I Am Tiger Woods
Dominic Laing

In April of 1997, on a Thursday in Augusta, Georgia, he shot 40 on the front nine. This was his third appearance at the Masters, by virtue of his three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles. He tied for forty-first in his premiere, missed the cut the second time around, and now, this year, he was +4 through the halfway point of the first round. Four over par after nine holes, for any normal golfer, means another missed cut and no golf on the weekend. Means you never make it back to Augusta. Means you wind up as some lousy PGA pro at some lousy muni course.

Most of all, it means no one ever talks about you or hears from you again.

Born in Cypress, CA to Earl and Kultida Woods, he’d first appeared on late night TV at the age of two, already in possession of a sweeter swing than most of us will ever know. He broke 80 before he was ten.

But on this day, by all accounts, according to all scoreboards, he’d blown his chance to take up any mantle of greatness. “Twenty-one years old,” said the critics. “He’s just a kid. Three amateur titles; so what? Child prodigy; makes no difference. He’s no Jack or Arnie. He doesn’t have what it takes for the PGA. Tomorrow, he’ll play another unspectacular round of golf, miss the cut, and vanish—like he should.”

Yes, Eldrick Woods shot a four-over-par 40 for nine holes on April 7, 1997 in Augusta, Georgia at The Masters. Yes, he was twenty-one-years-old, and yes, according to all the critics and mockers, he should’ve skipped the back nine and retreated home to Windermere, Florida.

But no, Eldrick did not miss the cut, and no, he didn’t vanish—like he should have.

Instead, he played the back nine.

Birdies at 10, 12 and 13, punctuated by an eagle at the Par-5 15th. Another birdie at 17 and a par at 18 capped off a back nine 30, and an overall round of 70—two-under-par.

At the end of the first round of the 1997 Masters, the leader, at five-under-par, was John Huston. But by the end of the second day, Eldrick had opened up a three-stroke lead on the rest of the field. By the end of day three, the lead had grown to nine strokes. At The Masters. Nobody has a nine-stroke lead at the end of the third round of The Masters.

No one, that is, except this kid who forgot to vanish.

On Sunday afternoon, in the final, he strode up the last fairway, adorned in the now-famous Sunday Red. The crowd stood and applauded as if welcoming royalty into their presence.

The King is dead, long live the King.

The King is dead, long live the King.

In my mind, the final moments play out in an ever-present loop: Twelve strokes clear of the field, he takes center stage at the 18th green. He makes his read, stands over the shot, takes the putter back and strokes the ball. The ball calmly rolls in for a par, and for a moment, the smallest division of split seconds, it’s silent.

And then.

The crowd ERUPTS into pandemonium.

Cameras FLASH with machine-gun hallelujah fervor.

Eldrick SHOUTS with exuberance, his uppercutting fist splitting the air like a bolt of lightning—

The King is dead, long live the King.

The King is dead, long live the King.

Eldrick is dead, long live Tiger.

* Two *

One afternoon, soon after Tiger’s victory and transformation at Augusta, I was scouring our garage when I saw a strange sight, something I’d never noticed. Until this moment.

Tucked away on a shelf, high above me, was a set of golf clubs. My father’s.
I pulled out one of the clubs, grabbed a Wiffle ball, and made my way to the front yard. Once there, I began the transformation of the landscape; I scanned and found a rich patch of green grass—my tee box. A drain sat on the far side of the yard—my green and pin placement. Between my grass patch and the drain lay my fairway. To my right, shrubs—hazards. I analyzed the hole and reasoned how many strokes it should take me to finish—my par.

Then, with the landscape established, I undertook a second transformation: myself.

“Ladies and gentlemen, patrons of Augusta, what a sight we have here—the young rookie from Los Gatos, California, matching Tiger shot for shot, and it comes down to this, the seventy-second hole at Augusta National. Here, at The Masters. Laing has demonstrated incredible poise and grace under pressure, but he’s going to need to make a statement with this tee shot. A silence falls over the crowd. Let’s see if Laing has what it takes…”

Then, I addressed the ball, dug in my feet, and—like a Tiger—swung.

* Three *

Spoken—exclaimed—whispered—woven into my fabric and spirit.

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

As inspiration, as motivation.

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

As one asserting an identity, as one answering a call.

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

As a group mantra, as a personal prayer.

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

* Four *

Soon after I showed an interest, my dad bought me my first set of golf clubs: MacGregor Titans. Driver, 3-wood, 5-wood. 3 through 9-iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge, and putter. I practiced and practiced and plotted out an entire golf course in my backyard using sprinkler heads, plant bases, and holes in the ground. I even kept scorecards of my rounds—always playing against Tiger.

My first official round of golf was at Pruneridge Golf Club, a small nine-hole course in Sunnyvale, California. It was raining, and my dad bought me a yellow rain-slick before the round. I remember splashing up the fairway, fifty yards (if I was lucky) at a time.

And loving it.

Later, I went to a three-day golf camp held at Pruneridge. We’d play a round, maybe two, every day. We’d dissect our swings, talk shop about our hip turn, club brands, backspin, and grass types. It was nerdy, but fun, because it was a focused deep-dive into the sport for which I had a burgeoning love.

It also hurt because the camp didn’t allow mulligans.

A ‘mulligan’ is golf terminology for a do-over. If you hit a bad shot, don’t worry about it. We won’t count the first one. It’s a mulligan. It’s a do-over. It didn’t happen.

But golf camp didn’t permit such cheap grace. This camp was run by Bonhoeffer. Whatever happened, happened. Chunked your shot? It happened. Tapped the ball with your putter on accident? It happened. Play it as it lies, count every stroke, and no gimmies—just like the mad Scottish shepherds who started this game intended. Such rules were designed to build a strong sense of character and integrity. However, such dedication to the old ways of golf didn’t make me want to be an honest golfer.

It made me want to learn how to cheat and not get caught.

* Five *

As a four-alarm-fire-hot fever dream, pulsing, burning—

As ache and yearning, continually knocking, like ocean tides.

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

As Dorothy and Ruby Red Slippers and No Place Like Home.

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

As something that could be.

As something that would be.

As something that, above all else, had to be.

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

* Six *

Because I didn’t want everyone to know I mishit a ball coming out of the bunker, or that I pushed that short putt everyone knows you should be able to make.

Because I didn’t want to be ‘hitting three’ off the tee.

Because I didn’t want to be seen as ‘less than’ or a failure.

Because I didn’t want anyone to see me fall short and call me out for it.

Even at eleven, it was about concealment. I was aware, to an almost debilitating degree, of the inevitability of imperfection, and therefore I did everything within my power to minimize its effects.

Or less loquaciously: if I know I’m going to fuck up, I’d better know how to hide my shit, too.

But not, oddly enough, because I wanted to be the best.

Because at the same time I was learning about golf, I was learning about porn. I can’t remember what I saw first—Tiger’s fist pump on the 18th green, or porn.

I’d seen pornography, and I’d learned that pornography was, without question, wrong—so said the Sunday School I sat in, so said the Bible I read, so said the pastors at church. Condemnation heaped upon condemnation made it clear that watching pornography signified a moral failing of the highest order.

And yet here I was, a good Christian boy in a good Christian family in a good Christian church, looking at porn. And yet here I was, reading about Old Tom Morris and Bobby Jones and the legends of golf, cheating and not counting the three-foot putt I missed on 15.

On the golf course, I learned about pars, birdies, and sand traps, while at home I learned about the internet and search engines and how to listen for footsteps. I learned about Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont, Jack’s 1-iron at Baltusrol, and Gene Sarazen’s 1935 double eagle at The Masters; meanwhile, I also learned about Jenna Jameson’s 69, the record for marathon gang-bangs, and how to delete browsing histories.

* Seven *

I am Tiger Woods. I am Tiger Woods.

If I said it enough times, I told myself, maybe everything would change.

Maybe I’d finally cure my slice.

Maybe I’d finally stop missing those four-foot gimme putts.

I am Tiger Woods.

Maybe I’d finally be more popular.

Maybe I finally wouldn’t hate what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

I am Tiger Woods.

Maybe everything would stop hurting and I wouldn’t feel so scared all the time.

Maybe I’d finally make God and my family and my friends so proud of me I’d become super-famous and super-secure and super-human and nothing would ever stop me again.

I am Tiger Woods.

Maybe, just maybe, I’d finally become the person I was supposed to be the whole time.

* Eight *

The more I learned how to cheat, I figured, the better I’d become at hiding all my screw-ups and hiccups and fuck-ups. One day, at golf camp, I hit my tee shot into the woods behind the green. We searched for five minutes, scouring the ground but coming up with nothing. I knew that if I didn’t find my ball, I’d have to go back to the tee and hit another shot. With penalties, that would count as my third shot. Hitting 3 on a par-3? Still on the tee? That meant a 5, 6, or worse on the hole. I couldn’t live with a triple-bogey on my scorecard.

After making sure no one was looking, I dropped an identical ball out of my pocket, waited about ten seconds, and then proudly proclaimed, “Found it!” I chipped onto the green, with par still in my sights.

Until, that is, the fat little twerp I was paired with found the first ball. “Here it is,” he said in his stupid little voice, pointing at it with his stupid little finger.

This meant a 2-stroke penalty. And a shitload of embarrassment.

And the onset of near-crippling shame, of being caught in a lie.

At the end of the day, we gathered as a group in the clubhouse lunch area. The teacher pointed me out and laid out, in embarrassing detail, what I’d done, which rules I’d broken, and what the punishments were for breaking said rules.

Yes, I got caught cheating. But no, it did not stop me from cheating again. I would continue to lie about my score—at church tournaments, at weekend outings with my dad and brother, when everyone was keeping score and when no one was keeping score. I would lie to myself about my own score, even if no one asked me what I’d shot on the previous hole.

That’s what I learned that day at golf camp—I had to improve my lie.

Not, “Tell the Truth,” but, “Lie better.”

“No imperfections allowed.”

“Don’t get caught.”

* Nine *

As it was with golf, my immediate response to using porn was not confession, but concealment. Not light, but darkness. Not brokenness, but perfection.

Brokenness was for everyone else—not me. There was to be no brokenness in golf, and no brokenness in life. Brokenness was for the sick and the lame. I was neither sick nor lame. I was fine. I was great. I got good grades, and I did good things, and I was going to be loved because of how good I was.

I was meant to be perfect, and loved.

And it would all be my fault.

That’s why I wanted to be Tiger Woods—because he seemed destined for something—because he wasn’t broken, like me—because he was perfect, and loved.

In this life, we cast idols, and then we cast ourselves as lesser versions of them—not-quite-as-famous movie stars, not-quite-as-talented musicians, not-quite-as-perfect athletes. We break our bones to fit someone else’s mold—we shave our heels to fill someone else’s shoes.

This is, we tell ourselves, our life’s work. To look and sound—and be—someone else.

I played and played and prayed and prayed God would make me not in His image, and not in the mold of whomever He’d planned for me to be.

I wanted God to make me like Tiger Woods.

And in His mercy, He did.

* Ten *

On Thanksgiving night of 2009, all the parts of Tiger’s life he’d sought to keep hidden spilled out, uncontrollably, into the open. Secrets clamored for the light. All the sin and shame and rule-breaking he’d buried deep down within himself broke down the doors and ran screaming into the street.

Trophies once held high now existed alongside affairs in Las Vegas and Australia. Tournament-winning putts on the 72nd hole stood shoulder to shoulder with dick jokes and porn stars. Cannon-blast drives, outrageous chip-ins, and blind shots to within three feet lived on the same continuum as text message requests for threesomes, strip clubs in New York, and night after cheating night in VIP hotel suites.

This underbelly of behavior, which had been concealed and contained and controlled for years, now broke through all social and cultural veneers, all the walls and dams and barriers built with the express purpose of transforming a man into a myth—an idol—a God.

But no amount of veneers or championships or commercials could keep out the truth: Tiger was no idol, and no God. He was, in the court of public opinion, a pervert. Once revered, now reviled. The same people who adored him at Augusta now voiced their full-throated hatred.

I’d made my home in the towering shade of my idol, but when he fell, the light shone on me—and I was faced with the full extent of the horror I’d inflicted on my heart.

“Who am I?” I asked, as if emerging from a fog or stupor. “What have I become?”

* Eleven *

In my dream I am playing golf—my tee shot slices, deep into the woods. “I can find it,” I tell the other members in my group. “I can find it.”

In my dream I walk into the woods—far past the possible landing spot of my ball. Minutes pass. The voices of my playing partners fade to nothing.

In my dream I turn a corner—and in a clearing, dappled with sun, is a Tiger—immense, claws bared—its belly split, bleeding to death.

The Tiger looked up at me. And his eyes were mine.

* Twelve *

At the end of 2009, when all the stories regarding Tiger’s infidelities became public knowledge, I’d still never been caught. I was still, however, trapped in the cycle of addiction, still hidden, one false self nested within the other—still trapped in the continual concealment of my true, imperfect self.

I’d never had to stand in front of people who, though they once praised me, now reviled me.

I’d never had to read a confession on national television:

Good morning. And thank you for joining me. Many of you in this room are my friends. Many of you in this room know me. Many of you have cheered for me, or you worked with me, or you supported me. Now, every one of you has good reason to be critical of me. I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in…

At the time of his press conference, I still thought I could master my addiction. I still thought I could white-knuckle, cold-turkey my way out of my hurt. I’d been addicted to porn for over half my life, but I still believed that I and I alone would be the one to get myself out of this mess.

I couldn’t accept what I’d done, and what I was unable to do.

…I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable. And I am the only person to blame. I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in.

I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.

Was I surprised when I heard how Tiger had cheated on his wife? Was I disappointed? Did I feel like he’d let down millions of his fans, myself included?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

…There are many people in this room and there are many people at home who believed in me. Today, I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.

Did I feel like he deserved all the hate thrown his way? Did I feel like he needed to suffer? Did I, now knowing how flawed and wretched and—broken—Tiger was, did I still want to be him?

No. No.

And yes.

* Thirteen *

I knelt in the Tiger’s pooling blood, and I saw myself in its reflection.

“My what beautiful blood you have,” I said.

“You as well,” said the Tiger.

I held the Tiger’s head in my hand, and I felt its every laboring breath.

“My what beautiful stripes you have,” I said.

“You as well,” said the Tiger.

I saw the light cause the Tiger’s skin to glow, and his eyes to shine.

“My what a beautiful spirit you have,” I said.

“You as well,” said the Tiger.

I felt warm. I looked down and saw my own wound, my own blood.

“My what a beautiful body you have,” said the Tiger.

“You as well,” I said.

And together, in the light—together—we found rest.

* Fourteen *

“Here,” I thought to myself, “someone who looks like me. Someone who growls like me. Someone who sings the same song—Imperfect. Unfaithful. Unabiding.” Our transgressions weren’t carbon copies; it was our broken hearts’ orientations—toward ourselves, toward sin—that we shared.

We both thought it was something we could control. We both thought we were stronger than our urges. We both thought we knew better than God, our friends, and our family. We believed that we knew, above and beyond anyone else, what was right for our hearts, minds, and souls.

We shared the yearning—compulsion, even—to be perfect, to convey a specific and perfect image to everyone—a petrified, unchanging persona—everything always perfect all the time forever and ever. In the midst of this messy, broken, imperfect world, it was our duty—our destiny—to be perfect.

* Fifteen *

“Jesus Christ, son of God…hallowed be your name…your name, not mine…my name is Dominic, and my hands are too used to concealment and not confession.

I sought to make, but I have unmade. I sought to heal, but have scarred instead.

Forget me, for I have sinned….over and over…I promised I would change, and I didn’t…I wanted to believe I could change myself, but I couldn’t.

Forgive me, because I hid from you. Because I was afraid.

Because I believed I was broken beyond repair. Because I didn’t believe you’d forgive me.”

* Sixteen *

On April 8, 2010, after a 144-day absence from the world of professional golf, Tiger Woods returned to competition in Augusta, Georgia. The Masters.

Tiger Woods, by his own admission, didn’t know what kind of reception he’d receive at Augusta. Some expected a hostile crowd. He’d hoped for, at best, a few cheers, and for the most part, he was warmly received. He didn’t receive a standing ovation at every tee box, but people cheered him on, and he, more than usual, smiled and acknowledged the patrons who offered their support.

So did that mean everyone forgave Tiger?

After all, he confessed to taking painkillers the night of his one-car wreck on November 27, 2009. He confessed to cheating on his wife and betraying his family. He confessed to tarnishing his legacy and letting down all the sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers who looked up to him.

At this point, though, rooting for Tiger, once a popular Sunday pastime, had turned into a sour, unpopular stance. Cheer for him, perhaps, but only from afar, and keep it to yourself. On the surface, I kept calm. But in my heart, I wanted Tiger to win in a rout, like he did in ’97. I wanted another chip-in at 16, like he did in ’05. I wanted this to start another streak of victories and major titles.

I wanted him to win because that would mean his confession meant something. If he won, I believed, he would be absolved. Redeemed. All sin forgotten. Erased from the ledger. The Universe’s Biggest Mulligan. Like it never happened.

If Tiger’d win, I thought to myself, I’d win. If he’d be forgiven, I’d be forgiven as well. My sin would, like Tiger’s, be erased. Like it never happened.

He opened with a first-round 68, followed by a second-round score of 70. That made him six-under-par for the tournament, and it put him two strokes behind the co-leaders, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. However, a Third Round 70 and a Final Round score of 69 resulted in a mere tie for fourth.

No reascension. No redeeming. No victory.

And no forgiveness.

* Seventeen *

“Jesus Christ, son of God, I am not a great pretender. I am not doing well. I am not one who makes well. I am not one who heals the sick.”

“Hello, beautiful.”

“I forced my soul into molds that were not mine. I took words that didn’t belong to me.
I claimed visions from the eyes and hearts of others. Forgive me, Christ.”

“Hello, beautiful.”

“Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Have mercy on me, a shapeshifter. Have mercy on me, a heartbreaker.”

“Hello, beautiful.”

* Eighteen *

If there was something one could do to gain forgiveness—if it involved making something, like eight hundred and twenty-seven sugar donuts, or completing a task, like copying War and Peace with your non-dominant hand, I would have done it.

Because that would mean forgiveness was something to be gained, or achieved.

Or won.

But Tiger Woods wouldn’t have won forgiveness if he’d had the lowest score at the end of Sunday. He would’ve won a trophy. If he’d ended the day in first place, he wouldn’t have been given the Universe’s Biggest Mulligan; he would’ve been given a jacket.

Whatever happened, happened. No mulligans or gimmies. Count every stroke. Play every hole.

Truth is, both Tiger and I were already forgiven. Regardless of what happened at the 2010 Masters—regardless of what happened at the 1997 Masters—regardless of what happened anywhere at any time.

Since the beginning of time—“Hello, beautiful”—forever and ever amen.

Anne Lamott equated forgiveness to putting your hands under a faucet with water that’s already running. Forgiveness is not something for me to achieve or realize, but something to accept. It has already been given. I have already been redeemed. I am healed.

Not perfect. But healed.

* Nineteen *

When I was watching him, in the heyday from 2000–2008, I was sure that Tiger would eclipse the records of eighty-two PGA victories and eighteen majors. But now, I’m far less sure. The things I once idolized him for—his sports excellence, the Sunday Red, the determination, the zeal, the perfection—all gone. New players with new swings have ascended and laid claim to the vacated throne.

The King is dead, long live the King.

The King is dead, long live the King.

As of August 2016, chronic back problems have sidelined him indefinitely. Maybe he’ll never surpass those records. Maybe he’ll never win another professional tournament. Maybe the man I idolized is just a man. Maybe, though, the man I idolized as a golfer can inspire me once again, but not as a golfer.

As a father.

While discussing his injury in a December 2015 interview with TIME magazine, Tiger said, “The most important thing, though, is that I get to have a life with my kids. That’s more important than golf. I’ve come to realize that now…”

“That’s more important than winning a golf tournament?” asks the interviewer.

“Absolutely. No doubt,” Tiger says. “My kids are more important to me than anything else in the world… With all my heart, I do not want to stop playing golf. But the flip side is, my kids’ lives are much more important to me. Now, if I can do both, that is an ideal world. It’s a win-win. If I can only do one, it wouldn’t be golf. It would be my kids. That’s still a win-win.”

The King is dead, long live the King.

The King is dead, long live the King.

Tiger is dead, long live…

* Twenty *

When he looks in the mirror, what does he see?
When I look in the mirror, what do I see?

When he looks at his hands, what does he feel?
When I look at my hands, what do I feel?

When he feels his heart, what does he believe about himself?
When I feel my heart, what do I believe about myself?

When all is quiet, what are the words in his prayers?
When all is quiet, what are the words in my prayers?

* Twenty-One *

Dear Tiger,

My name’s Dominic. I watched you win The Masters in 1997. I was eleven, and I’d never played golf before that moment. Afterward, I found my dad’s golf clubs in my garage. I turned my backyard into golf courses and played them by memory. Sprinkler heads and plants acted as tees and greens. I kept scorecards. I hacked my backyard to pieces.

Clichéd as it may be, there’s no way around it—I am part of the “I am Tiger Woods” generation.

I’m also an addict.

I lied to conceal my addiction, to friends and family, and my addiction, at times, prevented me from having meaningful, honest relationships. It’s been an addiction since junior high, perhaps earlier.

I played golf on a high school team, took a small break in college, then picked it back up again. I’ve broken 80 twice, and I’ve had one hole-in-one. It doesn’t compare to the hole-in-one you made at 16 in the 3rd Round of the 1997 Phoenix Open. Nor does it compare to the 213-yard six-iron blast from the sand at 18, in the final round of the 2000 Bell Canada Open.

But we’re both broken people. We’re both addicts. We’re both not strong enough to change who we are. We’re both not strong enough to be who we once dreamt. We’re both not the man we thought we would be.

When you won The Masters, you were 21 and I was 11. You’re now 40 and I’m now 30. I believed in you then, and I believe in you now. Not as a king or a God, but as a man. As a forgiven father, wholly imperfect, full of desire, life, and spirit.

We are not many things, Tiger: Perfect. Unshakeable. Unbroken. Also, one more thing we’re not:


* Twenty-Two *

As confession, as revelation.

I am not Tiger Woods.

As uniting. As bonding.

I am Dominic Laing.

As calm over the waters. As the parting of clouds.

I am beautiful, as you are beautiful.

As coming home. As loving and being loved.

I am forgiven. I am healed.

As peace. As rest.

As fearfully—and wonderfully—and joyfully—and lovingly made.


 Back Table of Contents forward