“Within yourself, deliverance must be searched for, because each man makes his own prison.”– Edwin Arnold, English poet
Take a look at this picture. It’s a point of view directly behind Tiger Woods on his first day at The U.S. The Masters, golf’s golden crown.
Imagine the pressure.
Look at the background, the crowd, the cameras, the media – most of which is focused on a single individual; an individual who’s returning to his career after a five month layoff.
A little more pressure.
Now, add the fact that the layoff was due to a very big, yet personal, scandal in his life. It’s fair to say that that adds another, considerable piece of baggage that he’d be carrying around the course. Six days before he approached the first tee at Augusta National, The New York Times ran at least ten stories about Woods, among them:
“Woods as a Favorite? He Needs to Make the Cut First”
“For Woods, Exemptions No Longer in Play”
“Woods Faces Questions”
“Scrutinizing Woods’s Game, and His Sportsmanship”
It’s also fair to say that Woods brought this particular piece of Samsonite to the tournament himself. Now, after rehab and a very public apology, Tiger Woods – probably golf’s greatest player – will try to leave all that pressure in an oversized locker in the clubhouse, and go back to work by playing the most challenging golf tournament in America.
A friend argued, “Why so much attention; why a public apology? Who did Tiger Woods hurt, Jim?”
“Well,” I counter, “for openers, he hurt his wife and family.”
“Why is that anyone else’s business?” my friend says.
And it’s a fair argument. At the end of the day, the people Woods needs to make amends to most are his wife, family, co-workers, anyone and everyone with whom he has direct contact and with whom he maintains an on-going level of trust.
But that’s not why Tiger made a televised, public apology.
I believe Woods made his public apology because he has consistently presented himself as a model of sportsmanship, excellence as well as being a sincere, family man. And, like it or not, if the public looks up to you due to certain qualities you represent, you are a role model. Therefore, you owe the people that hold you in that rarified esteem an apology.
When Woods’s multiple infidelities became known, I along with the rest of the crowd felt duped. I believed this man to be nothing less than a hardworking, family man whose excellence on the golf course stretched to a variety of very public charity projects – The Tiger Woods Foundation, In the City Golf Clinics, The Tiger Woods Learning Center, and The Tiger Woods Foundation National Junior Golf Team.
In fact, Woods’s impact had stretched so far beyond the confines of golf that his name had become synonymous with excellence and citizenship. That is why he owed us all an apology. And that is why he faced the crowds and the cameras at Augusta this past week with more than an average amount of pressure.
But take another look at the picture.
If you could zoom in on those faces in the crowd I think you’d see something else. You’d see fans wanting to see a comeback. Sure they’d cheer the 300+ yard drive with pinpoint accuracy. But they’re also rooting for a moral success as well as a golfing success. Tiger has shown us this before – how to turn things around, make the impossible shot, snatch victory from defeat. With Tiger Woods, anything is possible.
However, this time victory doesn’t have to come in the form of a large check and a distinctive green jacket. It comes by earning back the respect and trust of those who believed in you. It comes by recognizing that we all make mistakes, but it’s about the choices you make after those mistakes that can reveal character.
You know what? I think Woods can do it. It won’t happen overnight, but he’s certainly capable of it. And if he does, that’ll be the greatest lesson he could give any of us, because at the end of the day, it’s not ethical perfection that we seek. It’s progress.