124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2


The Business He's Chosen

April 26, 2010

Woods faced plenty of questions from reporters when he returned to golf at the Masters.

This is what Tiger Woods has created for himself. His life has become not only fair game for public scrutiny; it has become a bumper sticker. This is the first day of the rest of his life. This week's Quail Hollow Championship is the first tournament after Woods' first tournament back following those events of which he'd prefer we no longer speak.

Since his rather remarkable fourth-place finish at the Masters, a hot grillroom conversation at just about any course has been, "Can't we just get back to talking about golf now?" Sadly, the answer is no. Precisely what made Woods' performance at Augusta National noteworthy was the back-story upon which it was built. And that back-story is not going away any time soon.

Part of the challenge facing Woods is accepting the fact he placed himself in this situation. The consequences will not only be significant, they will be long lasting. They are part of the price he pays for irresponsible, selfish behavior. His quest for instant gratification will not be forgotten in an instant.

When Woods grows weary of those who place his life in context, he has to remember he created the context. No one else. When will we be able to write about the world's No. 1 golfer without mentioning that which he wants us to forget? Excellent question, and one without an answer, at least for now. Only time can sort that out.

Part of the storyline, at least for now, is what Woods is coming back from, what he is trying to put behind him. If he wins here this week we will marvel at not just his skills but also his focus. If he does break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional major championships it will be all that much more remarkable because of all that has happened and how he has overcome it.

Just as Richard Nixon knew on Aug. 8, 1974 that the words "Watergate" and "resigned in disgrace" would always be associated with his name, Woods has to accept the fact that he will always be linked to porn stars, cocktail waitresses and text messages. Some would say that is unfair. Others would say it is the price of fame. However it is viewed, Woods has to remember the words of gangster Hyman Roth in "The Godfather", who said: "This is the business we've chosen."

When will the story become only about golf? Perhaps never, certainly not now, not yet. Life's consequences do not dissipate that easily, at least not for those who do not have the power to try to buy or bully their way out of the mess they have created. Maybe this time Woods has to live by the rules that govern the lives of normal folk.

Nixon had an enemies list, keeping track of who he perceived was for him and against him. There will be a temptation for Woods to do the same. That would be a mistake. The best way for Woods to control the agenda going forward is to play great golf and live a good life. But If Woods wants an adoring public to remember his accomplishments forever, he has to accept the fact his failings will linger just as long.

One of the frustrations of life -- part of its unfairness -- is that achievements are forgotten far too quickly and failures remembered far too long. No one has the luxury to control -- or try to control -- the conversation about his or her life except by living a good life.

Woods has to resist the temptation to blame others in a far more successful way than he has resisted temptation up to now. He got into this situation because he had the fame and the fortune to do what he did. He did what he did, simply, because he could. That's the upside to his celebrity. Now he must face the downside. This is the business Tiger Woods has chosen. No one else.

Ours is a society that rewards celebrities way out of proportion to their achievements. Someone who makes a hundred million dollars a year should be finding the cure for cancer not acting in a movie, singing a song, selling toxic mortgages to an unsuspecting public or striking a golf ball. But that is the way things are.

As the comedian Robert Klein pointed out, there are no scientist groupies. Jonas Salk most likely never had the temptations Woods has faced -- nor is it likely he sought those temptations the way Woods has. This is the business Woods has created for himself. Developing a vaccine for polio is the business Salk created for himself. One does what one can.

Woods is on the extremely short list of the best to ever strike a golf ball, along with Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Mickey Wright and Annika Sorenstam. He is only 34 years old and he will win more golf tournaments, more major championships. When he does win, we will praise his abilities. Eventually, we will be less focused on his failings, but they will never be forgotten.

If Woods wins the Quail Hollow Championship this week it will be impossible to report that fact without placing it into context: That this is only his second tournament in six months; that his personal life is in turmoil and why both of those situations are the case.

If Nixon had been elected to political office sometime after August 1974 would we not have marveled that he could do so despite Watergate, despite resigning the Presidency in disgrace? Our past is forever a part of our present; always a piece of the path we follow to future.

To get back to bumper stickers: Who said life was fair? It's not fair that Woods makes so much money while millions go hungry through no fault of their own. And it's not fair that Woods now will be remembered as much for his personal failings as for his golfing abilities. But this is the business he has chosen.

At Quail Hollow, once again, Woods is back to business. And so too are those who have helped make him rich by chronicling his achievements. If there is to be a new Tiger Woods, part of that transformation has to involve rising above vindictiveness, doing his job and allowing others to do theirs. None of us wanted it to be this way.