The Biggest Tiger Bombshells: Tiger Woods' Amazing Rise and All the Signs He Was Headed for a Fall
The two-part HBO documentary digs into the super-star athlete's all-too-human frailties and the media frenzy that erupted when Tiger Woods was revealed to be a serial cheater.
By NATALIE FINN 18 JAN, 2021 3:00 PMTAGS
Tiger Woods, Tiger documentary, HBO
Few larger-than-life figures in sports have proved as polarizing as Tiger Woods.
But that's only because no one person may have carried as much on his shoulders as the golfer from Cypress, Calif., who was 3 months old when his father first put a club in his hands and at 21 became the youngest-ever and first Black winner of the Masters in 1997. And few were seen through the rosy prism of competitive greatness as Woods was, only to have that view shattered practically overnight by an explosive scandal.
While he was hardly the first superstar athlete to experience a fall from grace—that much-used phrase as apt here as it can be—the revelation of Woods as a mere mortal who made mistakes disappointed those who put him on a pedestal, not just as an unstoppable force in the world of golf, but as a trailblazer who inspired people all over the world with his ability and accomplishments.
A History of Holiday Scandals
Earl Woods had made no secret of the fact that he expected his son to become the greatest golfer of all time, as well as forever change the game that had historically been considered a sport for upper-class white people.
Tiger Woods, 1991
Per-Anders Pettersson./Corbis via Getty Images
And Woods—whose father was of Black, Chinese and Asian descent while his mother has Thai, Chinese and Dutch origins ("Cablinasian" is how Tiger would describe himself on Oprah in 1997)—signed up for the challenge, saying in an early interview that he could end up being bigger than all-time Majors winner Jack Nicklaus because of the impact he could have in the Black community.
"I may be sort of like a Michael Jordan in basketball," he offered.
Jordan (who later became a friend) has had his controversies, but he at least got to share the court in his playing day with other basketball greats (if not with other GOATs) and big personalities. But when it came to golf, Woods was the sport's unequivocal rock star and its main draw for a decade, ratings rising and falling with his presence, the solitary nature of the game making him an enigmatic team of one.
And he couldn't have felt more solitary than when the reputation that he had built (and yet at the same time was applied to him by default, buoyed by other people's hopes and dreams) was destroyed, calling into question what would arise in its place.
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None of his missteps can take away from his greatness, what he accomplished and continues to achieve at still only 45 years old. But the glaring 11-year gap in his career during which he won no Major titles—a drought that had much to do with injuries but also unignorably coincided with his divorce after being revealed as a serial cheater—will always be there.
Tiger Woods, 2019 Masters
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Plenty has been written and said about what makes Woods tick, and HBO is digging in anew with the two-part Tiger, which follows his storybook rise, bizarre fall—and his resurgence that finally felt complete when he won the Masters in 2019, 22 years after earning his first title at Augusta.
Starting with security footage of Woods taking a sobriety test in a police station, set against the audio of his late father speaking at a 1996 banquet, a 20-year-old Woods shifting uncomfortably in his seat as Earl heaps expectations on him, the show is obviously set up to mine the contradictions between the man and the star, the hero athlete and the Icarus who could only stay aloft for so long before he came crashing down to earth.
Woods, who is due to release his own memoir this year, didn't participate, but a lot of people did, including his high school girlfriend, Dina Parr, who talks of being dumped most unceremoniously, and Rachel Uchitel, the mistress who became a scapegoat for the athlete's philandering ways and is now seeking to reclaim her story. Here are the biggest revelations from Tiger:
Tiger Woods, 1978
CBS via Getty Images
When Eldrick "Tiger" Woods was in kindergarten, his former teacher Maureen Decker recalls in the two-part HBO documentary, the child—who had a slight stammer when he was little and wouldn't talk much with a person until he felt comfortable with them—asked her if she would ask his dad, Earl Woods—who had his phenom son showing off his short game on The Mike Douglas Show when Tiger was 2—if it would be alright for him to play some other sports besides golf.
Decker said that none of the teachers were ever pleased to see Earl at the school, that he was "a pain in the ass," she laughed. "And I agreed with them. He was a definite S.O.B."
When she broached the idea of Tiger playing other sports with Earl, he said that the boy needed to concentrate on his golf game.
Tiger Woods, Earl Woods
Christina Salvador/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
The Master Plan
"We can't dictate to him what he can be and what he cannot be," Earl is seen saying in an old interview. "So as a consequence, what we do is, we participate with him in golf. And if it was bowling we would participate with him in bowling. Each and every one of us has his own life to live, and he has a choice to live his life the way he wants to live his life."
"Trust me, Earl was a well-versed bulls--tter," family friend Pete McDaniel says with a laugh at the notion of Tiger's dad's claim that he would have been just as happy if his son had pursued something other than golf.
"I think Earl had the master plan since Tiger started walking," Decker said.
Tiger Woods, Dina Parr, Dina Gravell
Dina Parr, Tiger's high school sweetheart, remembered being worried about all the pressure he would face as he got more and more famous.
In their relationship, "I think he saw the bridge to me being able to give him a normal life," she said. "He knew he could be himself and there was no judgment, no pressure to live up to all these expectations."
Parr recalled, "I was in love with him. I would tell him all the time, golf is great, it's your passion, but it's not everything. There's more to life."
Ultimately, she felt that Tiger's parents, Earl and Kultida Woods, definitely didn't see her in their plans for their son.
"I felt like their plans were creating this robot," Parr said. "There was all this preparation for golf, which is great, you're going to be a great golfer. But he had no life skills. He had not been prepared for life, and I was probably the only person around him that really kept him in check."
Tiger would insist he did love her and wanted to have a life with her, she said.
Family friend Joe Grohman recalled Tiger getting busted lying to his parents, telling them he was coming home from college for a visit but actually arriving a day earlier and staying with Dina. "Tida was 'goddamning' a lot...And Earl was incensed...They were ready to kick him out of the house, they were so mad. Tiger, you know, he was spooked."
And then Tiger wrote Dina a letter, after a three-year relationship, telling her that neither he nor his parents ever wanted to talk to or hear from her again, that he felt "used and manipulated" by her and her family.
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Tiger Woods, 1997 Masters
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
Just Do It
The immediate question was whether to "play the race card" when it came to Nike marketing Woods, whom the sports behemoth signed to a multimillion-dollar deal the minute the 19-year-old decided to leave Stanford and turn pro.
"Nike's not stupid, financially," recalled Nike advertising director James Riswold of the strategy to herald Woods as not only the next Michael Jordan, but as a paradigm-shifting athlete. "Using Tiger to reach a wider range of golfer and expand the golf universe is a no-brainer. They said, 'F--kin' yeah, let's do this.'"
Fast-forward to 2021 and the concept is no longer new, but at the time this 1996 commercial featuring Woods—"Hello, World. I've heard I'm not ready for you. Are you ready for me?"—that acknowledged racial inequality was considered extremely provocative.
Woods told reporters, "I think it's a message that's been long awaited, because it's very true. And being a person who is, I guess how you could say, non-white, I have experienced that. And the Nike campaign is just telling the truth."
Though the marketing worked like a charm, behind the scenes (and openly in the media) there was concern as to whether this was too much pressure to put on a 21-year-old. Tiger's win at the 1997 Masters, his first Major championship, seemed to prove that no one need worry too much.
Tiger Woods, 1997 Masters trophy
Sam Greenwood/PGA TOUR Archive
Peanut Gallery, Heavy on the Nut
Despite the 21-year-old's unbelievable poise, McDaniel remembered Woods not being able to sleep the night before the final round at Augusta in 1997.
"I know Tiger received some racially motivated threats, and during tournament itself, you would hear the n-word from some of the folks in the gallery," McDaniel shared. "And as strong as he is mentally, he wasn't able to block all of it out. So he got up, he saw a light under the door
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