The most intriguing gossip about Tiger Woods in a new tell-all book by his ex-swing coach is that at the height of his career in 2006-07, the world’s highest-paid athlete seriously considered quitting golf to take up a radically different career.
That got me thinking about neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Most people have strong opinions about Woods and Zimmerman, but I want to skip all that to point out an odd similarity between them that I, an old baby boomer, find surprisingly common about youngish men born in the late 20th century.
Three years ago in Taki’s Magazine, before all of Tiger’s problems with his now ex-wife surfaced, I pointed out that Woods had become massively more muscular before our eyes in 2006-07. This was puzzling, since looking like a GI Joe action figure isn’t essential to golf. For instance, as a 24-year-old in 2000, Woods had won the US Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 strokes while wearing a shirt that appeared several sizes too large for his then-wiry frame.
Now we finally know what the bodybuilding was about. According to insider Hank Haney’s book The Big Miss, Tiger had long been fascinated by the Navy SEAL commandos. His father Earl had been a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Special Forces, and the only thing cooler than a Green Beret is a SEAL. (Just under a year ago, SEAL Team Six assassinated Osama bin Laden.)
Around the time his father died in May 2006, Tiger transformed himself physically to see if he had what it takes to make it in the SEALs as an overage new recruit. When Woods went on a three-day paratroop training session before the 2006 US Open (in which he missed the cut), Haney unloaded on him in an email:
With the U.S. Open 18 days away, do you think it was a good idea to go on a Navy SEALs mission? You need to get that whole SEALs thing out of your system and stick to playing Navy SEAL on the video games. I can tell by the way you are talking and acting that you still want to become a Navy SEAL. Man, are you crazy?
Woods kept up his strenuous military sojourns well into 2007. Two sources told Haney that Woods’s major knee injury, which pained him so visibly during his last major championship victory, the 2008 US Open in San Diego, was suffered in one of those “kill houses” familiar from movie training montages where plywood enemies pop up to be shot.
Or perhaps the bodybuilding was less a result of Tiger’s interest in the SEALs than a cause. (Blackwater had major problems with steroid use among its mercenaries.)
Haney compares this episode to Michael Jordan’s strange interregnum in minor-league baseball after his father’s murder (although that is often attributed these days to a purported clandestine suspension for gambling by NBA commissioner David Stern). Another analog might be movie star Mickey Rourke’s eight prizefights in the 1990s. But Pat Tillman, the strong-jawed NFL safety who patriotically enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and was killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan in 2004, is the most apt referent for Woods.
Tiger Woods never seemed terribly public-spirited, but it appears he seriously dreamed of risking his life to don a uniform for his country.
If Woods’s secret life resembled Act of Valor, that glossy recruiting movie for the Navy SEALS, Zimmerman’s looked more like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the Kevin James comedy about a man deeply driven to protect and serve but who can never quite pass the State Trooper test.
Here you have the two most hated younger men in America, Tiger Woods and George Zimmerman, yet they both wanted to be of service. They wanted to protect the rest of us from bad guys. They wanted to be part of a big organization, read manuals, and get ordered around.
This is fascinating to me. Perhaps human nature doesn’t change, but fashions sure do. Back in the late 1960s, it was considered cool to be a rebel, an iconoclast, a moody loner, an antisocial misfit. At least theoretically, people were against conformity, authority, and institutions.
It wasn’t really the baby boomers who got to do all that James Dean “rebel” stuff, it was a handful of lucky bastards born just before the boom who became role models for all us dopey boomers. But we believed their self-interested spiels.
For many post-boomers, however, from the most obscure (Zimmerman) to the most famous (Woods), being part of the system is not a fear but an ambition.
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