The Second Life of Tiger Woods – Michael Bamberger

There was a hole in Easter weekend: there was no live coverage of the Masters. Even in that long stretch when I didn’t have much interest in golf, the Masters was still must-watch TV. It was a sign that spring was close, the carefully manicured lushness of Augusta National giving hope that the earth tones of winter would soon depart from your home as well.

But we did get two gifts in the 2020 Master’s place. One was Michael Bamberger’s new book on Tiger Woods, the second were replays of old Masters on ESPN and CBS last week.

In reverse order, I caught some of the old replays. I watched much of the 1986 final round, which is one of the three most important modern Masters. Jack Nicklaus somehow coming from four shots back to win was a huge moment for the older golf crowd. I was just getting into golf in 1986, and since I was a Tom Watson fan, I didn’t like Nicklaus. I thought Greg Norman was cool and was pulling for him, which would turn into a problem time and again over the next decade.

It was fun to watch CBS’ old graphics, their standard definition coverage, and to hear Brent Musburger pop in during key moments to set the stage. What I thought was amazing was how poor the crowd mics were. When Jack was dropping birdies on the back nine, the shots of the crowds showed them in absolute ecstasy. And CBS offered a moment of that sound to the home viewers. But as soon as the announcers began speaking, they cut the crowd noise to almost nothing. So you would see thousands of people going nuts and only hear muffled cheering. Weird. They definitely do that better today, both with how they capture the crowd’s noise and integrate it into their broadcast audio, and how announcers these days often step back and let the crowd tell the story.

Vern Lundquist’s call on 17 remains legendary, “Maybe….YES SIR!” Verne had another pretty good call at Augusta 19 years later.[1]

I watched bits of other years. Adam Scott’s playoff win over Angel Cabrera in 2013 was a good watch. I caught some of Phil Mickleson’s first win in 2004 on Saturday, which I always consider more of a loss by Ernie Els. I remember flying back from Kansas City that day and getting to the Indianapolis airport just in time to see Phil’s clinching putt as I walked by a sports bar.

But Sunday I was locked into the replay of last year’s tournament, the third in the modern trilogy of most important tournaments.[2] Although I watched every minute last April I still couldn’t turn away this year. Well, I did take about an hour nap after Tiger’s group finished the 12th hole, which was the moment the tournament flipped.

During the CBS broadcasts this weekend they brought in Mickleson and Tiger for commentary on the key moments of their rounds. Tiger’s comments Sunday seemed a little flat and repetitive. When the tournament ended and he came back in for an extended discussion with Jim Nantz, I turned it off because he seemed to be spouting the same cliches he always spouts.

I gave up too quick, as moments later he offered some of the most honest, emotional comments he has ever shared publicly. When he spoke of winning in front of his kids, of how he interacted with his son and daughter differently because of their personalities, that was great. And then when he spoke of his hug with his mother, he had to stop and catch himself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do that before. When he began talking about his family something had changed inside of him and he went from the cold, calculating assessment of his performance he’s done thousands of times to suddenly speaking openly and from his heart. I’m glad the moment was captured so I could go back and watch it.

Coincidentally I was reading Bamberger’s brand new book about Tiger last week. It’s a decent read.

Bamberger has a lyrical, circuitous style of writing that separates his work from other golf writers. His focus is mostly on the last three years, from the moments Tiger told Gary Player he never thought he would play again in April 2017 and his DUI arrest Memorial Day weekend 2017, through his Masters win a year ago. But Bamberger spins out from that core thread to examine all aspects of Tiger’s life. It’s not a deep biography, those tangents are always brief to provide context for how Tiger got to 2017, but they are useful.

Bamberger does take one odd tangent, a lengthy and inconclusive investigation into whether Tiger ever used PEDs. There were some connections between Tiger and Alex Rodriguez, primarily through two men who assisted A-Rod in his doping. But there is never really proof that Tiger did anything. We can certainly draw our own conclusions just based on how Tiger’s body changed over time, how he suffered chronic injuries that are consistent with PED use, and because one of the men in question insists he provided Tiger with PEDs. But there’s never hard proof as there was with A-Rod, Barry Bonds, and other baseball players.

More interesting to me that if Tiger used is why there’s never been any outcry about it as there was with the swath of baseball players who used in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Is it because Tiger is Tiger, and every other successful golfer in the world made mountains more money because of his presence? Are people afraid to cross Tiger? Or might PED use be more prevalent in golf than we realize and no one wants to speak up about Tiger because they don’t want to expose the entire game?

Anyway, a timely and interesting if slightly frustrating read.

  1. “Oh, wow! In your life, have you ever seen anything like that?!?!” when Tiger chipped in on 16 in 2005.  ↩
  2. Tiger’s first win in 1997 is the other entry on that list.  ↩