Tiger Woods' swing has been big news lately, with folks fervently dissecting it, debating the theories of Foley versus Haney versus Harmon. However irritated Woods may be about the non-stop analysis, he must be pleased -- and not a little surprised -- that the focus is currently on the plane of his swing instead of the arc of his life, which, although few knew, was wobbly long before Nov. 27, 2009.
It is much easier to critique how an athlete performs than what makes a person tick. That has been doubly true for Woods, who, prior to the public detonation of his private appetites, kept most indications of who he really was tightly tethered. The myth went slack when everything exploded, leaving Woods with a broken marriage and battered image.
"Forgetting morality," Tom Callahan writes in His Father's Son: Earl and Tiger Woods (Gotham Books, $27), "Tiger had done the absolute last thing anyone expected him to do. He made himself ridiculous."
The book, which goes on sale Oct. 28 and is excerpted in the November Golf Digest, would be important even if there had never been, as Callahan describes it, "The Night of the Escalade" and all the revelatory days that followed. In fact the dual biography, which details Earl's life before moving onto Tiger's in the entertainingly perceptive style the 64-year-old Callahan has displayed at Time and Golf Digest and in books such as Johnny U, was begun a year before the accident.
"I figure everybody will think I started this book Thanksgiving night, but I started it many months before that," says Callahan, who talked regularly with Earl prior to his death in 2006 at age 74. "The book didn't change much. It just got a little shorter in the front and a little sadder in the back."
Callahan offers a compelling exploration of father and son and their complicated relationship. It is a portrait buttressed by interviews with Earl's first wife, the former Barbara Ann Hart, their three children, along with relatives and neighbors who knew Earl in his hometown of Manhattan, Kan.
Earl is depicted by Callahan as a womanizer who liked to exaggerate the truth -- except when it came to his military service, including two tours of duty in Southeast Asia that made him largely an absentee father to his first family. "The Woods children mustered weekly at the dining room table to record messages for Earl on tape," Callahan writes. "In that slow, rich timbre, he answered them in kind. 'It was like listening,' said [daughter] Royce, 'to the voice of God.'"
After Earl's second wife, Kultida (Tida) Punsawad, gave birth to Eldrick Tont Woods in 1975, the couple threw themselves into raising their son, even at the expense of their relationship. According to Callahan, it was not necessarily in traditional fashion, as he relates in an anecdote involving Earl's oldest sister and a visit to their Kansas hometown when Tiger was 4. "Hattie Belle stood in the yard tossing a football to Tiger while Earl and Tida headed out to do some shopping," Callahan writes. "Once his parents were out of sight, Hattie put the football down and picked up Tiger. She worried about him. Earl spoke to him as a miniature adult. Tida mostly corrected him. Hattie didn't think he was touched enough."
As Tiger, an only child groomed for golf excellence, got older, some ramifications weren't positive. "To Tiger, family got to be less and less important," Earl's son Den tells Callahan. "My dad was more his best friend than his father, I believe. They were each other's best friends. You see, the three of us were raised as a family. But he was raised as an individual. Tiger's whole world revolved around Tiger. I'm sorry he didn't learn to value family. I honestly am. Sorry for him."
Callahan is blunt in assessing Tiger's downfall and so are others -- "I still say you can't play your best without self-respect," Ernie Els observes of the 2010 model Tiger -- but the author is foremost realistic about the 14-time major champion. "In a way," Callahan writes, "Tiger handed down his own sentence when, during the Fuzzy Zoeller fried chicken and collard greens affair, he said, 'I forgive but I don't forget.' No one will ever forget his hypocrisies. No one will ever look at him the same way. Of course, redemption is as available to Tiger Woods as it is to anyone. That would be a great story."
The journey there, like the one that got Tiger to such a hairpin turn, doesn't figure to revolve around his swing.