Tiger Woods’ slide from grace was lubricated by hypocrisy. Right after he turned professional, Woods spent some time with a canny reporter in New York, and the resulting portrait of a wise-cracking, flirty and slightly scatological young man terrified Tiger’s handlers, who then lowered an iron curtain secure enough to have made the Kremlin proud. No outsider would ever again be allowed into Tiger’s private lair. When he got married in Barbados, the wedding planners hired every helicopter in the Caribbean to keep the paparazzi away. A shipyard in Washington state had the audacity to tell potential clients that it had built Tiger’s yacht until it was ordered by his lawyers to zip it. In place of the fun-loving young man readers of that early profile glimpsed, Team Tiger manufactured a superhero. He bullied the media and intimidated his fellow competitors. He was bullet-proof.
He started the Tiger Woods Foundation to help “young people reach their goals.” He would, in defiance of the philosopher Charles Barkley’s warning, hold himself out as a role-model. On the Foundation’s website, Tiger wrote that he “worked hard and applied my family’s values to everything I did. Integrity, honesty, discipline, responsibility, and fun: I learned these values at home and in school, each one pushing me further toward my dream.”
We know now, of course, that Woods’ private life more closely resembled the fantasies of Austin Powers than the contented domesticity of Father Knows Best. According to the Tiger Woods Foundation’s website, it has ” dispersed more than $30 million toward communities nationwide through grants, scholarships and the Tiger Woods Learning Center.”
Tiger has been earning more than $100 million per year. “On average,” according to an article in American Demographics, “people whose household income is $100,000 or more donate about $4,000 a year to philanthropic causes, compared with about $600 per household for those earning less than $25,000; the national average is $1,600. People making $100,000 or more shell out an average of 2.7 percent of earnings.”
So there’s nothing extraordinary about Tiger’s philanthropy. Given his wealth and the benefits the foundation has provided to his image, it’s not unfair to conclude that he’s parsimonious. He raises the money from sponsors rather than writing checks himself.
The final casualty of Tiger’s disgrace is the notion that players who adhere to golf’s traditions of honesty and fair-play, which are real and verifiable, manifest these qualities in everything they do. That’s a dangerous myth, and Tiger is paying a high price for trying to convince us of its truth. There’s a fearful symmetry between Tiger’s prodigious ascent and his precipitous fall.