I Just Want Tiger Woods to Be Who He Is

Believe it or not, this was originally meant to be a comment.

I began writing it in response to a piece by Stephanie Wei who frequently delivers thought-provoking posts at her blog Wei Under Par.

Yesterday she wrote about the "Tiger Tantrum Debate" that recently came out of the Open Championship, and was was heighten by Wednesday's Rick Reily ESPN opinion piece in which the outspoken scribe suggested that Tiger should clean up his act.

A few days earlier Shane Bacon had expressed a similar view on his excellent Dogs That Chase Cars, and I'd received numerous emails on the subject. I noticed most came down clearly on the side of Mssrs. Reily and Bacon. I hesitated to weigh in because I knew my opinion wouldn't be popular, and although "political correctness" is definitely not something I'm known for, sometimes - I'll admit it - I just don't feel like being unpopular. I did that in Middle School.

But here's the thing; I found the whole "Tiger Tantrum Debate" disconcerting, because, quite frankly, I didn't find Tiger Woods' behavior objectionable at all.

For me it was ... like...normal, considering the circumstances. He was showing emotion... wearing it on his sleeve. The way he did it was visceral... and, yes, quite normal. Maybe I missed something? Why wasn't I offended?

To make matters worse, it was deja vu all over again because just a week earlier Cristie Kerr's behavior in the final round of the US Women's Open, had seemed to me to be totally natural and in proportion with the situation, yet had been criticized, at times vitriolically, in the same way. That too had left me wondering.

I suppose if I was counting on either of these sports stars to be a role model for my children I might be upset with their behavior too, but you see, I'm of the opinion that parents should be the role models for their children, and should be totally vested in that demanding, often less-than-gratifying job. The fact that so many parents insist that athletes or actors or singers be role models, indicates to me that they themselves don't particularly want to take on this difficult part of parenting, and would rather leave the heavy lifting to the Tigers and Cristies, or the Mileys and Justins. The next thing you know there'll be people chastising Amy Weinhouse and Snoop Dog for not living up to their role model responsibilities. Like they owe us better behavior.

The paradoxical thing is; I'd venture to guess that many of the very same individuals criticizing Tiger Woods and Cristie Kerr are also the ones who criticize some of the LPGA's Korean players because.... they don't show enough emotion. It's like... Fist Pump: yes, you better do that. Bag Kick: no you better not do that. High Five: yes, you better do that. Club Toss: no you better not do that. Happy Emotions: Show them or expect to be criticizes Disappointed Emotions: Don't show them or expect to be criticized. "Golfers, you must control your emotions...but don't control them too well, OK?"

Come on people. Do you really want to mold all golfers into one uniform mass of well-behaved, smiling, fist-pumping boringness? I don't. And I don't think it's a particularly good plan for professional golf going forward either. Any more than the the velvety, whispered announcing and oft-parodied golf clap. I'm not saying golf should become like professional wrestling - though some will undoubtedly accuse me of that - but if we want it to grow and thrive into the future, it needs to chill a bit, and I happen to think it's perfectly capable of doing so without sacrificing its unique historical qualities of honesty and integrity.

I love the tradition of golf as the ultimate gentleman's game and the fact that wherever it's played it, no matter the modesty of the course, or the inexperience of the players, it brings with it an old world aura of mannerly self-control and respect. It may not be always be visible and we may not practice it consistently, but it's indelibly linked to the game we play, and always will be.

I was at Winged Foot a couple of days ago and all of this was brought to mind. There were no tournaments taking place, just members and their guests enjoying the pristine surroundings, and the old world aura was completely palpable. It was quite and cloistered and heartbreakingly beautiful, and though I did spy a couple of young men wearing cargo shorts, in that exclusive environment, I could hardly imagine a club being thrown or a bag being kicked. That venerable club with it's Gothic clubhouse and lush lawns is a protected place where exclusivity preserves a certain code of behavior. But the outside those iron gates, where the rest of the world resides, our culture is constantly changing and it's only natural that golf, and professional golfers, are changing with it.

OK. now that I've gone this far, I'm going to take it a step further and quote one of the most maligned (and most popular) golfers in the world, Sergio Garcia. I should probably know better but apparently I don't.

Prior to the start of the US Open at Bethpage earlier this summer, the tempestuous Spanish golfer put it this way, “I’ve always said it, I am the way I am, but I think that’s what people love about me, because what you see is what you get, unfortunately, both in a good way and a bad way". He went on to suggest that, though one can mature, and learn from things they've done in the past, ultimately, they're going to be who they are.

I, for one, want the golfers I like to be who they are...not what "the public wants them to be". If I don't like a particular golfer's behavior, I'll just not be his or her fan. I have that choice. So do you. And to those who say Tiger owes it to his sponsors to behave with a certain decorum? Hello? First of all that's between Tiger and his sponsors, and secondly the sponsors can simply not renew his contract if they feel he's not representing the spirit of their brand.

I could go on and on about this because it touches upon a number of social issues I feel strongly about, like individuality and personal responsibility and freedom of expression, not to mention the whole debate on the evolution of the game of golf. But this is far too long as it is and I'm already starting to get that unpopular feeling. Ouch.