HBO's 'Tiger' Shows the Complex Dynamic of Tiger and Earl Woods

Brady Langmann
·4 min read
Photo credit: Elaine Chung
Photo credit: Elaine Chung

From Esquire

A few weeks ago, we saw one of Tiger Woods's best moments since his triumphant Masters run in 2019—and it hardly had anything to do with winning or losing. Tiger teamed up with his 11-year-old son, Charlie, at the PNC Championship (a friendly tournament), which marked the first time the father and son golfed together in front of a TV audience. And if you know anything about the last decade of Tiger's life, the images of the duo mirroring each other as they teed off together, at the very least, probably brought a smile to your face.

Not only does the father-son moment represent a new chapter for the golf legend following years of scandals—but seeing Tiger playing alongside Charlie with such a care-free attitude, as if they were playing a game of catch, told all of us that the 11-year-old might not face as much pressure as his father growing up. As we're reminded in Part One of HBO's new documentary about the five-time Masters winner, Tiger, which debuted Sunday night, Woods had a complicated relationship with his own father, Earl. Throughout the initial 90-minute look into the close-knit bond between Earl and Tiger, we get a behind-the-scenes look at all the good—and, sometimes, ugly—parts of their relationship.

As the HBO documentary points out, Earl Woods was a not only an impressive athlete in his own right—but he was a war hero. Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Woods played college baseball at Kansas State University (he was good enough that the Kansas City Monarchs offered him a contract) before becoming an officer in the U.S. Army. He served two tours during the Vietnam War, which Tiger delves into. In the second tour, Woods was a Special Forces member, going behind enemy lines to plant explosives. (I.e. The most dangerous work you could do, as the documentary points out.) During the first tour, he was stationed at Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton, where he picked up some of the golf skills he'd pass on to his son. And while stationed in Thailand during his next tour, Woods met Kultida Punsawad, who gave birth to Eldrick "Tiger" Woods in 1975.

This is about where Tiger picks up. Earl Woods has baby Tiger swinging a golf club with better form than most adults... by two years old. Explains a lot! In Tiger, we see a a ton of archival footage of toddler-aged Tiger golfing with his father. Highlights: Videos of Tiger hitting balls in his garage, even a story about how the kid couldn't take his eyes off of Earl when he was practicing his swing. (If you haven't seen Earl and two-year-old Tiger on a late-night show with Bob Hope, it's worth the watch.) We also glimpse some of the techniques Earl used to teach Tiger how to focus on the links, which included big golf-world no-nos like jangling his keys and talking loudly while Tiger was playing. Along the way, we see enough interviews with Earl to learn that he was a fairly eccentric guy—believing that Tiger would essentially be a 21st-Century, Gandhi-esque Messiah for mankind.

"He's the bridge between the East and the West," Woods said in 1996. "I don't know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power."

Photo credit: Doug Benc - Getty Images
Photo credit: Doug Benc - Getty Images

Tiger makes it clear that, even as Tiger became a force on the PGA Tour, the two men were best friends. Watch the way Tiger hugged Earl after winning his first Masters, if you need any convincing. Although, things don't end as well once Tiger fully becomes Tiger, dominating the sport on a Michael Jordan level. Part Two of Tiger delves into allegations that Earl had extramarital affairs of his own, which are presented as a deep-seeded contribution to the way Tiger began to chart his own path in the early 2000s, without his father right by his side, closer to his death in 2006. After Earl passed away, Tiger threw himself into training with the Navy SEALSwhich might have been his own way of honoring his late father.

Above all of that, if there's one thing the documentary strives to show about Earl Woods, it's how much he loved his son. In the beginning of Tiger, we see Earl taking about the young golfer at a 1996 banquet, tears in his eyes.

"Please forgive me, but sometimes I get very emotional when I talk about my son," Woods says. "My heart fills with so much joy when I realize that this young man is going to help so many people.

Photo credit: Esquire
Photo credit: Esquire

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