There’s an oft-quoted Philip Larkin line about how your parents can mess you up. The famously sweary opening of Larkin’s 1971 poem This Be The Verse is followed by the less well-known: “They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.”
This sentiment kept coming to mind during Tiger (Sky Documentaries), a sweeping two-part documentary about the rise, fall and resurgence of golfing superstar Tiger Woods. And it was mainly his late father Earl who did the f—ing up.
The documentary opened with a ludicrously grandiose speech given by Earl Woods in 1996, before Tiger had even won a major professional title. “He will transcend this game and bring to the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before,” Earl told the audience. ”The world will be a better place to live in, by virtue of his existence and his presence.” No pressure, son.
Going back to the beginning, we saw how Earl and his wife, Kultida, started training their only child when he was still in a high-chair. The prodigy famously appeared on a chat show aged two, playing Bob Hope in a putting contest. In another amusingly awkward TV interview, toddler Tiger guilelessly broke the tension by answering a question about golf with: “I want to go poo-poo.”
Time and again, I winced at how hard Earl pushed him. Tiger’s kindergarten teacher said he wanted to try other sports but his father wouldn’t allow it. His parents made Tiger break things off with high school sweetheart Dina Parr by writing her a cold, business-like letter. Earl used military “psy-ops” techniques to mentally toughen him up.
Tiger was relentlessly trained to be a winning machine but at what personal cost? His emotional growth seemed stunted. At the height of his powers and fame, we poignantly heard how Woods found comfort in watching cartoons with a bowl of cereal.
Meanwhile, Earl was busy comparing him to Gandhi, Buddha and Nelson Mandela. He told anyone who’d listen that Tiger was little short of the Second Coming, which I guess made him God. Once Tiger turned pro, his sponsor, Nike, continued the sermon, hailing Woods as “the great black hope” in his debut ad campaign.