Jason Sobel

Tiger should seek advice from game's legends
Dec 14, 2009 05:09 PM
By Jason Sobel

Jack Nicklaus isn't talking about Tiger Woods.

The man who for so long has spoken in such glowing terms about his potential successor to the major championship victory record stated only that Woods' imbroglio is "none of my business" at a recent public function and, through his publicist, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Same goes for Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, each of whom wanted no part of opining on Tiger right now.

The game's big three weren't alone. Raymond Floyd had nothing to say. Neither did Billy Casper. Or Nick Faldo.

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Hell, the current Woods saga is so delicate that other household-name golfers -- multiple major championship winners from a previous generation -- weren't even given the option to speak, as representatives turned down requests on behalf of these men, asking that their names not even appear in this story.

That's right. This tale is so sordid that you can't even get a "no comment" on the record.

Although most of the sport's legends of the past half-century wanted no part of this story, there was still one -- save for Tiger himself -- whose opinion would have held more weight than that of anyone else.

Charlie Sifford.

The first African-American to win a PGA Tour event, Sifford has long enjoyed a unique kinship with Woods, who has acknowledged that there is even a "slight connection" in his son's sharing a first name with the veteran pro.

"He's the best," Woods said in a 2005 interview. "I always call him Grandpa. He basically is; he's like the grandfather I never had."

Considering their relationship, it is likely Sifford has some strong feelings not only about what Woods has done but also about what he should do next. A phone call placed to Sifford's home, though, failed to provide any further insight.

"I'd like to speak with you about a story I'm working on regarding …"

"I'm not interested." Click.

Maybe he knew the next two words would have been Tiger and Woods. Maybe he didn't. It really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Sifford had no interest in speaking to a reporter, just as it doesn't matter that Jack or Arnie or so many other legends of the game have chosen to remain mum on the world's latest hot-button issue, eschewing opportunities to advise the current No. 1 player through the media.

None of it matters because going public with such thoughts benefits neither party, instead providing a built-in barrier to the communication process.

It does, however, matter whether these men speak with Woods privately, either while his infidelities have unfolded as if on a Broadway stage or in the coming weeks and months when he tries to repair a now-shattered personal life.

There are very few people who can understand the unique balance between dominant golfer and worldwide icon, which is why this fraternity of champions should reach out to Woods.

Or, more to the point, why Woods should reach out to them.

Despite announcing on Friday that he will take an indefinite leave of absence from professional golf, Woods has plenty to keep him busy these days. From presumably trying to make amends with wife Elin to handling his team of PR officials and litigators, he must be pining for the days when missing a 4-foot putt was the greatest worry on his mental checklist.

Even with those demands on his time, Tiger should carve out a little part of his schedule each day to contact one of these men: Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and others, especially Sifford. Maybe they can relate their own personal tales of woe from days gone by. Or perhaps each can offer some sage advice on how to deal with the situation publicly.

What's the harm in trying? If nothing else, Woods presumably would get to hear some friendly voices -- he likely hasn't heard many in recent weeks -- and maybe would glean a benign swing tip or two that at least took his mind off of other things for a few minutes. It also would show these men with whom he shares a place in golf's record book that he cares about their opinions and is working to better the off-course part of his life.

Already a few of Woods' peers who have had marital transgressions of their own and know their way around a media circus have offered some thoughts on the situation publicly.

"I've tried to get ahold of Tiger and his manager, and he just didn't want to talk to anybody," John Daly explained. "I feel like if there's anybody in this world with what I've gone through who could maybe give him some advice. … I'm for them, if they ever need anything from me -- both of them -- I'll be more than happy for them because I love them both."

"I feel sorry for Tiger, but he's got to figure out his situation for himself personally," Greg Norman said last week before his Shark Shootout tournament. "From the game of golf, I'm sure we'd like to see him back out there performing to the level he has played. He's been a great asset to the game, and he'll continue to be that way. But from a personal perspective, I wish him well. I hope he sorts it out. Family is family, and nobody likes to be in that position."

It doesn't have to be tomorrow or next week or even the week after, but at some point Woods should return these calls; he should lean on the experiences of others to assist his own shortcomings in dealing with this type of situation.

Whether he agrees with the advice isn't as important as appreciating it. Tiger has never won a professional tournament without a caddie by his side, so he can understand the role that an outside influence can play in affecting the overall outcome of an event -- in a golf tournament or in life.

On numerous occasions, Woods has remarked that his most treasured possession is privacy. That is not only the name of his $20 million yacht but also a lifestyle -- and only the latter is sinking.

Discussing his personal problems with some of the game's legends might violate that philosophy, but it also could yield Tiger Woods some much-needed, highly beneficial advice from the few people in the world who know exactly what it's like to be a superstar golfer living in a fishbowl.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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