The latest rumor on Tiger Woods is that he was having a fling with Lady Gaga and his wife found out about it and chased him down the driveway with a 12-gauge shotgun until he flipped his luxury SUV six times and landed in an alligator-filled moat. He was quickly saved by Nelson Mandela, who just happened to be driving back to his hotel after visiting Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson.
That rumor is completely false, of course, because I just dreamed it up. But if Tiger continues hiding his head in the sand trap, I think it might actually get some traction.
Hey, anybody can make up a Tiger rumor. Try it with me: Think of the most insanely embarrassing scenario for our hero and then get it out there. Right now you have as much chance of having your account recognized by the mainstream media as anyone, because Tiger isn’t offering his version.
Tiger had a little fender bender over the Thanksgiving weekend. He’s fine. A body shop will take care of the vehicle. And any repairs needed to his marriage will be — and should be — taken care of privately. But he really shanked this one, and maybe he’ll learn a lesson from it about how to get ahead of a minor story before it becomes a major one.
Thus far in his spectacular career Tiger has gone relatively untouched by scandal. Years ago he cracked some jokes in a GQ interview and got an earful. And there have been miniscule dust-ups, like the one earlier this year when he criticized a tournament official after winning the Bridgestone Invitational, or the occasional Rory Sabbatini salvo.
But he gets a pass from the press because he earned it. He isn’t a jackass. He isn’t a phony. He’s a winner, on the course and off.
In this case, however, he landed in the long fescue. Three times he postponed his routine chat with the authorities, and each time it led to more and more speculation about the truth. Said Tiger in a statement on Sunday: “Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.”
Maybe, but they could have been vaporized with one straightforward explanation in person rather than a boilerplate missive from his hired suits.
Instead, Tiger whiffed on his first major public relations test.
Assuming he had a fight with his wife, bolted out of the house, angrily revved the car up, sped down the driveway and then smashed the car, why couldn’t he simply say:
“I had a fight with my wife. I was upset. I crashed the car. I feel stupid.”
What human out there wouldn’t understand that?
He didn’t have to explain what the squabble was about. He wouldn’t have to address every wild rumor. He could have put it to rest simply by stating that he and his wife had a spat, the details of which will remain between them, and he’s going to make it up to her by taking her on a vacation to the other end of their resort-like abode.
But now the story has legs, and it has Tiger Woods to thank.
I know there will be those out there who will blame all of this on us media types for not honoring the man’s privacy and letting it go. Personally, I was ready to let it go right after it happened. It sounded like an Associated Press brief on a slow news day. The only part that was of any concern whatsoever involved Tiger on the ground mumbling incoherently, which made me think that now Tiger knows how Phil Mickelson has felt all these years after losing to him. As soon as it was reported that Tiger was OK, the world was done with it.
Except Tiger kept it alive, by dodging the police and not offering a simple explanation up front.
It’s tempting to say that lots of athletes have had their troubles played out in public, except this is so minor compared to most of them. There was probably nothing criminal in this, unless the cops decide to cite him for driving like a lunkhead, or for destroying city property. This isn’t an athlete whose pristine career has suddenly become tarnished by a major character flaw. This is a blip.
The problem is his reaction to it, and his failure to recognize how much worse he’s making it by not coming forward and addressing it immediately. He is a public figure. He has to understand that if his dog does his business in the neighbor’s yard, it’s a story. If he inadvertently drops a gum wrapper in the street, it’s a story.
It’s that whiff of corporate arrogance that is the issue, that willingness by Tiger to step back and let his machine crank out an insufficient and unsatisfactory explanation. It may work now — guys who scream “You da man!” with his every swing will forget about this in three months — but what about when something really significant happens?
When celebrities attain a certain level, they believe that throwing money at a situation will make it disappear. They hire PR consultants who lead them down a path of statements and strategies that rarely are based in common sense, and almost never resonate with the general public. That is always what happens when the goal is manipulation rather than honesty.
He turns 34 next month. He has a lot of golf left. He has even more product pitching left. And chances are, he’ll have more incidents. I certainly hope he never does anything to jeopardize his health, his family and his career, because there are scant few role models on the sporting landscape. But another rough spot or two is inevitable.
He needs to step back from his demolition derby moment and study it, so that he will be sure to do better on the next test.
I have stood at a tee box a time or two, swung and missed. Now Tiger knows how I feel.