ESPN The Magazine dropped a big feature on Tiger Woods this morning, written by Wright Thompson. It focuses on the three-year period between the death of his father, Earl Woods, in 2006, and the revelation of his rampant infidelity in late 2009, a period of time in which Woods seems to have been extremely lost.
Thompson explains how Woods was known to brag about his sexual exploits and engage in one-upmanship, but was usually very awkward around women. That played out in his extramarital affairs and other venues, such as the time Woods, Derek Jeter, and Michael Jordan went to a club together:
The sexual bravado hid his awkwardness around women. One night he went to a club in New York with Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan. Jeter and Jordan circulated, talking with ease to one beautiful woman after another. (Both declined to comment about the episode.) At one point, Tiger walked up to them and asked the question that lives in the heart of every junior high boy and nearly every grown man too.
“What do you do to talk to girls?”
Jeter and Jordan looked at each other, then back at Tiger, sort of stunned.
Go tell ‘em you’re Tiger Woods, they said.
The piece extensively details how deeply Woods began cosplaying a Navy SEAL after his father’s death. Earl Woods had served with the Army Special Forces in Vietnam, and his son has always been enamored with that lifestyle, devouring books about the military and obsessively playing Call of Duty. After Earl’s death, Tiger used his celebrity power to spend as much time as he could with active duty Navy SEALs.
He would go jumping out of planes (Woods became certified to jump solo) and simulate close quarters combat (the SEALs delighted in shooting Woods up with Simunition, “high-powered paint rounds that leave big, painful bruises”). He even engaged in some next-level, deeply psychological shit:
He would stand in a room, hands by his side, wearing a helmet with a protective face shield. A hood would be lowered over the helmet and loud white noise would play. It sounded like an approaching train, the speakers turning on and off at random intervals, lasting 30 seconds, or maybe just five. Then the hood would fly up and there would be a scenario. Maybe two people were talking. Or maybe one was a hostile and the other a hostage. If the people posed no threat, the correct response was to check corners and not draw your weapon. Then the hood would go back down, and there’d be more music, and when it came up, the scenario had changed. Sometimes a guy threw punches, to the body and head, and Tiger would need to free himself and draw his weapon. At first, the instructors went easy, not hitting him as hard as they’d hit a SEAL. Tiger put a stop to that and soon they jumped him as aggressively as everyone else. When the drill finally ended, the room smelled like gunpowder.
According to some of the SEALs Thompson talked to, Woods was very respectful of their work, and engaged with them like a normal human being, something he did with few other people. He began training like SEALs—running four miles in combat boots and doing punishing ladders of pullups, situps, and pushups—and there is some suggestion that he legitimately wanted to quit golf and join up at the age of 31.
But others felt Woods was in it for show, participating in the fun training but not the difficult, backbreaking, hellish training that really makes someone a SEAL. He was also, apparently, a tightwad:
Then there’s the story of the lunch, which spread throughout the Naval Special Warfare community. Guys still tell it, almost a decade later. Tiger and a group of five or six went to a diner in La Posta. 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 s—-. Something’s wrong with you.”
If you have read biographies of Woods—Thompson cites Woods’s former swing coach Hank Haney’s The Big Miss and his former caddie Steve Williams’s Out of the Rough—a lot of the piece will feel familiar. But it does a good job combining original reporting, previously reported material, and psychological analyses of Woods by those around him, in an attempt to really understand what drives Woods, and the extreme impact his father’s death had on him.
Go read it over at ESPN.