In 2006, when I was working on the Men’s Vogue article about Tiger Woods that I mentioned yesterday, Woods showed me around the men’s grillroom in the clubhouse at Isleworth, the gated golf community where he lived. He pointed out its many man-friendly amenities, among them a pool table, a Ping-Pong table, numerous pinball machines and videogames, a true-rolling artificial putting green, a miniature basketball court, and a long row of leather easy chairs, which were lined up in front of a flat-screen TV that was hanging above a fireplace. “There are a lot of divorces here,” he said, and we both laughed.
Ha! Who knew? He was probably already fouling his nest, as my late father would have put it, but his public self-immolation was still a few years away. If there’s anyone other than Woods himself who might gain by meditating on his troubles, it’s parents who—inspired by his remarkable life, perhaps—entertain serious athletic ambitions for their own children. Ask any pushy sports dad whether he’d be happy for his son or daughter to achieve superstardom, and he’d undoubtedly say yes. But striving for supremacy, in any endeavor, is a morally treacherous proposition. Great athletes become great in part by learning to coldly exploit the weaknesses of others, and by treating their own desires as global priorities. What we usually refer to as an athlete’s “sacrifices”—the pre-dawn wake-up calls, the endless, lonely hours in the gym or on the driving range—are really acts of narcissism, carried to a sweaty extreme. One of Woods’s many appealing characteristics, pre-scandal, was that he seemed at least moderately concerned about the world beyond his own accomplishments. The mess he made of his family is a useful reminder that being a good person, no matter how many advantages you seem to have, is as difficult as it looks, especially if you’re in a position to take your sexual fantasies live—a temptation that famous athletes often seem to resist about as successfully as rock stars.
Nevertheless, as I wrote yesterday, I enjoyed hanging around with him—and I would guess that virtually all the other people present on those days did, too. He arrived by himself, in his own car, without an entourage, and he cheerfully did everything he was asked to do. A woman who worked for one of his corporate sponsors told me that he never complained, much less threw a celebrity tantrum. In Los Angeles, he spent much of the day shooting motion-capture footage for a video game. He had to lie still as two technicians from Electronic Arts, the video game’s publisher, affixed eighty-eight BB-size motion-capture reflectors, called markers, to his face, neck, and upper chest, and as they worked he chatted with them amiably. Then he spent almost two hours sitting in what looked like a dentist’s chair inside a pod-like enclosure, which was as brightly illuminated as an operating room, and had to keep his head motionless while saying things like “A bear bit me in the forest today” and “I never jump quickly off a truck”—sentences that contain phonemes which can be digitally reshuffled into custom dialogue.
Another of his professional commitments that day was to spend half an hour conversing with Edward Barry-Walsh, a seventeen-year-old English boy (and four-handicap at Sunningdale), who, as a result of winning a contest sponsored by Electronic Arts, was going to be included as a character in the game. Woods sat next to him on a couch, put his feet up on the coffee table, and gave no indication whatsoever that he was keeping track of the time. Barry-Walsh had written a number of questions on a sheet of paper. He seemed nervous at first, but Woods set him at ease and after a while he put the list away.
When Barry-Walsh couldn’t think of anything else to ask, Woods posed for photographs with him and his parents, discussed the proper technique for hitting lob shots over living-room furniture, and looked ahead to the day when Barry-Walsh would be “out there kicking my butt.” Later, Barry-Walsh told me that the experience had far exceeded his expectations, and marveled, “He’s just such a down-to-earth bloke.” Not even close, we learned later.
Four and a half years after their conversation, Barry-Walsh made the cut and finished tied for forty-third in the 2010 Castle Dargan Irish Masters, a European mini-tour event. But, unless he subsequently enjoyed triumphs that Google knows nothing about, that was the zenith of his professional golf career—maybe not the unluckiest thing that could happen to a talented young man.