For a condemned man Tiger Woods looked pretty chipper on Sunday.
The boyish grin went well with his green jacket. But those of us
seeking a metaphor for what life holds in store for Tiger needed
only to examine the splendid confines of Augusta National Golf
Club--a course walled in by hedges, tall pines and parochialism.
Augusta National is not a playing field, in the usual sense, but
a place where old men hoard memories, and gardeners prune and
clip with sepulchral dignity.
Tiger Woods is 21--too young to be embalmed but not too young to
be fitted for legendhood by long-faced men with tape measures.
The television voices say he will win 10 Masters. The newspaper
guys predict a Grand Slam. I trump them all: 10 Grand Slams!
Nobody thinks he'll chuck it all and pursue a career in
We're all so focused on the impact of Woods that we
hardly consider the impact on Woods. Bobby Jones faced a similar
situation 67 years ago, and he stunned the world by quitting
tournament golf--at 28. Jones believed that he had done all that
was expected of him and all that he expected of himself...and
since the fate of no shoe line or ball company hung on his
decision to practice law, he got out. Woods, on the other hand,
has mortgaged his career for millions.
April 20, 1997
Byron Nelson, to cite another example, won 52 pro tournaments
and five majors, but he retired at 34, when he felt he had
enough money, and returned to his ranch in Texas. Woods almost
has enough money right now to buy the U.S. Virgin Islands. But
no one retires from professional golf anymore, not even the
Too often those of us who worry about Woods limit our concerns
to questions of focus and motivation. "When he's won everything
once," we warn, "he may lose his fire. Winning won't seem so
Actually, the greater danger is that Woods will lift his eyes
from the immediate goal and see his destiny as clearly as most
of us see the morning sun. He already knows, for instance, where
he'll be dining on the second Tuesday in April for the rest of
his life--at the champions' dinner in the Trophy Room at Augusta
National. Such knowledge would trouble a Faust.
Michael Jordan solved this problem a few years ago by leaving
the NBA and signing a minor league baseball contract. The sons
of successful men achieve a similar measure of freedom by
plunging the family business into bankruptcy. Anything to make
ripples in a motionless pond.
The real trap, of course, is megacelebrity. Woods can be
confident that he'll always have the best friends that money can
buy, but his dealings with the world will be increasingly
mediated by employees and screeners. He will be criticized for
this. He will be pilloried, as well, for errors of omission and
commission that wouldn't register on a priest in a confessional.
And should Woods suffer some genuine loss in life--the loss,
say, of parental love and companionship--his pain will matter
little to his packagers, who will continue to paint his likeness
on the outside walls of buildings from Boston to Bangkok.
"Learn from Nicklaus," we'll tell him. "Learn from Palmer." But
those two great players found fame in a simpler time--simpler in
that they had only three U.S. television networks to deal with
plus a handful of national golf writers. Woods will be unable to
satisfy the global media outlets. He will find peace only if he
retreats into a walled compound, in the manner of Greg Norman,
and waits for presidents to call.
To be sure, these are not problems of the moment. Tiger's week
in Augusta was filled with video games, Ping-Pong and
hamburgers--and he just happened, during the daylight hours, to
consign the world's best golfers to the scrap heap. But someday,
when he's older, his world may suddenly seem a little too
orderly, his days too regimented. He may have to fight the urge
to cut through somebody's hedge with a chain saw.
Whose hedge, I'm not predicting.