An Open Letter to Tiger Woods, Asking for More

Deal W. Hudson
July 27, 2009

Dear Tiger,

Golf commentator Rick Reilly recently upbraided you in an ESPN.com column for your behavior during golf tournaments. When I first read the words, “Woods needs to clean up his act,” I was surprised that a writer whose livelihood depends on access to golfers like you would jeopardize his career by potentially alienating the game’s most important player.

After a little thought, though, I realized how I had overlooked and even indulged your bad manners. After rooting for you so long and so intensely, I had grown used to your grimaces, cursing, and club slamming. The TV coverage has indulged you, too. The camera has stopped following the flight of your ball, staying focused on your face and waiting for a reaction. Your reaction to the shot, unfortunately, has become part of the story and the coverage.

Reilly has done golf, and you, a great service. All true golfers know the game is more important than any single player; I have no doubt you believe this. And, as I argued some years ago, golf is “the last outpost of American manners” in a sports culture where individual brashness and bravura have been valued over the grace of an unselfconscious devotion to playing the game well. (Thanks to your friend Roger Federer, tennis is making a comeback in this direction.)

Wondering if my judgment was too harsh, I sent Reilly’s column to 20 fellow golfers, all of them big fans of yours, asking for their reactions. The responses were nearly uniform: “Somebody had to say it.” They spoke of your lack of “decorum” and “etiquette,” your “visible display of temper” and use of profanity, none of which should be excused by your much-vaunted competitiveness, because “you still have to behave.”

Millions watch your every move, and, most importantly, it’s from you that our children copy their golf swings and golf manners. You are one of the few public figures my twelve-year-old son recognizes by name. As one friend put it, “I’d slightly modify the New Testament text and say to Tiger, ‘To whom many admire, much is expected.”‘ However, you already know that – through the work of the Tiger Woods Foundation, you have already given much of your wealth to children. But they also need to see that blazing smile of yours in the face of pushed drives, pulled irons, and missed putts.

You might wonder why a Catholic journalist would devote a column to golf on a Catholic Web site. Did you know the shepherds of St. Andrews who invented the game of “gowf” in the 12th century were Catholic? So was the Dutch who, others now claim, invented the game in the Middle Ages. But Catholics have a vested interest in any promotion of human excellence where a tradition of rules and manners is an integral part of attaining that excellence. To put it another way, we Catholics know that the virtues are not made up by each individual but are handed from generation to generation as part of a tradition. We learn them from the past, as it were.

The Scottish Presbyterians, like Old Tom Morris, who developed the modern game, were stubborn in preserving golf’s traditions. You may already know the story of Morris redesigning the course at St. Andrews, named after a Catholic saint, in the 1860s. Since Morris was having putting woes, some of the caddies suggested Morris should make the holes larger. But Old Tom, with a laugh, declined. Morris’s biographer aptly notes, “As a stiff-backed Presbyterian he intended to earn his way into heaven, and as golfer, he would earn his way into the hole.”

You have done so much that is right for the game and for society. I agree with Reilly when he pointed out, “In every other case, I think Tiger Woods has been an A-plus role model; never shows up in the back of a squad car with a black eye.” But now your fans are asking for something more.

It will take courage to admit to yourself that your manners need improving. Anyone who watched your U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines last year on a badly damaged left knee knows you have courage in abundance. You don’t need to make a speech about it, or respond publicly to Reilly, just resolve to do it. We know you can.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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