In recounting Tiger Woods’ precipitous fall from grace in late 2009, the authors of a new biography shared a startling piece of trivia: “For 21 consecutive days, Tiger appeared on the cover of the New York Post, surpassing the previous record of 20 consecutive covers devoted to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”
No one would dare suggest that Woods’ personal foibles approached the level of seriousness of 9/11, but that statistic does hint at his outsized influence on American popular culture. To this day, a decade and four back surgeries removed from winning his last major, Woods maintains a unique hold on the American psyche. Think about that the next time you’re watching a golf tournament on TV and Woods is getting so much airtime when he’s five shots off the lead on the back nine Sunday.
“Tiger Woods” is an exhaustively researched and meticulously footnoted biography from Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, who previously teamed up on “The System,” which explored the seamier side of college football. Their new book tracks Woods’ life from birth – one of the earliest images is of toddler Tiger sitting in his high chair, watching his father spend hours beating balls into a practice net in the family’s garage – to his appearance at the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open, which enjoyed a predictable ratings spike because of his presence.
There is no shortage of books on Woods, but none this ambitious in scope or detail. This is a decidedly unauthorized biography; Benedict and Keteyian knew from the outset not only that the closely guarded Woods camp would fight their efforts, but that many people on the periphery of Woods’ universe also would be reluctant to cooperate.
Woods’ team continued the fight after publication. Mark Steinberg, his agent, and Glenn Greenspan, his spokesman, charged that the book is “littered with egregious errors.”
“(They) cited nine errors … and these are errors we could debate,” Keteyian said during an appearance on ESPN, noting that some were trivial matters, such as the name of a tournament. But the authors said they “stand by the accuracy of our reporting.”
“If we have made any inadvertent typographical or factual errors, we will correct them in future printings of the book.”
“Tiger Woods” plows some new ground, but what it does best is provide a richer, more textured look at their subject’s entire life, from childhood through his rise and fall on the PGA Tour.
Early on, we see Woods as the gifted high school nerd whose first girlfriend, Dina Gravell, doesn’t even realize that she’s dating a prodigy until she visits his home and sees all of Tiger’s trophies and framed stories about his golf exploits. Earl Woods, never reticent when discussing his son, showed the flabbergasted Gravell TV features on Tiger from his pre-school days.
This was the appealing young man sports fans first met in his mid-teens. “He didn’t try to be popular,” Gravell recalled. “He didn’t try to stick out. He was just a gentleman.”
It seems a bit of a reach for the authors to describe Earl, a deeply flawed man who died in 2006, as Tiger’s “North Star.” His mother, Tida, who demanded a killer instinct on the course and discipline off it, seems better suited to that role. Some of Earl’s vices – his affairs, his stingy nature, his sense of entitlement – were reflected in his son, only on a grander scale.
Woods’ high school clique of overachievers included Bryon Bell, who imagined one day serving as doctor to the world’s greatest golfer, though ultimately his most intricate operations involved arranging Tiger’s trysts during his world travels. Woods apparently had a habit of trashing his Masters rental home, then balking at paying for the clean-up. PGA Tour representatives felt the need to trail behind Woods, handing out C-notes to locker-room attendants and others he had stiffed.
If you weren’t on Team Tiger, you were an opponent to be scorned. There was no middle ground. That mindset has worked to legendary effect on the course, but not in day-to-day relationships.
As the authors wrote: “For being such an important figure in the lives of so many, Woods seemed to always fall short in his personal relationships. It was the curse of his genius. His mind was always consumed by his own quests. … The secret to Tiger’s dominance was that he was the most one-dimensional human being on the PGA Tour. The game was his life. He wasn’t prepared for life without the game.”
He faced that prospect, though successful back surgery fortunately seems to have granted him a reprieve. The authors believe him to be “a changed man.” If so, there probably will be space a decade from now for another fascinating biography chronicling this third act of Woods’ Tour career. Gwk