The sweetest hangover: Tiger Woods apologizes

The most disappointing part of Tiger Woods' apology was when he insisted Ellin never whacked him with his golf club, as we all assumed -- thereby depriving posterity of an all-time comedic tableau. We skeptics may be forgiven our disbelief, however, particularly since under the circumstances -- an irate wife confronting her husband with evidence of unceasing adultery -- the only question his strange, self-righteous proclamation that "there has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage ever" seems designed to answer is, "When did your wife stop beating you?"

Not many of our sportswriters are capable of much nuance beyond patriotic applause or censure, so they were more or less whining about how sad it is that spoiled, wealthy athletes behave so badly -- "sad" in its sense of "condescending to a celebrity." Of course the only person with reason to be unhappy has been Woods himself, a notorious skinflint, who has paid for his libertinage with a massive chunk of his 9-figure income. (To get an idea just how much, endorsements accounted for almost 90% of the $112,000,000 he made in 2007.)
All sorts of moral arbiters compounded his shame, more on their own heads than his. Fox News correspondent Britt Hume couldn't pass up an opportunity to besmirch another man's faith, telegenically fashioning his reproach as an endorsement, as though religions were differing brands of household cleaning products. Five-time Open Championship Tom Watson, self-appointed conscience of golf, recommended Woods apologize and then for good measure got in a couple more kicks, suggesting he stop cursing and slamming clubs, for the good of the sport.
By contrast Jack Nicklaus -- over the years no stranger to the attention of an army of starstruck wantons, certainly, and yet unlike Watson still married to the same woman he married after his junior year at Ohio State -- has remained silent, though he may be seen looking uncharacteristically humble on the cover of this month's Golf Digest, posed with eyes cast somberly downward, as though deferring to the plight of his only real equal in golf achievement.
Strangely, the account of Woods's misdeeds reads like one more repercussion of the financial meltdown. After the Madoff scandal, the favorite quote from everyone's favorite financial sage, mediocre golfer (and stalwart Woods supporter) Warren Buffet, was "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked." Except in this case Tiger Woods managed to turn around the simile, undressing for his daily skinny-dip without bothering to notice the beach had been closed. Banging Waffle House waitresses is just so 90s.
It doesn't seem to make much sense to diagnose the libido of a world-beater, much less to call him a sex addict -- a phrase from which even the tabloid clinicians retreated, almost out of respect for a fallen hero. More accurate to describe him as a privacy junkie -- if he's never had much love for the snobbish golf world which worked to shut him out as a child, the public eye has forced him to find shelter in the very same sort of armed-guard seclusion that protects the wealthiest and most powerful of American country clubs -- and a gambler, chancing his prosperity, as though on a sure thing, that his bedmates' giddy shame would outweigh their eagerness to publicly link their names with his. Which is how it might have played out, except once the news broke and his appetite took on epidemic proportions, a score of his now-sanctified partners couldn't wait to cash in. In fairness there were probably even more, but apparently only the bloated, pasty, or surgically-enhanced ones chose to stand up and be counted.
As one unseemly revelation after another spilled forth, the companies Woods represented were suddenly embarrassed by a reality belying an appearance -- that their golden child was in fact an opportunistic, voracious serial adulterer who seemingly allowed himself prey to every bimbo who crossed his path, and only escaped detection through luck and the unwitting foolishness of those who most trusted him -- and threatened to cast his sponsors in a most unwelcome light, notably a management consulting firm which specializes in maximizing shareholder value, no matter the consequences.
Before his apology, the smart money was on a choreographed reconciliation, the waggish view being that while the likelihood of Woods keeping temperate is almost as remote as his wife trusting him to quit tomcatting, she might like him around as at least an nominal father, plus he couldn't really afford a divorce -- in cash or PR, and so for the greatest moneymaking individual in sports history, some sort of arrangement would be the shortest distance between two points.
Nevertheless Woods may be sincere. Based on his address, he is determined to vindicate his cupidity on his own terms. The American will to ascend tends to be about braiding "spiritual" motives into your prosperity -- and whatever Woods has derived from the Buddhist beliefs he took from his mother, success is included.
The comparatively mild sense of outrage from the pillars of the golf establishment isn't so much for his transgression -- philandery was not one of the sins which posed a barrier to membership in these exclusive, all- or largely-male clubs -- as the getting found out, and to a lesser degree his tacky choices. (Though for any real Don Juan, it's about quantity, not quality.) As for his colleagues on the PGA tour, only the most foolish wish him the worst, since his presence guarantees the viability of professional golf.
Golf has been more a game of social than religious snobbery, but with Christian fundamentalism under siege, Woods presents a challenge to the golf establishment on the beliefs front. Little doubt remains that Woods is the greatest golfer the game has ever seen -- uniquely equipped to handle the forces competing within him, destructive and creative alike, he well understands his historical role as a nonwhite (as opposed to African-American) pioneer. Now, he as he struggles to complete his story with an uncomfortable redemptive coda, he made a surprising reference to Buddhism ("I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years") which showed him at his most vulnerable. In competitive golf, where winning seems to be about strength of motivation, the appearance of another creed which might prove more efficacious than the old is a distinct threat, which maybe helps explains why Britt Hume is nervous.
In the opera, the seducer goes to hell. But in screen comedy, the nice thing about the wife-attacking-the-philandering-husband-with-a-nine-iron scenario at the beginning of the second reel is how easily the conventions of comedy lead to a chastened but happily reconciled, obedient husband in the end. We may have lost the negative, but Woods' fans have reason to believe the ending will be familiar.