Memories of my dad watching golf (or napping through it) go back as long as I can remember. He brought me and my brother to driving ranges since we were little and that “fore!” means duck. He’s shown us how to hit out of a sand trap. Yet, he’s never been a fan of Tiger Woods. In fact, he admits that he usually cheered against him. But despite all of this, through every point of the man’s career, through the record-shattering highs and the gut-punching lows, my dad has maintained the same mantra:
“Golf is more exciting when Tiger’s on the green.”
The sentiment rings true in the two-part, HBO Max documentary “Tiger.” No matter the shortcomings of the filmmakers, delving into the sometimes admirable, and often controversial, life of Tiger Woods can never be anything short of fascinating.
At a time when many of the clubs didn’t even allow Black people on the course, Tiger ripped through old Masters like they were children. In a sport known for its quiet meticulousness, Tiger pummeled his competition with vigor. He was the first and only golfer to become a pop culture icon, and the world could not get enough of him. In the eyes of his best friend and former Green Beret father Earl Woods, Tiger was a God-like prophet sent down to unite humankind. Of course, according to the documentary, these absurd expectations are precisely what led to his downfall.
The end of the first part teases an interview appearance from Rachel Uchitel, a woman who has unfairly come to be known by the world for one thing and one thing only: Tiger’s mistress. From here on out, the series picks up, and it picks up quickly.
Part two begins with the first rumors of Tiger’s infidelity and follows him through all of his vices, poor decisions and the over-the-top backlash he received for it. It notes that with just about every Tiger Woods cheating scandal, the women involved never described the encounters as casual. Many of them loved Tiger, and most felt he loved them back.
As the documentary clearly frames it, Tiger didn’t simply go out and have sex. This was a tortured man, and he needed help. At all points of the episode, the filmmakers remain empathetic to Tiger, his ex-wife Elin and even the mistresses — an aspect I really appreciated. Many women have been relentlessly crucified and slut-shamed for being with Tiger. Elin specifically was unable to escape paparazzi following the controversy.
It’s important to note that there doesn’t have to be a single “bad guy” in the story. We can remain empathetic to Tiger’s uniquely difficult upbringing while having sympathy for those he hurt. Or, at the very least, that’s what the documentary tries to show us.
But as interesting as “Tiger” can be, it is certainly not the most impartial. The documentary feels both too neat and too superficial to tell this story with justice. Relying primarily on the word of ex-girlfriends and former best friends, the series has moments that feel blatantly gossipy. For a project that often criticizes the way Tiger had his life forced upon him without his say, it feels pretty hypocritical to watch it do just that.
Based on the book of the same name, it’s clear that the people behind this knew exactly the story they wanted to tell. There’s no input from Tiger himself, nor from anyone who remains close with him today. Interview footage is often used to supplement the pre-crafted ideas and guesses that old acquaintances have speculated, rather than to challenge or enrich them. In other words, it’s uninventive filmmaking. And at its worst, cheap journalism.
Nonetheless, it’s exciting. Because at the end of the day, Tiger Woods is exciting. He’s an athlete unlike any other in history, and his story is so ripe with debate, it’s nearly impossible to not be intrigued. “Tiger” is a compelling guess at a man who lived a life like no other. I just want more.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at email@example.com.