Personally, the most interesting part of Tiger Woods’ media spectacle Friday was Woods’ insistence on exerting total control over the situation. Even as he sought forgiveness and tried to project a sense of chastened humility, he did so in an event that was conducted solely on Tiger’s terms, by Tiger’s rules, within a context that Tiger determined.
It lent a cold, clinical tone to an event dripping with human drama, and in the end the combination was just weird.
Part of that might be attributed to Woods’ profession. In golf, success comes to those who successfully eliminate all variables — physical, mental as well as emotional. Once you control all those outside things, you can better dictate the flight of a small white object over hundreds of yards. Woods’ physical gifts are enormous, but when other golfers discuss his dominance, they reserve their highest praise for the extraordinary focus that he brings to the golf course. That demand for control was clearly on display Friday.
Some have condemned the contrived press conference as evidence of arrogance on Woods’ part, which it was. But it was also an expression of fear and weakness. Woods was an enormously gifted child prodigy who grew to manhood inside a bubble, a bubble created by his own talent and by others who wished to maximize and benefit from it.
Within that bubble, Woods has thrived. Forced outside it, he has demonstrated that he does not deal well with chaos. Chaos is Kryptonite.
The oddity of Woods’ performance Friday brought to mind comparisons with another enormously talented child prodigy who was raised in a bubble, the late Michael Jackson. Any analogy can be pushed too far — Tiger’s demons are minor compared to those that haunted Michael — but their shared craving for control and insulation against the outside world suggests something common between them. Tiger may not live in seclusion at Neverland Ranch or walk around in public wearing a surgical mask, but in his unease he still creates a very real sense of distance and isolation from the public that worships him. He doesn’t trust us, and he has good reason.
Among other questions left dangling, Woods offered no direct answer to when he might return to professional golf. But if we were to judge from the atmospherics of Friday’s event, I’d say it’s still a long way off. The unsteady man we saw at that podium is nowhere near ready to expose himself to the chaos and unpredictability that will come with his public re-emergence.