Okay, I admit it. I’m tired of Tiger Woods.
I’m tired of his ongoing string of poor finishes; and his weak excuses for not playing better since the “scandal.” I’m also tired of the media, at this week’s Memorial Tournament, for example, interviewing a guy who has become, now, just another average pro golfer, at this stage of his career. Finally, I’m still, quite frankly, tired of the whole “Cablinasian” thing.
There was a time, of course, when Eldrick Tont Woods was not only the greatest golfer in the world, he was also the planet’s most popular and highest-paid athlete.
He was, in addition, extraordinarily rare in a sport that had been totally populated and dominated by men of European descent. When non-golfers thought of the sport, at all, up came images of rich, white men, of racially exclusive golf courses, and of Black folks being primarily engaged in the game as caddies — bag carriers, humble, on-the-course, servants and facilitators. There was, also, on the part of many Black folks, the lingering belief that some of those Black caddies could have beat the pants off many club members, if allowed to compete against them.
Some people could come up with the name of a few “break-through” or “pioneer” black PGA golfers — guys such as Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, the first Black player in the Masters, in 1975. They might also remember Althea Gibson, the tennis great, and first African American to compete as part of the Ladies’ Professional Golfer’s Association (LPGA) tour, and Renee Powell.
The United Golf Association (UGA) was established in 1925 as a place for Black golfers to play in professional tournaments, because the PGA bylaws, at the time, still h said the organization was “for members of the caucasian race.” The UGA is where Sifford, Elder and other mid-twentieth century Black luminaries got their start.
As all of this was unfolding, along came the Civil Rights-inspired influx of Black managers into corporate America. In retrospect, there weren’t very many of them, but a significant percentage of these aspiring Black executives believed that it was critically important to their careers to learn to play the game of golf. The myth was that golf, the recently Caucasian-only sport, was not only a good and officially condoned form of exercise, it was also the place where “big business deals” were actually “cut.”
It was within that context that the world awaited the long-anticipated emergence of Tiger Woods, the young Black phenom, the man who would prove that Black folks could, indeed, be competitive and win major golf tournaments.
Right on schedule, Woods starred on the varsity golf team at prestigious Stanford University, and turned pro, in 1996. One year later, at the age of 21, he won his first Masters Tournament.
Remember, that made Tiger the first “Black” Masters winner, at Augusta National Golf Club, a course that had long refused to accept Black members. The Masters Tournament was also the event wherein all of the caddies, prior to 1982, were Black.
Although he was arguably about five shades darker than Woods, Vijay Singh, from Fiji, who won the Masters Tournament in the Year 2000, has never been referred to as a “Black” winner. But hey, that’s a whole, other, complicated story.
Black corporate golf enthusiasts, ever-alert to new ways to enhance their rate of assimilation to “big business insider,” were absolutely ecstatic to have Tiger as a new role model, one who validated their very presence on the golf course.
In addition, millions of non-corporate, non-golf playing Black folks, across the board, were also mesmerized by the young man’s talent and charismatic approach to the game. They began to follow the PGA in ways they previously never had, driving up PGA TV viewership and sponsor interest.
Both Black and white folks loved the fact that Tiger continued to rack up tournament victories and multi-million dollar commercial endorsements. In a Gallup Poll, conducted in the year 2000, he was ranked as the world’s most popular athlete, with an 88 percent favorability rating.
But African Americans took the whole “Tiger thing” a step further. They “adopted” him as a racial standard-bearer, named their babies after him, and sang his praises in barbershops, hair salons and churches. Even before Barack Obama, Tiger Woods seemed to be the “one” we had been waiting for.
The only problem with all of that, of course, is that Tiger Woods wanted no part of the whole “Black race” scenario.
In fact, in a 1997 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he famously said that it bothered him to be referred to as an African American. He then went on to describe himself as a “Cablinasian” — a combination of Caucasian, Black, Native American and Asian.
Technically, the guy was probably correct, the country’s “one drop rule, “notwithstanding. Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, claimed a mixed, African-American, Chinese and Native American heritage. Perhaps to Mr. Woods’ great disappointment, in America, all of that simply made him a Black man.
He should have explained that to his son.
Tiger’s mother, Kutilda, claimed to be a combination of Thai, Chinese and Dutch ancestry.
According to one source, with parents so comprised, Tiger, himself, was “officially” one-half Asian, one-eighth Native American, one-eighth Dutch and just one-fourth African-American.
Black Americans, who recognized that their pure African blood lines, in most cases, had long been mixed in a “Tiger” kind of way, know that this society treats them as Black people, nevertheless. They expected Tiger to understand that, and to conduct himself, with dignity, accordingly.
When he persisted in his arms-length relationship with the Black community — other than with people such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley — Black support for the man began to chill noticeably.
We still watched him play, and still rooted for him as a person of color in the predominantly white world of professional golf, but, at the same time, we were almost pleased when Tiger’s fellow-golfer, Fuzzy Zoeller, made the “fried chicken” and “collard greens” insults, to him, after he won the Masters. We thought, somehow, it would wake him up and bring him “home.”
When he got caught up in the family-destroying scandal, Black folks didn’t feel all that sorry for Tiger, especially after noting that not one of his 13 reported mistresses was a Black woman, or even a “woman of color.” Even when he was doing the wrong thing, it seemed, Tiger couldn’t resist demonstrating his lack of preference for Black people.
After the scandal, of course, Tiger’s once-brilliant career went into a tailspin. After 2009, in fact, he went 923 consecutive days without a PGA victory. He’s won just one PGA tournament since the scandal, and his annual golf-related earnings, which had averaged $9.5 million per year, from 2005 to 2009, dropped to $1.3 million in 2010, and $660,348, in 2011.
Tiger’s PGA ranking, which had stood at first or second, for most years throughout his career, dropped to 68th in 2010, and to 128th, in 2011. His favorability ratings fell from 85 percent in 2005, to 33 percent, in 2009. In addition, 19 percent of people polled said they would have a “less favorable” opinion of companies that used him to endorse their products.
As a result, Tiger has lost the majority of his commercial endorsements. To make matters worse, as part of his divorce settlement with his wife, he was ordered to pay her an estimated $100 million.
Finally, because he so adamantly denied being Black, African Americans that I run into believe what has happened to Tiger is simply “poetic justice.”
Usually, they offer words to this effect: “I guess he realizes he’s Black now.”
At this point, however, does anyone really care?
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.