If the past week has taught us anything, it's that image is everything.
Up until a week ago, many admired Tiger Woods not only for his undeniable talent, but also for for his clean-cut, family-man image... an image that often led parents to hold him up as a role model.
Now however, though his golf prowess is presumably as stellar as ever, few would encourage their children to emulate him. Yet he's the same person he was last week, or last month. He's the same person he was in 2008 when he won the U.S. Open with a severely damaged knee, in one of the greatest victories in the history of sports. ~ It's just the image that's changed. The public perception.
And what about golf itself? Golf has long had an image problem. Those of us who love the sport may choose to overlook it, but for most of the world's population, golf... and golf culture... has been perceived as elitist, conservative and boring; a bastion of sexism, racism and rigid rules, presided over by priggish white men in plaid pants and pastel cardigans. The game itself is seen slow and disjointed, bereft of action or excitement and the internet is full of comments, quips and jokes that reflect this perception.
"Watching golf is an excellent way to catch a good nap!"
"Golf is boring enough to play, never mind watch it on TV, but then, to make it extra boring, they actually show slow motion replays."
"I never hit my kids. I punish them by sitting them in front of TV with golf tournaments."
People even make videos about how boring golf is.
Over the past seven days however, the commentary about golf... and golfers... has not been stodgy or boring. On Larry King Live earlier this week, with the Tiger Woods incident as a backdrop, celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos opined that fans would probably not think less of Tiger because - and I'm paraphrasing here - most of his fans are guys who play golf and (dramatic rolling of eyes)... you know, golfers are the worst offenders when it comes to... that.
I thought the statement was preposterous upon hearing it, but to my surprise I heard several versions of it repeated by pundits and commentators as the coverage dragged on through the week.
Then... as if to confirm the theory... came "data" out of the UK that "suggested" men and women who enjoy golf are "more prone to infidelity" than fans of other sports. The report came from IllicitEncounters.com, an extra-marital dating site - yes folks, it seems "extra-marital" is an established dating site niche these days.
IllicitEncounters claims that over 55% of their members are golf fans. Site spokesperson Sara Hartley explains it this way: "Golf is a sport often played by high-fliers, and we have already seen that go-getting ABC1* individuals are those most likely to cheat. It's all about achievement; these people are relentless when it comes to getting what they want - the best car, the perfect home... But many don't stop at material possessions. When faced with an imperfect relationship, it is these individuals who will be most likely to pursue something extra." She also alludes to the length of time a round of golf takes as providing the perfect opportunity for the kind of slow play that takes place off the course.
In early October... which now seems like an eternity ago... I read a story that described the US PGA Tour's Fall Series as a five-event portion of the schedule that's designed to "keep professional golf in the spotlight". Well, the fall season has ended, but L'Affair Tiger Woods has succeeded in keeping that spotlight shining well beyond the Fall Series, and in metaphorical terms, it's added a disco ball...and maybe a color wheel. The light may not be shining in exactly the right direction and it may not be entirely flattering, but golf is definitely... illuminated.
Before this happened Tiger Woods was at times seen as cold and robotic... inaccessible and boring. Some are saying his new Bad Boy image may actually make him more marketable. He'll now have a certain vulnerability they surmise, seem more human and more like us... while remaining a superhero on the golf course.
And what about golf, the game we love? OK, It seemed to go from boring to sexy... to downright salacious during the past week, but where is it really going? And what will this incident do to it? During the past few days, I'd venture to guess, more people were exposed to golf... in an admittedly roundabout way... than ever before.
I didn't cover the scandal. That's just not my thing, but I did do a couple of reflective posts on the big picture as I was seeing it, and I received several emails from people who'd never before read this blog, and had virtually no prior knowledge or interest in golf. Each claimed to have found something surprising, interesting and fun here, and they all indicated (in different ways) that they'd become intrigued with the game. Some of them even said they wanted to pursue it, and that was pretty awesome. Other golf writers no doubt had similar experiences.
Soon the dust will settle and the masses will move on. A scandal can't keep going forever, but it wouldn't be surprising to see this scandal change at least subtly, the image of golf.