The golf talent of Tiger Woods “had me at hello” way back when he turned up as that tiny boy on television hitting incredible shots on “The Mike Douglas Show” in the ’70s. The innocent charm of Tiger Woods had me at “Hello, World,” late in 1996 when Woods winningly introduced himself to the world of professional golf.
Then, late last November, he said goodbye for 78 days, a period during which he didn’t “have” much of anything except critics.
Almost overnight, Woods lost his charm, innocence and credibility because of a one-car accident that turned his life into a train wreck. The insults were much greater than the injuries, especially when Woods acknowledged on his website the undisclosed “transgressions” that set the table for a moveable tabloid feast.
Friday morning Woods tried to start all over.
He stood in the Sunset Room on the second floor of the clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass at the PGA Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The environment was militarily-controlled. In front of a small group that included his mother, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and former Stanford golf teammate Notah Begay III, Woods read from a prepared statement. There were reporters in the room but they weren’t allowed to ask questions afterward.
“I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in,” said an emotional Woods, reading from prepared text. “I have let you down. I have let down my fans.”
Woods wore a suit coat and slacks, no tie. There were several pauses but no tears. His wife, Elin, was not in the room.
His delivery was almost robotic. He said he had been in therapy. And that clearly showed. The fiercely independent and often publicly stubborn Tiger Woods we have come to know was barely evident.
Perhaps the most striking impression I was left with was Woods’ steadfast refusal to qualify his apologies. The error too many public figures make in their mea culpas is saying they are sorry “if I offended anybody.” That’s half an apology and almost worse than none at all. Woods didn’t make the mistake of disingenuousness.
“To those of you who work for me, I have let you down,” he said.
“I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you,” he said.
“I have made you question who I am,” he said.
“For all that I have done, I am so sorry,” he said.
“I have a lot to atone for,” he said.
And he didn’t stop there, going on for approximately 15 minutes.
“I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated and I am the only person to blame,” he added. “I have a long way to go. I felt I was entitled. I was wrong.”
Then Woods told the room, and the global millions watching on television, that he will go back to therapy; he will continue to try to put his marriage back together and he will play golf again, maybe even this year. He said his wife never attacked him with a golf club.
Prior to Friday, so much of the damage control had been clumsily orchestrated. And so much of that orchestration had set off a firestorm of blowback from the media and the general public. A lot of people wanted to know why he hadn’t spoken publicly before this. The Golf Writers Association of America declined the Woods’ camp’s invitation to select three of its members to be in the room because of the prohibition-in-advance against questions.
Several of Woods’ peers, when asked at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, bristled at the timing of Woods appearance. “It’s selfish,” Ernie Els told one golf magazine. Why, the players wanted to know before the statement, did Woods have to upstage their tournament? It was later learned that Woods had a deadline to return to his continuing rehab. Afterward, their reaction was more subdued.
“Water under the bridge,” said Sergio Garcia.
“It was just nice to see him,” said Paul Casey.
During his brief time in front of a lone “pool” camera Woods also offered a “special” apology to all the children of the world who have looked up to him and all the parents who have proffered him as a role model.
“You want to believe him,” my wife told me late Friday after some of the emotional dust had settled. In his statement, Woods said his wife had told him “behavior over time,” not words, will make a believer out of her.
Former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Apologies only account for that which they do not alter.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Apology is only egotism wrong side out.”
Friday in Florida Woods apologized to a lot of different people for a lot of different things.
Only time will tell what can be altered and what can’t. Only time will tell whether the egotism that caused his troubles will turn out to be the wrong side out or the first step toward making us all want to welcome him back into our trust with a cautious hello.