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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I wouldn't have considered L'Affairs Tiger as grist for the Life (Part 2) mill if I hadn't been reading Andre Agassi's compelling autobiography, OPEN, at the same time the scandal broke. Tiger Woods is not quite 34 years old, still in Part 1, arguably the greatest golfer in history and the richest and most successful athlete/commercial endorser. One wouldn't think Tiger needs one of our reinvention lessons quite yet. I think he does.

The overwhelming message of the Agassi book, the tennis star's hatred for his game and the life it had forced on him, made me wonder if Tiger might have come to some of the same feelings. Both men were child prodigies driven relentlessly by fathers who lived through them. At 21, already marked as the Mozart of the links, Tiger was complaining that he couldn't live a "normal" life. (Famously, Arnold Palmer told the kid that if he wanted to be normal, start by giving back all the money.)

This is no justification for infidelity (I hope we do a show on that in the next season) but it could be part of an explanation. How many men and women, feeling angry and trapped in their lives, find destructive ways to express themselves, to assert a false independence, to dare fate? And how many (think of the paper and voice mail trail Tiger left) ultimately want to be caught and saved from their lives?

There's certainly a lesson for parents in this. Whether you're pushing the kids to play a racquet or a violin, you have a responsibility to be sure they are loving the process rather than just processing your love. I've watched dozens of young athletes and musicians burn out. Some of them found bad behavior or injury as an escape from the expectations, the dreams they didn't share.

Almost twenty years ago, when I was writing a New York Times sports column, an old black golfer on a public course in Los Angeles told me to drop the story I was covering and track down this 15-year-old phenom who will soon overwhelm the game. The key to his success was the furious drive of his father, a former Army colonel. The defining moment had come when the boy was 5 or 6, and Dad, in civvies, took him to a military course. Two white admirals spotted the prodigy and said, ''That's some golfer you've got there, sergeant.''

By assuming Tiger's dad was an enlisted man because of his color, the black golfer told me, the admirals had reinforced Dad's determination to send his little tiger out to dominate the world.

Earl Woods, who died three years ago at 74, once said of his boy: "There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don't know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power."

The taste we've gotten recently may be sour, but I'm hoping that when this public chapter in his life settles down, Tiger will be ready to reinvent his inner life in his own preview of Part 2.





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