In March last year, 15 books about Tiger Woods stood on my shelves, lined up side by side like guardsmen on parade. In April the 16th arrived – The Second Life of Tiger. Though I knew Michael Bamberger, the author, to be the quiet man of golf reporting, with a painter’s eye for detail who is rarely seen without a notebook stuck in his back pocket, this did little to suppress the question: Did I need a 16th book about a man I had first seen more than 25 years earlier and written tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of words about since? Having read it, I realised I did.
Less than one year later comes Tiger, a documentary made by HBO and shown recently on Sky television in the UK. It is based on Tiger Woods, the book by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. Tiger’s appearance on a daytime talk show when he was 2 is well known, as is Earl Woods’ portentous description of his son as someone who “will transcend the game and bring to the world a humanitarianism that has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live in by virtue of his existence and presence.”
But interviews with Joe Grohman, the assistant pro at the Navy Golf Course where Earl Woods had “cocktails” with young women while his son learned to play; Rachel Uchitel, the hostess whom Woods took to Australia in November 2009, which was when the news of marital misdemeanours first broke; and Dina Gravell, Tiger’s first girlfriend; are astonishing. Grohman is honest to the point of being self-searing, and Uchitel is astonishingly frank and lengthy. Gravell’s contribution is remarkable, complete as it is with home video and still photographs of her with Tiger and footage of the handwritten note from Tiger in which he ended their relationship. Knowing what might be revealed in the documentary explains why Woods refused to appear and why Mark Steinberg, his agent, called it an “unauthorized and salacious outsider attempt to paint an incomplete portrait of one of the greatest athletes of all time.”
This is a documentary about a golfer, perhaps the best the world has ever seen. But more than that it is a documentary about a person who plays golf and at 180 minutes it has the time, pace and financial wherewithal to explore all aspects of Woods’ career – not just the triumphs but the sexual transgressions and other vicissitudes as well.
Last week I asked Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Collin Morikawa, Sergio García and Pádraig Harrington whether they had watched it. Not one said he had, though Rose, García and Harrington all expressed an interest in doing so. “I knew it was released in the States but it had not been legally released in Europe, so of course I haven't seen it,” Harrington said. “I wouldn't be using any of those dodgy sites or anything like that.”
“I feel like having competed against him through most of my career you get a sense of who someone is,” Rose said. “With the greatest respect in the world, the journalistic licence, it would be interesting to see the spin put on it. I’m sure the intentions are to get a raw and truthful documentary out of it. I’m curious to see how it comes across.”
"It would be interesting to see the spin put on it. I’m sure the intentions are to get a raw and truthful documentary out of it. I’m curious to see how it comes across.”
Morikawa was the only one of the five who said he had no intention of looking at the documentary. “I've grown up watching Tiger my entire life, and all I could dream about when I was a little kid was to be able to play with him when he's on the PGA Tour,” the reigning PGA champion said. “I've made that dream a reality and I've gotten to know him off the course. So, for me to have a personal connection aside from golf, and actually get to know him, and talk to him, you know, not just about golf but about anything else, that's all that matters to me.
“The best way you can get to know someone is by talking to them, right? You're getting to know me through this interview. I'm getting to know you by the questions you're asking. And for me to be able to ask Tiger personal questions, face-to-face, about golf, sports, family, whatever it may be, that's all that matters to me. I've idolised him and he's been a role model or a huge reason why I'm here today.”
If one moves from Morikawa’s comments to considering whether Woods has brought a previously unknown humanitarianism to the world, as his father forecast, then the answer is no. Indeed, has he even brought it to golf?
A view often expressed by golfers is that given the position he holds Woods has not done as much as he might for the game as a whole and specifically to inspire young people and encourage diversity, "He has earned every trophy he has won but I don't believe he has earned all the money he has acquired," a leading golf administrator said last week, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He has an amazing platform that he hasn’t utilised. That so few non-white people have come to golf because of Tiger could almost be described as a disgrace.”
Rob Maxfield is the chief executive of the PGA in the UK. “For me Tiger Woods transcends golf,” Maxfield said.” “He has opened golf up and widened the knowledge of golf to a much wider people. My granny would have heard of Tiger Woods even though she probably doesn’t watch golf.”
But has Woods brought people to the game? “I went to a typical comprehensive school in the 1980s,” Maxfield continued. “It had 1,200 pupils and only two of us played golf. We did an old house up six years ago. There were 15 or 20 plasterers, plumbers, bricklayers coming and going through the house. Every single one played golf. Not one was a member of a golf club. Tiger Woods has played a significant part in more people getting interested in golf. That is how golf has moved over 20-30 years.”
Golf is a complex sport that challenges our mental attributes and physical skills. This documentary is truthful to the game in being challenging in the way its salaciousness is distasteful to those who might wish it wasn’t included. But it is a more rounded documentary than any seen before and all the better for that.