September 2005. Tiger Woods, New York: am I interested? Of course I’m fucking interested, as I explain to the Mail On Sunday while feigning professionalism and assuring the man on the phone that I’m an expert on both golf and the Tiger Woods videogame released annually by behemoth EA Sports.
Fast forward to a muggy Monday morning in Central Park and the Tiger circus is upon us. Kicking off proceedings, I have been allotted 25 minutes of his undivided attention. Undivided, that is, apart from at least a dozen clipboard-wielding interested parties analysing every word, each ready to blow a metaphorical whistle should the questions veer off topic. As for those questions, they are given to me beforehand on a printed sheet with the cursory clarification: “Here are your questions for Mr Woods,” something that does seem to be a waste of a premium economy airfare and a luxury hotel.
Subjects out of bounds include anything to do with his personal life, The Ryder Cup (and his perceived disinterest in it), and, bizarrely, his recently dyed hair, which is presumably intended to resemble a tiger, but comes across more as advanced alopecia. Furthermore, I’m instructed to remove my Puma tracksuit top for fear of offending the Nike representatives, something I initially - and incorrectly - take to be a joke. Luckily, I’m shod in the Swoosh, otherwise the interview may have had to take place barefoot.
Given the absurdly exacting build-up, it’s a surprisingly low-key entrance from a sharp-dressed and unbranded Mr Woods. He ambles in unannounced, pours himself a glass of water, sits down and introduces himself as “Tiger” through impossibly white teeth while shaking my hand, a hand that we now know has been inside a litany of waitresses, hookers and porn stars.
As for the interview, while not quite as stage-managed as the entirely scripted post-transgression apology he read out to the assembled press and sponsors, it’s hardly Michael Parkinson v Cassius Clay, largely consisting of Tiger listing the key features of the game and explaining that he likes golf and is quite good at it. The closest he comes to opening up is when he suggests that had he never picked up a golf club, he may have joined the navy. He does show a glimpse of humour when talking about the skin-tight motion capture suit that he has to wear so the game developers can replicate his swing.
"I have been allotted 25 minutes of his undivided attention. Undivided, that is, apart from at least a dozen clipboard-wielding interested parties analysing every word."
“It is pretty tight,” says Tiger, “but at least it’s not as tight as it used to be, and it’s become more forgiving in the right spot.” It’s a throwaway line, albeit one given more gravitas in light of the revelation that he is hung like an Arab stallion and has a predilection for rough sex.
As the painstaking interview crawls to a moribund conclusion, Tiger relaxes and poses for the token photo, advising me on my non-existent swing. Turning to the game, which is running on a big screen, he recognises his favourite course, St Andrews, a testament to the game’s visual quality, but also the forebear of a PR shit storm that threatens to destroy the very fabric of the sport. Speaking candidly, Tiger tells me of a shocking incident that happened the first time he played there. Although the interview is technically over, my recorder is still running, and on hearing Tiger’s stunning revelation, an American PR sternly barks, “Is that still recording?” Throwing a preposterous fit, she claims that if the story ever gets out, Tiger will never speak to the Mail on Sunday again, and hilariously, that he will never come to England again – presumably under the assumption that England is an insignificant island with no bearing on the world of golf.
Following a full day of tense negotiations during which I revel in the power, I finally agree not to use the story, thus maintaining Tiger’s squeaky-clean image and enabling him to impregnate a stripper and rut a menstruating waitress in a church car park without besmirching the good name of EA Sports. So what was the earth-shattering bombshell that could have kept Tiger out of The Open and sullied golf forever? The world deserves to know.
Tiger: “Getting ready for the British Open I had a Scottish caddie. The first day he shows up he is so hammered. So hammered, and with a thick Scottish accent I couldn’t understand a word he was saying…”
You heard it here first. When Tiger Woods first played at St Andrews, his Scottish caddie was unintelligible, and may have been drinking. Hold the front page…
Excerpt taken from a forthcoming autobiography by Steve Hill.
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