A frosty relationship between Tiger Woods and the media is nothing new. Several times a week Tiger Woods walks up the microphone, does his best Bill Belichick impersonation, and spends 30 minutes speaking words devoid of meaning. He’s not a Michael Jordan (despite what Michael Lusetich of Fox would like you to believe), and if he wasn’t the undisputed best golfer of his generation, he would be much more comfortable being a Jonathan Byrd, the guy who only had to give an interview when he jumps out to a first-round lead before fizzling on the weekend.
I bring this up because recently, at his pre-Greenbrier press conference, Tiger called the golf media’s incessant “are you back, now?” line of questioning “a little annoying.” That sparked a small firestorm among media members because, well, they have been annoying. This is just the latest in a recent string of cold-shoulders given to the media by Tiger.
A few months ago, before the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, Tiger decided to forgo his usual pre-tournament news conference, instead opting for a 15-minute questions and answer session with fans. As anyone who has ever watched Tiger Woods do an interview or a press conference could tell you, Tiger’s not exactly a natural, and when someone asks him a question that is anything short of a total and complete softball, he passes.
Tiger wasn’t exactly candid in his Q&A, but he answered questions that we’ve never heard him attack before. We can all assume for ourselves that Tiger felt good after winning at Bay Hill, and that the notoriously quiet-loving Woods liked playing a tournament rounds sans gallery, but prior to that Q&A, none of us knew how many double eagles Tiger has made (two, neither in competition), or which major trophy he liked the most (Claret Jug).
Sure, it wasn’t ground-breaking journalism, but it was seeing the most well-known athlete in the world answer questions that he hadn’t already been asked 738 times before.
Tiger went rogue again before the Memorial Tournament, when he upgraded from a prerecorded video to a Google+ Hangout, moderated by NBC’s Roger Maltbie. The Hangout, while far from perfect and still fully churned through the Tiger Woods PR machine, was an improvement, and gave Woods a chance to further interact directly with fans.
If you read anything written by magazines like Golf Magazine or Golf Digest or websites like YahooSport.com or NBCSports.com, you already know that the reviews were less than favorable. Writers at ESPN put together a column, Ron Sirak wrote a biting piece for Golf Digest, and the sports writers from The Boston Globe, who, ironically, giggle with glee every time Belichick says “It is what it is,” got on the Woods-bashing bandwagon. Sirak’s column was particularly scathing, saying that Woods needs the media now more than ever, that in this post-Thanksgiving 2009 world he needs to embrace the media in order to regain his place atop the sports pantheon.
The world of sports media has undoubtably changed since Tiger came on Tour, but what Sirak and others have failed to realize is that it is their very own inability to successfully report on the needle-mover that is Tiger Woods that has gotten us to where we are. Tiger didn’t always enter news conferences (of which he attends more than anyone) with a scowl on his face and a complacency in his voice, he was driven there. Even before his personal-life meltdown, Tiger was always hyper-evaluated, every statement and answer scoured over for subtext because, as the AT&T National’s ratings showed us, no one moves the needle like Eldrick Woods.
In his piece, Sirak said that by staying away from press conferences (the 2012 tally is all the way up to two skipped pressers, by the way), Tiger is harming himself more than he is the media, because the “less ethical” in the profession are more likely to take cheap shots. (Though I would like to point out that a few Q&A sessions with fans is hardly “blocking out the media.”) The problem with that logic is that we are already there, with John Feinstein and Alex Miceli writing off real journalism in favor of their own personal quest to rid the world of the big bad Tiger Woods. We’ve already gotten to the place Sirak was hoping to avoid, and it’s two of the biggest names in golf reporting that have taken us there, not the “disparaging bloggers squirreled away in Brooklyn basement apartments” Ron Sirak seems to fear so deeply.
I hate to keep harping on one article from two months ago, but I’d like to present one last nugget from our friend, Ron Sirak: “When the slop hit the fan for Woods late in 2009, we realized how little we knew Tiger.”
Think about that for a second. Tiger Woods, for all of his flaws, has sat in interview rooms more than any golfer could even imagine, and yet still, we don’t know him. And the very people who are supposed to make that process happen are saying they had nothing to do with that?
The golf media has been given almost two decades now to teach us about Tiger Woods, and while they’ve managed to dig up every woman he’s ever looked at, it took until his pre-Wells Fargo Q&A for a fan question to finally teach us why he uses the 5-wood at some events and the 2-iron at others.
And why is that particularly embarrassing? Because those are the questions Tiger Woods likes to answer, and those are the answers we love to hear. He’s a grade-A golf nerd, likely on a level few of us will ever approach, and those are the questions that show us that he really does love golf, that he actually is interested in all of the quirky things that we make threads about on the forum. The media has utterly failed to coax that Tiger Woods out of his shell, despite hours upon hours of opportunity (and no, asking Tiger two questions about his freshman-year college roommate, who happened to be from West Virginia, home of the Greenbrier, isn’t quite what I had in mind).
They’ve been so tied up in knots over the last few years deciding just how big of a slime-ball he is, just how impossible Jack’s record is to break, and just what he needs to do to officially be “back” they’ve failed to humanize Tiger Woods just at the time that Tiger Woods appears to be the most human.
If it takes a partial move away from mundane pressers to make Tiger Woods at least a tiny bit interesting, I say bring it on, and we’ll pick up the pieces of the fallen sky later.
Could it get any worse?