Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
July 22nd, 2011

When it comes to firing someone, there is a right way and a wrong way.  When it comes to breaking up with someone the rules are less clear but still somewhat defined.  When the split falls somewhere around the halfway point along the continuum between these two situations I suspect that the rules are especially vague.  Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if Tiger Woods still managed to do it wrong.

It came out this week that Woods fired his longtime caddie Steve Williams.  Williams had been with him for 12 years, since nearly the beginning of the golfing phenom’s career.  And in a move that was apparently as shocking to Williams himself as it was to the rest of us, Woods has cut him loose.

I don’t fault Tiger for changing caddies.  He has a job to do (although he’s been riding the bench lately) and if he feels that a new caddy is going to improve his performance then he should make that change.  But, like most aspects of Tiger Woods’ life in the past couple of years, this one isn’t quite so simple.  The difference here is that Williams has been fiercely loyal to Tiger.  Such loyalty isn’t all that impressive when your boss is the number one golfer in the world and you take a percentage of all his winnings.  It becomes more so when your boss becomes mired in a tawdry sex scandal, tumbles in the rankings, and sits out of multiple tournaments nursing various injuries.

What I’d like to have seen out of Woods this week is something of a mea culpa.  I wish he’d said something to the tune of, “It’s not Stevie’s fault that my life is in a shambles, or that I need to make radical changes just to recalibrate myself.  He’s a hell of a caddy and anyone else on the tour will be lucky to have him.  I’m grateful for his loyalty both on and off the golf course.”  That, however, is not what he said.  Paying mere lip service to the man who carried his bag for more than a decade he said, “I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it’s time for a change,”  Something about it feels obligatory.

When you get right down to it, Tiger Woods’ life is really not my business.  Whether he is gracious or surly in his professional life affects me no more than any one else whose professional life doesn’t intersect with my own.  Nevertheless, for better or worse, he plays a big role in setting the tone in the sports world.  Young people look at him and want to model themselves after him.  I think he missed an opportunity here.  (If we’re being frank, he’s missed a lot of opportunities lately.)  He could have fallen on his sword a bit, taken some accountability for the fact that he got himself into this mess, and softened the ground for Williams before going public with the split.  That wasn’t the path he chose, though.

It’s such a tricky business looking to athletes to model citizenship for us.  Professional athletes have reached the pinnacle of their respective sports by being singularly focused on their performance and competitive edge.  In many cases other traits – like grace and gratitude – get left behind.  And yet we try to build up the image of a well-rounded individual to suit our own desires.  Naturally there are exceptions here, but by and large I have to believe we’re better served by making role models out of people whom we know to be worthy of our discipleship, rather than people whose lives are bright and shiny on the outside, but may not be so when the curtain is lifted.

Breaking up is never easy.  I suspect it is even harder when the world is watching.  And that is why it confounds me that Woods didn’t do it more carefully.  Apparently, even after nearly two years of disappointment, my expectations are still too high.

4 Responses to “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    What a fascinating topic, and interesting example, Gale. This post opens so many issues of human behavior and decision-making, the “self” first (of necessity?), loyalty and the way it has fallen away in priority in contemporary times.

    The way we deal with each other. The way we model behavior for our children.

    Certainly, a mea culpa goes far, as does an appropriate explanation of why we do what we feel we must. None of us is perfect (or even close); perhaps the only reliable role models for our children are us – as parents – an the way we handle our own shortcomings.

  2. anne Says:

    As you know, I’ve never been much of a tiger fan…I’ve seen him bury his club in the ground and cuss in front of admiring (child) fans way too much. But it sure seems like there should be some kind of cameraderie or “rules” about caddy etiquette in the golf world that would soften the blow. I wonder if we have the whole story. But at the end of the day, I’m sad to say I’m not that surprised.

  3. Holly Says:

    This makes me think of one of my favorite parts of this year’s Tony Awards when Sutton Foster won for best actress in a musical and said she had brought her dresser as her date that night because he was leaving her after years for a position that was going to be great for him. Not exactly the same situation, but the kind of reaction you would hope for when two people have worked that closely for years and are separating for whatever reason.

  4. Gale Says:

    Holly – I hadn’t heard that story. You’re right. It’s too bad more people don’t have that kind of class when it comes to professional splits. Proof that it can be done with tact.