Tiger Woods: An intimate look at a public person
Author Jeff Benedict had no doubt there would be interest in their subject when he and co-author Armen Keteyian undertook a biography of Tiger Woods. What they didn’t know was the gold mine of information they would unearth in their three years of research for the book that has just been placed on the New York Times bestseller list.
Benedict will talk about some of those details and more when he visits Wilton Library on Monday, April 30, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Copies of Tiger Woods and Benedict’s Little Pink House, which has been made into a movie that is now in theaters, will be available for purchase and signing.
Benedict’s talk is free, but registration is highly recommended. Visit www.wiltonlibrary.org or call 203-762-6334.
In an interview with The Bulletin last week, Benedict said of Woods, “He was such a transcendent athlete for so long, there’s no question people would be interested in a book about him, especially if it answers who he really is. … There hasn’t been a full-throated biography on him.”
To go beyond the reams of information already written about Woods — the tournament victories, his infidelities, his divorce, his physical problems, his addiction to pain pills — Benedict said his editor at Simon & Schuster issued a directive: “‘I’d like to learn one thing new on every page.’” That works out to roughly 400 new things.
The book starts off with a doozy as the sexton of Sunset Cemetery in Manhattan, Kansas, recounts how he buried Woods’ father, Earl Woods, in an unmarked grave with only his wife and children in attendance. The grave remains unmarked until this day.
Three-quarters of the book is new material, Benedict said. With Woods declining to talk with them, his close friends not talking and others adhering to non-disclosure agreements, the authors looked in different directions to new sources: old friends, old coaches, and others.
“There was so much we didn’t know, and frankly no one else knew, about his childhood, upbringing, adolescent years, relationships with people when he was young … those people were the most important folks to talk to because they had intimate stories they’d never told because they’d never been interviewed before,” he said.
“We fell that enabled us to bring his life to life for the reader. Every time we talked to them, what came out of their mouths was new to us. There are chapters full of things we didn’t know.”
That being the case, Benedict said there were many things they uncovered that surprised him, one being the story about Earl Woods’s grave.
“A lot of things were jaw-dropping,” he said. “It was stunning. How could we not know these things? He is the most visible, iconic athlete of our generation. How could he have that many secrets?”
The infidelity scandal that plagued Woods was the most publicized in recent history, laid bare in the pages of the National Enquirer and other media outlets. “How in the world could that happen to that scale without anyone knowing about it?” Benedict asked. His wife, his caddy, his swing coach — the people closest to him on a daily basis — “how could none of them know for years this epic-scale infidelity was going on? That’s more interesting than the infidelity itself,” he said. “How could he be doing that and at the same time perform so flawlessly in his professional life? He functioned better than anyone else in the world in his job while this was going on.”
The book goes well beyond golf. To make it interesting to people of all walks of life around the world “we had to write something that would cover not just golf,” he said. Other issues include race in America, class — the boy raised in a middle-class suburb taking on the “super white country club establishment,” and parenting. “If you hope your child is going to be the next concert pianist in Carnegie Hall, you will want to read this book,” Benedict said.
The authors’ goal, he said, was “doing justice to Tiger and his story. His story is bigger than sports. This is the guy who’s lived three or four lives in the first 42 years of his life,” Benedict said.
The author did not have strong feelings about Woods one way or the other when he started the book, but found his opinion of the golfer changing as they worked chronologically.
From the point of view as a father himself, “in the beginning I felt sympathy for him as a boy,” Benedict said, “and when he got into his adolescent years, I was really enamored with his high school experience because of similarities to my own.
“When he transitioned to college, he does things that are harder to be sympathetic about. … His personality is evolving and so was my view in this process. He exhibits a sort of meanness on the golf course that helps him beat people, but sometimes it comes out off the course.”
With the scandal, he transitioned back to empathy. “I felt for the guy when everything that happened to him became public and he became a pinata that was hit again and again and again and again. We’re not here to judge, but we’re not the priest who’s forgiving. As biographers, we need to exhibit empathy and sympathy on the page when meritied.”
Benedict, who lives in Lyme, Conn., said he is looking forward to his visit here. He said he will talk about the book, the characters, and the process of writing it. When asked if he will take questions, he said, “that’s the best part. I really enjoy the back and forth.”
He will also talk about the film Little Pink House, which opened last week. Based on his book of the same name, it is about an eminent domain controversy that played out in New London several years ago.