March 31, 2008

Those Four-Letter Snaps

Separate the language from the issue and you will get a much better "picture" of the real problem... If there is one

There are two separate issues involved in the latest Tiger Woods controversy. The first is photographers, the second is bad language. I feel particularly qualified to address these issues because I took pictures on the PGA Tour for 20 years and I've been known to swear like, well, Tiger Woods.

First, the second. Tiger's language doesn't offend me. I agree, it shouldn't go out over the public airwaves, but, to some extent, that's not his fault. There are plenty of powerful microphones at football games, and having also photographed more than my share of those, I can assure you the language is every bit as salty as anything Tiger ever imagined saying. It doesn't make it right, but it's just not a big deal. Fine him, move on and, for goodness sake, put someone in the television truck with a finger on the button to cut the audio. Tiger Woods is a role model and, in virtually every meaningful respect, an outstanding one. I'll take a good man who cusses over a bad one who doesn't every day.

As for photographers, this is a more intractable problem. Woods is not alone in his antipathy for photographers. Sam Snead knew if a photographer was in the same county. Gary Player could smell your mere presence. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you were a potted plant to Tom Watson. Jack Nicklaus was somewhere in between. During the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach GL, Nicklaus had his son, Jackie, on the bag. Every time they lined up a putt together -- and I mean every single time -- every photographer took a picture. It sounded like a rifle range and, in several instances, forced Nicklaus to back off and restart.

After the round, Nicklaus was asked if the photographers bothered him. I remember his answer like it was yesterday. Jack said, "I can honestly say a photographer has never cost me a shot." Notice: He didn't say photographers didn't bother him. But he never let any outside agency, photographic or otherwise, cost him a shot on the course. He chose to be above distraction. In the end, that's the only solution that will work for Tiger.

The number of golf specialists in the photography world is relatively small. I can honestly say no golf photographer I know would ever put obtaining any photograph above the competition he or she was covering. No golf photographer wants to affect the outcome of any event. But I also can honestly say every golf photographer I know has made a mistake sometime. Most of us, when we screw up, look for the player afterward and apologize. I've done that myself. I've spoken to other photographers on the course who weren't working according to the rules. Generally speaking, the problems Tiger experiences are caused by non-golf photographers, which doesn't make the mistakes any less irritating.

Several years ago, I was at Tida Woods' home for an assignment. She took me upstairs to a room that was a shrine to Tiger. It was decorated with pictures of her son, floor to ceiling, on every wall. Hundreds of them. A couple were mine. The best in the collection was her own picture taken in 1997 of Tiger sleeping with his arms around his brand new green jacket.

Not a single one of those images was a video cassette nailed to the wall. In the end, the pictures are worth the aggravation. Let's just be careful out there. Tiger, too.