The real story behind Tiger Woods’s downfall


Tiger Woods says his arrest stemmed from a reaction to prescription medicine. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty)

Ten or so years ago, when everyone was holding their breath, waiting to see if Tiger Woods would beat Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 majors wins, Woods himself had a very different goal top of mind. He wanted to be a SEAL. In 2006 and ’07, Woods was deep in training for the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course, running 8 ½-minute miles in combat boots and going through insane simulation drills (e.g. standing in a room with a hood on his head and music blaring in his ears and then having to determine in a heartbeat if he had to fight or rescue the other people in the room).

“[Nicklaus’s] record,” writes ESPN’s Wright Thompson, “became something to break so he could chase something that truly mattered.”

Thompson’s 10,000-word story, “The Secret History of Tiger Woods,” delves into the years immediately following the death of Woods’s father, Earl, in May 2006, and argues that this loss was the beginning of Woods’s demise. His SEAL obsession came to life in the wake of Earl’s death—just 25 days after burying his father, Woods was in a SEAL training facility, shooting guns and clearing rooms in a “kill house”; he told one of the instructors he was there because of his dad, who had been a Green Beret in Vietnam.

Thompson also links Woods’s philandering—which many believe was his undoing—to Earl’s death. “In the months after the funeral, the extramarital affairs either began or intensified,” Thompson writes. Tiger was lost after losing his father, is the idea. He seemingly looked for him—or perhaps to prove something to him—in the toughest possible physical and mental regimen he could find. And he sought solace from his sadness by doing the very thing he hated his father for doing—being unfaithful to his wife.

If Thompson’s story is at times overly maudlin (reaching for hyperbole to convey Woods’s grief—”There are 11 ways for [Buddhist] believers to feel pain: lust, hatred, illusion, sickness, decay, death, worry, lamentation, physical and mental anguish, melancholy and grief. Since losing his father, Woods has burned with every single one of these”; and idealizing Woods’s parenting—”The best of Earl lives in the actions of his son; in fatherhood, Tiger has equaled and even surpassed his own dad. He is utterly devoted to his children. Every single person interviewed for this story says so”) it also makes the poignant observation that Tiger’s dominance as a golfer has sadly been lost in the story of his downfall, by sports fans but also by Woods himself. “When he can finally go back and make a full accounting of his life, he’ll realize that winning the 2008 U.S. Open a year before the scandal, with a broken leg and torn ACL, was the closest he ever got to BUD/S.”

Read it. There’s a fun anecdote about a night out Woods had with Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, there are some vivid descriptions of Woods’s wealth and the lengths to which he goes to protect his privacy and there are plenty of candid quotes from Jordan, a close friend of Woods. Once, while speaking with Thompson for the story, MJ tried calling Woods. After three failed attempts to get through, Jordan smiled and said: “Playing video games.”

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