Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Tiger's life still caged

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Tiger Woods. Photo / AP
Tiger Woods. Photo / AP

Some have decried Hank Haney's tell-tale book, The Big Miss, as a cowardly attack on Tiger Woods, breaching "player-coach" confidentiality.

The heaviest criticism of Haney, a former coach of Woods' who quit after the golfer's infamous sex scandal and marriage meltdown, has been that of Rick Smith, a former coach of Phil Mickelson.

At times, Smith's shrill protests seemed to reach a frequency that could be heard only by dogs.

"I'm personally upset with Hank because he's broken and violated our code of ethics," said Smith. "If... you're privileged to conversations, you will not and should not share anything from them with anyone. Your relationship with these players is for a lifetime. All the guys that I have worked with are still my dearest friends."

His feelings are understandable, if old school. But they ignore one central point.

Tiger Woods, the golfer, became the world's richest sportsperson by suppressing Tiger Woods, the man.

He attempted to corral the various elements of his life - his golf, his wife and family, the cocktail waitresses and the "real" Tiger - into different boxes.

He wanted us only to lift the lid on the golf box. His wife and family were off limits; in a box with big padlocks. So, too, was his secret life.

When the lid was lifted on all the boxes, Woods went into golfing decline.

Even now, as he attempts to restore his career, Woods is once again attempting to micro-manage his world.

But the 2009 sex scandal and the highly public breakdown of his marriage, the Tiger Woods jokes, the cocktail waitresses - all that spoke of another man beneath the ice-cool, ruthless, domineering golfer.

The questions about that man - who is he, really? How does he think? How does he view the world? - have never quite been answered.

We know little more about Woods now than we did then apart, perhaps, from his predilection for blonde waitresses.

There's an old saying - nature abhors a vacuum. Haney's book is partly filling that vacuum.

Smith's world might consist of cosy relationships with his golfers but, for the rest of us, such elitism is not available.

Woods became the world's premier sportsperson on the back of his remarkable talent and drive - but also because of the weight of attention of fans; it was they who drove interest in Woods, allowing him to charge exorbitant appearance fees and extract enormous revenue from commercial endorsements.

There is a price to pay. Privacy is much desired, jealously guarded and usually bestowed, but it is not a fortress.

Fall from grace, as Woods did, and privacy can be trodden underfoot by the same fans that paved his path with gold.

There is a moral case to be made that Woods owes his fans more than he has given them so far. He wants to climb back up the golf tree and is doing so by carefully managing his image and his public appearances - just as he did when he falsely tried to nurture his image as that of a family man.

If he was a different sort of man, he might have written his own tell-all book - getting some or all of the warts out there and picking them in public; laying himself bare so that the issue of 'Who Is Tiger Woods?' could be put to rest and he could get on with his golfing comeback.

Whatever you think of Haney and his motivation, it is a fact that we live in the age of kiss-and-tell revelations.

If Woods had been smart enough to air all his own dirty linen in public, he might not be facing the Haney book.

In The Big Miss excerpts aired so far, by far the most interesting are the insights into Tiger The Man.

Haney claims that Woods called British golfer Ian Poulter a "dick" for "mooching" a lift on his private jet; that Woods was obsessed with the US military and wanted to give up golf to become a Navy Seal - training for which caused the knee injury that has hindered his comeback (Woods denies that; saying his knee was injured on a training run).

The book chronicles Haney's surprise that a self-obsessed Woods went to the fridge to get himself popsicle after popsicle, never asking Haney if he wanted one.

It claims Woods watched porn while sharing a room at the Ryder Cup with Zach Johnson, knowing that Johnson, a born again Christian, would be upset.

Perhaps the most chilling passage yet made public is the fact that Haney and Woods, after all their years together, never had a conversation that wasn't about golf.

Clearly, theirs was not the "dearest friend" relationship that Smith talked about.

In the book, Haney says: "I wish we could have been better friends. I realise now that as hard as I tried to understand Tiger, he tried just as hard not to let me."

In his summary of what makes Tiger tick, Haney says: "Those qualities, foremost among them an extraordinary ability to focus and stay calm under stress, also included selfishness, obsessiveness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness, pettiness and cheapness.

"When they were all at work in the competitive arena, they helped him win. And winning gave him permission to remain a flawed and in some ways immature person."

Woods has just won his first PGA tournament since his meltdown.

He did so by five strokes, exciting comment that he might be on the way back to his best.

Doubtful. Woods loves Bay Hill - the course he won at last week - and Augusta and the US Masters which begins on Friday. Even if he does win there, I would now be prepared to bet the mortgage that he will not break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors victories (Woods has 14).

Winning five more majors carrying that kind of baggage; wanting to control the vagaries of the world; lumping around the hard shell of your protection against that world, like some sort of golfing hermit crab... well, that's just too much weight for any man, especially in what is probably the most mentally tough and challenging of all sports.

- Herald on Sunday

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