If Michael Bamberger is not the best living golf writer, he’s at least on a very short list of candidates. He took on the subject of Tiger Woods and one of the great comebacks in sports history with a new book, The Second Life of Tiger Woods.
The book is out this week, releasing just before what would have been Woods’ defense at Augusta National. The first half of the book focuses on some of the ignominious moments from the last decade in Woods’ life, from his time in rehab for sex addiction, to rumors of using performance enhancing drugs, to his Memorial Day arrest for DUI. The book begins with that arrest, which Bamberger used to explain the start of Woods’ “second life.”
The second half of the book focuses on Woods’ successful return to professional golf. Reading one of the best golf writers ever recount the 2019 Masters in minute detail is sustenance for any golf junkie.
Bamberger has written seven books, and has covered golf for three decades. I received a copy of The Second Life of Tiger Woods last month, and highly recommend it for our sports-less moment in time. As someone who has written, read, and watched a lot about Woods, the book stilt feels like new ground.
I exchanged messages with Bamberger, and asked him questions about the book and his reporting process. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
SB NATION: Were you writing or planning to write this book prior to Tiger’s Masters win of 2019?
MICHAEL BAMBERGER: I started thinking about the book before Tiger won the 2019 Masters, and before he won the Tour Championship in September 2018. I first called my editor with the idea in August 2018, after watching Tiger play in a tournament in Philadelphia and just seeing something different about him, in his play and in his demeanor. Actually, I had been seeing that all through 2018, but something happened at that tournament that made it a tipping point. (Paging Malcolm Gladwell.) During Masters Sunday last year, I was rooting for Molinari, although a Tiger win was in my self-interest. I would have been eager to see how Tiger handled another this-close finish.
SB: Is the reporting or writing process more enjoyable for you? Which one was more of a bear for this specific book?
MB: Reporting is WAY more enjoyable. You talk, you watch, you analyze, by yourself and with others. But little in life is more rewarding for me than having written. This is not an original thought. The writing was far more difficult than the reporting, because you’re aware that millions of words have been written about this guy and your job is to say something new.
SB: You’ve watched, reviewed, or partook in hundreds of Tiger interviews and public moments. What’s the occasion when he was the most open or he was most “giving” to the press? To you personally?
MB: The most open I’ve seen Tiger was in the euphoria after his win at the Tour Championship at East Lake in September 2018. You could tell, in his words, in his body language, that he really didn’t know if he was ever going to win again. And he had! There was true ecstasy there. Also, he was taking in the room, the fans, his fellow pros — the whole scene — in ways I had never seen before. It was moving.
SB: The 2017 Memorial Day arrest for DUI is a fulcrum in the book, and appears to be your line of demarcation for the onset of Tiger’s second life. Is that accurate? And if it is, why did you choose this day from all the various low points and high points over the last 10 to 12 years?
MB: The second life of Tiger Woods begins in the aftermath of that Memorial Day 2017 arrest. Once that mug shot was shown to the world, there was no place for Woods to hide. I believe it was a day of reckoning for him. It was the start of the path that led to — but did not conclude with — his victory in the 2019 Masters. That’s a remarkable two-year period. It’s inspiring.
SB: A section of the book focuses on performance-enhancing drugs. You conducted lengthy interviews with Tony Bosch, the man at the center of MLB’s Biogenesis scandal and supplier of PEDs to Alex Rodriguez. What made Tony Bosch such a compelling and even perceptive figure for you?
MB: Nobody could ever spend time with Tony Bosch and say, “Oh, I know someone exactly like him.” There is not a person really anything like him. So he’s compelling by personality type alone. But more significantly, when I met him he had been through a series of life-changing experiences. He had been at the center of baseball’s investigation into Alex Rodriguez, he had done time in a federal prison, he had buried his drug addiction. Those experiences had left him a more empathetic, truthful person. Somebody could write a good book about this guy — or he could write his own.
SB: Did you struggle at all with including the PED section in the book? Or the process of writing it based on what you’d gathered?
MB: At the very least, I think Bosch’s insights into and experiences with some of the people around Tiger will give readers an insight into Tiger. As for the writing process, it’s always a struggle, isn’t it? Maybe not for Dan Jenkins.
SB: The second half of the book features incredible detail about Tiger’s week at the 2019 Masters to satiate the golf junkie. In the course of your reporting on Tiger that week, what’s an image you observed or an anecdote you were told that may not have been broadcast to the millions at home but you will remember most?
MB: Thank you for that, Brendan. One that jumps out right away is watching Tiger’s mother, Tida, as she watched Tiger play the back-nine on Masters Sunday. She was in a corner table in an Augusta National dining room. I was, by coincidence, one table over. She had her two grandchildren and Tiger’s girlfriend and others around. She watched in near silence and obvious intensity. You could see her son’s focus in her.
SB: What’s genuinely the happiest, either on or off a golf course, you’ve seen Tiger in your career covering him?
MB: The happiest I’ve seen Tiger on a golf course was on Friday of last year’s Masters. A rain shower had chased off most of the spectators. He finished near sunset. It was a beautiful evening. He had been in control of his golf ball pretty much for 18 holes. He was in it. I think that’s what Tiger lives for: being in it.
Later, I had this exchange with him:
”You finished late on Friday and coming off the green you looked as happy as I’ve ever seen you. I’m wondering if you can remember what you were thinking and feeling then?”
Tiger: “I really don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think there was any particular thought. Just that I was right there, in contention.”
He was. He was halfway there.
SB: You’ve been on the beat for almost all of Tiger’s public golf life and referenced covering him as an amateur while at The Philadelphia Inquirer. You seem to have a deep knowledge of his golf history and as full a view of the man as a golf writer may get. But what was the one new fact, observation, or story about him that most surprised you in the course of your work for this book?
MB: I think the depth of his emotional life. My editor said at one point, before I started writing, “What’s it like, to be Tiger Woods?” And that question helped me look more keenly at Tiger with his kids, Tiger with his mom, Tiger with his father. Tiger looking at his own history. He offers little insights here and there. But when I put it all together, I came away thinking that there was a person there who was far more aware of his own emotional life, his internal life, than I had ever realized. And I think that might be a new development in his life. I think it stems from Memorial Day 2017. But I don’t know. I’m telling you what my reporting and life experience tells me.
SB: You write eloquently about personality and character changes in Tiger from a heightened sense of gratitude, community, and playing for more than himself. What’s been the most significant, or impressive even, change in Tiger in this “second life?”
MB: His use of the word gratitude in all its popular forms. Thanks for this Brendan. Very interesting questions. I don’t know that I unearthed Tiger — he’s a difficult subject. But I tried.