Monday, April 16, 2018

Books: An Unvarnished Look At Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods on the 18th green at The Barclays in 2013. Photo by Jason Schott.

Tiger Woods

By Jeff Benedict & Armen Keteyian

Simon & Schuster; $30.00; 512 pages

Tiger Woods was on top pf the golf world, if not the entire sports world for 15 years, and ever since his world came crashing down on him, it has been a struggle for him to find who he is as a person and to stay healthy enough to be the player he once was.

Veteran journalists Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian examine Tiger in the first truly comprehensive biography of one of te greatest golfers ever in Tiger Woods.

"Very few individuals are known throughout the world by one word," Benedict and Keteyian write.

Benedict, a New York Times bestselling author and special features writer for Sports Illustrated, and Keteyian, a CBS News correspondent based in New York, examine Tiger's roots and the vital role his parents plated in his epic rise, fall, and return.

The authors paint the picture of this legendary figure from interviews with people around him and intensive research going back to when he was born, as Woods declined to be interviewed for this project.

Since it has been almost a decade since his decline, it is easy to forget how transformative Tiger was, and they write of his impact, "Tiger Woods was the kind of transcendant star that comes around about as often as Halley's Comet. By almost any measure, he is the most talented golfer who ever lived, and arguably the greatest individual athlete in modern history. For a fifteen-year span - from August 1994, when he won his first of three consecutive US Amateur Championships as an eighteen-year old high school senior, to the early-morning hours of November 27, 2009, when he crashed his SUV into a tree and effectively ended the most dominant run in the history of golf - Woods was a human whirlwind of heart-stopping drama and entertainment, responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the history of televised sports.

"Woods will forever be measured against Jack Nicklaus, who won more major championships. But the Tiger Effect can't be measured in statistics. A literary comparison may be more fitting. Given the full spectrum of his awe-inspiring gifts, Woods was nothing less than a modern-day Shakespeare. He was someone no one had ever seen or will ever see again.

"Woods' golfing legacy borders on the unimaginable. He was both the first golfer with African American heritage and the youngest golfer in history to win a major championship. He won fourteen majors overall on his way to seventy-nine PGA Tour victories (second all-time behind Sam Snead) and more than one hundred worldwide. He holds the record for most consecutive cuts made (142, covering nearly eight years) and number of weeks ranked no. 1 in the world (683). In addition, he was honored as Player of the Year a record eleven times, captured the annual scoring title a record nine times, and won more than $110 million in official prize money - another record. The tournaments he played in shattered attendance marks through-out the world and consistently set viewership records on television, his charismatic presence and two decades of dominance the driving forces in the stratospheric rise in official PGA Tour purses from $67 million in 1996, his first year as a pro, to a record $363 million in 2017-18, and the rise of the average Tour purse from $1.5 million to $7.4 million during the same period. In the process, he helped make multimillionaires of more than four hundred Tour pros. Pure and simple, Woods changed the face of golf  - athletically, socially, culturally, and financially.

"At the height of Tiger's career, golf beat the NFL and the NBA in Nielsen ratings. As a spokesman for Nike, American Express, Disney, Gillette, General Motors, Rolex, Accenture, Gatorade, General Mills, and EA Sports, he appeared in television commercials, on billboards, and in magazines and newspapers. He was mobbed by fans wherever he went - France, Thailand, England, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Australia, even Dubai. Kings and presidents courted him. Corporations wooed him. Rock stars and Hollywood actors wanted to be him. Women wanted to sleep with him. For the better part of two decades, he was simply the most famous athlete on earth."

Over a three-year period, Benedict and Keteyian conducted more than four hundred interviews with over 250 people from every corner of Tiger's life, including scored of people who had never previously been interviewed.

There are new, intimate, and surprising details about Woods' life, including an inside account of Tiger's relationship with his first love, Dina Gravell, and their tough breakup at the hands of his parents.

There are a lot of startling new details about Tiger's father, Earl Woods, who died in 2006 and lies in an unmarked grave. One revelation is that Tiger's longtime sports agency, International Management Group (IMG), made $50,000 annual payments to Earl as a "talent scout," years before Tiger was even their client.

Tiger was on the navy golf course his father played at practically as soon as he could walk, and when he was about two years old, Earl reached out to Jim Hill, the sports anchor at KNXT, the Los Angeles CBS affiliate, when Tiger was only two years old.

"To Earl's credit, he knew how to pitch his son to the media," write Benedict and Keteyian. "And he always did his homework. Hill had spent seven years as a defensive back in the NFL and loved to play golf. More important, he was an African American who cared deeply about minority youth and had been very involved in local outreach through the Los Angeles Urban League and the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. He was well aware that golf courses throughout the country had traditionally shut blacks out. Earl insisted that his son would one day open the game up to kids of color around the nation.

"The next morning Hill and a camera crew pulled into the parking lot at the navy course. Earl, in a golf shirt and cap, smiled warmly and extended his hand.

"'Where's Tiger?' Hill said,

"As they approached, Hill recognized one of the sweetest sounds in sports - a golf club making square contact with a golf ball. He was shocked when he saw who was responsible for that sound.

"'I see this little Tiger hitting golf balls straight,' Hill recalled. 'I mean straight. Not kind of straight. Straight! He was only a couple of feet tall. Yet he was hitting it fifty yards, and he was hitting the ball flush every time.'

Tiger was certainly a golf prodigy and, as he got older, he put in the time other masters of their craft put into being the best they could be. 

"It would not be an exaggeration to say that Tiger spent more than five hundred hours practicing during the summer months before his freshman year (in high school), not including the hundreds of additional hours he spent participating in tournaments," the authors write." Extreme practice habits were neither new nor challenging for him. 'The first thing I taught Tiger, aside from the love of the game of golf, was the love of practice,' Earl said. 'When he was real small, people would ask him, 'How did you get so good, Tiger?' And he would answer, 'practice, practice, practice.' '

"Practicing golf was never a chore or something Tiger felt obligated to do. He looked forward to being alone on the range or on the course with his clubs. They were, in a sense, an extension of his creative genius. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell looked at the careers of gifted geniuses -  Bill Gates, Mozart, Bobby Fischer, the Beatles - and concluded that preparation habits played a bigger role in their extraordinary achievements than innate ability did. Using Gates and the Beatles as test cases, Gladwell looked at how much time they had spent practicing and preparing in their youth. Gates, for example, logged more than 1,500 hours on a mainframe computer during a seven-month span in eighth grade, and averaged twenty to thirty hours a week teaching himself to program. Similarly, Paul McCartney and John Lennon started playing together in high school, a full seven years before they made it big, and performed live together an estimated 1,200 times before the Beatles played their first concert in America. Gladwell coined the phrase 'The 10,000-hour rule' to explain the  effort that separated the greats from everyone else. 'The people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else,' Gladwell wrote. 'They work much, much harder.'"

One of Tiger's most amazing performances came in what would turn out to be his last major championship, the U.S. Open in 2008.

Woods played that tournament with a ruptured ACL and a broken leg, as his tibia was torn in two places. 

As the authors write, "Over four spectacularly uneven days, Woods showcased the utter genius of his game, particularly his putting.  Wayward drives that led to four double bogeys were overshadowed by three surrounding eagles, including a sixty-five-foot downhill racer from the fringe when he really needed it on Saturday; bogeys countered by birdies; an ugly 38 on the first nine on Friday reversed by a lights-out 30 on the back; and every single day, when it counted, a barrage of gut-wrenching putts for par."

Woods entered Sunday with a one-shot lead over Lee Westwood, who succumbed to the "Tiger Effect" and a two-shot edge over Rocco Mediate, a journeyman golfer ranked 147 spots behind Woods, who took a one-stroke lead heading into the last hole of the fourth and final round.

Woods had to make a putt from about 20 feet away from the hole, and the authors write about what happened next, "The putt ran the ridgeline like its life depended on it, then took a sharp left and banged into the right side of the cup. Instead of lipping out, it rattled in. Amid a roar that was heard by the hang gliders hovering over the Pacific a mile away (from Torrey Pines), Tiger thrust his fists into the air and then slapped hands with Williams, the agonizing pain in his leg eclipsed by the adrenaline rush. Woods and Mediate were headed to an eighteen-hole playoff on Monday.

"'Unbelievable,' Mediate said to himself as he watched Woods celebrating on the monitor.

"As soon as Tiger left the course, euphoria gave way to worry. He had geared himself up to play seventy-two holes, not ninety. His knee and leg felt like they had been hit with a thousand hammers. He spent the night with his physical therapist and told himself he would have to dig deeper than ever to make it through eighteen holes the next day.

"During Monday's playoff round, Nike ran an ad featuring Earl Woods, as if he were speaking to Tiger from the grave. 'Tiger, I promise you that you'll never meet another person as mentally tough as you in your entire life,' he said. Very few people knew just how tough he would need to be that day. 

"For the longest time, Monday's playoff looked like a replay of the day before: all square through fourteen holes. Throughout the day, Woods resembled an aging prizefighter - knocked to his knees by pain for one swing after another, only to rise to his feet and continue to fight. It was sporting drama of the highest order. Tiger trailed by one as he and Mediate stepped to the tee at the par 5 eighteenth. And just as in Sunday's round, the best Mediate could do was par, leaving Woods a short birdie putt to force only the third sudden-death playoff in the US Open since 1954.

"And that's when Mediate, a real fan favorite, finally faltered. A wayward drive on the first playoff hole at the par 4 seventh left him in an awkward lie in a fairway bunker leading to a dead pull left of the green. The best Mediate could do was a bogey 5, opening the door for Woods.

"Tiger stuck a 9-iron in the center of the green from 157 yards away and two-putted the par and his third US Open Championship.
"Walking gingerly off the green, he got into a golf cart with (his wife at the time) Elin. At that moment, despite a damaged knee and a fractured tibia, the future never looked brighter for Woods. He was on 'the other side' now, as he liked to call it, a father for the first time. At every opportunity he talked about how he and 'E' were a team in raising their daughter, Sam. Earlier in the year, Sam had crawled for the first time. Now she was walking, dragging a cut-down club around the house. This win at Torrey Pines could not have meant more. 'It's probably the greatest tournament I've ever had,' said Tiger.

"At thirty-two, he had won his fourteenth major, a milestone Nickalus didn't reach until he was thirty-five. Tiger was on a trajectory to annihilate all of golf's records. The next day in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks called Woods 'the exemplar of mental discipline' and declared that he 'had risen above mere human status and become an embodiment of immortal excellence.'

"At that moment, it would have been unthinkable - preposterous - to predict that the US Open at Torrey Pines would be the final major championship in the career of Tiger Woods."

A year and a half after that, when he crashed his car on the night of November 27, 2009, after Elin attacked him when she became aware of his multiple affairs, advertisers fled from Woods in droves.

Remarkably, Woods is still just 43 years old, and since he is compared to Jack Nicklaus, who won a Masters championship at 46, that 2008 US Open title may not be his last major.

Woods has finally shown signs of the player he was, as he is the healthiest he has been in years and was thought to be a contender at this year's Masters, but struggled to make the cut.

The next major is the US Open here in New York, at Shinnecock Hills. and Woods will certainly be a favorite.

Tiger Woods is a must for anyone that likes to study historic figures, as he is arguably the greatest golfer ever, and it will be interesting to see how Woods adds to his story in the future.

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