With Tiger Woods telling the world Thursday that he was ready for another long-awaited return to golf — a week after making headlines by firing his long-time caddie Steve Williams — it would seem the authors of a ripped-from-the-headlines fictional narrative of Tiger’s saga could not have timed the release of their tome better.
Actually, “The Swinger,” from Sports Illustrated golf writers Alan Shipnuck and Michael Bamberger, came out earlier this month, but there was a good chance the real-life swinger would be part of the conversation no matter when the book dropped.
News-maker. “There are eerie parallels with the protagonist missing the U.S. Open with injuries and his triumphant return to the British Open,” Shipnuck told us in a recent interview. The latter part “may not have panned out in real life, but Tiger Woods is always in the news no matter what he does.”
A victorious outcome to Woods’ first tourney after knee and Achilles woes shelved him for three months would work right into the story’s concept. With as many question marks dogging the world’s 21st-ranked player as ever, however, we’ll have to see how Tiger performs at next week’s Bridgestone Invitational before proclaiming his return complete.
For now, imagine the world’s greatest golfer caught in the mother of all sex scandals — a drama complete with a bombshell of a husband-beating wife, a Shakespearean fall from grace, divorce, rumors of steroid abuse, lost endorsements, and a public apology. Okay, been there, done that, but what if the club-wielding Lothario (to mix literary metaphors) bared all in a shocking, made-for-TV mea culpa and found redemption on and off the course?
That last part, of course, has yet to occur and likely never will — except in the pages of “The Swinger.” In the fictional version — told as a first-person account by Josh Dutra, the reporter who uncovers Tremont’s philandering and then becomes the golfer’s communications manager — Herbert X. “Tree” Tremont has won 13 major championships and has such a manicured image that he is the first celebrity to endorse both Coke and Pepsi.
“He was modest and handsome, with perfect Hollywood teeth and the family to go with them: the beautiful wife, the adorable twins,” the authors write of their protagonist. “Everybody wanted a piece of the action….”
The flawed hero inevitably falls victim to his own careless and arrogant sexual exploits and “Tree Corp.” takes a very public and expensive tumble on the world stage. All the thinly veiled characters are there — Andrew Finkelman, Tree’s manager who leaves “IGM” with Tree as his only client; Belinda, Tremont’s bikini-model spouse who clocks hubby with a fireplace tool instead of the alleged 9-iron; Will Martinsen, Tree’s above-reproach rival; and, of course, Mac McCausland, the golfer’s trusty and peevish caddie (who’s from Scotland and not New Zealand, home of Tiger’s actual ex-looper).
Spoiler alert. Fiction diverges widely from fact when Tree admits to the world that he bedded 342 women (a Wilt Chamberlain-esque number swiped “from thin air,” Shipnuck tells us) and begs for forgiveness. Again — spoiler alert! — because it’s make-believe, golf watchers and fellow competitors welcome the contrite and now fan-friendly Tremont back to golf, he resumes his winning ways on the links, and well, you get the idea.
The actual golfer himself might do well to follow the script written for his fictional doppelganger.
“Ultimately, Tree learns a lot of hard lessons and comes back a better person and golfer,” Shipnuck said. “He’s open and honest and lets the public into his life for the first time.”
Had Woods responded similarly, “it would have changed the tenor of the debate in a lot of ways,” Shipnuck averred. “It’s not too late. Tiger has a whole third act of his career if he can get healthy.
“Tiger could reinvent himself and win back the affection of the fans,” added Shipnuck, “but he would have to change in fundamental ways.”
With Woods handing Williams his walking papers, coupled with his exit from sports management firm IMG, Shipnuck believes we may be witnessing such a transformation.
“In some ways he’s trying to reinvent himself at this point,” Shipnuck said. “Maybe he’s ready for a fresh perspective and new voices. Maybe it’s the start of fundamental changes.
“It’s nice to think that’s a possibility,” he said.
The authors, who write about Tremont with a deft touch of judgment and warmth, imbue the proceedings with a knowledgable view of pro life on and off the course. Shipnuck believes Woods would enjoy the inside jokes and historical references as well as recognize many of the characters who make cameo appearances in “The Swinger.”
Tiger, however, was unlikely to read the book if he followed the lead of his real-life handlers.
“We got kind of a nasty e-mail from his PR guy, who was shocked and outraged that we would [undertake such a project],” Shipnuck said. “He wrote [his e-mail] before he had even seen the book.”
Will life imitate art? As for the redemptive arc of the narrative, it would satisfy Shipnuck if life were to imitate art.
“We have a lot of affection for Tree,” he said. “He has character flaws and makes poor decisions but we want him to have a happy ending and be redeemed and he is.”