. Brown ran that story to the manager.
You never knew what was going to set him off or what he'd find funny. Once I used the word brio in a game story, and Brown had a field day, telling his fellow Amigos, "I feel I'm writing with real brio tonight." Brown could be quite funny, unless you were the butt of his jokes.
Twenty minutes pass. We've been talking about his time at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the reporter, Bill Brown, a narrow-minded bully, who poisoned his love for baseball there. But something has been grating on him.
"You know ambition is a funny word," he says, out of nowhere. "You asked me about it and . . . it made me uncomfortable. It's such a naked word. And I said, 'Yeah, I was ambitious,' but I don't really know what I meant because I think I was trying to . . . not fight the word, but be more nuanced about it. And I'm always worried about nuance coming across like bullshit.
"I had one idea in mind that I can remember with Mike Wallace, it was very specific. There was this island off Hilton Head called Daufuskie Island. It had a black population of Creole influence, and its own language, and it was totally isolated. A famous novelist, Pat Conroy, wrote a non-fiction book about being a school teacher there, and that turned into a movie called Conrack.
"So I just had it in my head, 'Whatever happened to that population?' And Wallace was like, 'Yeah, that's a good idea.' I don't know if I would have ever had a role in doing such a thing, and I wasn't trying to pitch to Mike Wallace, it was more in the category of 'an adventure'. My father was not a conventional person in his thinking, and I didn't want to lead a conventional life.
"So now I'm giving you a more nuanced response to 'Were you ambitious?' I think I just wanted to do stuff I was interested in. In my mind I was not motivated by money or fame, I was motivated by reporting, storytelling, adventure, seeing the world."
In 1985, he left the Vineyard Gazette and wrote his first book, The Green Road Home, about a season caddying on the PGA Tour. In 1991, he took a sabbatical from The Philadelphia Inquirer and set off for Europe with his new bride, Christine, to write To The Linksland. In 1995, he joined Sports Illustrated and hit the ground running with a feature ('Living with a Lie') selected for The Best American Sportswriting anthology. And a year after that, he was watching Michelle Smith at a book signing in Galway.
"The assignment was 'Find Michelle Smith and write her up'," he says. "I don't know that I would have been aware of the book. I remember staying in this old-timey, clubby hotel with a big horseshoe-shaped bar (The Shelbourne) and trying to figure it out: 'How am I going to find this Michelle Smith? Well, she's doing a reading for a book.' And I know I saw the husband there . . . what was his name?"
"Erik de Bruin."
"Yeah, Erik de Bruin. He was (standing) far from where she was speaking to the kids and I got to him and introduced myself. I said, 'Can I take you out for dinner afterwards?' And he was very amenable to that. There was just the three of us, and it was a long dinner and . . . someone said to me that the Irish custom was that the check doesn't come until you ask for it?"
"That's true," I reply.
"See, I didn't know that. Obviously, I was going to pay for dinner but the check never came and that was great for me because I had a captive audience and they were talking, and he was especially talking, and it got more and more uncomfortable. I remember him saying, "Well, you could drink 40 cups of coffee." And he was comparing horses being doped up with human beings being doped up and he was from Holland and . . . anyway, I felt like I wasn't really getting the goods."
He didn't write about Smith again and he can't recall the next assignment. That's the nature of feature writing - stations on the line - but he continued to satisfy his hunger for adventure with other projects: Bart & Fay, a play about Bart Giamatti and Fay Vincent, the man who succeeded him as Commissioner for Baseball. Wonderland, a book about a year in the life of an American High School. The Man Who Heard Voices, a fascinating study on the demons driving Shyamalan.
But even the best can get it wrong.
That was my first thought six weeks ago, when a proof copy of The Second Life of Tiger Woods was delivered to a colleague at the Genesis Open in Riviera. I was all stocked up on books about Woods, and nothing was going to better the recent biography (Tiger Woods) by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.
But this was Bamberger . . .
Tiger Woods has some Williams in him. He'll look right through you. I started covering Tiger when he was an amateur, and it's been an honour, writing up his golfing exploits. I am well north of a quarter-million words on Woods and counting. What luck: I was able to write about one of the most dominating athletic careers ever as it unfolded. Still, I would have enjoyed it much more had there been expressions of warmth from the man, hints of humility. I wish he would acknowledge that the game has given him far more than he could ever give it. Maybe he doesn't think that - I wouldn't know . . . But I can say without even pausing that writing about other golfing lives has been far more meaningful for me.
Men in Green
On the last Sunday of August '95, a 43-year-old car dealer called Buddy Marucci reached the final of the centennial US Amateur Championship at Newport Country Club. Marucci was a Philadelphian, and a good story for The Inquirer, so Michael packed the car early that morning and drove north to write the report.
It was his first time to see Tiger Woods.
Two years later at The Masters - the week of 'Did She or Didn't She?' - he followed the frenzy around Woods for three days at Augusta with a sense that they were all seeing something they had not seen before.
"What did he have?" he asks. "A nine-shot lead? That had never happened before. He was from a Thai/African-American/native-American background. That had never happened before. He weighed about 148 lbs and was hitting it 320 yards. That had happened before, but not in the last group of the Masters. At age . . . what? 21?
"And then, when he won, he became the most powerful person in golf, and those green-coated old guard WASP members had to accede some power to this kid, because he was way more powerful than anybody. If he was going to go on Oprah, he could save Fuzzy (from the storm that enveloped Zoeller after a racist comment) or not save Fuzzy. If he got up on a soap box and said, 'There's only three Majors.' People would have said, 'Tiger says there's only three Majors. He must be right'."
Rick Reilly wrote the cover story for Sports Illustrated that week - Bamberger was more interested in losers - but three years later, when Woods was SI's 'Sportsman of the Year' for 2000, Michael was given the nod. Woods had won ten times that year, including The Masters, The US Open at Pebble Beach, and The Open at St Andrews, and it was Bamberger's first (and last) time to be granted a one-on-one.
"I got Tiger on the phone for 40 minutes and he gave me nothing," he says. "Or nothing that was usable. I remember he kept talking about the weather: 'Do you know it was so still and calm for four days at St Andrews.' I was like, 'You've got to give me more than that!' But he didn't. He either wasn't willing, or wasn't capable, and my memory is that we used nothing from Tiger."
His memory is correct.
Plan B ('Witnessing History') was an oral-history with testimonies from 18 people who had watched the winning up close. A couple of the usual suspects - Jack Nicklaus, Butch Harmon, Arnold Palmer, Ernie Els - featured, and there was some interesting snippets from a Scottish bobby and a Thai caddie, but the revelation was Trey Holland, a former president of the USGA and a rules official at the US Open in Pebble Beach.
It's Saturday and Woods is about to play his approach to the third: "He hits his second shot short of the green, near a bunker. The ball sinks in the grass. He says to me, 'I think my ball is embedded.' If it's embedded, he gets a free drop. There's an intensity in his voice. He knows how he wants this to come out.
"I say, 'Mark your ball, lift it, and test the dirt with a finger. If the plane of the dirt, not the grass but the dirt, is broken, it's embedded.' He tests it. He says, 'I think it is.' I say, 'Let me have a look.' I put my finger down there. I say, 'It's not.' He doesn't say a word. Replaces the ball. Hacks it out. Makes a triple bogey.
"On Sunday we're back on the first tee. He says hi. Doesn't say anything about the ruling . . . He plays his final round, wins the US Open. I congratulate him, and he says 'Thanks that means a lot. But I sure would have liked to have gotten that drop yesterday on three.' Twenty-eight hours later and after winning the Open by 15 shots, he was still thinking about it. I was under the clear impression that he wanted to win by 18."
The interview has entered its third hour. I remind Bamberger of the rules official's account and ask what it reveals about Woods.
"That it's never enough," he says. "That what he is going to win by is not enough.
"He's saying: 'I'm comfortable pushing this rule and it's your job to tell me I can't.' So it's a different mindset to what Nicklaus and Palmer and Hogan presented, and that might be a romanticised view but I don't think it is. And as someone who really loves golf as it is meant to be played, that's troubling on some level, even though there are lots of other things he's doing that are interesting and exciting."
Woods kept winning in the decade that followed. Bamberger was often excited, but rarely inspired. Then, in early November 2009, a woman who worked at a nightclub in New York, placed a call to the main switchboard of Time Inc in Manhattan and was put through to Sports Illustrated. SI was a Time Inc publication. Jim Herre, Bamberger's editor, took the call.
The woman had a friend who was having an affair with Tiger Woods. Her friend would sell the story for 25 grand. Herre told the woman that wasn't really Sport Illustrated's business but he took her number and promised to get back to her. Then he put Bamberger on the case.
"What would we do if we got it?" Bamberger asked.
"I don't know," his boss replied, "but I'd like to know."
Bamberger tried the number but the woman did not pick up. She had done a deal with the National Enquirer.
"So you knew almost from the beginning," I say.
"Yeah," he replies. "But I wasn't going to write it. Would you write it?"
The core problem for the sex addict is not an insatiable desire to have sex. The heart of the matter is the soullessness that comes from lacking the empathy gene. There's a missing chip. Try finding it.
Sex addicts can race through sex partners like French fries out of a bag because they don't care about the person they're having sex with. They're not thinking about their spouse or partner, if they have one. They want what they want. They feel entitled, superior, untouchable. If they're not full-blown narcissists, they're heading there. Lack of empathy is the starting point of the talk therapy. There ought to be a word with real oomph to describe this emotional bankruptcy. Apathy isn't it. Cold-hearted comes close. This might be closer yet: me-me-me-me. Tiger on the course had that in spades. He was cold-hearted. He had me-me-me in his bones. Whatever character defects he might have had, they were useful on Sunday afternoons.
The Second Life of Tiger Woods
On December 18, 2009, the front page of The New York Post carried a story about the world's most famous golfer: 'Tiger Plays Golf - At Night!' It was the 20th day in a row Woods had featured on the cover.
'He Paid For Sex With Hookers'
'Tiger's Sex Texts'
'He Wanted To Spank Me'
'I'm A Cheetah'
'Two More Sexy Girls Come Out Of The Woodwork With Their Seamy Tales'
He won't be framing them.
There were other headlines. The New York Times ran a story that Anthony Galea, a Canadian doctor who had treated Woods, was being investigated by the FBI on suspicion of providing athletes with performance enhancing drugs.
"He never gave me HGH or PEDs," Woods said, when he was questioned about it four months later at The Masters.
It was the first time the 'D' word had been raised at Augusta and confirmation, if Woods needed it, that it was open season on every aspect of his life.
He didn't win for two years - the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March 2012 - and the following April, when he returned to Augusta as the World Number 1, he was rebranded and polished with a new campaign from Nike: 'Winning Takes Care of Everything.'
Bamberger doesn't do rage but that pushed him pretty close. "That is not a true statement," he says. "It's never been a true statement. It will never be a true statement. Winning does not take care of everything. And when they say things like that, it becomes my job - and your job if you choose it - to show that's not true."
Woods' pursuit of everything had few bounds.
He played about 20 events in 2013 and transgressed the rules three times - a two-shot penalty in Abu Dhabi in January, a two-shot penalty at The Masters in April, and a two-shot penalty at The BMW Championship in September. There was also a questionable drop when he won The Players Championship in May.
Here's Nick Faldo on what happened at The Masters: "He really should sit down and think about this and the mark this will leave on his career, his legacy, everything."
Here's Johnny Miller on what happened at The Players: "That Tiger drop was really, really borderline. I can't live with myself without saying that."
Here's Brandel Chamblee's take on the season: "I remember when we only talked about Tiger's golf. I miss those days. He won five times and contended in Majors and . . . how shall we say this . . . was a little cavalier with the rules."
Here's Bamberger: "What Tiger showed in 2013, in addition to his singular skill and drive, was his desperation to 'reclaim his identity,' to use a borrowed phrase.
"Tiger wasn't carrying himself like a man who was in some kind of recovery programme. He didn't seem to be a man trying to lead a reconfigured life. Not at all.
"When he had those three issues - at Augusta, at the Players Championship, at the BMW Championship - he was putting his soul in an open MRI for anybody to see. What you could see was his extreme self-absorption."
Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.
It didn't last. His back went (the Honda Classic, March 2014). He stopped winning. He tried surgery and painkillers but almost couldn't play. Then he took his car out one night and was found by a police patrol, parked by the side of the road at 2.0 in the morning. The engine running. His eyes closed. The questions coming . . .
"Have you been drinking tonight?"
"No," he said.
"No? Are you sure about that? Because there's some odour coming from you."
And in that moment, everything changed.
"Normally, nobody says anything to Tiger Woods even remotely that direct or challenging," Bamberger notes.
"That's because in almost every relationship, except maybe the ones with his mother and former wife, Tiger is the dominant personality. He holds the cards and has the power. But then he did not."
Tiger told Fandrey (a police officer, Christopher Fandrey) at the jail that he didn't want a lawyer. He was semi-cogent at best, but he seemed to understand Fandrey's question. Maybe Tiger knew on instinct alone that there was nothing to fight, that he had been exposed as never before, that something would have to change.
Back in the day (a Tiger phrase), local cops, in cherry tops, would sometimes take pity on the famous and the drunk and drive them home. It still happens. The Jupiter police didn't do that on Memorial Day night. They did everything by the book, and that made all the difference. They threw Tiger a birthday party, not that it looked like one, and taped it via dashcam. The second life of Tiger Woods had begun.
The Second Life of Tiger Woods
In late February 2018, nine months after the surgery (a spinal-fusion) that had enabled him to play again, Woods travelled to the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. So did Bamberger. On the Sunday - red-shirt day - he followed Woods around and started taking notes - nerdy, geeky stuff . . . majestic iron play . . . immense speed through impact . . . superb distance control . . . crashing-wave rhythm . . . drawing . . . fading . . . landing hole-high . . . stopping on firm greens.
It was nothing he hadn't seen or written before, and he was expecting more of the same when he joined the queue for Woods' thoughts after the round.
But he saw something - a level of empathy from Woods toward another human being - he had never witnessed before. Here's how he describes it in the book: "He was asked a boiler-plate question about his Sunday playing partner, 21-year-old Sam Burns, another talented kid trying to find a home in professional golf. Tiger had seen hundreds of them. If form held, Tiger would offer some semi-impersonal scouting report about the kid and his eighth-place finish.
"Instead, Tiger said this: 'He played beautifully. Top ten is big for him because it gets him into Tampa, the next full-field event. He's trying to build momentum and build his exempt status. Today and this week was a big step for him.'
"Who would have imagined that Tiger even knew anything about the pages of PGA Tour fine print that spell out how a player gets exempt status? But he did. Tiger Woods, walking in Sam Burns' shoes. Amazing.
"You felt like asking somebody in Tiger's camp: What have you done with him - what did you do with Tiger Woods? Because the old Tiger Woods wasn't going to worry about Burns and whether he qualified for Tampa. That was never going to happen."
Bamberger watched Woods closely a week later in Tampa. And watched him differently.
Then he followed him to The Masters, The Open at Carnoustie, and the BMW Championship in Philadelphia. Something had changed, or was changing. He called an editor he had worked with previously on Men in Green: 'You know what? I think I'd like to write a book on what Tiger's trying to do here.'
The interview has entered its fifth hour. A copy of The Second Life of Tiger Woods is sitting on the table. I've started teasing him that timing is everything in life and that Woods' performance at The Masters last year won't hurt sales.
He says something only Bamberger would say.
"People said that to me afterwards: 'Oh, you must have been rooting so hard for Tiger. That's going to be so good for your book.' And this is not going to come out well, but I'm going to answer your question truthfully. I said, 'I was rooting for Molinari. He's my favourite golfer. I like the way he goes about his business and was heartbroken for him.'"
"But there's another thing," he says. "I'm looking for character to reveal itself, and I'm interested in losers. What would reveal Tiger's character more in that scenario? Okay, so he made a bogey (on 18) and won by one. Let's say he makes a double on 18 and loses the play-off. Then we would have really seen something.
"I wouldn't have wished that on him, because I don't believe in that kind of rooting, but we would have gotten a real insight into where he was. It was extremely interesting to see how he handled victory after all these years. But winning is easy. It would have been much more interesting to see how he would have handled defeat."
"So how do you feel about it?" I ask.
"Yeah, are you happy with it?"
"I'm pretty happy with it. I think it's a snapshot of this period. I think there'll be more to say if he leads a full life - he's only half-way through, so there's a lot for him to do. I do think he can achieve a very high standing in the game, and way beyond the game, as Nicklaus and Palmer and Hogan and others have done if . . ."
"He continues on this path?"
"Perfect," he concurs, "if he continues on this path. And the one thing I would caution fans of second-chances, fans of Tiger, saying, 'Oh, this is the new Tiger.' I would urge them not to go there. I would urge them to say, like all of us, he is a work in progress. And don't put pressure on him, or your expectations, to think he's anything other than that."