“There’s no question Tiger is getting some pretty tough treatment, certainly far more skeptical than anything he’s ever encountered…”You see it in the neck injury coverage especially, and I think that’s in large part Tiger’s fault for not being able to simply say, “I slept on my neck wrong, everyone knows how that goes.’ Instead he mentions a bulging disk possibility and other nonsense after just days before saying he was 100 percent.”–Geoff Shackelford, a golf journalist who blogs at GeoffShackelford.com.
by Greg Connors
Buffalo — The relationship between Tiger Woods and the golf media in recent years resembled what seemed to be an amicable marriage of convenience.
TV and print coverage helped Woods to build his brand, while access to Tiger boosted ratings or circulation figures for the media.
But, as with Tiger’s personal life, there were problems lurking behind the facade. Woods and his agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG, had a history of not letting the media get too close to the golf superstar.
Team Tiger wanted to control the narrative. Woods himself could be very unfriendly to media people who fell out of his good graces.
“He’s never really given up a whole lot in the media center,” said Brandel Chamblee, an analyst for the Golf Channel and a former PGA Tour player.
“People would ask him questions and if he didn’t like their answers he would rebuff them. There are stories of him leaving press conferences and gloating to his friends: “Did you see me give it to that reporter?’ ”
That atmosphere made for some dull news conferences, especially when some of the questions were of the softball variety, teed up belt-high.
At the 2009 Masters, Woods was coming back from a knee injury. A reporter asked him, “Is it possible that because you’ve missed the last two, you approach this major championship with more zest, or is it the same? You always seem to approach major championships with zest.”
Then, Thanksgiving 2009 happened. That’s the night Woods received medical treatment for a car mishap outside his Florida home. Word soon got out that he had been unfaithful to his wife, many times with many women. A tabloid sex scandal rocked Tiger’s world and kept him out of the public eye for several months.
When he returned to face the media, at the start of Masters week in early April, things changed. The reporters at Augusta dug right in, asking Woods about why he kept so silent for weeks after the scandal came to light; about his connection to Anthony Galea, a doctor arrested for possession of performance-enhancing drugs; and about his relationship with his wife, Elin.
And last weekend, when Woods withdrew from Sunday’s fourth round of The Players Championship, saying he had a neck injury, some critics sharpened their knives.
Chamblee asked if Woods’ devotion to weightlifting made him more injury-prone. Mike Celizic of NBCSports.com blasted Tiger for quitting and wrote, “His life is a toxic waste dump.”
It seems it’s payback time for the golf media. Woods’ karma account was way overdrawn. “Every single journalist has a story about how they were rebuffed by Tiger,” Chamblee said. “[Mark] Steinberg gave enough people the Heisman [Trophy stiff-arm]. For the most part, [journalists] don’t really bring up the infidelity. What they bring up was the way he treated people.
“There’s a backlash from the media. It’s a kind of revenge for the way that they were treated by Tiger and his camp for so long.”
Mike Walker, a senior editor at Golf Magazine, says reporters these days “are more vocal about their irritation with Woods over how he ducks questions, never discloses injuries and is reluctant to say where and when he’s playing. There’s also a sense that you can’t believe what he says anymore.”
Woods does seem to have a credibility issue, especially about injuries.
For one thing, He’s so secretive with information about injuries that he makes a hockey coach look like a town crier by comparison.
“There’s no question Tiger is getting some pretty tough treatment, certainly far more skeptical than anything he’s ever encountered,” said Geoff Shackelford, a golf journalist who blogs at GeoffShackelford.com.
“You see it in the neck injury coverage especially, and I think that’s in large part Tiger’s fault for not being able to simply say, “I slept on my neck wrong, everyone knows how that goes.’ Instead he mentions a bulging disk possibility and other nonsense after just days before saying he was 100 percent.”
“He’s fudging the truth on the simplest of things and that gives the media the impression that he doesn’t have much respect for them.”
Jay Busbee, editor of the Devil Ball golf blog on Yahoo! Sports, wonders if some of the criticism is overzealous. “There is indeed a sense that Tiger is something of a wounded elephant at this point,” Busbee said. “Now, everyone’s feeling a little bit freer to get their shots in. Some of it is unfair, some of it is vindictive, but a lot of it is just giving Tiger the same honest, non-hero-worship treatment that every other golfer on tour gets.”
Busbee says Woods’ Feb. 19 public appearance, in which he read a statement but took no questions, was a turning point for some of the press.
“The golf writers finally grew a bit of a spine,” Busbee said. “There are … still the guys who will ask, “Tiger, how’s your knee?’ with stars in their eyes, but there are a lot more writers who’ve realized that they’ve given Woods a free pass, and they’re not going to let that happen again.”
Greg Connors is a sports reporter for the Buffalo (N.Y.) News. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]