The Tiger Woods-Dan Jenkins Controversy

I stopped reading golf magazines years ago.  Ben Hogan’s book on the full swing and Tom Watson’s on the short game are all anyone really needs.  To see a great swing in action, find a video on the net of Louis Oosthuizen and try to do what he does.

Advertising and entertainment-style pieces account for a lot more of an issue’s content than instruction, which is true of tennis magazines as well.  For example, the December issue of Golf Digest has a six-page spread on, believe it or not, bringing your dog to the golf course!  I don’t know of any course, public or private, that would even consider allowing such a thing.  On p. 60 we learn that James Bond got the rules wrong when he beat Goldfinger in the movie.  Tips by Sean Foley (p. 31), Jack Nicklaus (p. 32), David Leadbetter (p. 34), and Butch Harmon (p. 45) have loud ads on the facing page.

So, why did I buy the issue ($4.99 + tax)?  The Golf Channel the other day had a panel discussion on a controversy between Tiger Woods and Dan Jenkins, owing to the latter’s satirical piece in it, so I decided to have a look.  You’ll have to skip past 123 pages to get to the article, way at the end of the issue.  You won’t be missing much if you do.

Two things stood out, for me at least.  First, Jenkins is no Mark Twain.  Heck, he’s not even George Ade, creator of the famous Alibi Ike.  Second, Tiger Woods needs to learn when not to take the bait, as do all public figures.  He’s lucky this isn’t Britain, where the press can be merciless.  Until Nick Faldo started winning majors (1987, eleven years after turning pro), the tabloids over there referred to him as “El Foldo” for (allegedly) chocking tournaments away.  Faldo’s record doesn’t really bear this out, but then, facts never stopped journalists from making up stories, especially if a catchy label can be attached.

Back to Tiger.  Woods, not amused, decided to write up a reply to Jenkins and posted it here.  Sad to say, it reads like “methinks the lady doth protest too much.”  Here’s a sample:

Did you read Dan Jenkins’ interview with me in the latest Golf Digest? I hope not. Because it wasn’t me. It was some jerk he created to pretend he was talking to me. That’s right, Jenkins faked an interview, which fails as parody, and is really more like a grudge-fueled piece of character assassination.

Journalistically and ethically, can you sink any lower?

I like to think I have a good sense of humor, and that I’m more than willing to laugh at myself. In this game, you have to. I’ve been playing golf for a long time, 20 years on the PGA Tour. I’ve given lots of interviews to journalists in all that time, more than I could count, and some have been good and some not so much. All athletes know that we will be under scrutiny from the media. But this concocted article was below the belt. Good-natured satire is one thing, but no fair-minded writer would put someone in the position of having to publicly deny that he mistreats his friends, takes pleasure in firing people, and stiffs on tips -- and a lot of other slurs, too.

To make matters worse, on 12 November Woods, through his representative Mark Steinberg, also sent a legalistic-sounding letter to Golf Digest requesting an apology.  I doubt he’ll get one; nor should he.  It’s like having your lawyer demand an apology from insult comedian Don Rickles.  Grin and bear it.

Needless to say, Jenkins wouldn’t be making up stuff if Tiger were winning tournaments, any tournament, and not just majors.  But never mind.  I’d like to mention some undeniable facts Jenkins left out:

  • Tiger Woods is the main reason purses on the PGA Tour have grown to such astronomical amounts over the past twenty years.  The crowds who come out to watch him play are huge, usually twenty-deep around tee boxes.
  • Tiger’s phenomenal performance raised the bar significantly in professional golf, improving the overall quality of play and forcing others to train even harder to keep up.  Ask any PGA Tour member, and he’ll tell you the same thing.
  • Tiger Woods’s swing, initially modeled on Hogan’s, has been copied by a number of top players, including Rory McElroy and Adam Scott.  Moreover, Tiger plays blade-style clubs (no cavity in the back), which are much harder to hit.
  • Forget about Tiger’s (alleged) tipping habits.  The real story is his foundation, which has a scholarship program that to date has awarded millions to deserving young students.  The program was set up in memory of his father, Earl Woods.

It’s unclear at this point when Tiger will return to tournament play.  It may happen at his Orlando tournament next month.  With all the money at stake, PGA Tour “suits” will be watching nervously.  In a way, the Jenkins article may be just what the doctor ordered.