I once asked Tiger Woods to describe, in 25 words or less, what it was like being Tiger Woods. Being Tiger Woods, he finished 24-under.
“Sweet,” he said.
That was in October 2003. It happened after Tiger’s first round at the WGC-American Express Championship in Woodstock. There weren’t many folks there that Thursday, and essentially everybody on hand was following Tiger. (Department of weird coincidences: One of those in Tiger’s gallery was Damon Evans, who would become Georgia’s athletics director the next year.)
Tiger Woods would become engaged to Elin Nordegren the next month. They would marry in 2004 in Barbados, with the guests including Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and Bill Gates. Tiger and Elin would have two children. Life seemed … well, sweet.
As of today, Tiger and Elin are no longer man and wife. Not nine months after he ran into a fire hydrant backing out of his driveway on the morning after Thanksgiving, the divorce has been finalized. And if you’re chuckling and saying, “Tiger’s free to chase women and not be labeled a cheetah” … ask yourself this: Do you think even Tiger Woods would today describe his life as “sweet”?
He has lost a wife. He will surely be rendered an absentee father. Once the idol of millions, he’s now a fallen star — indeed, maybe the biggest fallen star in the history of sports. He has not won a tournament this calendar year, and there were years when Tiger would claim a half-dozen trophies. (Indeed, he won that modest event in Woodstock.)
He’ll surely win again, but we will never again regard him the same way. He has gone from being unbeatable to being the butt of jokes and now, as of this Monday in August 2010, he’s legally just another failed husband.
Even if this damage was all self-inflicted, the temptation is nonetheless to feel a bit sorry for him. Because none of us will ever know how it is to Have It All. And none of us, thank goodness, will ever know how it is to throw so much away.