TIGER WOODS HBO DOC REVIEW
First and foremost, I can’t in good faith write this without acknowledging I am a massive Tiger Woods fan; he is my favourite athlete of all time and the reason I got into playing and later covering golf. So I come from a biased perspective when it comes to Tiger, and although I will try my best to be impartial, I’m sure that at times my bias will shine through.
Right off the top, I didn’t want to like this documentary and even held off on watching it after hearing initial reports that it was just a “hit-piece.” After hearing enough times to give it a shot, I finally did, and am thankful I didn’t let my initial stubbornness stop me from watching. You’ll get my opinions in more detail below, but I thought overall it was a very fair piece and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. Sure, there were some parts I disagreed with or didn’t like, but in the end, it made Tiger both seem more human and actually evoked a lot of empathy for him, while also putting just how great he is/was into perspective.
If you haven’t read the book that HBO based this off, I would highly recommend doing so; it’s 10x more detailed and contains much more behind-the-scenes stories from the life of Tiger and those around him. It’s obviously hard to get a massive book into just over 3 hours of film, but I think the doc did a good job overall and is definitely worth watching, especially if you aren’t familiar with every sordid detail of Tiger’s life.
The Depth of Tiger’s spiral after Earl’s death
- More shocking than the scandals, was the dedication Tiger gave to military training and drills he put himself through in an effort to get in touch with his military past and shed some of the pain of losing his father. The fact that he didn’t get even more injuries is surprising, but just how into it he got is crazy, even going so far as telling caddie Steve Williams that he, “Wants to stop playing golf and join the NAVY Seals” – which he thankfully did not go through with
2008 US Open
- Tiger winning on one leg, with no ACL’s and two fractures was already incredible, but the sound of his knee cracking when he hit a shot off the cart path during his win will forever be etched into my mind. How he kept playing after that baffles me to this day.
- Another moment that stood out was when Tiger’s caddie Steve Williams mentioned he should maybe withdraw and think about his career, to which Tiger responded, “Fuck you, I’m winning this tournament.” And he did.
Timing of Elin’s call with Rachel Uchitel
- The details of Tiger being caught by Elin the night of the crash were well documented already, but the timing of it all was surprising. Just two days earlier Elin had spoke with Uchitel at Tiger’s behest to squash any rumours of an affair between the two. Less than 48 hours later, on Thanksgiving night after Tiger took sleeping pills to pass out, Elin would message Uchitel on Tiger’s cell phone and it all came crashing down. I didn’t realize it was only two days earlier that Tiger and Rachel Uchitel had thought their phone call with Elin would keep things quiet
The Mug Shot
- Seeing your childhood hero at the lowest moment of his life is really tough. I can’t help but get a pit in my stomach every time I see this:
- A sneaky amazing moment from Tiger’s win that doesn’t get enough play was when Tiger’s tee shot on 16 was rolling towards the cup, crowd going nuts, and the group on the tee box beside (the 17th tee), all stop what they’re doing to look over and see what all the noise was about and watch Tiger’s shot. They showed a brief clip of it in the doc and it’s such a cool moment.
PARTS I DIDN’T LIKE
- My main complaint about the whole doc was how long they lingered on both Tiger’s arrest tape and the video from him in a holding cell. I get that it’s relevant to the story, but spending that long showing Tiger at rock bottom didn’t sit well with me and seemed a little unfair to Tiger and his family.
No Mention of Playoff
- Unless I missed it, they made a big deal (rightfully so) about Tiger’s struggles to even get through 72 holes and into the playoff with Rocco Mediate, but didn’t mention or make enough of a big deal of the fact that the playoff was a full 18-holes the next day and the extra strain that would put on Tiger’s injuries.
Not enough Tour Championship
- Tiger winning the 2018 Tour Championship at East Lake with the mass of fans behind him coming up the 18th was an iconic moment in his comeback. I would have liked to have seen more of that in the lead up to his 2019 Masters win
Billy Payne’s Comments at Augusta
- What the hell were with the comments he made in his press conference condemning Tiger’s actions? Who does he think he is and where does he think he works? Extremely self-serving, tone-deaf, hypocritical and unnecessary. If they want to criticize something Tiger does on the golf course, go ahead, but what happens in his personal life is not up for public shaming from a golf tournament and I can’t believe Augusta and Chairman Billy Payne did so in that strongly of a manner, especially given their history of racism and sexism.
- Sergio’s final round outfit at the ’06 British Open was atrocious:
- This guy from The National Enquirier is a scumbag. That’s all I have to say about that.
- Rocco Mediate’s clip about talking to the devil asking for a favor and the devil responding that he already works for Tiger – LOL – So cheesy and SO Rocco
- Toronto freeway – The fact that someone I may know could have seen Tiger Woods stopped at the side of a highway in Toronto standing beside his car working on his swing during a Canadian Open is fascinating (Must have been in 2000 when the Open was at Glen Abbey and he hit this shot, arguably the best of his career)
- 70 wins at age 33 is hard to fathom
- HBO kind of did Bill Burr dirty with that 5-second clip of him roasting Elin during one of his specials. Without context it made him look like an a-hole.
Not only was he the cutest little kid you’ll ever see, but it’s clear Tiger loved golf from an extremely early age. It may be the only thing his family ever allowed him to love, but at the core of it, the passion was real.
He also had an unbelievable sense of comedic timing. There was the incredible clip of a very, very young Tiger being asked if he loves to play golf and responding with, “I want to go poo poo,” and this more famous clip of Tiger at just two years old on the Mike Douglas Show showing off both his golf skills and his comedic chops:
(Around 1:55 mark)
Which recalls one of my favourite commercials of all time:
It really is unbelievable to see the amount of pressure Tiger was under from such a young age. Never was he allowed to be a kid, a teenager, or a young man; he was thrust into adulthood the moment he sunk that putt on the Mike Douglas Show. The saddest part is it was his parents that put 99% of that pressure on him. They say pressure makes diamonds, but it can also create dust.
A few more examples of this intense pressure and the whirlwind surrounding everything he says and does came in three different avenues in the doc. First was the aftermath of the “controversial” comments he made on Oprah, referring to a name he gave himself as a kid for his race – “Cablinasian“.
Tiger received a ton of flack for this, especially in the black community, for not taking more of a stand against the racial injustices ongoing against black people in America at the time. While I understand the complaint, I think the massive backlash against Tiger wasn’t really fair. For one, Tiger does in fact have a vast mixture of races in his bloodline, so it’s not as though he was shying away from his roots. I get the argument that people see him as black, but the question was how he sees himself. Also, he was just recalling what he came up with as a child, and got crucified for being a young man just telling the truth. We as fans, and honestly the media as well, lost out on years of honesty from Tiger that was partially due to instances like this early in his career.
Another look into his psyche was while overseas to promote a new video game. In the early 2000’s, a teenager during a big photo shoot with thousands of people around was exclaiming how surreal the moment was, when he leaned to Tiger and said, “You must be used to this”… Tiger’s response:
Another brief glimpse was after winning the Open Championship at St Andrews in 2000:
Just after receiving the Claret Jug and hoisting it for the crowd to see, it all seemed to hit him as he looked on in awe and just uttered, “Fuck me”
And finally on a more serious note, from an early age we began to see the private cracks in a life that appeared perfect in public, but far from it in private. They showed this early on in his inability to sleep. One constant thread between friends, women and those around Tiger was how much he mentioned his difficulties sleeping. This may have been the reason he started taking pills on a daily basis in the first place and it stems from the relentless pressure he faced during every waking hour from such a young age.
It’s no secret that Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods haven’t exactly gotten along for their entire careers. This documentary did Phil a bit of a disservice in their portrayal of him in my opinion, though. I’m not even that much of a Phil fan to be honest (mostly stemming from being a slightly pudgy left-handed golfer myself growing up) but the story they told of the 2001 Masters and Phil falling apart after Tiger out drove him with a 3-wood on 13, just didn’t add up.
More on that in a second, but Kultida Woods’ (Tiger’s mom’s) nickname for Phil Mickelson, who at the time most people referred to as “Lefty,” being “Hefty” was genuinely funny, but also such a good look into Tiger and Phil’s relationship. Which leads back to their story about The Masters. There is already enough juice there in explaining how Tiger and his family wanted him to destroy Phil that week, that that I feel they laid it on a bit thick.
First off, adding to the “Hefty” nickname, they felt the need to add in a comment about how part of why Tiger loathed Phil was because he was the most talented player to ever play the game but wasted it, and that Tiger would never let himself look like that. Bit of a low blow, don’t you think? My bigger issue was this, though:
The documentary explains how, on the 13th tee, Phil crushed a drive down the fairway only to be followed by Tiger bombing a 3-wood well past his. Phil then complimented Tiger and asked if he usually hits his 3-wood that far, to which Tiger replied, “Further.” I don’t doubt that part to be true, in fact I love that, but they then say it caused Phil to fall apart and lose the tournament.
How? By showing Phil miss shots and short putts on holes 9, 10 and 11 – well before the comments on the 13th. In reality, Tiger was up on Mickelson by two strokes after the 12th hole, followed by both making birdie on 13 where the comment was made, both parred 14, and then Phil actually got a stroke back after the lone birdie on the 15th hole to get within a single shot. Down the final stretch Phil would play the very tough last three holes in 1-over while Tiger finished par-par-birdie to win by two shots over David Duval and three over Mickelson. So, from the comment on 13 until the end of the tournament, Tiger picked up one stroke on Phil; far from how they explained it.
FORESHADOWING TIGER’S CHEATING
I don’t condone cheating, I doubt any one does, but the extent to which Tiger got crucified for it was far too much, especially when done by reporters that know exactly what goes on in the professional sports world with other athletes and women. It was also somewhat inevitable given Tiger’s upbringing.
The story of Earl parking a Winnebago at the golf course and teaching attractive women lessons while Tiger practiced, then taking them back to the Winnebago to do his business, was very prescient to what Tiger would emulate from his biggest role model.
His other biggest role model, his first golf coach, was also involved in those exact same activities, just adding to the Tiger we would see in later years. I will say though, at least with him, the remorse and sadness he showed for his actions was a nice change from what we saw with Earl.
Add to all of that Tiger never being allowed to simply live his teenage and college years, and experience what those his age go through with dating, partying and learning who they really are at that time, just created an inevitable monster. Almost every bad thing that happened in Tiger’s life can be traced directly back to how Earl raised him, this being one of the biggest, and it is truly so sad.
THE SCANDAL & AFTERMATH
This part was hard to watch. We all remember living through the extreme downfall and spiral of Tiger Woods, but to see it laid out in front of you like that really puts everything in perspective. For me, they lingered a little too much on the arrest aspect of this, but there were some really interesting tidbits that emerged.
For example, Rachel Uchitel finally spoke and despite not making many shocking claims, she did basically admit she had signed an NDA, saying Tiger told her when they were going through the legal process to “get as much money as you can”
Tiger’s scripted apology
I remember watching this when it happened and really just not knowing what to think, just hoping to see Tiger back on the golf course. Watching it back all these years later really drives home just how awkward it was, and potentially an error by his team in doing it that way. A family friend of Tiger’s suggested he should have issued an apology letter but also said that what happens in his family will stay behind closed doors and isn’t up for discussion in the public. I don’t exactly agree with that angle either, but a robotic, wrecked Tiger reading a script to the world about his wrongdoings, felt like a PR error.
Elin is often the forgotten piece of this whole thing, so it was nice to see her story get some air-time. Obviously what she went through was awful and to hear from those close to her some of the inner workings of that time, was tough. They also did a good job of showing how much she cared about her kids and the bond she made sure to keep with them.
There was a really sad moment they talked about when, long story short, just after the scandal broke Elin was sitting on the ground at her rented home crying, and their infant daughter Sam came over to ask what was wrong. Elin told her, “Mommy has a boo-boo.” The human aspect of it all really kicks in when you hear the rest of that story play out.
As hard as the previous part was to watch, is as enjoyable as this was. To see the depths to which Tiger spiraled after his father’s death, from the women, to the drugs, to the injuries, addictions and losing his golf game, to coming back and winning The Masters, is the most incredible comeback in sports history. So again, to see it all laid out in front of us, gave me chills. Some key moments in the doc:
“I think I’m Done“ – At the 2017 Masters Champions Dinner, Tiger, according to those in the room, told Jack Nicklaus “I think I’m done.” It would have been beyond shocking to hear those words come out of Tiger’s mouth, and makes what he did all that more impressive.
The New Tiger – The full transformation Tiger went through with his body and his golf is only surpassed by the change in who he has become as a person. Gone are the days of ignoring the media and fans, treating every guy on Tour like his enemy, and never letting anyone see a shred of emotion. The “new” Tiger seems like a much more well-rounded, gracious, fulfilled, kind, and happy person. Personally, thinking about that fills me with joy.
And finally, as if out of a storybook, the moment when Tiger picks up his son Charlie after winning the 2019 Masters still makes me cry every single time. The way it lines up perfectly with Tiger’s moment in 1997 with his own Dad, how important we all knew and could see it was to Tiger for his kids to see him as Tiger (not just Dad), and the sheer happiness on Tiger Wood’s face, gets me every time.
THOUGHTS ON EARL
Growing up I viewed Earl as being the perfect father; always there with and for his son, pushing him to chase his passion, doing everything humanly possible to help his son, and all with a smile on his face and the adoration of the golf world. Most importantly though, of his son. After reading the book (aptly named Tiger Woods) it completely turned that mindset around, and this reaffirmed that.
Did Earl help Tiger get to where he is as a golfer? Absolutely, 100%, no doubt. But was he a good father? Was it all worth it? To both I say no. Think of all the mental warfare and unfair expectations Earl put Tiger through, all in the pursuit of winning 19 majors. Tiger has done a ton, but if that is the only bar that’s ever been set in his life, it’s incredibly sad that he may never reach that and view his life as a failure. Imagine putting that on anyone, not to mention the ones you are supposed to love and protect.
Just a few examples of Earl being a terrible father:
- Not letting Tiger play other sports in school as a child
- Forcing Tiger to break up with his first girlfriend through a letter
- Not letting Tiger have any real friends
- Openly cheating on his wife (Tiger’s Mom) in front of Tiger
- Not allowing Tiger to be a person, instead forcing him to be a robot
- Telling the world that Tiger would be the most important human being to ever live
- Using Tiger’s fame to get himself women and money
There is a passage in the book about Earl Woods being buried in an unmarked grave. At first glance that may seem harsh or done for privacy’s sake. But for the way this story has unfolded, it is somewhat poetic and a perfect ending to a man that lived the later years of his life chasing the spotlight and attention that he could only get by forcing his son to live his father’s dream. As much as this documentary was about Tiger and his ups and downs, it was just as much about his father Earl. Tiger’s father may have enjoyed the spotlight in life, but in death his reputation will fade into oblivion.