Mt. Airy resident and Sports Illustrated writer Micahel Bamberger's new book is "The Second Life of Tiger Woods." by John Burnes A review of “The Second Life of Tiger Woods” By Michael …
by John Burnes
A review of “The Second Life of Tiger Woods” By Michael Bamberger, 258 pp. Avid Reader Press. $18.99.
Being in an empty jail cell, at four in the morning, cold, shoeless and tired, isn’t exactly how you want to spend time in Florida. And that is exactly where the greatest athlete of the first decade of this century found himself.
Tiger Woods is examined and discussed in Michael Bamberger’s latest book, “The Second Life of Tiger Woods.” And from that infamous night in May, just two years later, Tiger would don the green jacket one more time.
Bamberger, a Mt. Airy resident, is one of the most accomplished writers in our game, executes on a near flawless study of one of the most intriguing athletic characters of all time. In any sport.
When I think of the Masters and the telling of some of the greatest stories, I think of Bamberger. He has given us “Men in Green,” and many other great articles as a 22-year veteran writer of Sports Illustrated.
The invitational at Augusta is the latest of the four majors in our game, but over the years, it has found itself the most popular. A rite of spring, (although this year it looks to be a rite of winter), the Georgia playground in its idealistic conditions of azaleas and enhanced fairways and greens, is typically the start of the golf season in America. And although the tournament has been put on hold for the moment, Bamberger offers behind the scenes access to this storied event as if the reader is there, with the champions before their annual dinner:
“If you ever attend the Masters on a Tuesday, and you have the right credential, you might want to take a seat on one of the benches by the clubhouse entrance that faces Magnolia Lane, right around half past six,” he writes. “Consider bringing a newspaper or some other prop to look less conspicuous. You’ll be in for a treat: the march of the Masters champs, one after another, showing up for their annual dinner. Cocktails start at 6:45 on the second floor. To get there, they have to enter the clubhouse first, and that’s why you’ve staked out that spot. You won’t believe how good that Gary Player looks. Like a movie star.”
Golf history is rich, and Bamberger knows this like no other. He seamlessly weaves Tiger’s place in the lineage of golf’s greats: Jones, Nelson, Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus and Woods. And through some of Tiger’s small quirks, Bamberger identifies rifts with some of the players of a lost era, the later 80s early 90s. The scotch and steak crowd had no place for Tiger. He knew it and didn’t like it. Nick Faldo was the leader of the pack at six majors, but no one won more during this time (Seve 5, Els 4, and Norman 2). Tiger would win 15 majors and through the years, held little regard for some of these players of a different generation, who flourished in minor tour victories and off-season shoot-outs.
“ Norman enjoys telling about the time he was driving behind Tiger on Jupiter Island with his wife, Kirsten, in the passenger seat,” writes Bamberger, describing a scene that illustrates the tension that had built between Tiger and the prior generation of pros. “Tiger got to the drawbridge leading off the island just as it was going up. Norman positioned his car beside Tiger’s. ‘I got ahead of his security detail,’ Norman said, describing playfully. ‘We’re side by side. Had to be the longest eight minutes of Tiger’s life. I’m talking to Kirsten, so I’m looking his way. She rolls down the window.’ I said, ‘Hi Tiger!’ Nothing. Tiger storms off. Kirsten says, ‘What was that all about?’”
Bamberger identifies with a guy like me. There are two distinct camps on the Tiger dynasty. I’m particularly fond of Woods and the era he led. Maybe because we’re of the same age. As the former Stanford standout was winning the 1997 Masters in epic style, I was in graduate school splitting my time on the El, Mario and Gino’s and the fairway mower of Cobbs Creek. Like everyone else, we witnessed a then lanky kid, take our father’s game to a whole new level. Aided by a fearless attitude, a mindset of a second place is the first loser mentality, and a more athletic approach than Gary Player had pioneered, Tiger Mania was born. I know this first-hand because the tee sheet was packed on both the upper and lower courses of Lansdowne Avenue. Everyone has their guy in this game, (mine is Hogan,) but Tiger’s greatness is undeniable. That summer of ’97, I didn’t feel Paul Azinger. I felt Tiger Woods.
Still there is thorough discussion in this latest release, of his character and social peculiarity. As a society, we sometimes confuse on field excellence with the desire for our game’s heroes to be just as great off the greens too. Rarely are these dynamics equal. Bamberger dives deep into this phenomenon with velocity and complete follow through. The author makes you think about some of the suspected issues of Tiger’s time and debate them. Allow me to tee:
In his 258-page book, the notion of so-called artificial health-aided supplements is addressed and right fully so. The performance enhancement era directly coincided with Tiger’s major reign. But the Tiger era served as a bridge of the shapers to the bomb and gauge practitioners we see today. Did his body change? Yes, as did Jordan’s, Kobe’s, and Roger’s. Google a side by side visual comparison of Duffy Waldorf and Brooks Kopeka and I think you will agree.
The rules and the sacredness of their standing in our game are also explored; Bamberger, a de facto writer custodian of the rules, illustrates this through a series of examples. The Masters incident involving a preferred drop, where Tiger admitted his approach was deemed against the rules and should have cost him a penalty. Regardless, the Masters has in fact a rule, when you miss the rule, during competition.
Bamberger’s cites the R&A and USGA rules as a summary of central principles and clarity:
Unfortunately, the rules are not as black and white as they appear in the rules book. Or as they’re executed by humans. If we are to play it as it lies, why can I lift and clean my ball on the green? It is argued that some of Tiger’s drops may have been generous, yet his playing partners over the years have never argued them. Are we left to believe they were complicit or under the Jedi spell of Tiger? The playing partners in the group are charged with protecting the field, not just their game (or Tiger’s). Alas, Bamberger adds a sense of humor throughout the book, including where he describes a Tiger hole out as a “newspaper 6,” (that got me a belly laugh, google that one too).
The rules of the game are a consistent set of contradictions (Yo Mike, if I am responsible for my score, how come I can’t post my score after playing alone?!), and in this study of Tiger, this theme continues. It is a story of redemption but if measured in swing changes, I would call this book the 7th Swing of Tiger Woods. And I think the Big Cat has a few more left.
There are a host of recent works on Tiger’s resurgence as a contender once again. Sampson’s Roaring Back, Seven Days in Augusta by Cannizzaro, and a host of articles de jour. But Bamberger brings the reader in like no other, makes you relive the moments in the heat of battle, and questions a series of choices on the life that is Tiger.
“The Second Life” is a welcome reprieve from the pandemic and our current state of affairs and a real and truthful journey. Bamberger makes you think about some of the issues raised, like all good books should, and urges the reader to debate about them with him personally at McNally’s over 3 beers. Count me in for that, put me down for a newspaper 3.
R. John Burnes serves on the history committee of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org