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Thursday, April 18, 2019


Tiger Woods is just another pop icon, not a religious icon; he not "evil" and not "good," but maybe he has been  resurrected.    


First off, I don’t love Tiger Woods. I do admire his talent and skill at playing golf. At times I have been in awe of his brilliance at playing this sport  --- or “game” if you are still in denial that golf is, in fact, a sport.
     I was a small boy when I last idolized any sports hero. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, I was twelve, and ready to grow up.
     I do think Woods is a genius of a sort. He is certainly one of the two greatest professional golfers ever, and he probably ranks among the most proficient athletes in any sport ever.
     I don’t like that he accepts praise from Trump and that he, like Michael Jordan, and unlike Ali, Curry, James, and other African Americans, cares more about corporate image than protesting injustice. He limits his good works to his foundation, a charity that, like so many others, exists as much to provide a tax break and salve to his image and conscience as to do good works.
     His serial infidelities during his marriage also reflect poorly on his character, although I don’t put him among those men who have physically abused women. I suspect that when his father died, the boy who had always been a work-obsessed nerd now found himself an object of desire. Risky behavior is nothing new for celebrities. Yet, none of that excuses his actions. While the hallmark of his golf style was thoughtfulness, his private life was thoughtlessly reckless, resulting in the destruction of his family and clean-cut image.


     So, I do not think he is a very “good” person. And I am not surprised. I have found that there is a disparity between “goodness” and “greatness” especially in geniuses. They are almost always too selfish to be “good” to those around them. They often disappoint spouses, offspring, friends, and colleagues, in favor of their own obsessive striving for their goals. Einstein, as an example, was unfaithful to his loyal wife, denied her credit for contributions to his work, abandoned her for another, and wasn’t very kind to his children, one of whom had what we now call special needs, needs that Einstein for the most part ignored.
     It seems to me that for many of the uniquely gifted, other human qualities have been neglected. It is so common in history, that it may be a requirement.


     Woods, like other elite athletes, lived his life in a bubble, led to believe he could not be beaten.  
     Woods was a golfing prodigy from the age of 2 when he appeared on TV with Bob Hope to show off his swing. In his teens he won the junior amateur national title 3 years in a row. He then won the US Amateur title for another 3 years, ending while he was at Stanford. Turning pro at 20, he signed a multi-million dollar endorsement contract with Nike and made their famous swoosh even more common than when it adorned Jordan’s basketball shoes.
     Earl Woods, the father who had guided his growth, forecast that his son would change the world, more important than Gandhi. To the media this sort of arrogant blasphemy was seen as contrary to the supposed gentlemanly humility that the golf community claimed.
     Tiger was raised to have a degree of self-confidence that he need not hide. When asked by reporters what his goal was for a coming tournament, Woods habitually had a one-word answer, “Winning.” Like the brash Ali, he usually did what he said he would. 
     Tiger was not unlike many elite athletes in that respect. They are raised from early in life to believe in their mission and their special gifts. Their faith is reinforced as they climb the ziggurat, defeating all their peers. Those few who reach the top expect to win every time, expect to be adored by others, and they are.
     That is why his spectacular fall was so dramatic. The scandal, the revelations of sordid affairs, the rehabs and phony admissions (the hackneyed “I take full responsibility”) that we always hear and snicker at, it all seemed so familiar.
     Although he returned to the golf tour and did win tournaments (3 in 2012, 5 in 2013, when voted Player of the Year for the 11th time), and was sporadically competitive in Majors, he lost 6 years: 2010-2011 to recover from the scandal; and then 2014-2017, with injuries.
     Instead of images of Woods making majestic swings and fist pumps, viewers watched him writhing in pain, trying to walk and even sit, grimacing in agony as he withdrew from tournaments time after time, a man bowed and aging pitifully. 
     When he was given honorary titles, named as assistant to Ryder Cup and President’s Cup captains, he told the young players who expressed their admiration for the old man that he doubted that he would ever play again. Tiger’s incredible playing career was surely over.
     The arc of his career was like that of Sandy Koufax, cut short in his prime, while we were left with what might have been. Once, they all said he would shatter Jack’s record, win 10 Masters, win 20 or more Majors. Now, he would never play golf again, never win any tournament again, certainly never win another Major, much less break “Jack’s Record.”

     Then, incredibly, in April, 2019, Tiger Woods was in the final group on Sunday at Augusta National in the Masters.  
SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2019

     I went into Tiger mode all weekend, but especially Sunday. Ron asked if I wanted to watch the finals with him. I said no. I couldn’t deal with the distractions of Laura talking about Max or food and Ron’s asides about Nicklaus and Palmer, while I wanted to focus on each and every shot and word spoken and each sight.
     So, the final round began at 6 am and I watched every second until it ended around noon and then I watched the post game shows and then the highlights and then the replay.
     Sporting events provide the only real reality show. The outcome is not scripted, not edited, not contrived, not predictable. There are favorites, underdogs, long shots, there are surprises, disappointments; the range of emotions is broad and deep.
     There is also the chance to see something you have never seen before, something no one has ever seen before. And there is the chance to see someone who does something that is hard to do and does it better than anyone has done it.
     As a child, I watched baseball games on TV, seeing Ted Williams play his last games against the Yankees of Mantle and Berra. I watched Jackie Robinson and the other Dodgers of the 50’s at Ebbetts Field against Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente. Later I saw Ali, Gretsky,  watched the Celtics and Lakers and Wooden’s UCLA teams with Kareem and Walton. 
     At the kitchen table, I recall my father talk of seeing Ruth run the bases with his spindly legs, my grandfather talking of seeing Jack Johnson, Dempsey, Tunney, and we watched Sugar Ray and Marciano on the black and white little TV.
     My dad loved golf. He was a self-described duffer, but he admired Hogan, Snead, and then Palmer, Player, Nicklaus. We watched the charges by Arnie’s Army and the black and white Masters as it turned into dazzling color over the years.


     And then there is this: I have grown to love to play the game. It adds another dimension to my appreciation of the watching. Part of baseball’s attraction was always that every boy and girl had played it. I could imagine myself on the field catching fly balls, fielding grounders.
     I stand on a tee, drive the ball 220 yards and feel strong and proud, as if I still have my youth. Then I think again: the pros drive the ball the length of a football field ahead of mine. It is awesome. Yet, we can play the same ball, use similar clubs, play some of the same courses.

     I first became aware of Woods when I was sharing a law office with two guys who played and followed the game in the 90’s. I had given it up shortly after Greg was born and my obsession was work. I played some racquetball for exercise and had no time for playing or even watching golf.
     The other guys said that this kid, a prodigy who won 3 US amateur titles was turning pro and might be the next Palmer or Nicklaus. Standing in the hallway between our offices, I asked if he really was the real deal. So many prodigies turn out to be duds. No, they assured me, this kid had it.
     So I began to watch again.
     The ’97 Masters was shocking. At that level, the skill variance among competitors is close. It is unusual for anyone to win by more than one or two strokes. Woods was 21, playing his first Major as a pro ... and won by 12 strokes. He then decided to alter his swing, to get even better. He won only once the next year, but in ’99 he won 8 times, including one Major. 
     Geniuses separate themselves from others in obvious and measurable ways. Einstein's breakthroughs in 1905-1910 were like that. In sport it is even more obvious, though just as rare. Babe Ruth in 1920 hit more home runs than other teams. Gretzky's records are unapproachable. 
     In 2000, Tiger Woods won 9 times, including the US Open by 15, the British by 8, and won the PGA with his “C game” in a thrilling playoff against some guy who was playing his once-in-his-life chance. (That is another thing sport sometimes gives: a nobody, a journeyman, who has one moment of glory can win against one of the greats.)
     When Woods won the next Masters in April 2001, he held all four major pro tournaments. No one had ever done that, not Arnie, Jack, not even Bobby Jones.


     And that rose another point. Tiger’s father, Earl, was a black man. His mother, Kutilda, was Thai. The kid described himself as “Ca-bla-na-sian,” that is, a mix of many races. Sport often provides some kind of profound metaphor for popular culture. Jackie Robinson is the most obvious one: the first to break the color barrier in major league baseball when that sport was the most popular game. Ali was an icon of the ‘60’s.
     I had another childhood illusion: my Brooklyn Dodgers were “good” against the “evil” Yankees; workers versus management, liberals versus pinstripe conservatives; underdogs against power.


     Black performers changed all sports. They brought a unique flair to their performance that kept your eyes glued to them whenever they were on the field or court. Jackie danced off bases, dared pitchers to throw, stole the base — even stole home in the World Series. Then came Willie Mays, cap flying, basket catches. Jim Brown in football exhibited power, speed, grace, elusiveness, all with a contemptuous sneer. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and many others changed their sports for the better.


     Tiger Woods brought that style to the staid old rich white gentleman’s game. He crushed opponents with a steely-eyed glare. When he sunk a winding thirty-foot putt that no one else could hope to make, he didn’t merely tip his cap to acknowledge the cheers, he forced a fist pump into the air like an Ali uppercut, as if to knock the air out of the stomachs of the hundred others trying to beat him.
     The crowd got it, wanted more and he “moved the needle” even more than Arnie and his army ever did. The TV promoters loved it. The corporate sponsors drooled. So did the other pro golfers once they noticed that where they used to play for thousands, now they played for millions — I mean of fans AND dollars.
      The tradition-soaked white establishment were appalled by Woods' shenanigans. Sure, the teenage Bobby Jones threw tantrums, but when he matured he became the perfect gentlemen, respectful and humble. Palmer, the people's hero, looked like a Pittsburgh steamfitter, but on the course he was honorable and a fine sportsman. 
     Woods often scared the TV director by emitting guttural curses when he missed a shot. He brought rowdy young people among the "patrons" and "galleries" of golf spectators, and they responded to his gestures with unseemly noises that shook the air. "In the hole!" they screamed on tee shots made from more than 500 yards away; when Woods finished a hole many began to move on to the next one before other golfers had their chance to play.  

     The reality show demands drama, an arc that takes the hero or anti-hero from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom. In sports that arc is inevitable; whether due to the law of regression to the mean, or the physical demands on the body, or the mental demands on the ego, or simply the passage of time and aging, things change and human frailties take over. 
     Ali in decline took punches to his head that would lead to his premature aging, Mays dropped fly balls for the Mets in is last year. These were pitiful sights that touched us. They are intimations of our own mortality.

     One of the things that made Woods an idol was his commitment to fitness. Palmer changed the sport in his time because he was not soft or fat, like our image of golfers, who, like bowlers, could drink a beer and smoke a cigarette while playing. Woods took it to a much higher level, gaining strength and endurance and power in the gym and running miles every day. He violated the conventional rules that said weight lifting and muscle mass was anathema to the subtle touch and feel that golf required.
     On screen he looked like an athlete, the equal of Roger Federer or Jordan. At 6’1”, 180, he could be a defensive back in the NFL, many NFL players said. He was admired as an equal by Federer, Jordan, Griffey.

     Bill James, the founder of SABR-metrics, dissected baseball statistics with a scalpel and computer to define the greatest of all time (the GOAT). He differentiated between those who were great for their “peak seasons” and those who had great longevity.
     Golf does similarly. Palmer, for instance, won the Masters four times, and three other Majors, but all between 1958 and 1964 when he was 35. While he won many other tournaments, he never won another Major. (In golf, the Majors — four big events during the summer season: the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship — are the measure of historic superiority, partly because they attract the best players from around the world, and the most attention from the media. The term was first applied in the early 1900’s and stuck.) Jack Nicklaus is considered the greatest golfer who ever lived because he won 18 Majors, from 1962 to 1986, when he was 46 — a remarkable 24 year span.

     As a child, it was reported, Woods had a poster with Nicklaus’s picture and the Majors record on his bedroom wall. It was his goal. When he won his first, the ’97 Masters, by 12 strokes, it struck Nicklaus and all others as a lightning bolt. A black man (the only one in the field) won the tournament in a place, the Augusta National in Georgia, a shrine of Southern white privilege, the creation of Bobby Jones (who is a Southern icon as meaningful to Southern ideals as Robert E. Lee).
     Woods then went on to win fourteen Majors in the next ten years, including the Masters three more times. He won three in one calendar year and then the Masters at the start of the next, and so he had all four on his mantel at once.
     Bobby Jones in 1930 had won the four Majors of that era (that included two purely amateur events). The adoring press, dominated by Southern gents like Grantland Rice, labeled it “The Grand Slam” after the bridge term for a clean sweep. Critics now carped that Tiger’s achievement was not a true Grand Slam because the fourth, the Masters, came the next April. Still, it has come to be known as “The Tiger Slam,” and no one has come close to equaling it since.
     In non-Majors, Palmer won a total of 62, Nicklaus 73. By the summer of 2008, Woods had won 65 tournaments after winning the U.S. Open that June. But at 32, his body was beginning to fail. During the five days of the tournament, he grimaced every time he swung, obviously in great pain. Turned out he had broken bones in his knee. Still, he led going into the final round. But he fell behind, limping to the end. On the 72nd hole he had to make a difficult putt to get into a playoff (with another of the severl journeyman that gave him the most trouble, Rocco Mediate.) He had to play another 18 in excruciating pain, 90 holes of extraordinary golf over five days, to win his fourteenth Major.
     After rest and another procedure on his legs, he came back the next year to win six more tournaments. But in the PGA, he lost to an another unknown (Y.A. Yang) who had a career day, the first time he had lost a Major while starting the final day in the lead.

NOVEMBER, 2009 - MAY, 2017

     Then, in November, a report surfaced in a tabloid that he had an extramarital affair. His wife read it, and they argued. He left, and crashed his car. The media exploded, and so did his marriage and his image as clean-cut hero. It was a “Say-it-ain’t-so” moment. Corporate sponsors dropped him quickly. He had to give a mea culpa speech that sounded as lame and scripted as those of other famous transgressors.

     In the next decade, Woods would suffer physical and mental anguish. He would win more tournaments, but his back gave out. The golf swing puts great pressure on the spine: neck, wrist, hips, and especially, back. He played and won sporadically; some years he couldn’t play at all. He couldn’t finish some rounds, limping off in front of TV cameras that had shown him barely able to walk at all. Still, when he could contend, he could still win. In 2013, he felt well enough to win six times, and was voted Player Of The Year, the equal of MVP in team sports) for a record eleventh time (Jack won it five times).

     But then his back went out again. Over the next few years, he tried three surgical procedures, all without success. At one point, he couldn’t bend down to play with his children. In May, 2017, he hit the bottom. He was arrested for DUI of a mix of painkillers and sleeping drugs while dozing in his car on the side of a road. A mugshot of his droopy-lidded unshaved face exposed a broken man.

     It was a familiar tragedy, the once-great athlete now fallen into disgrace, mired in a self-medicated stupor, a shell of his former greatness.   
     After the typical cry for help, the report of another rehab.  He had gone to “couples counseling” and “sex addiction” therapy to try to save his marriage and his image — and lost both. He underwent a desperate back surgery, spinal fusion, that sometimes, but not even most of the time, allows for pain-free movement. He later said he did it more to allow himself to be able to play a little with his kids, rather than to play golf again.
     Woods resigned himself to a new role. He was named an assistant in the annual team events in pro golf: the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup. And, amazingly, while he mentored the young group of golfers who were competing, Woods found something he had not expected.


     Tiger Woods had always stood apart from his peers — if there were any “peers.” Like Ben Hogan in his era, Woods presented a stoic presence, usually close-mouthed, talking only of winning. He wasn’t even at his best in these team events. His focus and energy was devoted to himself. His father had taught him to “win for yourself, not for me or anyone else.”
     He did have some friends among golfers. Mark O’Meara, John Cook, Fred Couples, who had mentored him. Notah Begay, III, his Native-American teammate from Stanford, was a lifelong buddy.
     But, unlike his longtime rival, Phil Mickelson, Woods wasn’t a back-slapping, gee whiz hail-fellow. Phil curried the crowds the way Arnie did, making a grand show of being a good loser, something he did to Woods for a long time. Phil’s game was like Arnie’s, mercurial and thus sporadically great, often poor. Tiger’s game was more like Jack’s, methodical, clever, powerful but subtle. Woods had a historic streak of “cuts” made. (Each event takes four days: starting with up to 150 players, it is cut in half after the first two days. Woods rarely missed a cut, grinding to make it on those rare days when he didn’t have his best stuff.)

     To the media, Woods has always seemed sullen, cautious, so protective of his image that he never admitted any vulnerability. That always annoyed journalists, who always want a better story. Now they had one; a big story. And he would have his comeuppance. The press jumped all over it.

     When he had his great fall, many critics were relieved. He had failed the moral test, cheated on his wife, was promiscuous with many other women. The published photos exposed something that didn’t have to be stated: he cheated on his blond white wife with other blond Vegas “bimbos.”
     Tiger had never been a “race man” the way the Jackie or Bill Russell or Jim Brown had been. Like Jordan, he had steered away from racial issues. Woods idolized his father, who had been a Green Beret in Vietnam, where he had met his second wife, Kutilda, in Thailand. Tiger was named for an army pal of Earl’s.   
     The media now treated him as if his transgressions were as great as O.J. Simpson’s. It seemed that the press was more offended by his mortal sin of deceiving them than deceiving his wife. He fooled them about his image, and now they were getting revenge.
     The media gloated over photos of him bending to the ground in agony, and the final mugshot, and video of him slumped in the seat of his car the night of his arrest were the final nails in his public relations coffin.

     But the public loves stories of redemption. He showed up as a coach at the team events. Woods became friends with this new crop of stars. Turns out, they all had idolized him when they were kids. As athletes who excelled at many sports, they all had turned to golf in order to emulate the Tiger they saw on TV, the dude who made the sport cool, who looked and acted like a powerful athlete. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Ricky Fowler, Brooks Koepka --these guys work out in gyms, bulk up, drive the ball further than anyone, just like he did.
     In the needling way that athletes always show their affection for peers, they urged the “old man” to get back into it. And his competitive juices began to stir again. As he felt physically better toward the end of 2017 after his spinal fusion healed, he began to swing clubs. Still uncertain, he took baby steps. In 2018, he began to play. He showed flashes of his old self, but missed some cuts and faltered often. Gradually, he was gaining confidence and regaining his technique.
     For a time, he had stumbled when trying the subtle short shots around the green that had been his specialty. His chunked and stubbed shots looked amateurish, a shocking result that led some commentators to tsk-tsk with disdain.
    “He has the yips,” they insisted, applying a label that implies a hopeless state that marked the end of many careers. Hogan and Snead each had the “putting yips,” a mental block neither could overcome under the enormous pressure of golf events.
     The critics overlooked the possibility that Woods was learning to play with a spine that had fused vertebrae, demanding new techniques and denying him the hundreds of hours of practice that honed such skills. But he persisted and found a way. His “touch” returned.
     He began to drive the ball for distance, perhaps not quite the prodigious distance of DJ or the other longest of the new kids, but respectably long. And his short game recovered. The critics couldn’t believe it. 
     “But his putting isn’t what it used to be,” they still insisted.  
     That was another part of the game that had set Woods apart from all but Nicklaus. Like Jack, he was able always to control his nerves and concentration to summon his extraordinary hand-eye coordination and skill at predicting the slope and speed of greens under the enormous pressure — with millions of eyes on him, with the win on the line, with hundreds of thousands of dollars riding on it — to sink the essential putt.
     For stretches of time, in our memories, he never seemed to miss an important one. From three feet, from ten feet, and much further away, he never missed any, not when he had to make one!
     The highlight reel of his putts curling from left to right and left again, from a plateau down to a gully, at a 90° angle, and into the cup! The crowd cheered with what came to be called “The Tiger Roar,” greater even than those of Arnie’s Army when he was charging up the back nine. Now, he wasn’t making those, not all of them. He three-putted more times than he used to.
     And now the phrase, “used to” began to be repeated more and more. I am familiar with it in my own life. My friends often whine, “I used to hit the ball a long way” ... “I used to win all the time.” I tease them about it. It is a mark of the has-been, the “used-to-be.” It is the ripest sign of aging.
     The golf pro and announcer, Johnny Miller, who himself suffered from injuries and putting woes that ended his career, remarked that over the age of forty, no one sinks as before. It is the start of the end.


     The stats were piled against Woods. Few in their forties have ever won Majors. No one has come back to prominence after back surgery. No one with the “yips” comes back to former greatness. In ’97 Woods revolutionized the game and shocked the golf world by overpowering Augusta National. He drove the ball so far that they had to lengthen golf courses to try to “Tiger proof” them. He’s now lost that advantage. Statistically, he ranks far below the young guns.
     Woods, also like Nicklaus, intimidated his competition. One famously said of Jack: “He knows he is going to win; you know he is going to win; and he knows you know he is going to win.” The same was true of Woods in his prime. When he was in the lead, the others had no chance: he knew it, they knew it, and he knew they knew it. Some admitted, “We are all playing for second place.” The betting line always had Woods or ... the field. To catch him, his steadiness forced other contenders to take risks and thus to make mistakes. He kept pressing forward, never satisfied with just winning.
     He set goals. In the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, he entered the final round so far ahead that he could have coasted to the win. But he decided to play the final round with no mistakes, no bogeys, nothing worse than par. On some holes he was at risk of missing his goal, but he grinded and never faltered. He finished the tournament twelve under par, while his nearest competitor was three OVER par, fifteen strokes behind. 

     Now, the critics predicted, this new crop won’t be intimidated by him. When Woods came along, the previous generation, who still had hopes of contending — Couples, Faldo, Norman, et al — knew it was over for them. And his contemporaries — Els, Goosen, Harrington, Garcia, Mickelson, Singh — pressed so hard to keep up and almost always faltered under his gaze.
     Playing in the same group with Woods in any tournament, but especially a Major or one of the events created to cash in on his talent — with fields limited to the best of the best — The Players Championship (he won twice), the Fed Ex Cup Series (he won the first one and the third); and a series of four annual World Golf Championships (he won 18 times).

     In baseball, if you safely hit in only three of each nine at bats, you will be in the Hall of Fame (a symbol of the rarity of excellence, attained by only a small percent of the best players in the sport).
     In golf, most pro golfers play at least 20 tournaments a year, 4 of which are Majors. If in 20 years, the pro wins 20 times, including 1 Major, he will make the Hall of Fame. Phil Mickelson has won 45 times, including 5 Majors. He has won 7% of the time he has tried. Woods has won 23%.

    From ’96 – ’08, his win percentage was almost 40%, far ahead of anyone in history, a statistic made even more amazing because he, unlike Phil or any other pro, played only the event with the strongest fields on the toughest courses.


"There are no second acts in American lives." (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

     By the start of 2018, the consensus among all observers, whether gloating or saddened, whether gadflies, talking heads, or old pros, (and including myself and others) predicted that he would never win another tournament, much less another Major. He might continue to try in order to placate his sponsors (Nike swoosh on hat and shirt) and keep his “brand” afloat, and he might occasionally contend in some tournaments, but the best he could hope would be to become another journeyman, a once-was, an average also-ran in the field.  
     He began to contend in 2018, showing spurts of excellence, and then some stretches of brilliance, and then reaching the last day with chances to win — in the British Open on the back nine. And then at the PGA, he chased Koepka with a final round 64 that fell just short of catching the young stud. But neither Molinari in the Open nor Koepka had blinked as Tiger’s opponents used to, proof, the pundits smirked, that he no longer could win by intimidation.
     The FedEx Cup Series of three grueling events, that winnows the field from 125, down to 70, and then to the best, the hottest 30 golfers at the end of the season, was his crucible. Woods barely qualified, barely survived, and snuck into the final event.
     He had proved that his back would hold up, that his endurance would, at 42, allow him to make it. But against 29 of the best young athletes, could he finish? He had been the best finisher in history, almost always winning from in front, but now, could he do it again.
     In the final round of the Tour Championship, he was paired with Rory McIlroy. Rory, 29, won 4 Majors since 2012, and is considered by many to be the best of this “post Tiger” generation. Also in the field was Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson. All had held number 1 in world ranking, at least for some weeks in the "post Tiger" era. 
     Woods had held #1 for stretches of 5 years twice, last ranking #1 in 2013. By 2017 he had plummeted, ranked below more than 1,000 of the best players in the world. At the start of 2018, he was 700th. Now, he had worked his way all the way to among the top 30.)

     By the end of that day, the TV cameras showed him strolling up the 18th fairway with Rory conceding his win, while hundreds of fans marched behind and among them in a scene that made YouTube and Sportscenter explode. Proving all the critics wrong, Tiger Woods HAD won again, beating all the best current players, most of whom were small children in 1997.

     Okay, the critics conceded. Tiger came back and won another, his 80th tournament. Impressive. He is only 2 behind Snead’s 82. But, and it is a huge but: he still won’t ever regain dominance, never the intimidation factor. Sure, Rory wilted at the Tour Champs, but Koepka held him off at the PGA, and Molinari, the spunky little Italian, didn’t blink in the British Open and took him down in the Ryder Cup when Tiger was totally whipped by everyone, an old man wheezing to the finish. Jack’s record of 18 Majors is still safe.

     The Masters is the first Major of the 2018-19 golf season that started in October. There have already been about 20 tournaments. Woods had competed in just a few: Torrey Pines, The Players, The WGC in Mexico and the Match Play. He hadn’t won any, and only in the Match Play had he shown any sign that he might win again. After besting Rory, he was beaten by another unknown face-to-face. Tiger throughout his career showed that he could beat the best, yet at times, he might lose to a journeyman: Bob May, Y. A. Yang, and now, a Dane, Bjeeregard. And he missed a three footer, something he never “used to” do.
     Has he fallen back? Was the Tour win a one-shot deal. That is the lesson of history. The greats may show flashes of their old greatness, but they will never climb to the heights again. Even those who stuck by him and believed he would win again never expected him to regain his previous dominance. That was impossible.

     And now the Masters is over. Tiger Woods, at age 43, wins his 15th Major, 5th Masters, his 81st PGA win. For the first time, he came from behind. In every previous Major win, he had been leading or tied for the lead going into the final round. Critics always conceded that he is “the best front runner ever” but he could never come from behind to win a Major. That is considered a flaw, a character defect that diminishes him in the eyes of his many critics. But now he did it. Not in “his prime,” not when he can outdistance every other player, not when he is 20 years older than the others.  


     Brandon Chamblee is a former journeyman pro golfer who contended in a few tournaments twenty years ago and won once in his career. Since then, he has become an “expert” commentator on the Golf Channel and in articles in golf magazines. He is a self-styled expert on the golf swing, able to expound articulately about the differences between Hogan’s (who he idolizes as a fellow Texan), and Jack’s, as well as Nelson’s, Snead’s ... and of course Tiger’s.
     Chamblee has made a reputation as a severe critic of Tiger: challenging his many swing changes, citing technical flaws that he claims reduced his efficiency, decrying his coaching changes — from Harmon to Haney to Foley and others. Tiger, he cries, has wasted his talent, underachieved, and frittered a chance to be the greatest of all time. He will never get the chance again to match the GOAT, Jack Nicklaus.  
     Like economists, Chamblee's grasp of statistics intimidates other commentators who can't summon arguments to contest his forceful numbers-based opinions.  
     He can quote voluminous statistics to prove his points: that Tiger ranks poorly in driving distance and accuracy, putting consistency, his "strokes gained' rankings in every statistical category were pathetic. Chamblee was the first to call Tiger's chipping difficulties the “yips,” citing the history of that chronic illness to prove that Tiger would never win again.
     Of course, Chamblee pays lip service to Woods as one of the greats of the past, but he maintains that his idols, Hogan and that other Southern gent, Bobby Jones, were better people, and Nicklaus is the GOAT. Even when Chamblee’s adored statistics favor Woods, he can always find another one that casts doubt and diminishes Woods — in his firmly held opinion, which he urges as if it is gospel truth.

     Going into this Masters, Chamblee opined that Woods didn’t drive or putt well enough to contend with McIlroy, his current fave, or even any of the others. Then, when Molinari led Tiger and Finau by two strokes going into the last day at the Masters, Chamblee cited more stats to prove that Molinari had to win. And of course, he eagerly repeated, Tiger had never won coming from behind.

     The flaw in Chamblee’s reasoning is his reliance on incomplete statistics. Like opinion polls, they are snapshots of past performance, and only suggest, but by no means guarantee, future outcomes (as the stock market disclaimers always warn us). All sports rely on numbers to measure performance, and the numbers (now called analytics) often replace the judgment of experienced eyes in judging excellence and predicting outcomes. 
    But the fact is that an aging pitcher who used to throw 100 mph can still win by guile, changing speeds, knowing the batter's weaknesses, etc. "Clutch" is a term experienced observers apply to someone who may fail under average conditions, but who, when the game is on the line, can be depended on to succeed more often than others. 
    There are few analytics that can measure this value. 


     After the tournament was over, Jack Nicklaus over the phone from Florida, was interviewed on the show that Chamblee shares with David Duval and Frank Nobilo.
     Nicklaus said he knew Tiger would win as soon as Molinari put his tee shot in the water on hole 12 and Tiger drove his to the middle of the green.
     Tiger had done the smart, conservative thing, the thing that Jack had always done under similar pressure, in order to win. Tiger, Jack observed, had been driving poorly in prior tournaments this season, but on the back nine today, with the Masters at stake, he drove brilliantly, hitting fairways on 13, 14, 15, and 17 with lengthy drives. Augusta is considered a "second shot course" because the approaches to the green are what separate the winner from also rans. And Tiger's iron play was the best Jack had ever seen.
     Once he gained the lead, his putting from long distance was precise, allowing him to make the needed birdies and pars, and even the bogies that kept him ahead. He made the short ones that he had not made earlier in the year. The ones he had missed the first two days of the Masters, Jack knew, were due to the unusual slowness of the greens after the heavy season of rains had take the fire out of the traditionally blazing fast undulating Augusta greens. It took Tiger time to adjust. By Saturday he had figured it out. By Sunday afternoon, he had, well, Mastered them.

     David Duval, who had competed for his entire career against Tiger, had teamed with him, and had lost his #1 rank to him as well as many chances at winning Majors, had predicted early in the week that Woods would win the Masters. Noblilo had been in the announcer’s booth on 12 and marveled at the outcome when Koepka, Poulter, Molinari, and Finau all made crucial mistakes while Woods calmly took advantage and won.

     Chamblee was strangely subdued during the show, tight-lipped, and unapologetic, never once uttering the admission that he had been wrong. Woods, he grumbled, was “an enigma.” He meant that he could not understand, and statistics could not explain, how Woods had done it.  
     But the stats were revealing. 
     Chamblee and others had said the winner had to score best on the 4 par 5’s. In ’97, Woods had destroyed them, scoring 13 under par on those holes. That was due to his driving dominance, something he now lacks. McIlroy, Rose, DJ, Koepka, and many others outdrive him. Compared to any of them, Tiger's par 5 stats so far this year are weak. That is why he can’t win.
     Well, in this Masters, Woods scored just 8 under par on the par 5’s, never eagled any of them. But he used his precise iron game to score on the par 3’s and par 4’s, especially in the final round. Woods led the field in greens-in-regulation, a testament to his iron game and his intelligence, as Jack Nicklaus understood.

     Nicklaus, always the gentleman and good sport, repeated what he has said before: no one wants their records broken, but he never wanted anyone, much less Tiger, to fail due to injury. Let him try, compete, and if he beats me, so be it. 
    So, he joked, now that Tiger’s back, “I am shaking in my boots.”

Monday, April 08, 2019




"First you say you do
And then you don't
And then you say you will
And then you won't
You're undecided now
So what are you gonna do?
Now you want to play
And then it's no ...

[“Undecided,” Charlie Shavers & Sydney Robin (1938)]


“You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys
And don't tell me what to do
Don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display 'cause
You don't own me
Don't try to change me in any way
You don't own me
Don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay

[Pop song first sung in 1963 by Leslie Gore (TN: Leslie Goldstein), written by two men, John Madera and David White, has become an feminist anthem.]

AND NOW ... 

What should we make of the recent controversy about Joe Biden’s habit of touching people, particularly females, during the course of his political activities. Biden hasn’t been accused of sexual motives in these acts, although the complainants have been women. Rather, the “victims” feel they have been “violated” by his presumptuous physical familiarity: hugs, shoulder grasping, kisses on a forehead or a cheek, a nose, the back of a head.

(Apparently, Biden doesn’t do such things to men. Perhaps he accepted the traditional double standard, shaking hands with men, although he may have committed the modern “bro hug” as well. At any rate, it seems that no men have come forward to complain about misbehavior toward them.)

His defense is that he has done this for many years without complaint; he does it to show that he cares for individuals in a personal and emotional way, and that he is not a cold, unfeeling politician. Once made aware that “modern sensibilities” mean that some people — particularly women — are offended by conduct that “invades their personal space,” he promises to find some other means to communicate his concern for the lives of “his people.”  
In the general legal sense, any “unconsented touching of another person” is and has always been, technically, a “battery,” and may be considered a tort (that is, a civil wrong), or a crime. (An “assault” is an attempted battery.) The degree of physical force that results from the touching is what defines the conduct as either crime, tort, or not actionable, but merely an inappropriate violation of a social norm. (The intent need not be to harm; the only intent needed is the willful act of touching; i.e., not unintended or accidental.)

In traditional social situations, “incidental contact” between two persons usually occurs without legal consequence or even without objection. First, in schools and then in workplaces, boys and girls and men and women are pressed close together in any number of settings: elevators, staircases, classrooms, cars and vans, grandstands, raves, pop concerts ...

In the process of “socialization,” boys learn quite early what sort of physical contact with girls is appropriate and what is not. While pre-adolescent touching of most body parts is acceptable, boys and girls learn the greater limits once puberty rears its nervous head.

The truth is that in the past, the social field has not been level; males usually have been the aggressors, the initiators of close contact with females, whether as a sexual probe, or, as we have now realized, as a test or exercise of bullying power. The female, who was the victim of this conduct, had two choices: accept the probe, in which case she might be called a slut; or reject it, and be condemned as a prude, or worse, a tease.

(The adolescent boy was also faced with two difficult options: if he hesitated to initiate any contact with a girl, he was deemed by peers (girls as well as boys) to be less than “manly;” if he forced the contact, he might be thought of as crude, a brute, a thug.)

Pop culture has a lot to say about these interactions. Stories, jokes, songs, shows, and now social media, have made it clear — to boys, that is — that girls (i.e. many girls) prefer “bad boys,” i.e., the ones who are aggressive. (“Aggressive” in this context also implies a broad spectrum of action: it may mean attentive, vocally admiring, persistent, or clumsily “copping a feel,” rather than actually forcibly groping or sexually assaulting.)

In our culture, girls give boys differing signals: they prefer boys to be sensitive and caring, but not timid; girls want to know they are physically desirable and that the boy they desire desires them. Adolescence is a time of experimentation and risk-taking, and of fragile emotions and hormonal excitation.

Over the course of my legal career (from @1967 — now, over 50 years), I’ve seen the evolution of attitudes toward sexual touching. Beginning with the most extreme form, rape, the consistent trend has been to broaden the definition of the crime, to permit wider acceptance of the “alleged victim,” to make it easier to convict, and to increase the punishments for transgression.

(While the result has been to reduce the chance of injustice to the victim, the lessening of demand for greater proof has also resulted in many injustices. I am thinking of the numerous reversals of convictions after DNA evidence disproved the claims of women who identified the accused as their assailant.)

(There are two issues in sex cases: was the act consented to and who did it. In the ID issue case, the fact of the crime is admitted but the identity challenged; in the other kind, for instance, a “date rape case” in which the parties are acquainted, consent is the contested issue.)

The history of the crime of rape is noteworthy. For most of this country’s life, it has been considered a heinous crime, not because of the harm it does to the female, but because it is a serious violation of a man’s property: i.e., his woman (wife, daughter, etc.) Thus, in the Jim Crow South, a black man accused of raping a white woman was invariably subject to death by lynching, whether judicial or extra judicial. If a white woman consented to sex with a black man, her only salvation was to “cry rape.” Even if everyone knew that she was promiscuous, the honor of the men who owned her had to be upheld by the fiction that claimed to believe her cry. After the lynching, she might then face punishment almost as severe.  

Because of the injustices resulting from this history, the law began to demand corroboration for the claims of rape, and permitted inquiry into the character, mental state, and reputation of the alleged victim. Over time, this pendulum swung so far the other way that women feared making accusations, police agencies fumbles investigations, prosecutors half-heartedly pursued cases and females felt that they were on trial.

In the 1970’s attitudes again began to swivel. The nascent feminist movement raised consciences about the injustice. In California, and then other states, the law was changed: no more inquiring into the character of the “victim”, more about the character of the accused raper; no more need to corroborate. The biggest change was the increase of women in law enforcement: police, DA’s, judges.

After the reform of the rape law, “lesser” sexual crimes have also been reformed. “Sexual assault” has been treated similarly to rape law, broadening the definition, and increasing the permissible evidence to “corroborate” the alleged victim. (Even though no corroboration of a victim’s word is needed in order to prove guilt, the law now permits many kinds of “other acts” committed by the accused in order to buttress the testimony of the victim.)

(This is why Bill Cosby was convicted, and why Harvey Weinstein faces criminal and civil jeopardy, as of this writing. Although in other crimes, such as robbery, evidence of the accusation of other such crimes is severely limited, so as to preclude the unjust assumption that “if he did it once, he must be a bad person,” in sex crimes the law deems that females need help. This change in the law reversed the previous rule that warned that the uncorroborated claim of sexual assault was hard to rebut and therefore should be viewed “with caution.”)        

The Cosby and Weinstein cases are examples of the actionable forms of offensive sexual acts. (In Weinstein’s case, some of the claims include acts that do not include physical touching, but rather, those that fit a definition of indecent exposure, false imprisonment, extortion, or some other offensive behavior.)

But many of the newsworthy complaints have referred to acts that probably were not actionable in law, but were offensive enough to have serious social consequences once exposed. I am thinking of Al Franken and others who committed “insensitive” and presumptuous acts of touching women, apparently intended as a jest or prank. Franken, while not prosecuted or sued, paid a very high price for his transgression, being forced to resign from the U.S. Senate.

Other men in positions of power have been toppled by exposure of their arrogant presumptuousness toward female colleagues. Using their relative status of superiority to tacitly coerce consent — or at least acquiescence presumed by the lack of vocal objection — these constitute serious acts of intimidation. They have been actionable, forcing resignations, harassment financial settlements, and embarrassment for the institutions affected.

The number of institutions, public and private, that have suffered from these claims is staggering. Schools of every level, government agencies, corporations, the arts (opera, ballet, television, movies, museums) all have been exposed. The entire structure of male dominance and privilege has been shaken to its core.

Now, I have a question as to the next iteration of the evolutionary tree. Since the Biden controversy relates to offensive invasions of personal space, a much broader definition of “offensive touching,” I wonder what the next steps will be.

Mostly I wonder how a boy or young man is expected to behave toward a girl or young woman and, just as importantly, how she is to behave toward him.

Years ago, when my son was in college, I saw a TV documentary about an incident at Brown University. As reported, a co-ed dorm keg party was in full swing. A co-ed who had drunk too many beers entered a room of a boy she liked, offering a drink and inviting him to the party. He demurred, citing the need to study in order to maintain his scholarship status. She pursued the subject, and eventually, they had sex on his bed.

The next morning the girl awoke with a bad hangover and worse regrets. The friend she told the story to was shocked: she was raped! She was intoxicated and therefore unable to consent. It is the male’s responsibility to refuse the drunken offer of sex.

Technically, that is the law and he could have been prosecuted for rape. Apparently, he got off easily: lost his scholarship and his Brown degree.

I was so terrified by this story that I (only slightly kidding) concocted a questionnaire for my son to submit to every date, insisting that he elicit written consent to any and all potential acts, which I carefully enumerated from my vast glossary of terms. I suggested that lawyers be “on call” for clarification and FAQ’s during the course of the date.

Luckily, he never needed my legal expertise in this field.

Now, I shudder to think what boys face in today’s murky social climate. Are they still expected to initiate sexual contact? How can they dare to do so without risking accusations of offense?

Under the present law, the male may not presume consent from signals, or words that are anything less than unequivocal acceptance of the offer. Further, even if consent is given, it may be withdrawn at any point, and it is the male’s duty to “withdraw” on penalty of violating the letter of the law.

In practice, especially in adolescence, contacts may begin slowly, and then gain momentum very quickly as emotions take over. The female, no longer willing to be passive, must take more responsibility for initiating any steps. The male must now control his urges, acquiescing to the wishes of the female, no matter how ambiguously or inconsistently she expresses hers.

Should the female be required to make her feelings known more clearly to the male? In at least early puberty, girls are more mature than boys of the same age. Shouldn’t they be the ones who set the boundaries in an explicit manner rather than allow it to be shrouded in esoteric codes that the boy can scarcely be expected to interpret?

Men get it: the girl or woman wants to be the one who decides whether she will act the prude, a tease, or a slut — or all of these at any moment she chooses. She doesn’t want boys or men to decide for her. Okay, how does she want boys or men to respond to this? How is the boy to know? What if he misreads ... and is punished?

And these lyrics by Buddy DeSylva (1922), sung by Judy Garland, Diana Krall, and many others to George Gershwin's melody, is now certainly obselete—perhaps should be censored:

"You really shouldn't have done it
You hadn't any right
I really shouldn't have let you
Kiss me
And although it was wrong
I never was strong
So as long as you've begun it
And you know you shouldn't have done it
Oh, do it again
I may cry no, no, no, no, no, but do it again
My lips just ache to have you take
The kiss that's waiting for you
You know if you do, you won't regret it
Come and get it
Oh, no one is near
I may cry oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, but no one can hear
Mama may scold me 'cause she told me
It was naughty but then, please, do it again
Yes do it again, and again and again and again and again ...