His enrollment in college the fall of 1994 made him part of a group of freshman the New York Times found impressive enough to headline, “Stanford Unveils A Five-Star Lineup.”
They were a gymnast, Dominque Dawes; basketball-volleyball star Kristen Folkl; two tennis champions, Paul Goldstein and Scott Humphries; and a golfer, Tiger Woods.
Who could have imagined 16 years ago Tiger not only would become one of the greats ever in his sport — certainly a possibility — but an individual whose personal life has for many transcended his professional one?
When Tiger stepped out from hiding the other day for a speech which received as much criticism as it did commendation, North America was transfixed.
A golfer was talking. Indeed, a golfer of unparalleled success who crossed the boundary of morality if not legality. But only a golfer.
Not a head of state. Not a Nobel scientist.
Television viewership for Tiger’s morning broadcast was huge. Hits at Internet sites were near records. A disgraced star, a tarnished hero. We were desperate to know what and why, which of course is exactly what Tiger purposefully didn’t disclose.
What he did was apologize for actions contradictory to those which make him a winner on the course, a complete lack of control.
Some of us wanted more, wanted him to speak from the heart and not a sheet of paper, although why couldn’t he do both? Some of us wanted to know about a future uncertain even to Woods.
What do I think? Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert on KNBR (680 AM) asked me that question. I’ve been writing about golf for 45 years, met Tiger when he was junior at Stanford, and have covered every one of the majors he’s entered since turning pro in 1997.
“You know him,” Barbieri said to me.
Not really. I’ve dealt with him, talked with him, shaken his hand, admired him. I appreciated his skill, also appreciated the attention he brought to a sport which lacks team loyalty. Tiger moves the needle, as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer moved the needle.
But we don’t truly know people, sometimes not even our spouses.
“Well, we all have a face,” go the lyrics of Billy Joel, “that we hide away forever.”
We never saw Tiger’s hidden face. We barely saw his actual one, a reason his re-emergence Friday led ABC’s “World News Tonight,” ahead of President Barack Obama, ahead of Lindsey Vonn.
I’m not sure how to react to Woods’ well-staged speech, except it was in character. For somebody who prizes secrecy, not to mention privacy, it must have been agonizingly painful.
My disillusionment with Tiger was no less than that of anyone who did not have a working relationship with him. As revelations of sexual encounters increased, disbelief turned into disdain. How could this be?
He grudgingly, if not fully, explained how. He was caught up in his own brilliance, a danger for anyone — artist, politician, sportsman, executive.
Simply coming to that understanding, if indeed he has, may enable Tiger Woods to regain the respect he has lost. The story of his fall has been big. That of his comeback will be bigger. I may not know him, but I do know that.