HAVEN, Wis. – Tiger Woods' PGA Championship press conference wasn’t over for five minutes before every alert on my cell phone and computer started going off: Twitter, Facebook, text messages, I think the only thing that didn’t ring was my LinkedIn account. The Internet was ablaze, discussing my question to Tiger in the presser, “Have you lost a step?”
But when I clicked on the links, I felt badly for him.
Everyone was passing around video of his little quip -– a snarky sound byte where he said, “I can still walk the same pace on the golf course.” But the video stopped there –- it didn’t include the thorough, thoughtful answer he gave to the question after he made his joke. As you might guess, in the commentary that accompanied the video and the comments left by readers below, people were emotionally (and somewhat venomously), reacting to the abbreviated clip, lambasting Tiger for what they perceived as rudeness...and that’s not fair to Woods.
Let’s reset: Barstool Sports caught the interview and tweeted a 16-second video portion of my question and Woods' quick jest. They felt the joke was lame, and, yeah, it was. And had Woods left his answer at that, I think the majority of fans watching would have agreed that it was out of bounds and puerile.
Interestingly, had that been the case, my guess is that most journalists might say something like, “Next time, Jay, word your question more specifically so he can’t wriggle away like that.” And as a lawyer as well as a journalist, this entire incident is a good lesson to me to sharpen my questions even more carefully so as to not offer a guy a chance for a quick getaway.
But then Golf Digest picked up the Barstool video and Facebooked/tweeted it in exactly the same brevity, adding the headline “Awkwaaarrrd.....”
As you all know, I’ve never been shy about taking Woods to task about anything – the scandals, the non-answers to questions, the Orwellian doublespeak.
This is not one of those times.
Once Woods got done zinging me, he actually gave me a thoughtful and thorough answer. Here was his full reply:
“Seriously, I can't hit the ball as far as I used to, relatively speaking," he said. "I'm longer now in yardage than I was earlier in my career, but as compared to other players, no, I'm not.
”But my understanding of how to play the game has gotten much better. How to play all different types of venues, all different types of grasses. I played all around the world. There's a lot of people that have stuck to the United States and just played here, instead of playing at a global level. I think playing globally helped me in my career, and that's one of the reasons I had as much success, not just in the United States, but around the world, because I got a chance to experience a lot of things early on.
”And I rely on that knowledge a lot when I'm playing, especially as I'm getting older now, to get me around the golf courses and to get me around different types of venues, and to understand how to play them.”
This is the story everyone who only saw the short clip is missing: Woods essentially answered my question “Yes.”
It was a “Yes, but” if you want to get technical. He basically said yes he’s lost a step in distance, but he makes up for it in preparation and analysis -- an answer that, truth be told, is accurate. Woods may still be the hardest working player out there on Tour, and he most certainly may be the smartest at reading a golf course. Like a wily veteran baseball pitcher, Woods has lost some speed of his fastball -– he’s not able to hurl it 100 mph and strike out 17 batters. So what does a guy do in that situation? Paint the corners and mix in the off-speed stuff.
“Throw some ground balls...more democratic,” as Kevin Costner’s character Crash Davis told Nuke LaLuche in "Bull Durham".
Woods followed that long quote with another observation about his recent troubles that not only added to what he said earlier, but made just as much sense.
“It was like the perfect storm of a surgery, rehabbing, and then trying to learn a whole new pattern," he said. "It couldn’t have been more complicated.”
While Woods has become known for dodging tough questions, proffering head scratching answers in Tiger-speak, and seeming tone deaf to criticism, this was not one of those times. Everything he said in his answers was accurate and right on point. I was satisfied with the answer, and I feel bad for Woods (and for the readers) that, up until this morning, they didn’t get a chance to hear the entire exchange as it indicates that Woods is not quite as deaf, dumb and blind as he sometimes leads us to believe.
As an aside, the only misstep Woods made in the interview was when he referred to the weather being as hot at a PGA Championship one year, Jack Nicklaus had to hoist the Wanamaker with towels wrapped around the handles: It wasn’t at Firestone as Tiger thought, but at Dallas Athletic Club in 1963.
As a further aside: No, it was not a dumb question. It was a laconic, direct question, and the one on everyone’s lips. Woods hasn’t dominated in at least two years, and he hasn’t been competitive in a major in longer still. The answer is obvious to everyone, including Woods, and was supported by his honest answer. Don’t miss the point: Woods knows everyone has caught up to him, and he’s doing what he can about it.
If it was a dumb question, half the journos in the house would have told me so. The count on that score is a big fat zero.
While we’re at it, I don’t dislike Woods. I dislike some of the things he’s done in the past. And for those speculating, “Wow, he must really hate you for what you write about him,” he doesn’t.
Watch, now someone reading this will accuse me of being a shill for Tiger and being in his pocket! What a howler that will be.
Where’s the wisdom in the situation?
1. When we sit in front of computers all day we lose the human touch and forget to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. We’ve become too conditioned to react viscerally when interacting on-line, and, more often, need to think before we hit Send. The best rule is to never say anything to someone online that you wouldn’t say to them over the dinner table in public.
2. When you only get half of the story, you can easily be misled. And this is not a criticism of Barstool Sports – a popular, well-respected website, and one that serves an important cultural purpose by empowering the fans and giving them a voice. No longer is there a disconnect between fans and the establishment. Now when a crass, corporate vulture starts preying on mass consumer culture, the masses can rise up with pitchforks and torches and revolt. Look at how they brought the music industry to its knees for a while.
3. Most importantly, don’t miss the point: Woods admitted he’s lost a step, but he’s trying to get it back in other ways. Moreover, while Woods often appears oblivious to how far and fast he’s fallen, he’s not. He knows, and he’s working hard to get back to the highest level of competition that he can. Sometimes, in the heat of a crowded flash area or media center, he may try to dodge a tough question, trying perhaps to convince himself that things aren’t as bad a the scorecard or leaderboard indicate. But at the end of the day, Tiger’s not as dumb as a few of the things he’s said...and he certainly isn’t as dumb as that 16-second video portrayed.