Friday, February 05, 2010

Tiger Woods's Unexpected Opportunity

Americans give celebrities a wide berth.

No celebrity got a wider berth in recent years than Tiger Woods. His preternatural golfing ability trumped everything: his disdain, bordering on contempt, for spectators, his lack of humility, his arrogance, his obsession with privacy.

His infidelities, and the blatant and reckless way he went about them, were his way of telling the world that he was above norms of civilized behavior. He was untouchable. We should simply exult in the fact that he deigns to share this earth with us, the unwashed masses in swooning awe every time he picks up a club. Whenever he lost, he rarely congratulated the winner, going on about how he made unexpected mistakes that cost him the game. If only he played a little better, it would have been a no-contest.

I am sure many golfers were ticked off by Tiger’s boorish behavior on and off the course but were afraid of making waves. After all, Woods was the most prized athlete in the world. Who dares to take on an icon?

One who has spoken candidly (finally!) is Tom Watson, a golf great himself. “Tiger’s actions have been bad for our game,” he said. "His golf is really secondary at this point. From his standpoint and his family's standpoint, it's something he needs to get control of ... and make some amends and show some humility to the public when he comes back."

Watson also criticized Woods’ swearing, foul language and club-throwing. “That's not part of what we want to project as far as the professional golf tour is concerned."

"I'll let the cat out of the bag," Watson continued. "Tiger has to take ownership of what he has done. He must get his personal life in order. I think that's what he's trying to do. And when he comes back, he has to show some humility to the public.

"I would come out and I would do an interview with somebody and say, 'You know what? I screwed up. And I admit it. I am going to try to change. I am trying to change. I want my wife and family back.'"

"I feel that he has not carried the same stature that other great players that have come along like Jack (Nicklaus), Arnold (Palmer), Byron Nelson, the Hogans, in the sense that there was language and club throwing on the golf course," Watson said. "You can grant that of a young person that has not been out here for a while. But I think he needs to clean up his act and show the respect for the game that other people before him have shown."

These are bracing words, words that Woods urgently needs to heed. There are reports that Woods has left the sex rehab in Mississippi and is now with his wife and two children to work on his marriage.

Here’s hoping that Woods succeeds. The golfer must recognize that fate has presented him with a monumental teachable moment. If he can redeem himself through fidelity and humility, chances are that his game will return too. A Tiger Woods who is devoted and loyal to his family, who appreciates the adulation of his fans, and who is humble and grateful for the gift he has been blessed with, can positively influence millions of impressionable minds and change the world for the better.

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