Married reviewers Greg Bruce and Zanna Gillespie watch the new HBO documentary on Tiger Woods.
Quality of golf: 5
Quality of smile: 5
Quality of morals: N/A
I love golf and writing and writing about golf, but I don't have any particular fondness for talking about writing about golf, and I really don't like listening to talking about writing about golf. I can only imagine what it's like for you, right now, having to read about listening to talking about writing about golf.
I bring this up because writers do much of the talking in this documentary about Tiger Woods and his extremely familiar tale of glory and woe. What I wanted to do here was lambast those writers, because a couple of them do drop attempted poeticisms that go quite wrong, but now I think about it, they're mostly very insightful. Unfortunately, this renders the premise of that first paragraph incorrect and therefore redundant, but I like the way it sounds, and it took a long time to construct, so I'll leave it.
Golf is a great game but it seems to attract terrible people. Just a few weeks ago, while playing Cape Kidnappers, one of the world's best courses, I hammered a three wood right down the middle on a long par 4, then fizzed a 7 iron 150 metres to the heart of the green. This is the type of sentence golfers say all the time, without shame or consideration for the interest levels of their audience. From the heart of the green, I took four putts.
Since it was discovered he'd cheated voluminously on his wife, Tiger Woods has been lambasted from tee to green and back again: held up publicly as golf's archetypal terrible person. What this documentary does, and quite well, is not to respond to that claim, but to contextualise it. The story focuses on Tiger's two most significant relationships - with his dad and with the multitudinous women who weren't his wife - and allows the viewer to slowly and steadily build an unbreakable network of threads connecting them.
None of its subjects say the pressure Earl Woods put on Tiger led inexorably to his moral breakdown, nor that Earl's epic philandering, carried out more or less in Tiger's presence, helped ensure his son would misdirect his future sexual energies, but if you inferred those things you wouldn't be alone.
Over his three-decade career, Tiger has answered more interview questions than the rest of the world combined, and although he has never seemed to be avoiding interviewers' questions, he has never once said anything revealing, nor expressed an emotion. His level of control has always been such that, in 2009, when the news broke that he'd crashed his car into a fire hydrant in the middle of the night, the natural assumption was that the fire hydrant was to blame. What this movie does well is not to explain that the blame was actually Tiger's but that blame is a quality best spread around.
It surprises even me to know I have watched quite a lot of televised golf in my life. I've never played it, and to say it interests me would be a stretch, but my father always watched the big tournaments so I would too, mostly out of an inability to get up off the couch and do something else, like go to bed. I'm just a few years younger than Tiger Woods, so I'd hazard a guess that his participation in a tournament had a statistically significant impact on my likelihood to remain on that couch on any given evening.
I always liked him. I mean, come on, what a smile. But this two-part documentary did an exceptional job of highlighting how meaningless a smile can be. It's a portrait of a damaged and deeply troubled man and a cautionary tale for parents looking to groom their children to be among the best in the world.
The documentary is formally quite standard: talking head interviews with writers and close connections of Tiger's. Our own Steve Williams plays a significant role, as does Rachel Uchitel, the woman he had his most public affair with. The interviews are intercut with footage of Tiger's TV appearances, including as a child golfing prodigy, in competition at The Masters, and in televised interviews. It's a slick production, executive-produced by Alex Gibney among others and directed by award-winning filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Matthew Hamachek, and it's compelling viewing from go to whoa.
As far as I could tell, not a single interviewee in the documentary is still connected with Tiger. Evidently he cut ties with almost everyone in his life after his very public fall from grace. It's unfortunate for him but makes for great storytelling because all the subjects were very candid.
The film uncovers the gross misogyny and racism present in golf, and sports in general. The way Tiger and the men in his life - from family and friends to the high-profile sportsmen he fraternised with in Las Vegas - used women like they were Ambien, popping one from the packet whenever they needed to escape, was pretty disturbing, not least because that point will probably be lost on many men who watch this film.
It was late when it finished. Greg turned to me in bed and said "I better start training the kids to be exceptional at something." I think he was kidding but I can't be certain: hundreds of millions of dollars, world fame and your every desire met within minutes can be devastatingly alluring.
Tiger is streaming now on Neon.