Tiger’s Popsicle Problem

Hank Haney’s new book isn’t the first Tiger tell-all, and it won’t be the last.
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Take a guess at which of these Tiger Woods book titles is fake: Unplayable; His Father’s Son; Glory to Disgrace to Glory!; Training a Tiger; I Was a Wanton Golf Tramp; How Tiger Does It; Are You Kidding Me?; The Tiger Woods Syndrome; and The Divorce From Hell!

It’s a trick question; they’re all real. You could also try the self-published e-book How Not to be a Cheater or a Loser Like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Like Tiger Woods. There are perhaps more books about Woods than about any athlete, except for Michael Jordan, he of the similarly guarded public persona. And there are still more to come.

Tuesday saw the release of the latest tell-all, this one from Tiger’s swing coach, Hank Haney. The book was hyped with a New York Times piece and excerpts online, but The Big Miss is mostly an unexceptional sports procedural masquerading as an exposé. Haney sticks to what he knows, focusing on the nitty-gritty of his coaching tactics with Woods and resisting speculation on anything for which he wasn’t present—a surprisingly decent move for someone doing an otherwise petty thing here. Those looking for a book-length version of Mark Seal’s fabulous two-part Vanity Fair sex investigation, “The Temptation of Tiger Woods,” will be grossly disappointed.

The Big Miss is really more about Haney than Woods. He uses the occasion of Woods calling him with a job offer to tout his own credentials a bit, and also to fawn, starry-eyed, over the fact that he really did lead this life: “I’m talking to Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer who’s ever lived, and he’s asking me to be his coach… I snap into professional mode… I’m in my wheelhouse now.” He ends the book by saying, “I wish him well,” and indeed has the somewhat cute innocence to have told the AP, “I don’t think it will be a book that bothers him.” The few details that do deliver on “wow” factor all come in a single chapter, tellingly called “Distraction.”

The book’s most compelling reveal has by now already been picked over by the sports blogosphere: that Woods spent inordinate amounts of time training to become a Navy SEAL. (When you read Haney reflect, “2007 was when Tiger began to lose the joy of playing… The most obvious sign was his growing obsession with the military,” it’s hard not to ask out loud, “Not sex?? Don’t you mean sex?!”) Woods takes long runs wearing army boots, trying for a new PR each time. He goes on six SEAL trips in one year, Haney estimates. Throughout all of this, Haney bites his nails, emailing Woods uncharacteristically bold warnings like, “With the US Open 18 days away, do you think it was a good idea to go on a Navy SEALs mission? You need to get that whole SEALs thing out of your system and stick to playing Navy SEAL on the video games… That navy SEAL stuff is serious business, they use real bullets.” Woods ignores him. Ultimately, Haney feels vindicated for his concern when he learns from two sources that Tiger’s debilitating torn ACL “had actually occurred in a Kill House exercise” when he slipped and got kicked in the knee.

Haney finally tells Tiger, “Man, what are you doing? Are you out of your mind? What about Nicklaus’s record? Don’t you care about that?” Woods responds, “No. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done in my career.” This would be a truly compelling moment if the men were discussing what we all now know to have been Tiger’s real problem, as opposed to what appears to have been a rather childlike fascination with the Navy SEALs.

The brusque call Haney gets from Tiger’s agent Mark Steinberg is also a telling moment, underscoring the way that Woods allowed his agent to serve as his mouthpiece for not only every public statement but even for his personal interactions. Woods doesn’t call his coach himself; he has Steinberg do it for him. “There’s going to be a story coming out about Tiger and this girl,” Steinberg told Haney. “It’s not true. Everything is going to be fine.” One wonders if Steinberg and Woods went through the same early panic and denial when they found out Haney would be publishing a book, but if so, they needn’t have worried: Haney didn’t see a thing with regards to the infidelity, and besides, it’s hard to believe there’s anything still secret that could come out about this man. “My first reaction [to the scandal] was shock,” Haney writes. “I never saw Tiger flirting or acting inappropriately with another woman, or even heard rumors that he was seeing others.” Haney’s shooting himself in the foot a bit here sales-wise, but by the time readers get to this point, the book is nearly over.

The Times would have you believe that the most telling personal detail about Tiger in Haney’s book is that when they would watch television together, Woods never offered Haney a popsicle. In a sense, that detail does say more about his character than anything about his insatiable sex drive does. But even more powerful is a sliver of observation Haney offers about Tiger and Elin. It confirms every negative thing you’ve been led to believe from the scandal: that Woods is cold and calculating, and constructed for his own fame a fake persona and family life so as to take up the mantle of a wholesome all-American sports hero. Elin, Haney writes, “had become more guarded” after life with Tiger. “She and Tiger developed a calm, almost cool relationship in front of other people, and conversations with them tended to be awkward and strained… They weren’t openly affectionate.” Woods changed her, wore down her spirit; at one point he demands that she not show excitement after his victories. We get confirmation here that behind the curtain was a cruel person—cheating was one thing, but he seems to have also been unkind to her on a day-to-day basis.

There is even more Tiger lit on the way. Stevie Williams, the bitter (and racist!) caddie, has publicly said he is in the process of writing a book about Tiger (it would be his second; in 2005 he published Golf at the Top with Steve Williams: Tips and Techniques from the Caddy to Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, and got Woods to write the foreword). Loredana Jolie, one of his conquests, already published hers (it’s called The Real Diary: Lessons From the Good Time Girl to Champions).Who knows how many more of Tiger’s women will pen a book for whatever cash and limelight it might bring.

The sports world has yet to receive the Tiger Woods book it deserves. The phenomenon and idea of Tiger, as flesh-and-blood paradox between public sports hero and private monster, can only be understood through a mosaic of voices. People like Hank Haney will continue to write books that contain two or three revelatory bits but are otherwise innocuous; at the other end of the spectrum will be more salacious, possibly exaggerated attempts to cash in with tales of Tiger’s now-exposed dark side. The most valuable narrative of Tiger is one that would combine all possible narratives, either in an oral history format or a carefully reported book by an actual journalist, rather than by a non-writer that happens to have been close to the golfer in some way.

There have clearly been many Tigers, contradictory and almost far-fetched in their extremes, experienced differently by a whole host of people. Each voice stands for a part of the whole; each character has a popsicle memory to share.

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