December 22, 2016

"NOTHING TO DO WITH GOLF":

The Secret History of Tiger Woods : The death of his father set a battle raging inside the world's greatest golfer. How he waged that war -- through an obsession with the Navy SEALs -- is the tale of how Tiger lost his way (WRIGHT THOMPSON, 4/21/16, ESPN the Magazine)

TIGER BOUGHT A pair of combat boots. They were black, made by the tactical outfitter Blackhawk, popular with ex-special ops guys who become contractors and mercenaries. The boots were inevitable, in hindsight. You can't insert something as intense as the SEAL culture into the mind of someone like Tiger Woods and not have him chase it down a deep, dark hole. He started doing the timed 4-mile run in combat boots, required by everyone who wants to graduate from BUD/S. A friend named Corey Carroll, who refused to comment and whose parents lived near Tiger, did the workouts with him. They'd leave from Carroll's parents' home, heading north, out onto the golf course. The rare sighting was almost too strange to process: Tiger Woods in combat boots, wearing Nike workout pants or long combat-style trousers, depending on the weather, pounding out 8 1/2-minute miles, within striking distance of the time needed for BUD/S.

Tiger knew the SEAL physical requirements by heart, easily knocking out the pushups, pullups and situps. When he couldn't sleep, he'd end up at a nearby Gold's Gym at 3 a.m., grinding. One of his favorite workouts was the ladder, or PT pyramid, a popular Navy SEAL exercise: one pullup, two pushups, three situps, then two, four, six, up to 10, 20, 30 and back down again.

Soon, the training at La Posta didn't cut it. He found something more intense with Duane Dieter, a man allowed by the Navy to train SEALs in a specialized form of martial arts that he invented. Dieter is a divisive figure in the special operations world, working out of his own training compound on the Maryland shore. His method is called Close Quarters Defense, or CQD, and some students look at him as an almost spiritual guide, like a modern samurai. Others think he's overrated. For Dieter, few things were more important than ancient warrior principles like light and dark energy.

Tiger got introduced by the Navy and learned CQD in Coronado. Hooked, he wanted to go further and ended up making trips to Dieter's compound in Maryland. He'd fly in and either stay at the facility or at the nearby fancy resort, Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond, according to a source who saw Tiger with Dieter. He'd park outside a nearby Target, sending someone else inside for cheap throwaway clothes that they could ruin with the Simunition. The practice rounds left huge bruises. He did all sorts of weapons training and fighting there, including this drill invented by Dieter: He would stand in a room, hands by his side, wearing a helmet with a protective face shield. A hood would be lowered over the helmet and loud white noise would play. It sounded like an approaching train, the speakers turning on and off at random intervals, lasting 30 seconds, or maybe just five. Then the hood would fly up and there would be a scenario. Maybe two people were talking. Or maybe one was a hostile and the other a hostage. If the people posed no threat, the correct response was to check corners and not draw your weapon. Then the hood would go back down, and there'd be more music, and when it came up, the scenario had changed. Sometimes a guy threw punches, to the body and head, and Tiger would need to free himself and draw his weapon. At first, the instructors went easy, not hitting him as hard as they'd hit a SEAL. Tiger put a stop to that and soon they jumped him as aggressively as everyone else. When the drill finally ended, the room smelled like gunpowder.

An idea began to take hold, a dream, really, one that could destroy the disconnect Tiger felt in his life, completely killing off the character he played in public. Maybe he could just disappear into the shadow world of special operations. He mentioned his plans to people around him, one by one. He pulled over a car at a tournament once and told Steve Williams he wanted to join the Navy. He told Haney he thought it would be cool to go through training. Once, Carroll had to talk him down via text message, according to someone present for the exchange, because Tiger wanted to quit golf and join the Navy. There's only one reason to run 4 miles in pants and combat boots. This wasn't some proto-training to develop a new gear of mental toughness. "The goal was to make it through BUD/S," says a former friend who knew about the training. "It had nothing to do with golf."

To many people inside Tiger's circle, Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors wasn't as important to Tiger as it was to the golfing media and fans. He never mentioned it. Multiple people who've spent significant amounts of time with him say that. When Tiger did talk about it, someone else usually brought it up and he merely responded. The record instead became something to break so he could chase something that truly mattered. He loved the anonymity of wearing a uniform and being part of a team. "It was very, very serious," the friend says. "If he had had a hot two years and broken the record, he would have hung up his clubs and enlisted. No doubt."

Tiger talked about some of these military trips with his friends, including describing skydiving to Michael Jordan, who saw a pattern repeating from his own past. Years before, he'd lost his father, and in his grief, he sought solace doing something his dad loved, quitting the Bulls and riding minor league buses for the Birmingham Barons. "It could be his way of playing baseball," Jordan would say years later. "Soothing his father's interest."

Jordan looked sad as he said this, perhaps feeling the heaviness of it all or even the luck involved. He somehow got through his grief and reclaimed his greatness, while Tiger has tried and failed over and over again.

"Ah, boy," Jordan sighed. [...]

THE REAL WORK of his life -- how to deal with having been Tiger Woods -- will begin only once he accepts that his golfing career is finished. All driven people experience a reckoning at the end of their life's work, but when that work feels incomplete, or somehow tainted, the regrets can fester with time. This reckoning is coming for Tiger, which worries his friend Michael Jordan, who knows more about the next 10 years of Tiger's life than nearly anyone alive. It's jarring to be dominant and then have it suddenly end. "I don't know if he's happy about that or sad about that," Jordan says. "I think he's tired. I think he really wishes he could retire, but he doesn't know how to do it yet, and I don't think he wants to leave it where it is right now. If he could win a major and walk away, he would, I think."

A few months ago, sitting in his office in Charlotte, Jordan picked up his phone and dialed Tiger's number. It rang a few times and went to voicemail: I'm sorry, but the person you called has a voicemail box that has not been set up yet. He tried twice more, the phone rang five or six times, and then he smiled.

"Playing video games," he said.

They texted in November, the day after a big group went out to dinner at Tiger's restaurant. Tiger got drunk and they all laughed and told stories, and Michael thought Tiger seemed relaxed, which made him hopeful. Tiger talked about his injuries a lot but not much about the future. "The thing is," Jordan says, "I love him so much that I can't tell him, 'You're not gonna be great again.'"

Posted by at December 22, 2016 5:26 AM

  

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