Tom English: ‘Tiger Woods as a Navy SEAL? It is a hard concept to grasp’

IT SEEMS like a stretch, an exaggerated tale to garner some publicity for a book. Tiger Woods was “seriously considering” giving up golf to become a Navy SEAL, says his former coach Hank Haney in a soon-to-be-published memoir of his years with the golfer.

Woods, it is written in The Big Miss, had a plan to enter military life. When still recovering from knee surgery he underwent four days of special ops training, engaging in parachute jumps and hand-to-hand exercises, going on four-mile runs wearing combat boots and doing drills in wind tunnels. The cynic might suggest that, when Woods was telling Haney all of this, before their bitter falling-out in 2010, he was either conducting a wind-up or a cover-up. When he said he was leaping out of aircraft was he really jumping on cocktail waitresses?

Haney, though, is a hugely credible witness to the Tiger tale. As is Haney’s ghost writer, the much-respected Jaime Diaz of Golf Digest magazine, who has known Woods since he was a kid. Between the two of them, their knowledge of the former world No 1 is immense so, when they put it out there that Tiger wanted, at some point, to emulate his own father by entering the military, then it has to be seen as a major addition to our understanding of the most famous athlete on the planet and all the weird stuff that goes on in his mind.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But Woods as a Navy SEAL? It’s a hard concept to grasp. We only have extracts from the book to work off at the moment, so it’s hard to know what Haney said to Tiger when this business was first aired. Maybe he said something like: “Tiger, before you start flinging yourself into an Afghan cave in a counter-terrorism mission you’re going to need to improve your self-discipline a little bit so, before dawn raids on a despot in the desert, how about you learn some humility?”

How, in the name of all that is holy, would it have worked? One day he’s on tour winning majors and behaving like golf is the first, the last and the in-between of his life’s dream – and then he disappears? He gives up on his lifelong obsession with the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s 18 majors so he can put himself through years of savage, and anonymous, training to be a special ops guy? He simply vanishes off the face of the earth to wherever it is these people go to learn what needs to be learned. Tiger looks uncomfortable playing the Ryder Cup and now he’s making a new life in a team sport where a gun and a grenade are the tools of his trade not a driver and putter? A bunker has a different meaning on the other side.

Sure, there’s a father factor. Tiger idolised his old man, the late Earl who was himself in the special forces and who named his boy after a pilot he met in the war in Vietnam.

It’s just so hard to accept that such a self-obsessed character was seriously thinking about abandoning golf and the riches it brought him for a secret career that would have put his life at risk. When golfers talk about things happening “under the radar” they’re speaking about unfancied players coming from nowhere to win tournaments. When these SEAL guys talk about “under the radar” they’re referring to some midnight mission where the mantra is kill or be killed.

You can see how Tiger might have become obsessed with that world, how he wanted to test himself in training for that kind of life, but was he ever serious about following it through? Haney believes so, but you really do have to wonder.

Imagine the scenario. Mark Steinberg, his agent, issues a statement one day. “Tiger Woods has retired from golf and intends to withdraw from public life immediately. In the interests of national security we are unable to comment further.”

There might be one or two questions for “Steiny”.

“Mark, is this a stunt?”

“No.”

“What’s happening, then?”

“If I told you I’d have to kill you. Or Tiger would. With his baby finger. Sorry, I’ve said too much.”

“Tiger would kill me?”

“That’s what they do, these elite fighters.”

“Tiger has given up golf to become an elite fighter?”

“He’s probably in Somalia now, beating up on some murderous pirates. These SEALS take no shit.”

“Tiger has become a Navy SEAL?”

“Not just any Navy SEAL. He’s Team 6, the guys who got Bin Laden. The ultimate No 1, baby. Take that Luke Donald.”

This, of course, is a ridiculous flight of fancy. However hard it might be to grasp the concept of Woods as a clandestine freedom fighter it’s even more impossible that Steinberg would lower himself to answer questions from journalists.

The Big Miss is not to be missed. This whole business of Woods and what Haney refers to as his obsession with the military will make for compelling reading all on its own. Also, Steinberg, in attempting to rubbish the book the other day, merely added to the intrigue surrounding what else might be contained within it.