My son was 14 when he and I started playing golf together. He is the same age as Tiger Woods, and since he has watched Tiger dominate the game all his adult life, you might imagine him to be a fan. If so, you would be wrong.
Like most recreational duffers, I was always in awe of Tiger's prowess on the golf course. Not so my son. He was so put off by Woods' ego, foul language and arrogant attitude on the course that he could not enjoy the man's amazing ability to do almost magical things with a golf ball.
When the sewer that is Tiger's private life began spilling into the public domain recently, my son's appraisal of him turned out to be the correct one. "He's a narcissist, Dad," he told me. "He had it all and it wasn't enough. There's nothing — certainly not a Christian faith — in his life to temper him, and this is where his ego has taken him."
My son's comments started me thinking about former pro golfer turned TV golf commentator Johnny Miller's 2004 book, "I Call the Shots," wherein he flatly stated that he did not believe Tiger Woods would ever catch Jack Nicklaus in total major tournament victories.
Over the course of a quarter century, Jack Nicklaus won eighteen major tournaments. Between 1961 and 1986, the Golden Bear, as Nicklaus came to be known among fans and sportswriters alike, won the British Open three times, the U.S. Open four times and the Masters and PGA tournaments five times each. It was a remarkable record, and only Tiger Woods has ever threatened to top it.
But Jack also was known as a good and decent champion. Miller, who played with Nicklaus, wrote that in stark contrast to Tiger's profanity-laced temper tantrums on the course, Jack's style was more of a self-effacing groan. "The worst I ever heard from him," Miller wrote, "was 'Oh, Jack,' when he hit a bad shot."
With Tiger nipping at Jack's heels, it would be easy to look back and say that Miller was delusional five years ago to think that Woods would not pass Nicklaus in major tournaments. But I have come to believe that Miller might be right in his assessment of the Woods versus Nicklaus career achievements, although for different reasons than he could have envisioned when he wrote his book.
At age 34, Tiger has fourteen majors under his belt. When Jack was Tiger's age, he, too, had fourteen. It took another thirteen years to rack up four more. And Jack had something Tiger does not have: a stable family life and a strong faith to keep him grounded when adoration became a demon sitting on his shoulder telling him he's so special that life's rules don't apply to him. Golf is a physical and mental game, and without the peace that comes with faith and family, Tiger's best days on the golf course could well be behind him.
Jack Nicklaus, always the gentleman, has said that Tiger's troubles are "none of my business." He has also predicted that the public will forgive and forget Tiger's problems. I'm not so sure. Woods has announced that he is taking an "indefinite break" from golf, and his sponsors are running from him like rats from the lower decks of the Titanic. After all, this is not just infidelity. This is hookers and strippers and porn stars. This is serial adultery and habitual orgies on a scale that would make Bill Clinton blush. One report has it that Tiger was with one of these bimbos when his father died in hospice care!
I believe in forgiveness and redemption, but based on Tiger Woods' behavior these last few years, my son's assessment is exactly right. After more than a decade of carefully crafting a false public image, the ugly truth of this man's real life has now etched his name in the record books with an asterisk behind it, alongside other great athletes who thought just a little too much of themselves. Pete Rose will always be a great baseball player who gambled on baseball. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire will be remembered for using performance-enhancing drugs. Magic Johnson is the basketball player who got AIDS. And no matter what Woods does on the links in the future, he will be forever remembered as a Paper Tiger, never a Golden Bear.