Out of the Woods / "Nantz has Tiger's number"
It was the last day of the 61st Masters Golf Tournament held from April 10--13, 1997, at the Augusta National Golf Club. Tiger Woods had just won his first major championship Masters Tournament by 12 strokes. Woods broke the four-day tournament low record with score of 270. He also became the first non-white person to win at Augusta.
I was editor of the Westport News at the time and I immediately saw a "local angle" in that Westporter Jim Nantz, the highly respected CBS sports broadcaster, was reporting from the tournament. Arnie Green, our reliable and nimble sports editor, was writing a story on deadline. I told him I would help out by calling Nantz, whom I knew personally, and getting a quote from him.
As soon as I got him on the line, I asked: "Jim, what do you think of Tiger's performance?" Nantz replied without a pause: "There it is, a win for the ages!"
I followed: "Is Tiger Woods' performance a sign of things to come? Just how good is he?" Nantz responded, obviously excited, "If he keeps playing like this he will be the best golfer of all time, without a doubt."
Nantz had every reason to be bullish at that moment. Woods had just set multiple Masters records that week, including: (1) youngest-ever Masters champion (age 21); (2) lowest 72-hole score at The Masters (-18); and (3) largest margin of victory at The Masters (12 strokes).
Well, as we all know, Woods went on to set all kinds of records and, up until recently, he was arguably the best-known and one of the most admired athletes on the PGA Tour and, indeed, on the planet. Until last November when Woods was injured in a car accident after driving into a fire hydrant and a tree around the corner from his Florida home, according to authorities.
Subsequently, of course, the tabloids and then the mainstream media have published numerous stories about his affairs with many women. Woods is married and has two small children.
A reserved personable athlete with a winning smile, Woods had always been described as a "control freak," according to the sports writers who covered him. He lived up to that reputation by refusing to talk to the police, the press -- anyone who had an interested in knowing exactly what happened. On the surface, it appeared he had had a fight with his wife, the beautiful, blond-haired Elin Nordegren. He eventually held a few five-minute interviews and a press conference with hand-picked members of the media at the outset of the Masters this year.
In his public statements since his accident, he has apologized to his family, to his fellow golfers, to just about anyone who followed him. But his apologies have been low-key and devoid of much emotion. Most importantly, he promised to behave better on and off the golf course after emerging from a brief "rehab," allegedly for "sex addiction." In his public comments before the Masters, Woods told everyone he had changed, that his tantrums on the golf course, including throwing golf clubs and swearing, would be toned down; he said he was going to be a different guy on the golf course.
Nantz, however, who had previously praised Woods' talents, criticized Woods after the Masters for continuing his bad behavior. In effect, he said, the man playing the Masters was the same told Tiger.
Nantz, talked on air with Mike Francesca of WFAN and expressed his disappointment with Woods' performance.
"He screamed, `Tiger, you suck!,' only to follow that up with a profanity unlike any other in the third round, [and] on the last day, Sunday, Woods screamed, `Jesus Christ' after a tee shot."
Nantz continued, "If I said what he said on the air, I would be fired. I read [about it] in USA Today and it was called `mild language.' Well, guess what? Phil Mickelson [who won the tournament] had a camera in his face all week and did you even hear him come close to approaching that? He didn't hit every shot the way he wanted. Have you ever heard Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus use that kind of language? What are the parameters between what's right or wrong?"
According to press reports, Nantz also said that there are people watching the telecast who shouldn't be subjected to such profanities. "How about the father and son who are standing right there by the tee? How about the hundreds of people who are around that tee who hear that? How about the hundreds of letters I've gotten through the years from people who have been outraged at the language they've heard there and have written me and said, `Why don't you guys ever say something about that?'"
Nantz also took exception to Woods for saying "you suck" to himself, as well as uttering a one-word phrase considered in very poor taste.
"I can't say anything I want when I'm on a live broadcast," Nantz was quoted as saying.
"Tiger's not the only guy who's got a camera in his face all day long. But he is the only one in the field who said he wasn't going to do that any more." Woods finished in a tie for fourth place.
This writer has covered a lot of sports events over time, but rarely, if ever, have I seen such poor sportsmanship as that demonstrated by Tiger Woods -- not just at the recent Masters, but ever since he turned pro. Let's face it: he's been given a "pass" by all those who cover him and write about his amazing feats -- and by millions of fans like me who rooted for him.
Tiger Woods, was seen by many as a "role model." No longer. He who thought he could get away with anything, has worked his way down to the level of the rest of us in the human race. He should be judged solely on the basis of how he plays golf -- nothing else. His private life is his own, whether we like it or not. But there should be no excuses any more for his arrogant behavior on the golf course. He's just another golfer now. His number is up. And Jim Nantz has it.
Woody Klein's "Out of the Woods" column appears regularly in the Westport News. He is a former sports editor of The Daily Dartmouth, where the name of his column's name originated. Dartmouth College is located in the woods of New Hampshire.