Tiger Woods’ extreme obsession with off-course privacy has now been exposed, among other things, to be a cover for his serial, exploitative philandering and a pattern of personal behaviour that has inspired at least one British expert in instant psychology to publicly offer a diagnosis of ‘sex addiction.’ Even if you ignored the voyeuristic feeding frenzy in the global print, broadcast, and online media that Tiger’s “transgressions” and betrayal of “family values” have set off, it is clear that this preternaturally talented golfer with his 14 Major titles has been living a lie. Unfortunately, the world’s richest athlete cannot take cover behind this being a private affair, separate and a world apart from the magic he works on the golf course. It is well established that, in general, sporting, artistic, and literary reputations are little affected by knowledge and exposure of the private peccadilloes of the stars. The problem in the present case, aside from the involvement of the police, is that this one-man mega business has earned an estimated $1 billion largely by endorsing products targeted at young people and, in parallel with his game, seeming to live up to the ideal and values of a role model, a golden boy who, in his case, has overcome barriers of race, nationality, and class. So much so that the January 2010 issue of Golf Digest features on its cover “10 Tips Obama Can Take from Tiger.”
The akratic story that emerged from the gated community of the rich and the famous in Isleworth, Florida, and the chain of allegations of sleaze it has triggered, has changed this. Nobody can take away from Woods his golfing genius, his magnificent fighting spirit, his gift for reinventing his game. A golfer’s competitive playing life is much longer than that of any other sportsperson and the best of Tiger probably lies ahead on the world’s golf courses. Not a single television channel in the United States might have aired an advertisement featuring him since news broke of his early morning car crash and his golf club-wielding wife. But it would be naïve to write off Tiger’s huge endorsement value or the world of difference he makes to the game and to television ratings. The case of David Beckham, who rode out his troubles in a space of about nine months, does offer some kind of parallel. Then there is the estimable American belief in redemption that Woods can rely on. To redeem himself, he needs to reinvent not his game — but his persona. He can start by shedding the cloak of inaccessibility, the duplicitous intolerance of every attempt to glean his off-course life.