The Celebrity Contract
by Michael Maynard
March 20, 2010
Recently I read the book, Arnie and Jack,which described the very different lives Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus led from their births to ultimately become legends and the top two rivals in amateur and professional golf. The book skirts many issues about the relationship between the two, including the well-known Palmer’s strong dislike of some of Nicklaus’ shadier business dealings. While the book tries to portray them as friends today, while time heals most wounds, I doubt that they’ve become bosom buddies.
However, both conducted themselves graciously in public and have lived up to their image as sportsmen. I have had the honor of meeting Arnold Palmer twice and found his like of people to be very real. On one occasion, I was waiting in the lobby of a local hotel to have breakfast with a potential client. Mr. Palmer and his wife entered the lobby and all activity stopped in the presence of the great man. Palmer came over to me, introduced himself and shook my hand.
I didn’t wash that hand until sanitary reasons made it absolutely necessary.
Last year, I was waiting to have brunch with a friend at another local hotel. Palmer was having breakfast with men who I assumed were his business employees and he was not happy. As he was leaving, I went over to him and told him about the incident above. He broke into an ear-to-ear grin, patted me on the shoulder, shook my hand, and walked off in a much better mood. The legend, the image and the man appear to be one and the same, impeccable.
But he’s Arnold Palmer and he’s exceptional and the exception, not the rule. However, while there are no reports of any type of bad behavior on and off the course by Mr. Palmer, he established his celebrity under much different circumstances than today. He was one of the first television stars and without his magnetism and ability to create drama, professional golf would not be the huge international business that it is today.
No golfer since had achieved the total image of Arnold Palmer. It frustrated Nicklaus that he was not beloved when he was in his prime, it was his surprise Masters victory in 1986 that finally endeared him to the general public. There have been popular and winning golfers since then, including Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, but no current golfer had reached the legendary status of Palmer and Nicklaus until emergence of Tiger Woods in 1996. Woods had the likeability and dramatic presence of Palmer and the precision and skill of Nicklaus.
However, unlike the two long-time married and believed faithful husbands who were able to channel their energies into their off-the-course businesses, Tiger Woods has a personality flaw, an overwhelming sexual drive or longing for affection that led him to have affairs with multiple women. What I find curious is that he probably could have had his pick of beautiful women, while having a wife who was a former model at home, he chose decent looking but not dazzling looking women. He could have had his choice of gorgeous professional and other successful women who attend PGA events.. He developed relationships with a waitress and a pornographic movie performer, among others.
It has been rumored that he developed an addiction to pain killers, such as Vicodin, after having knee surgery, this only adds to the image of Woods as an addictive personality. What Woods has done is not greatly different than his fellow PGA golfer, John Daly, but Daly’s image as one step removed from the trailer park forgives many of his bad behaviors, where supposed pristine Tiger will not be forgiven. Maybe there are two Woods, Tiger, the perfect gifted athlete and celebrity and Eldrick, the man needing human contact .and comfort anywhere he could find it because he couldn’t handle the internal pressures of needing to be perfect.
The public wants our heroes to be squeaky clean, like Arnold Palmer. Tiger Woods, through his charitable foundations, has done more for others less fortunate than nearly all other professional athletes combined in my lifetime. That was the contract with Woods, be the world’s best on and off the golf course and he gets adoration and approval.
Was too much asked of Woods to honor in his part of the social contract? Should there be a renegotiation to forgive and support a wounded mortal man? He is just like the rest of us after all.