Michael Jordan was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was that after games he’d sit at his locker and patiently answer every question asked of him by journalists.
Once, I watched as he finished a half-hour session only to sit down again when approached by a Japanese television crew that had been shyly waiting in the wings.
Jordan got it.
Whatever his faults, he understood that his responsibility as the world’s most recognizable athlete stretched beyond the hardwood floors of the NBA.
Tiger Woods — however begrudgingly, at times — has also accepted that there are duties that come with being the world’s greatest golfer and that some of them can be unpalatable.
Near the top of the list — up there with having to endure five-plus hour pro-am rounds or pressing the flesh at corporate golf outings — is fielding questions from the media.
Not that he’s in the habit of baring his soul in the media center — neither, in truth, was Jordan, who charmed his way around prickly questions — but Woods at least has always gone through the motions and fronted the cameras, on good days and bad.
Often, like Jordan, he could be glib and superficial, but sometimes, when the mood struck him, he’d lift the curtain a little and say what he really felt, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in finding him a far more interesting person on those days.
On Monday, though, Woods unveiled a new normal.
He decided to skip the pre-tournament interview for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow in favor of a video Q&A session in which he answered questions from fans.
The questions were, of course, vetted. And, predictably, as penetrating as a soap bubble.
Some of Woods’ answers did provide a hint of insight. He blamed a bad posture and backswing for his career-worst performance at last months’ Masters, said he was still looking to lessen the impact on his surgically repaired left knee and felt his ball-striking is good enough for him to contend this week and next week, at The Players.
But mainly, the nearly 15-minute session in which he appeared — disturbingly, like a hostage — alone in front of a video camera, was unadulterated fluff.
We discovered that he thinks the Claret Jug is the coolest-looking major trophy, that he spends his time working equally on his short and long games, and that he plans on only playing the pro-am at Quail Hollow.
What’s his most memorable Players championship, and why? “Uh, let’s see … probably the one I won,” Woods said.
More disturbingly, two of the 19 questions were thinly veiled infomercials for his two major sponsors, FUSE, a nutritional drink supplier, and Nike.
Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, says the video Q&A session was a belated attempt to catch the social media boat that Woods has largely missed.
On that score, it’s laudable that a player who’s never been one to spend much time signing autographs at tournaments wants to engage fans in this way.
But it’s disturbing that Steinberg and Woods have seen fit to substitute their homemade, modern-day homage to the old Soviet TASS news broadcasts for an independent press conference.
It’s a decision that reeks of paranoia; a clumsy attempt at controlling the message. It also gives the impression — rightly or wrongly — that Woods wants to dodge tough questions, perhaps about his implosion at Augusta or about revelations in "The Big Miss," the tell-all written by his estranged coach, Hank Haney.
Steinberg told me that “this is not a permanent thing” and that Woods will still be doing pre-tournament interviews, just not at all of the tournaments he plays.
A PGA Tour spokesperson says Woods is not on the interview schedule list for The Players but adds that the schedule hasn’t been finalized.
Whatever, Woods needs to reconsider the entire approach. Someone around him needs to look him square in the eyes and tell him it’s a bad idea — and completely unnecessary — to make more enemies in the media.
In "Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger’s Most Tumultuous Season," I wrote about Woods’ dysfunction when it came to journalists.
“Woods, with very few exceptions, was estranged from the media that covers him, and when he needed their restraint at the end of 2009, he instead got their revenge.”