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Dissecting the softer, gentler Tiger Woods

October 29, 2019

Eddie Guy

Tiger Woods has never made it onto Golf Digest’s ranking of the nicest guys of the PGA Tour.

There’s a saying in Hollywood: Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down. Aſter four back surgeries, myriad injuries and comebacks on comebacks, Woods is no longer on his way up—though his 15th career major at April’s Masters stands out—but there are signs he has become a happier, friendlier, more empathetic person.

In South Florida, where Woods lives, he has formed meaningful relationships with some of the game’s young stars. Rory McIlroy spent part of his Thanksgiving in 2017 playing golf with Woods and calls him a friend. When Justin Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship, he later celebrated his victory with Tiger at Woods’ restaurant in Jupiter. Rickie Fowler and Tiger also have dinner there sometimes.

The truth is that Tiger has been a nicer person than he has received credit for. See the works of his foundation, plus lesser-known stories of players he has assisted over the years, like helping one foreign-born PGA Tour player obtain his green card.

Jason Day has been effusive in his praise of Woods, citing how oſten the two text and talk.

Woods has taken it even further by inviting Day to his house on occasion. Woods has also gone out of his way to make amateurs and tour rookies feel welcome. In 2018, Tiger played a practice round at Augusta National with firefighter Matt Parziale, who had earned an invitation to the Masters by winning the 2017 U.S. Mid-Am. Woods sent him a letter congratulating him on the feat and thanked him for the work he does as a firefighter. In the final round of the 2018 Honda Classic, Woods was paired with rookie Sam Burns. The two chatted throughout the round, and Woods was very complimentary of Burns, who beat him by two. Later that year, a nervous Austin Cook, another rookie, played with Woods on Sunday of the Northern Trust. Woods put Cook at ease by starting conversations, answering questions and never big-timing him.

Woods has even been more forthcoming with the media, answering questions about his personal life at the Masters, for example. It wasn’t always that way, particularly in his prime and with those who might have posed a threat to his dominance. But to reach the level of historic excellence that Woods has achieved, how nice could he really be?

“The muse requires total commitment to winning,” says a sport psychologist who was around Woods during his prime and has worked with several players on tour. “There are no half-measures trying to be the best in the world at something. Excellence requires sacrifice, and you have to sacrifice relationships, among other things. Few understand what it takes to get to the top and stay there.”

Few in any sport have done it better than Woods. But in the hero’s journey, success and exuberance and hubris are followed by the fall and, eventually, redemption.

At the 2018 Tour Championship, one of East Lake’s longtime locker-room assistants saw a big difference in Woods, and that was before he won for the first time in five years. Woods was friendlier, not just with fellow players, but with the club’s staff, willing to pose for a picture when asked, and he genuinely seemed happy.

“He’s come full circle,” says the assistant, who recalled a time when Woods could be very detached. One veteran golfer who had slipped to the ranks of the Korn Ferry Tour a few years ago and was going through a divorce periodically received texts from Woods checking in on him and asking about his daughter. Another, whose friendship with Woods traces back to their days playing junior golf, saw a difference in Woods when he won this year’s Masters. It was evident in not only what he saw but how quickly Woods responded to his congratulatory text and what was said.

“The first 14 majors he won, he was chasing history,” the player said. “But you could see it in the emotion he showed that this one was for him and his family. He got to enjoy that one more than the other 14 combined, I think. It was cool to see.”