By now, Tiger Woods is a household name. Many of us grew up with the guy, so to speak, and remember his incredible streak of dominance: He knew how to win, time and time again. He was so sharp. So laser-focused. So consistent. So smooth. And those putts he could sink -- they were unbelievable.
And of course, even if you’re NOT a golf fan, you surely know the name and you recall his high-highs and his low-lows. First there was the winning; then came the affairs, the crumbling of his family and the injuries. He had an infamous DUI charge in 2017, and you might be able to picture his mugshot in your head. It didn’t show the bright-eyed, wide-grinning Tiger we’d all come to know and love. He looked, in a word, rough.
Well, we’re here to remind you: There’s now a two-part documentary you can stream about the golf legend’s iconic rise and fall, and it’s available on HBO Max. It’s a deep dive into Tiger’s life, but it moves fairly quickly, especially considering there are just the two episodes, which run about 90 minutes apiece. If you have some time, you’ll knock it out in a night (and be glad you did). Here’s a trailer for it:
Woods himself didn’t participate in interviews for the project, but obviously, being in the spotlight all these years, there’s no shortage of first-person footage. You’ll also hear from his former longtime caddie and friend, his first serious girlfriend, even his kindergarten teacher and others. Although the documentary was made for entertainment value (being HBO and all), it still seems like a revealing and pretty accurate look -- from what we can tell -- at everything that’s unfolded over the past few decades in the famed golfer’s life.
So without further ado, here are some takeaways: Everything that seemed crystal-clear was ...
1. The intensity of Tiger’s dad
Earl Woods (who died of cancer in 2006), truly groomed his son for this role -- starting when Tiger was just a baby.
(Author’s note: I was sitting thinking to myself: “Did I miss the mark on my kids? They’re 3 and 5, I’m *way behind* Mr. Woods if I want to get them golfing!”)
That’s a bit of a joke, but in all seriousness: Little Tiger was featured on “The Mike Douglas Show” at the age of 2, back in 1978, hitting a golf ball. And his form is better than mine -- yes, present-day -- and I’m still undecided as to whether I’m kidding about that.
His dad, a former Green Beret, was hard on Tiger, too -- trying to trip him up out on the course, break his concentration and make him crack. In the long run, it probably helped Tiger become the golfer he was destined to become, but despite the bond the two shared, it was more of a tough-love relationship than you might have realized. And Tiger’s mom, Kultida Woods, was just as rigid, Tiger said. This dynamic seemed like it took away from Tiger’s childhood, in some ways.
Finally, Earl Woods didn’t just want Tiger to be a golf prodigy. He more so envisioned his son changing the world -- and that’s a heavy weight to carry. Earl, at one point, said something like, ”The world will be a better place to live in, by virtue of his existence and his presence.” He saw Tiger as a humanitarian in the making, and hoped he’d become a figure like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.
2. Just HOW good Tiger was at golf
I was nearly out of my seat, fan-girling over some of those legendary putts. “OK, I would have used my driver on that one,” I remarked to my husband.
Really though -- they wouldn’t even be considered “putts” for an average golfer.
Tiger was out-of-his-mind talented, so able to stay in the zone, unrattled and unfazed. He was incredible to watch in his prime. The excitement was palpable, even just in viewing years-old footage in a documentary. I can’t imagine seeing it unfold live. And the comeback Masters win in 2019? One for the ages.
It’s like, for some people growing up (myself included), you almost remember Tiger more for his scandals than the game. People who aren’t golf fans might not even realize -- but for about 12 years, he was just the best of the best. In some ways, the series reminds us of that. And it showed us that. Tournament after tournament, he was just WINNING. You’re unable to look away.
Not to mention, Augusta, for example, is designed to be a golf professional’s worst nightmare. And some of those overhead shots of Pebble Beach, which juts right into the Pacific Ocean, show how insane the course really is. But Tiger handled it all with ease. His competitive nature was almost unreal.
Watching him play through a serous leg injury in the 2008 U.S. Open felt brutal. At one point, you had to ask yourself, “Is he even human?”
Although Woods only has 15 major championship wins to Jack Nicklaus’ 18, seeing his greatness in action, you can’t help but ask yourself: Was he the greatest to play the game?
3. His relationship with race
Woods, who is multi-racial, in a way alienated himself from the Black community when he told Oprah in 1997 that he considered himself “Cablinasian” more than African-American (which is a word he made up, standing for Caucasian, Black, Indian and Asian).
He didn’t necessarily want to be the poster child for Black or mixed-race golfers -- in fact, he made several comments throughout the documentary implying he never got used to being ANY kind of poster child, and didn’t love the fame and attention that accompanied his success.
But it’s true that he really did change the sport for others. The documentary showed at least one or two shots of little boys lining up for autographs, and you have to imagine Black children at the time had never seen such a big-name golfer who looked like they did.
4. Golf still seems a bit racist
Tiger recalled even at a young age, being called names at competitions, or feeling unwelcome at certain courses based on the color of his skin.
Although hopefully that’s a thing of the past, the documentary also reminds viewers of an incident as recently as in 2010, when Woods was set to play in the Masters. The chairman of Augusta National publicly reprimanded Woods ahead of the event, for all the drama involving his extramarital affairs.
Journalist Bryant Gumbel called it a “public whipping,” saying he doubted that a white golfer would’ve faced nearly as much criticism -- also considering cheating isn’t exactly a new phenomenon for professional athletes. The whole situation felt like critics telling NBA stars to “shut up and play” or saying former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick shouldn’t kneel for the national anthem. These are real people with real lives, problems, causes and voices. Who are we to dictate their lives or say that they’ve “let us down” (which is essentially what Augusta told Tiger), and imply they have some kind of responsibility to us? If Tiger dropped the ball, that’s for his family, friends and sponsors to hash out.
5. The situation with the women
Tiger’s now ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, really didn’t seem like the gold-digger that late-night hosts made her out to be. Sure, she likely scored a ton of money in the divorce from Woods (reports say the number was around $100 million), but her world was blown up and rocked by the sex scandal just as much as Tiger’s. There was a particularly gut-wrenching line in the documentary about “a boo-boo on mommy’s heart” -- retold to us from an acquaintance; Nordegren didn’t participate in interviews for “Tiger,” either. She had to remain strong for those kids and carry on, all under the tough lens and scrutiny of the paparazzi. My heart went out to her.
Finally, those affairs: The documentary focused on two in particular: Woods’ relationship with nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel and the brief tryst with Perkins Restaurant waitress Mindy Lawton.
With Uchitel, she really did seem to love him, and their relationship sounded ... fairly normal, all things considered. Is that strange to say? She said she remembers him eating cereal and watching cartoons. And it seemed to go beyond just the sex -- he even flew her out to Australia for a golf event.
Uchitel, for her part, said her name hasn’t lost the stigma, even all these years later. “It’s always been, ‘Rachel Uchitel, Tiger Woods’ mistress,’” she said.
You might not have realized that when it came to Lawton, National Enquirer could have actually blown up Woods’ spot much earlier -- back in 2007, when the publication trailed him, snapped photos of Woods in a vehicle with the waitress, then decided they’d hold off on running the story in exchange for the golfer’s appearance on a sister magazine, Men’s Fitness. Who knew?
OK, I could clearly talk about this all day. You in on this “Tiger” situation? Let’s talk about it in the comments.