- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2011

We’re not exactly tight, Tiger Woods and I. When he hosts the AT&T National at Congressional, he doesn’t stay over at my house or ask for restaurant recommendations. And when he drove his Cadillac Escalade - and his career - into a tree awhile back, I wasn’t his first call. I’ve asked him a few questions over the years. He’s answered them. A time or two, I think, he’s even answered the actual question.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some advice for him - and haven’t since that horrible night in 2009 when everything went sideways. He probably doesn’t want to hear it. He’s probably heard more advice in recent months than somebody trapped in an elevator with Dr. Phil. Life advice. Marital advice. Golf advice. But I wonder if anybody has told him what I’d tell him. I wonder if anybody has said:

Tiger, you need to rewind - not unwind, rewind. You need to go back to the beginning, back to “Hello, world.” Do you remember when you uttered those words in 1996 to kick off your first news conference as professional? Do you remember who you were then - 20 years old, a Stanford refugee, full of life? You have to go back and find that guy. Because that guy would never be in the position you’re in now.

You can’t go home again? I say you can. I say that guy still exists … somewhere. I say that guy still exists in all of us somewhere. You just have to know where to look for him.

In your case, That Guy might be in Milwaukee. In that first year, you may recall, you didn’t have your Tour card yet, so you had to rely on the kindness of strangers (e.g. tournament sponsors who granted you exemptions). Since it was late in the season, after all the big events had been played, you teed it up in the Greater Milwaukee Open, the Quad City Classic, the B.C. Open - a whole bunch of tourneys you normally wouldn’t be caught dead in.

It was fun, wasn’t it? You wanted to see if you could win enough money to qualify for the Tour Championship - and spare yourself from Q-school - and you did. You won in Las Vegas. You won the Disney. You were on your way to immortality.

And then something happened. You never showed your face in most of those places again. You even started skipping Tournament of Champions at the beginning of the year. You became bigger than the game, the most recognizable name in sports. But you didn’t have to act like it. It wouldn’t have killed you, for instance, to play in Bob Hope’s tourney just once before he died, as much as he did for pro golf.

But you can’t change the past. You can do something only about the future. And one of the ways you can do that is by getting the fans back on your side - the fans who would judge you, the fans who think you’re a jerk because of the way you treated your wife, the fans your fleeing business partners (Gatorade, AT&T, Gillette et al.) are so solicitous of.

Let’s face it, the dynamic is a bit different for you now. There are folks out there who simply don’t like you, and it’s not because they worship at the altar of Phil Mickelson or don’t want you to break Jack’s records. They don’t like you because of who you are - or who they perceive you to be.

So why not show them they’re wrong - or at least, show them that a man can change? Instead of being a Golfer Apart, why not become a Golfer of the People? Why not make a vow to play every tour event a minimum of once in the next, say, five years? (Except maybe those that conflict with majors.) Go back to Milwaukee. Go back to Vegas. Go back to the Texas Open. Go back to all the places that put out the welcome mat for you when you were just getting going. Go back to Scottsdale, too, so you can play No. 16 again and hear 20,000 fans beg for a hole-in-one (a request you beneficently granted in 1997).

Play New Orleans. Play the Greenbrier. Play everywhere. I Am Tiger Woods? The heck with that. How about: I Am Golf? Sacrifice some of your sacred privacy; drop the gated-community persona. Become an open book. Make it clear that there’s no Other Tiger Woods out there, lurking in the shadows. There’s just Tiger Woods - and no tournament is beneath him.

Do this, I humbly submit, and it’ll help you more than any swing change (the latest of which netted you a 71 Thursday in the first round of the Masters). “Hello, world.” Get back to that. Everything flows from that.

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