Tiger’s Nineteenth Hole

Originally published, under a different headline, in NEXT (December 2009)

By Tolu Ogunlesi

Someday in the near future, we shall look back to the events of Tigergate, and rank this period as one of the defining moments of the decade.

The chain of events that started with an early morning car crash, and ended in a cryptic online apology by one of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever seen, has set the internet on fire. Not since the death of Michael Jackson has the web gone this wild with commentary, speculation and outright rumour. Tigergate marks the end of an age, and the beginning of another, for him and for us as well – this scandal will again bring the issue of celebrity privacy to the fore of public debate as well as raise questions about the wisdom – or necessity – of the global billion-dollar corporate endorsement machine.

Let’s take privacy first. The jury’s still out on whether Woods owes the media and the public any explanations or apologies. Does he actually? There is the camp of those who insist that whatever’s happened, in or out of his driveway, is the business of none other than his wife.

“Why on earth should we be informed about any transgressions in his personal life? … He is a great sportsman… He has no need to apologise to us; what he does with his own family is another matter. I will make no further comment about it,” a commentator on the UK Guardian website said.

But then there’s another camp that believes that as a public figure, Woods cannot possibly succeed with any argument that he should be left alone. Another commentator says: “Woods has made unfathomable amounts of money selling his image – that carefully constructed, dentless corporate persona. However much we think the millions of dollars his endorsement of Accenture is actually worth: that’s exactly how much responsibility he has to the people who’ve made him rich. He can’t have it both ways.”

Endorsements. Mr. Woods is the world’s most endorsed sportsperson, earning more than a hundred million dollars in 2008 from corporate endorsement deals with companies like Nike, Accenture, Tag Heuer and Gillette. That amount is about 15 times his annual earnings from actually playing golf. Accenture has for years hitched their brand to him, so that in a sense all of their clubs are in a bag marked ‘Tiger.’

Accenture’s website itself says it best: “Since 2003, Tiger Woods has been the centerpiece of Accenture advertising. As perhaps the world’s ultimate symbol of high performance, he serves as a metaphor for our commitment to helping companies become high-performance businesses.”

Now, with the rate at which women are emerging to detail intimate liaisons with Mr. Woods, won’t Accenture’s “high performance” metaphor inevitably take on new meaning?

Having said that, when this scandal blows over, what many people will miss is the wicked sense of humour that being unleashed in this laugh-averse (read recession-wracked) period. One Guardian UK commentator said: “This whole story of what happened outside his house is clearly complete fiction. Everyone knows Tiger Woods always drives further than 300 yards.” But nothing beats this one, in cruelty and profundity: “Once you get used to playing 18 holes, I guess it’s kinda hard to kick the habit.”

The Accenture adverts are sure to catch the attention of subversion-addicted souls around the world. Already there are people who think that the Nike tagline (“Just do it”) played a part in leading Woods into the hole he is now. Read Marina Hyde’s fictional construction (in the UK Guardian) of a phone conversation between Wood’s manager and his various endorsing firms to get an idea of the infinite possibilities for word play.

Finally, this scandal again highlights the differences in cultural perceptions about infidelity around the world. Tongue-in-cheekily captured by yet another Guardian UK commentator: “Maybe Tiger’s great mistake, was … marrying a Scandinavian. Women of other nationalities seem quite capable of dealing with these sorts of things without causing international scandals and endangering highly lucrative endorsement contracts. (Couldn’t the foolish woman, just have lit a cigarette in her shaking hand and poured herself a stiff gin)”

For a second imagine if Woods’ wife had been Nigerian. There would certainly have been no chasing-my-husband-around-the-house-with-a-golf-club drama, and therefore no driving-into-fire-hydrant. And, by implication, no scandal. What she’d have done was to call her mother back home in a well appointed villa back in a dusty village in Nigeria. And her mother would have asked her: “Is he beating you?” “Has he stopped taking care of his children?” “Is he bringing those useless women into the house?” To which Mrs. Woods would have answered: No. No. No. And  a perplexed mother would have said: “So you want to abandon your home? Ewooooo! Over my dead body! You are staying there!”

Case closed.

I will end with advice for Tiger. At the end of the day, the way forward, in my opinion, lies in another of Woods’ Accenture’s ads. “It’s what you do next that counts.” That’s it Tiger. “Go on. Be a Tiger. Again.”

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