By John Feinstein
Saturday, February 20, 2010; A19
One of the things that make an athlete great is extraordinary arrogance. The best of the best always believe they will find a way to overcome adversity, to pull off the shot that can't be pulled off, to find a way to win when losing appears inevitable. No one has defined that arrogance more clearly over the past 14 years than Tiger Woods, who has dominated golf since he turned pro in 1996.
On Friday morning, Woods came out of hiding. Exactly 12 weeks after the early-morning accident that led to revelations that he had repeatedly been involved in
extramarital affairs, Woods appeared in public for the first time to say he was sorry.
He apologized to almost everyone he had ever crossed paths with. He looked sad and choked up at times. He said that he had learned from his mistakes and is still learning after spending 45 days in a rehabilitation center -- though he never specifically mentioned where he had gone seeking help. He tried very hard to sound humbled.
He didn't pull it off.
At a moment when the arrogance that makes him a great golfer should have been put aside, he couldn't do it. Seconds after delivering his various mea culpas, he started lecturing the media. He expressed anger that his wife, Elin, and his two young children had been harassed by paparazzi and declared that any conversations between himself and his wife should remain private.
No one is arguing that point. Of course his wife and children shouldn't be harassed, and it's a shame that his infidelities brought the tabloid media into their lives. No one is going to ask him to go into specifics about his attempts to repair his fractured marriage. Even if someone did, he can refuse to answer.
But Woods refused to answer any questions. After saying he has learned that being a great athlete does not entitle him to do whatever he wants -- on or off the golf course -- he conducted what amounted to a televised news release. The only people in the room were, to quote his agent, "friends and colleagues," in addition to a handful of selected media members. To the credit of the Golf Writers Association of America, it opted to boycott the Tiger-and-pony show when Woods's agent, Mark Steinberg, informed the group that it would be "allowed" to designate three writers to sit in the room with the rest of Woods's cheerleading squad.
Let's be sure we have this straight: Woods, who says he now understands that he's not above the rules of common decency, is still above answering questions from those who are paid to represent a public that has helped make him a billionaire. He still insists he's entitled to a private life when no one has said he's not. What he is not -- and was not -- entitled to is the secret life he led while passing himself off
to the public as the devoted husband and father.
During the reading of his script, Woods said that one way to measure a person's life is by the things they overcome. Coming from someone whose toughest challenge in 34 years has been overcoming a double-bogey, those words rang pretty hollow. His wife -- who was noticeably absent -- has lots to overcome now, as will their children when they are old enough to understand what their father did. For Woods to invoke that metric to describe his life was, well, the height of arrogance.
The one surprise in the entire 14-minute monologue came at the end, when Woods said he doesn't know when he will play golf again and implied that he was still a long way from returning. Most golf observers expected him back in time for the Masters Tournament in April, the first of this year's four major championships. For years, Woods has said his solitary goal in golf is to break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 professional major titles. He has won 14 majors -- so far.
If, in fact, Woods skips the Masters and any of this year's other majors to, as he put it, "work on my problem," that's a sign of progress. Woods says he wants to change. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That's about how far Woods went on Friday.
John Feinstein is a contributor to The Post and the author of several books, including "A Good Walk Spoiled" and the forthcoming "Moment of Glory."