by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Angel Fire, N.M.
December 13, 2009
TIGER, TIGER, BURNING BRIGHT: LESSONS FROM CARNER AND HOGAN
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., Dec. 13, 2009 -- Tiger Woods is in the enviable position of looking trouble in the eye, and dealing with it by quitting his job. "After much soul searching I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf," Tiger tells us.
It is amazing that the super-famous or super-wealthy have the ability to hide out in Switzerland, re-discover Jesus, hop from rehab spa to rehab spa, or just "chill out" when trouble calls.
What would your reaction be if after a drunken brawl, or cheating on your sister and her four rug rats, or disappearing for a ribald "fishing trip" with the guys, your brother-in-law announced:
"After much soul searching I have decided to take an indefinite break from my job at Roto-Rooter. Oh yeah, can you loan me a few bucks for the car payment?"
Tiger really thinks that because he was a three-year-old phenom - skillfully managed by a loving but driven and skillful dad who lived his his own bureaucratic life vicariously through his kid - he invented the game and the fame.
The easy comparison is Ben Hogan. On Feb. 2, 1949, in Texas, Hogan and his wife barely survived a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus. Just before impact he threw his body across his wife Valerie. This move not only probably saved his wife's life, but kept the steering column from puncturing through the driver's seat with his body still in it.
Hogan's doctors would not discuss golf. They told him he would never walk. The 36-year-old golf champ insisted on leaving the hospital 59 days after suffering two pelvis fractures, a fractured collar bone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib, and nearly fatal blood clots.
After being nearly killed in the crash, Hogan defied the doctors and the sportswriters by rebounding, recovering, and gathering international admiration and respect every painful step of the way.
But the story Tiger Woods really needs to read during these weeks and months of reflection, is the story of "Big Momma."
JoAnne Gunderson Carner, aka "Big Momma" in terms of tournaments won, majors won, fame and acclaim, at age 70 is the most accomplished golfer alive, with her one statistically equal being - yes - Tiger Woods in winning the equivalent of three USGA titles.
It was a extremely hot and humid summer day in Palm Beach County, Florida, about 11 years ago, with sloppy sweat hanging from her short hair and brow, JoAnne Carner at high noon was practicing putting and chipping at her home course of Palm Beach National Country Club in suburban Lake Worth, Fl. I know. I was there. I was watching her.
While other club members went straight to the buffet lunch, or for a cool drink at the bar, Big Momma practiced her golf game in temperature and humidity which both read about 91.
"What a f-----g show-off! Making sure everyone in the dining room sees what a martyr she is," one curmudgeon felt the need to say, even in sight of the full wall of trophies Carner had brought to the prestige of the home club.
"You're an idiot. You don't have a clue, that's her job!" came an angry rebuttal came from another man entering a side meeting room for his weekly Greenacres Kiwanis Club luncheon.
The second voice came from David McDermott, a guy who knew a little bit about struggle and pain and success. A Nationwide Insurance agent who served his nation as an Air Force intelligence officer, lived in pain every day from pins holding his neck together from an accident, and who was dealing with a seriously ill wife, made the comment.
Before turning away from the "idiot," McDermott, one of 17 kids from a hard-scrabble Philadelphia postal inspector's family, pointed at the guy and added:
"Miss Carner is at work. This is her job. Even if she doesn't play many tournaments anymore, this has been her work for decades. While you are in the air conditioning having lunch, she is at 'her office' out there, working."
As with many things that would never enter Tiger's mind when he walks away from the irritating questions and cameras, there was more to the story. I always felt that one of the reasons Miss Carner in her later years fought the horrible heat and humidity choosing noontime practice was the guy in the wheelchair in the corner of the dining room.
You see, in addition to a Hall of Fame golf career which only Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Carol Semple Thompson could rival, she was also devoted - fulltime - to her dying husband. I forget if it was Alzheimer's or something else. I never asked. It wasn't my business.
Big Momma, also known as the Great Gundy, wheeled her husband Don through the parking lot and into the dining room several times a week. Surrounded by longtime and caring friends, she knew her husband could be attended with love for a few hours while she made at least some attempt to replicate the grueling practice schedule that won her 43 tournaments and five major championships.
Now on the Legends Tour and absent the long bombing drives which were her trademark, she told reporters last month, "'But, I've never had the yips. I am still a good putter. And I still like to compete."
John Paul Newport, writing in the Wall Street Journal about "The Tiger We Thought We Knew" says, "Some of the wording in the statement has a recovery group flavor."
Perhaps others also felt the entire statement had a very deliberate - word-for-word crafting - of a professional public relations flavor. Around some attorney's conference table one could envision managers of a billion-dollar empire consulting psychologists and business gurus about "what will make Tiger sound contrite, remorseful, sincere, and garner sympathy?"
There has been nothing to assure admiring fans and sponsors' clients, that he would keep working, deal with family troubles while holding down a job, and take the cameras and publicity in stride like he did when the scribes and snappers helped make millions for him.
JoAnne Corner's husband Don lost his battle to "Parkinson's and dementia" according to one golf magazine on New Year's Eve, 1999.
Big Mama continues to play, and coach and sign autographs, and even has made controversial statements about lesbians in women's sports. Tiger Woods continues to duck, and feint, and lie, and deflect, and meet with experts on what to do next.
Perhaps the world's most famous athlete needs to find a public or, at worst, semi-private golf course in the Orlando area, and every day for a few months at high noon - in front of the big plate glass dining room window - practice his golf game in full view of everyone.
When someone approaches for a photo or an autograph, it would be especially nice if a guy of David McDermott's kind would just tap the intruder on the shoulder and say, "Around this club we ask you not to bother Mr. Woods while he is, er, well, working in his office."