IS TIGER WOODS DOOMED TO A TRAGIC LIFE OF PERPETUAL TURMOIL?
Once as admired as any figure in sports, he now faces an ex-girlfriend, Erica Herman, who wants more than $30 million after claiming he used a trickery plot to kick her out of his Florida mansion
There was a time, before the opioids and the women and the SUV horror that nearly killed him, when the planet was mesmerized by Eldrick Woods. He was admired as the young man of color who slayed the high lords of a white sport. He was envied as the revolutionist who transformed how golf was played, how a golfer constructed his body and made hallowed courses adjust to his immense power. No one, including Jack Nicklaus, ever played better for a longer stretch.
Now, no one wants to be Tiger Woods.
It’s stunning to think someone who had such control over life in his 20s, when we expected him to win every major and he damned nearly did, has unraveled as he nears 50. Oh, if only he’d called it a career when he returned from years of injuries and suffering and won the Masters in 2019. But hell wanted another piece of him and wrapped him in a headlock — first when he drove his vehicle more than 82 mph in a 45 zone, didn’t negotiate a curve and crashed through various barriers that left the mangled wreckage in a smoking heap and almost cost him his right leg. Why was he speeding? What was in the empty pill container found in a backpack at the scene? Why wasn’t he charged with speeding and reckless driving as you or I would have been?
He defied death. He rehabbed. He came back to golf again, enjoying good walks with son Charlie in fun tournaments, then returned to real competition. Through several surgeries, in a life of operating rooms, he not only would find normalcy but resume the Tiger Woods experience after a rod had been placed in his tibia and pins and screws in his foot and ankle.
Then came this … this … this lunacy.
You thought his private life never would take a darker turn than when Elin Nordegren, his wife at the time and the mother of his two children, found out about his tabloid affairs and chased him down with a golf club before striking his SUV with the club — yet another SUV — before his Escalade smacked a fire hydrant. But what’s happening now might be sadder, more tragic. It comes at a time when he finally was settling down with a woman who lived with him for years, ran his Florida restaurant at one point, attended his kids’ sports events, accompanied him to tournaments, socialized with wives of other players and seemed to have a calming effect on a man in desperate search of equilibrium.
She’s now his ex-girlfriend. Erica Herman wants his money, his hide and his peace after an ugly turn in their relationship — another public scandal with shrieking headlines that threatens to upend his world again. In a months-long legal ordeal that remained under the radar until this week, Herman seeks to toss a nondisclosure agreement that, she says, Woods forced her to sign in 2017. She can make the demand, her attorney says, based on a federal law that nullifies an NDA with proof of sexual assault and harassment. As yet, she has not accused Woods of sexual wrongdoing, but she clearly wants to speak out loud about what happened inside his Jupiter Island mansion, at least from her vantage point. She wants to disclose “her own experiences,” “experiences of family members” and “photographs and recordings of herself and her family members.”
And here we are again, witnesses to another Tiger storm, wondering when and if his turmoil ever will end and if he’s doomed to perpetual ignominy.
The dispute centers around an “oral tenancy agreement.” Having lived in the house with Woods for years, Herman wants more than $30 million after, she contends, she was kicked out of the mansion in a trickery plot. I wish I could say I was making this up, but no one could. In October, Herman sued the trust that owns his home, stating in court papers that associates of Woods’ trust convinced her to “pack a suitcase for a short vacation and, when she arrived at the airport, they told her she had been locked out of her residence, in violation of the oral tenancy agreement and in violation of Florida law.” She said he paid for her hotel room and expenses for a brief period, then “frightened her away” from returning to his home.
Trickery? Was he really reduced to a scheme to chase out his partner? Was this his way of trying to elude another shameful news development? Avoiding a scene that could prompt a visit from police? Whatever it was, it backfired. File it in the very thick binder encasing the tragedies of Tiger Woods.
It was just last month when I made the close-by trek to watch him play, at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, in his first competitive event in more than seven months. Looking back, his unfortunate prank during the first round — when he tried to hand a tampon to Justin Thomas after outdriving his close friend on a hole — was the pratfall of a man out of sorts. Woods was close to tears when he apologized, saying, “Yeah, it was supposed to be all fun and games and obviously it hasn't turned out that way. If I offended anybody, it was not the case, it was just friends having fun. If I offended anybody in any way, shape or form, I'm sorry. It was not intended to be that way.”
He barely made the cut in his own tournament, the Genesis Invitational, and it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll be in the necessary physical and mental condition to play at Augusta National early next month. Before this week, that looked to be another triumphant moment for a beloved legend, surviving to make another Masters tee time.
Now, once more, galleries will just sort of stare at him like a space alien, wondering if he’s the most tragic figure in sports or just a creep.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.