We have sport to thank for many blessings, too many to go into here. But near the top of any list must be the realisation that, without it, we might be subjected to a near-24-hour diet of reality TV.
For a few precious hours — on a good day — we know nobody’s private business and we can’t vote anyone out or in; they can only do that themselves with the breath of their talent, the strength of their will or, in the case of Ulster footballers, their ability to tease out the national question diplomatically when probed by their markers.
Of course, reality has bitten sport too. We have always sneaked a peak at our heroes’ dirty linen, but nowadays we can’t wait until they’ve stripped it off the bed. Our interest in finding out what makes sports people tick has made us trip over ourselves to discover what makes some of them thick. Or mean, or cruel, or randy.
This week Tiger Woods’ old swing coach, Hank Haney, became the latest to give evidence before the morality tribunal. To sell his book — The Big Miss — which launched Tuesday, Hank reminds us how Tiger routinely ignores burdensome kids hunting autographs, calling them ‘time-robbers’. Tiger, we hear, doesn’t think to share the popsicles in his fridge, if you sit down with him after the dinner. Tiger, we learn, can be so taciturn that Steve Williams once vowed not to speak first on a practice round only to give in after 20 minutes when he hadn’t heard a peep from his boss.
Tiger, by Haney’s account, is a poor tipper, despite his pal Mark O’Meara telling him time and again it would be money better spent than on any PR campaign. He is also an inconsiderate friend, a non-returner of emails, a video game nerd and a military obsessive. Yes, Tiger is, for all intents and purposes, Gareth Keenan from The Office.
Two men not loaded down by self-awareness. Just as Gareth’s obsession with upgrading his standing from assistant to the regional manager of Wernham Hogg was only matched by his enthusiasm for the Territorial Army and the ability it gave him to kill a man with one blow, Tiger’s single-minded pursuit of golfing greatness was, according to Haney, interrupted by an infatuation with gruelling Navy Seal manoeuvres, from which he was known to return battered by rubber bullet fire. He once told Haney, having suitably restrained him: “From here, I could kill you in about two seconds.”
Ignoring that warning, Haney does pick at one surprising human frailty in Tiger’s makeup, one we can legitimately take an interest in with the Masters looming. In the aftermath of the scandals that so derailed his career, it appears Tiger — contrary to every impression we have of him — does, in the end, care what we think.
Perhaps the most revealing scene in The Big Miss comes when Haney peers over Woods’ shoulder from the back seat of a ride to Augusta before the 2010 Masters. In the passenger seat, Tiger glumly pours over gossip websites on his phone, absorbing the latest revelations. Then he scrolls to take in readers’ comments. His toughest read of the day.
It may be the same chink in the stoic wall of self-belief that causes Tiger, in Haney’s mind, to doubt himself with a driver in his hand on the tee, the prospect of the big miss always hanging like a cloud on his horizons.
But Haney, in one line, also nails why Woods was, maybe is, the sport’s greatest at handling pressure. For Tiger was never trying to become the best golfer in the world, just the best golfer he could be. But, in his case, “the latter was a much higher goal”.
It explains perfectly why Woods could shut out the tyranny of the leaderboard, but also why he remained so resolutely self-involved. To Tiger it was, literally, all about Tiger. Perhaps that’s what went wrong the past 30 months, Tiger just let too much else in.
“Winning gave him permission to remain a flawed and in some ways immature person,” says Haney.
There has still been no real indication that Tiger places anyone other than Tiger first. But maybe last Sunday’s win at Bay Hill will return him to second, third and every place in his priorities too.
That may well be what it takes to get the major tally ticking over again. If it is, the spectacle should be reality enough for us. Mr Nice Guy can wait. Remember Gareth, eventually, sat in David Brent’s seat.
Look out Jack Nicklaus.