Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport (if not the greatest), wouldn’t have his big catchy feline brand if it weren’t for the United States military. His father, Earl Woods, tagged him with the nickname at birth, to commemorate a friend of his — Tiger Phong — a ARVN commander he fought alongside as a Green Beret during the Vietnam War.
When Earl passed away in 2006 at the age of 74, it left his son reeling, and searching. What he grasped onto, for whatever reason, were the Navy SEALs — their personas, their duty, their specialities, training, everything, and became an obsessive in regards to the special operations force. Not only did he play the popular video game Call of Duty like a wide-eyed zombie, but he began tagging alongside active-duty SEALs like a world famous puppy dog, even convincing them to let him take part in some intense training. Close quarter combat simulations featuring Simunitions, running miles upon miles in combat boots and crazy drills involving gunpowder, white noise, bruises and a helmet were among them.
He even started incorporated military jargon in his everyday life, as in text messages to Michael Jordan where he would thumb “roger that” or downrange” or “secure”.
These latter strange details were revealed in an in-depth and lengthy investigative piece penned by awarding-winning sportswriter Wright Thompson, which was published on ESPN’s website Thursday morning.
It’s called “The Secret History of Tiger Woods.”
In its thousands upon thousands of words, Thompson also includes the following juicy story, which according to him and others has been passed around the American military community for some time now. It involves a bunch of active-duty SEALs grabbing a bite to eat with Tiger at a local restaurant in after training in New Mexico:
Tiger and a group of five or six went to a diner in La Posta. The waitress brought the check and the table went silent, according to two people there that day. Nobody said anything and neither did Tiger, and the other guys sort of looked at one another.
Finally one of the SEALs said, “Separate checks, please.”
The waitress walked away.
“We are all baffled,” says one SEAL, a veteran of numerous combat deployments. “We are sitting there with Tiger f—ing Woods, who probably makes more than all of us combined in a day. He’s shooting our ammo, taking our time. He’s a weird f—ing guy. That’s weird s—. Something’s wrong with you.”
And they were far from being the only military members who weren’t fond of his presence, or the fact that he often ran his mouth about enlisting:
“Tiger Woods never got wet and sandy,” says former SEAL and current Montana congressman Ryan Zinke, who ran the training facility during the years Tiger came around. The BUD/S instructors didn’t like the way Tiger talked about how he’d have been a SEAL if he didn’t choose golf. “I just reached out to the guys I know who jumped with him and interacted with him,” says a retired SEAL. “Not a single one wants to have any involvement, or have their name mentioned in the press anywhere near his. His interactions with the guys were not always the most stellar, and most were very underwhelmed with him as a man.”
One unnamed friend of Woods even went as far as to say the following ludicrous statement (Wright’s lead-up included for context):
To many people inside Tiger’s circle, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors wasn’t as important to Tiger as it was to the golfing media and fans. He never mentioned it. Multiple people who’ve spent significant amounts of time with him say that. When Tiger did talk about it, someone else usually brought it up and he merely responded. The record instead became something to break so he could chase something that truly mattered. He loved the anonymity of wearing a uniform and being part of a team. “It was very, very serious,” the friend says. “If he had had a hot two years and broken the record, he would have hung up his clubs and enlisted. No doubt.”