Of course I watched the Tiger spectacle this morning. Every TV in the cafeteria had it on blast. Around me everyone had an opinion. But none had mine so I stayed silent. Part of it was because my opinion had everything to do with sex, and when you’re in as conservative a profession as mine, you just don’t bring up sex over lunch.
Which is not to say that the topic of sex was not indirectly discussed. Some women bashed Tiger’s whores. So too did some men. Others felt that this was between Tiger and Elin (it’s not, sorry) and that we should all butt out of their business (we can‘t, sorry). Some felt that it was all about the almighty dollar (which it is, of course), and that Tiger will soon be back selling us razor blades and running shoes. (He will).
I thought that it was about sex and the shaping of sexuality in a teenaged boy. And I also thought that Tiger’s story is about fathers who dominate their sons so completely, who participate so relentlessly in the shaping of their minds that the sons inevitably end up scarred, mutated, damaged. And these two issues are so indelibly intertwined that we cannot tease them apart.
This is merely my opinion of course. I don’t have Tiger’s millions to afford attorney fees. So let me make it clear that I am not operating on fact. I’m just giving you my opinion.
And my theory is that from day one, Tiger was shaped into being a golf machine. In this he reminds me of Agassi who, in his gut-wrenching memoir, recounts the lengths that his father went to in his bid to shape a tennis champion. Earl Woods was an LTC in the Army and an expert in prisoner investigation. I’ve read that he used some of these mental techniques when training his son. Earl Woods has stated in interviews that he never treated Tiger like a child, but always as an equal. In life they were inseparable. When Earl died in 2006, Tiger was left on his own to navigate a world of freedom. And the methods that we use to navigate freedom is formed in the early years. You can see the adult in the child.
I have this image of the teenage Tiger secretly beating his wand in front of pictures of porn stars. I have this image of a sexuality formed in secretiveness, between the shadows of his mother’s reticence and his father’s larger-than-life presence. I can imagine the secret hidden pictures of the porn stars over whose faces he may have spilled his teenage seed. Look at the type of women he reportedly slept with. They all have the same look. They all emerged from the same mold - not particularly attractive faces, porn star bodies, big-breasted, blond, willing to give it up for a buck.
Agassi too did not emerge unscathed from under his father’s shadow. His memoir recounts his painful journey to independence, to a kind of emotional setting-free, to a place of honesty that allows him to admit today that he hates tennis. The good news is that Agassi’s father did not have to die, like Tiger’s, in order for the man to be set free. The better news is that Agassi has always been gifted with a capacity for self-reflection that allowed him to find true emotional freedom.
But I don’t think that Tiger is free. He seems to have no concept of what freedom entails. He is clueless how to navigate in a world in which he is not being told what to do, when to do it, how to read a script, when to pause meaningfully, when to make eye contact with the camera, when to sniff audibly, and when to seem to emote anger. This is a personality formed entirely by compliance, as Alice Miller so aptly described in “The Drama of the Gifted Child”. Andre Agassi however, has always found ways to rebel - and that may be what helped to save him.
Tiger, the narcissistic resident of Skinner’s Box, seems to have sought freedom between the legs of whores, reportedly in an Ambiem haze. There’s nothing free about being stuck in a fantasy, your sexuality so completely formed by the images you masturbated to that you have no sense of how to relate to a woman who is not built like the cartoon Jessica Rabbit.
The man who made that statement this morning is a man imprisoned. He’s a corporation. And he completely controls the world of golf. I can think of no other sport that is so completely tied to the fortunes of one man. When Michael Vick got jailed for illegal dog-fighting, the sport of football went on just fine without him. When Justine Henin retired from tennis as the # 1 player in the world, the sport played on blissfully without her. In any other sport when a top player retires, the world continues to move on its axis. In golf, everything came to a screeching halt. This is because golf is Tiger and Tiger is golf. And that too is part of his prison.