Will Tiger Woods return to action at the US Open next month? He hasn’t played competitive golf since last autumn but there have been teasing suggestions that he might return soon and that it might be at Oakmont that he makes his latest comeback from the latest injury to plague the latter part of his illustrious career. The US Open provided the final one of the 14 major championships he’s collected, in 2008 at Torrey Pines, a victory which tradition demands we describe him having achieved while playing on one leg.
The US Open of ten years ago was a very different story for Woods; of personal heartache rather than sporting heroism. He teed it up at Winged Foot in 2006 just over a month after the death of his father, Earl. Emotionally distressed, he missed the cut after a pair of 76s. In a recent extended essay in ESPN Magazine by Wright Thompson, entitled The Secret History of Tiger Woods, the author reveals some previously unknown or merely hinted-at elements in the life of the flawed genius. (No, the secrets are nothing to do with cocktail waitresses or the like; those secrets are old news now.)
Thompson writes that “25 days after he buried his father and 15 before the 2006 US Open, Tiger went back to visit the Navy Seals…” The feature has great detail about the role the military has had in Tiger’s life (Earl served two tours of duty in Vietnam) even while he was playing golf to an epic level. A previous swing coach, Hank Haney, felt the stress Woods put his body through by undergoing military training programmes was likely the primary source of his recurring injuries.
Which may well be true. For sure, the harsh training regimes of special-mission troops became an obsession for him. The piece quotes one friend, albeit anonymously, saying: “If he had broken [Jack] Nicklaus’s record [of 18 majors], Tiger would have hung up his clubs and enlisted. No doubt.”
Also revealed is the following anecdote about a lunch – “Guys still tell it, almost a decade later”, writes Thompson – involving Tiger and a group of five or six Seals.
“The waitress brought the check and the table went silent, according to two people there that day. Nobody said anything and neither did Tiger, and the other guys sort of looked at one another. Finally one of the Seals said, ‘Separate checks, please.’ The waitress walked away. ‘We are all baffled,’ says one Seal, a veteran of numerous combat deployments. ‘We are sitting there with Tiger f-ing Woods, who probably makes more than all of us combined in a day. He’s shooting our ammo, taking our time. He’s a weird f-ing guy. That’s weird shit’.”
Indeed, but I suspect that somehow none of us would be too surprised to read that. Tiger’s life has been weird from day one and the degree of self-absorption and selfishness required to achieve what he did on the golf course are not conducive to a healthy attitude to the lives of others. Be that as it may, though, there was one sentence in Thompson’s tale that did shock me.
“He buried his father in an unmarked grave.”
That shock you, too?
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen