Long before Tiger Woods’ fall from grace and the injuries that derailed his career, the public image was one of a person consumed with golf, beating Jack Nicklaus’ record, and becoming the greatest golfer ever.
It turns out this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In 2016, Wright Thompson profiled Woods for ESPN the Magazine, in a story called “The Secret History of Tiger Woods.” While that story went into great detail about many of the stories we already knew a little about (his flirtation with joining the Navy SEALs, his infidelities, etc.) there is one story that didn’t make the final edit and may be the best indication yet of where Woods’ priorities were, even at his peak.
At the time, Thompson was a guest on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike,” and the group discussed the image of Tiger as a “golfing robot.”
It was 2002, and Woods had won six of the previous nine majors, including the first two majors of the year, the Masters and the US Open. After the US Open, there was only one month until the Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland, and Woods was scheduled to play a single tune-up event, the Western Open in Chicago two weeks earlier.
Woods did not play in that event. He called in sick … literally. However, it turns out he wasn’t sick. He just wanted to go spearfishing.
“I accidentally found out, because I was talking to all the people he spearfishes with,” Thompson told “Mike & Mike.” “Dude was like, ‘man, he wasn’t sick, he was spearfishing with me.’ And he was like, ‘We were on a boat called the Jolly Rogers II.” I talked to the captain of the boat and the dive master, and they were like, ‘he wasn’t sick, he was on our boat spearfishing.'”
Here is how Reuters reported the “illness” in 2002:
Tiger Woods, who is halfway to winning all four majors in a calendar year, may compete at this month’s British Open without having played a tournament since the U.S. Open last month.
The world No. 1 was scheduled to compete in the Western Open this week, but withdrew yesterday, citing an unspecified illness.
A source close to the captain of the boat provided Business Insider with this photo from the trip.
Woods went on to finish 28th at the Open Championship before finishing second at the PGA Championship.
When asked what he thought that tells us about Woods, Thompson said it shows us that Woods has always been more than just a golfer.
“He wants a life. Golf is important to him, but he has interests outside of this,” Thompson said. “There is this whole other thing that has happened in private the entire time we have been watching him that feels real and authentic to him but bears almost no resemblance to the guy in the red shirt on Sunday.”
Amazing. Here is Woods in 2002. He is going for something nobody has ever accomplished — winning all four majors in one year in the modern era. But he wasn’t consumed by that.
He just wanted to go spearfishing.
This story was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.