By Shane Ryan
I remember precisely where I was when I wrote it—the media centre at St. Andrews, probably eating some very bland Scottish food, Golf Digest’s Alex Myers sitting to my right, ready to hit the button when I finished.
There have been many good golf trips in my short career, but I still think the 2015 Open Championship was my favourite. Everything they say about the town of St. Andrews is true. It’s beautiful without being pompous, stately without being imposing—the kind of place you feel welcome without having to seek it out. Three of us found an AirBnB two miles from the course, and every morning we’d walk to the course, past gradually more expensive homes, and march through one of the town gates into the village. We’d work all day, and when we filed our last stories around 9 or 10 p.m., it was still light out, so we’d find a pub and stay as late as they’d let us. I didn’t sleep more than five hours the whole week, but the experience was so invigorating that I never felt tired.
Over the course of that week, I wrote a lot of words, culminating in a story about Jordan Spieth’s near-miss that ended the grand slam quest. During one of the early rounds, when the rain and wind stopped play, I spent an afternoon with James Hutchinson, St. Andrews’ environmental manager, and wrote a very long feature about his “secret wars” to keep the course beautiful without damaging the ecosystems of the links. Hutchinson was so kind, and the topic so fascinating to me, that I remember feeling that rare sensation—rare to an Internet journalist, anyway, or at least to me—of actually being fulfilled in some way. That said, it was a story about plants and animals on a golf website, and I’m sure very few people actually read it.
What people did read was another story I dashed off in about an hour one afternoon in the media centre. It was called “Tiger Woods is totally, completely, unequivocally, and utterly done,” and it was designed to provoke. In my memory, I was frustrated about the attention he still captured at a time when his career was stalled out, and I’m sure there was a good deal of bias on my part since I had just written a book about the game’s young stars. That said, reading the story again, it’s written with such obvious hyperbole that I couldn’t have been too mad—mostly, it seems like a lark, something funny and quick and a little outrageous. If it wasn’t spiritually nourishing, I’m sure it was fun to write; quick and easy and sweet, like a box of candy devoured in seconds that only makes you nauseous later.
The piece has been proven wrong—extravagantly wrong—but by the metrics of the Internet, it was a success then and continues to succeed today. When Tiger won the Tour Championship last season, the story spread, but even that paled in comparison to today’s resurgence—almost immediately after Tiger’s victory putt, two Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers put it on blast, and the rest is history. It’s the kind of thing people love—look at the idiot writer who counted out the greatest golfer of all-time and was dead wrong. Some of the ribbing is good-natured, some are inscrutable, and some is extremely angry. There are people who honestly believe I should lose my job for being wrong about Tiger Woods, and if you presented them with a magic button that could bring about that outcome, they’d mash it vigorously. They think that my tone was “rude” or “disrespectful,” and seem to hold the implicit belief that Tiger himself was somehow hurt or offended. Dumber still, they think this reflects on my “integrity,” as if writing an opinion about Tiger Woods means I have some personal grudge and have set out to destroy him.
That’s OK—writing on the Internet either gives you thick skin, in which case you roll with the hate, or it doesn’t, and you become one of those embarrassing people who always fights with his followers. Still, there’s no way to avoid that low-stomach rumbling of dull dread when hundreds of people are screaming at you online. This is not life and death (although one or two of the reply guys give me pause), and I don’t want or deserve sympathy. In five years, nobody will remember this, and unless life goes shockingly well, I will have much bigger problems within the next…oh, ten minutes or so.
That said, a word in my defence: Yes, I was very wrong about Tiger. But this stuff is meant to be fun—people who write about sports, especially on the Internet, produce a lot of content, and that content is designed, like any content anywhere, to attract an audience. Editorial sports content is at its best when it feels conversational, and part of a conversation is just rattling off unsound, unprovable, or utterly wrong opinions in an entertaining way. If you and your friend were having a chat one night in 2016, and your friend said he thought Tiger was washed up, would you call him up and scream at him now?
Maybe you would. But I submit that if you’re getting mad about this stuff, you’re taking it too seriously, you’re not understanding what the opinion side of Internet sports writing is for, and you’re also vastly overestimating the impact any of this will have on Tiger Woods. You should not read a piece that includes this paragraph…
“Someday, we may invent time machines, and then we can travel back to the year 2000. When we arrive there, Tiger Woods will not be done. Perhaps when we die, we’ll get a chance to revisit our lives in some capacity, and we’ll pass through that brief epoch when Tiger Woods was not done. Maybe we will eventually learn that life is a dream or a simulation and that Tiger Woods never truly existed, just as you and I and these words you’re reading don’t exist. In that case, Tiger will not be done, but nor will he be undone. But until any of these things happen, Tiger Woods will remain done.”
… and let yourself fly into a conniption that still leaves you raw and red four years later. You don’t need to fight on Tiger’s behalf, because I guarantee you he does not care. He did not care when I was prematurely dancing on his grave in 2015, and in his triumph today, he also explicitly does not care about the Golf Digest blog guy who spread greatly exaggerated rumours of his demise.
So calm the **** down.
Now, that said … I was wrong about Tiger Woods. Wrong then, wrong now, wrong forevermore. Gigantically, calamitously wrong. Tiger Woods owns me, I’ve been humbled, and my humiliation will be plastered on the Internet until that blessed day when I steal the Internet keys from my editor and delete it from the face of the earth. Laugh at me, point at me, and have your fun—I will sit here and take it, and I will be mostly okay with that.