In a nutshell, Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian is about how one of the world’s best-known golfers was groomed for greatness, stardom, and immortality.
This new unauthorised Tiger Woods biography also reveals the price of all that and tells us about the ‘human factor’ that was pawned as collateral damage by the parents of the ‘chosen one’. Using nearly 400 interviews — 250 among those of people who were connected with Woods in some capacity or the other in the course of his career — Benedict and Keteyian recount the mythical rise and the equally legendary fall of one of the greatest and perhaps the most widely written about athletes of all time. The biography is an unapologetic account of Woods’ life and times and although criticised for some seemingly glaring factual inaccuracies, it nonetheless gives an all-encompassing insight into the prodigiously talented and exceptional sportsman, who — more often than not — was nothing less than a monster when left to his own devices.
Sports biographies — especially unauthorised ones — walk a tightrope. The genre by definition can be daunting as most of what needs to be written about happens in plain sight, but the sheer brilliance that makes all this possible happens backstage and this aspect is shrouded in mystery. Unearthing this even for sports journalists can be a difficult task and in this aspect both Benedict and Keteyian, as Chuck Culpepper of The Washington Post believes, deserve an approving review as well as a consoling hug. Both have inched through years and years of Woods’ news conference transcripts and go back to things such as the Mexican divorce documents of the golfer’s father, Earl Woods, and the reams of documents including books on Woods by his father, his swing coach (Hank Haney), his former caddy (Steve Williams) and even the one by Woods himself, to come up with a compelling narrative that sheds light on a man who was devoted to being as dull as a doorknob when interacting with media.
Even if you aren’t a golf fan, Tiger Woods never falls short on providing an interesting perspective on the golfer who forever transformed the game. Woods’ story is as inspiring as it gets — he was a toddler when he saw his father, an ex-Army man, practice in his garage and later started playing golf as soon as he could walk — but it is also peppered with some scary details. Both his parents were convinced that Tiger would go on to change not just golf but also the way the world perceived athletes and literally left no stone unturned to fulfill the prophecy. His father (in)famously used psychological training, which today would border on abuse, where Woods Sr. would hurl profanities at the young boy as he would hit balls, or during swinging. As a result, Tiger Woods would be undeterred by what was happening around him and manage to focus on just his game no matter what the situation or surroundings. The manner in which Woods stamped his authority on the golf course soon made him believe that he was above the rules and a large part of this was also because of the lessons his parents imparted, where he was made to feel special. Woods’ vocabulary did not have basic human civilities such as a simple hello or thank you and even getting a nod was a big thing.
There is little doubt that as a sportsman, Woods perhaps continues to be unparalleled. In terms of golfing greatness, when it comes to focusing or the ability to execute difficult shots, Woods would enjoy higher stature than both Ben Hogan and the legendary Jack Nicklaus. The book narrates the inspiring and motivating tale of the personal challenges that Woods undertook; reading about his tenacity, his decision to change his winning swing when he was driving the ball 320 yards off the tee — not once but almost three times in a span of a decade-and-a-half — leaves you awestruck. These parts as well as the manner in which it displays the disintegration of Woods when his infidelity and his sex addiction take over make up for the handful of inaccuracies that critics have pointed out in the book. One of the most glaring ones is where the authors mention the presence of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at a dinner following Woods’ historic initial victory at the Masters in 1997 — even though neither was actually present.
Despite Woods’ reluctance to speak with the authors, his team criticising the narrative’s attempt to project the golfer’s thoughts, which are culled out from interviews, etc. the book is engaging and compelling. In fact, Woods’s ‘inner thoughts’ nearly make up for the lack of the first-person account and enhances the book’s thriller-like drive. The reason why the book works so wonderfully might have something to do with the luxury of distance it enjoyed from the time the events described in it unfolded. Despite some truly horrible behaviour on Tiger’s part — his extra-marital escapades with numerous women, his decision to skip a dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton to honour the late baseball great Jackie Robinson or trashing a local schoolteacher’s home in Augusta — you still can’t help but acknowledge the unadulterated genius that he displayed on the course. For readers of sports biographies, Tiger Woods might not transcend Andre Agassi’s Open, often considered to be one of best in the genre, but it is probably the book to make sense of the phenomenon as well as the human called Tiger Woods.
Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 14:08:53 IST