My father claims that when I was a sophomore in college he was at the Madison, Wisconsin apartment I shared with three roommates—I don’t know why he would have been there, but no matter where I am, or how old I get, there inevitably comes a time when I need my dad to come help me with something—and my best friend and I were watching a golf tournament, out of our heads rooting for Tiger Woods to win. I suppose it’s possible—this would have been when he was still all hype, and it’s not hard to imagine how we might have been eager for him to validate that hype with actual greatness. But for as long as I can remember, I have hated Tiger Woods, and not for the same reason I used to hate Michael Jordan back when he was the greatest athlete on the planet: because I loved the Milwaukee Bucks. Rather, my dislike for Tiger Woods has always had to do with the way in which, a generation after Jordan, he emerged as not only the next greatest athlete on the planet but the next greatest athlete brand. Far more by way of the Tiger brand than any of the golf tournaments he’s won over the years, Woods has surpassed a billion dollars in earnings. A billion dollars. That’s a thousand million, for those of you who—like me—are disposed to think of the quantity in terms you can more easily relate to. Of course, if you are like me, you can’t really relate to the concept of a million dollars. These days—I’ve come a long way baby—I operate on the level of thousands. So to put it in terms that people like me might be able to relate to, that’s a million thousands: having a thousand dollars a million times over. One could also say—for those who, as I did just a few years ago, still relate to things on the level of single, individual dollars—that that’s a billion single, individual dollars. But then we’d be back where we started.
In any event, I haven’t just hated Tiger because he has all that money while I don’t. I’ve hated him because, more than by merely winning golf tournaments, Tiger has made all that money by converting himself, or being converted into, a brand, by selling himself to us, and yet in all these years of selling himself to us he has given us virtually nothing. I don’t really know what I’m asking for when I say this. It’s not like I wanted to be Tiger Woods’s friend—although, considering the potential financial advantages, I probably wouldn’t have turned down the chance. Still, there’s something about the self, about any self, that cannot be converted into brand or logo, some reserve of actual selfness that cannot be bought or sold but always only given, and while Tiger Woods has sold us a billion dollars worth (that being just his take) of the part of himself that can be bought and sold, he has given us not even the tiniest pinch of the other part. Consider the fact that he named his 155-foot yacht “Privacy” and then promptly sued its builder for using his name, and images of the yacht, “to promote the company.” I am quoting an article published in 2004, which goes on to offer the following unbelievable details: “Woods has suffered more than $75,000 in damages, but because of his celebrity and endorsement muscle, damages could reach $50 million, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Woods’s privacy was also being violated by the boat maker.”
So you can imagine that when word first came down of this strange car accident outside his home, Tiger Woods rolling over a fire hydrant into a tree in the middle of the night, the back window of his Cadillac Escalade bashed in with a golf club by his Swedish supermodel wife Elin Nordegren (or could it have been her twin sister?), I was hoping that the matter was indeed as scandalous as it appeared. On November 27 I entered, as my current status on Facebook (apologies, et cetera), “can tiger woods please be guilty of something please (please),” a status update for which I was dismissed as a “hater,” and to which my Filipina friend Melanie responded “completely guilty of being amazing and part filipino.” But oh, gratification was mine. Guilty? And then some. But if there is a little tragedy in all of it, from my own minute perspective, it is that in his swift and ferocious fall, my reasons for hating Tiger have been just as swiftly effaced.
At last, at long last, we’ve gotten from Tiger what, according to nothing but the economy of grace, I think he owed us all along: a little bit of that other self, the one that can’t be bought or sold but only given, or received (perfect for the holiday season). In fact, a whole lot of that other self. It’s not simply that we know, now, certain sordid details of certain of his preferred sexual perversions (hair-pulling, apparently), or about the size of his penis (admirable, according to all reports, photos potentially forthcoming in Playgirl), or about his pestering insomnia and probable addiction to Ambien, but also, for example, that in private he is perhaps more than a little lonely, in that strange way that one is always lonely when he is the only one still awake in the house—even in a house full of people who love him and live for him—and that, far from the insanely confident character he has for years portrayed on golf courses and in television commercials and on airport billboards, he can be by turns boyishly self-conscious and as angst-ridden as an adolescent in love (according to forthcoming reports, as of approximately five minutes ago, in pining emails to Rachel Uchitel he agonizes that she might only be into him because he is famous). Indeed, the angst and self-consciousness, in particular, might be only natural, if until now well-hidden, given Tiger’s own contention that “having an asian mother and a military father you cannot and will not ever be full of yourself.”
Disarmingly endearing, that claim was made in a text message to reality television nobody Jaimee Grubbs, one of Tiger’s yesterday seven, today eleven, tomorrow lord only knows how many mistresses. The series of text messages between Woods and Grubbs published recently in the New York Post, it should be said, also includes less endearing highlights, such as Woods’s promise that “I will wear you out soon,” as well as his anxious insistence, during one particular exchange, that Grubbs must have had sex with some friend of hers whom she “drove out for the night to surprise with a present for there [sic] birthday.” In regards to this bit of information, a seemingly angsty/horny Woods wonders, “what kind of present your naked body,” a question/assertion to which Grubbs replies, “ha ha no a watch I slept alone.” But petulant, almost childish, the angsty/horny Woods insists: “alone with him that is.”
The particulars of Grubbs’s non-Tiger-related sex life notwithstanding, what is clear is that the emergence of this private, kind of sort of real-ish, Tiger Woods will be, if it has not already been, the death of the Tiger Woods brand. I’ve never been anywhere near a business school, but it seems to me that one of the most important ideas that we are supposed to associate with the Tiger Woods brand—perhaps the essential idea—is that of discipline. I’m thinking, for instance, of that television commercial from a couple of years ago in which Woods was shown, on the kind of miserable day that any normal person would want to spend ensconced in the comfort of his well-earned and well-heated (and well-guarded) mansion, outside in the rain, cold and drenched, working on his game. If Michael Jordan was depicted as a superhuman, quite literally capable of flight (R. Kelly’s “I Believe I can Fly” being the Jordan brand’s unofficial anthem, and a worthy song in its own right), Tiger Woods, as brand, has been attributed a virtually superhuman degree of entirely human self-discipline, a sheer will, beyond preternatural ability, to make yourself not simply the best you can be but, simply, the best.
Suffice to say that this image of the almost infinitely self-disciplined Tiger Woods cannot survive. This is not simply a question, at this point, of somebody who was unable to impose the necessary sexual self-discipline to remain faithful to his Swedish supermodel wife and the vows (legal and otherwise) by which they were bound. Nor is it merely a question of the extent of his violation of those vows—of the fact that Tiger cheated on his wife with what at this point appears to be a virtually unending series of mistresses and potential mistresses. Rather, it is that we seem to be dealing with somebody who by all appearances has lacked even the most minimal self-discipline in his very selection of women with whom to violate the contractual and spiritual terms of his marriage, a fellow who, it seems, got all manner of “freaky” with every New York madam, Las Vegas cocktail waitress, internet porn star, and reality television nobody who crossed his path, not to mention his reputed yearlong affair with a waitress at an Orlando-area Perkins restaurant where, she says, Woods would regularly order a highly disciplined “egg-white omelet with broccoli” before they had sex in his truck.
So yes, that Tiger Woods—the one whose relentless self-discipline we (collectively, that is) have for years been trying to suckle out of Gatorade bottles, to wear like a hat, et cetera, et cetera—is dead. And in a way, I suppose, it would be nice if the moral of the story was that now that that Tiger Woods is dead, the other Tiger Woods—the one who sends sort of endearingly vulnerable text messages to the girl he’s currently hooking up with claiming that he could never be full of himself, or the one who worries that his crush of the week or month doesn’t love him for him—can live.
But that story has already been told, about baseball star Alex Rodriguez (a.k.a. A-Rod), and it even turned out to be true. A-Rod the brand died once and for all with last spring’s steroid scandal, and during the season that followed Rodriguez came across for the first time in his professional career as a human being. Gratified fans rallied behind him, he stopped squeezing the bat so hard it turned to sawdust in his hands in the most important moments, and those goddamn Yankees won the World Series on the strength of his play.
Woods’s case is different. A-Rod was, all along, a great baseball player—and a very rich one—but a failure as a brand. No matter how well he played, few people seemed to know—and if they knew they didn’t much care for—what the A-Rod brand was offering. Woods, on the other hand, was the most iconic living logo since Michael Jordan, and even richer than Jordan because of it. On the golf course—unlike A-Rod on the baseball diamond—Woods did not wilt under the pressure of his own image. Rather, he rose to it—he became it. One cannot forget the moment at the 2005 Masters when, with the tournament hanging in the balance, Woods holed a miraculous chip shot on the sixteenth hole, nor the manner in which the golf ball paused—not uncertainly but confidently paused—to display the Nike swoosh logo for all the world to see, again and again in highlight reels, before dropping out of view. Tiger Woods, the brand, did not need to die in order that Tiger Woods the person might live. He’d been winning golf tournaments and living, hornily, angstily, and perhaps even happily—behind a thicket of security and lawsuits—all the while, while the brand raked in the money.
Surely there will be more sleepless nights for Tiger; the only question, now that his wife is headed back to Sweden, his sponsors are focused on damage control, and his top-ranked mistress is holed up in Los Angeles with some Hollywood lawyer to the stars, is with whom he will be spending them alone.