“The real apology will not come from words. It will come from my behavior,” he said, repeating words his wife, Elin, has said to him.
That’s what the entire 13-minute speech came down to. He’s sorry and sorry some more for all the grief he’s brought to so many people. He plans to play golf again, but he’s not sure when. He’s getting back in touch with his Buddhist roots. And he was going directly back to therapy from his public display of sincere regret.
That is the big shock. We all expected this man who has been defined by the way he played a game to say he’s coming back to the tour, certainly in time for the Masters. That’s what we want: Tiger on the golf course again, going head-to-head with Lefty and Furyk and Stricker and the rest of the PGA Tour.
He looked pudgy, which is to be expected of one who has spent his days in therapy instead of the gym, driving range and golf course. He didn’t sound like a man who even cares about golf, at least not right now. And if he truly does believe he’s a wretched human being — and his behavior backs that up — what’s that going to do to the impregnable confidence that carried him to 71 Tour victories?
For all we know, he could be finished as a supreme champion. Or he could come back more at peace and stronger than ever. Everyone from PGA commissioner Tim Finchem down to the guy at the end of the country club bar wants to know, starting in Augusta. Even his fellow PGA pros, few of whom call Tiger a friend or even an agreeable fellow, want him back. He’s worth too much to them and the sport not to.
We’re going to have to wait, which is never a satisfying prospect.
His fans will find his apology flawless in every way. His enemies, a group which has grown exponentially during the past three months, will never be satisfied with anything he says or does.
This is just the way people break down in their allegiances. There’s a core group of about 30 percent that’s always going to approve of a controversial person or idea and an equal group that’s always going to disagree.
It’s like the 30 percent of the public that thinks that George W. Bush wasn’t just a good or OK president, but a great one. There are another 30 percent who will never give Bush credit for ever doing anything right, including knotting his tie. It’s the 40 percent in the middle who decide whether his legacy thrives or barely survives.
So will it be with Tiger. And the only way we will be able to know how sincere he is will be by his actions, not his words.
He’s promised not to cheat on his wife anymore and says he understands now that there’s not a different set of rules for him than there is for the rest of the world. We’ll see about both of those. He’s certainly not cheating now. But what will he be doing five years from now? No one can know.
But he still doesn’t get it about the Tiger Rules thing. A normal person would have called a press conference and taken questions. Tiger staged an apology event. Just three reporters were allowed in the room to listen to his words and report that he wore a starched blue dress shirt open at the collar with gray slacks and a black blazer. The rest of media — 300 reporters from around the world — were herded into a room to watch on a TV monitor.
He reportedly wrote his own speech, and it sounded that way. He also clearly rehearsed it. He didn’t use a teleprompter, but he did stare directly into the camera to deliver his apologies. He showed anger when talking about the media pursuing his family. He showed regret when talking about his irresponsible behavior.
But he didn’t show the courage to stand up to questions or even to allow the media which had made him a god to listen directly to his speech.
Clearly, there are still Tiger Rules. Clearly, he believes he can control this as he has controlled everything else.
And why shouldn’t he? This simple event — a man reading an apology — was treated as if it was the biggest event in the history of sports. ESPN Radio has devoted its entire broadcast day to rehashing the speech and what it means. (Hint: We don’t know. It’s what he does, not what he says. Remember? Now move on.)
And then there was Finchem handing the PGA headquarters over to him to deliver this carefully orchestrated event. I understand the commissioner’s interest in his meal ticket. But I don’t understand him lending his approval to the way it was run. I don’t understand him agreeing to this being run by Tiger’s Rules and not by society’s rules.
But that’s a debate for another day. The only ones that concern us is how this will play out over time and when he’s getting himself back on the course. And when he does, what kind of golfer he will be.
We want him to be a different man but the same golfer. Is that even possible?
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