Is Tiger Woods' HBO Documentary a Voyeuristic Take on the Golf Legend's Demons?

HBO’s Tiger Woods documentary builds up and then tears down the golf legend who just wants to be himself. 

From the very start, Tiger Woods was supposed to be bigger than life. HBO’s documentary Tiger opens with an emotional speech from Woods’ dad Earl, where he deifies Woods, claiming he will transcend the game and unite people all over the world. It is followed by TV footage of a toddler Woods playing golf and then asking permission to go poo-poo. 

One of the most interesting things about this documentary is Wood’s refusal to participate. 

In 2020, ESPN and Netflix’s The Last Dance, the documentary on legendary ’90s Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan, captured a quarantined-addled crowd drained of excitement. Jordan was a full participant, offering his take on various legends and stories from his career. It is said that he only signed off on this doc when LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers came back 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors. He wanted to remind people who the real GOAT is. To an extent, The Last Dance is propaganda, glossing over the heavier skeletons in Jordan’s life and allowing him to correct others. Tiger is not like this. The documentary probes into the nitty-gritty difficulties of pre-destined sports superstardom to a grave fault and there is no Woods defending himself.

The Pressure to be Tiger Woods

A focus of Part 1 is Wood’s early life and his relationship with his dad. The doc takes a certain antagonistic attitude toward Woods’ father Earl, who the documentary tries to portray as a misled Joe Jackson type stage father. While he wasn’t abusive the way Joe was to Michael, the documentary makes the argument that the pressure Earl puts on his son was more than enough damage. Is it not every father’s ambition, however, to see his son be the best he can be? 

Photo by courtesy of HBO.

Another focus is the pressure of being Woods and the boundaries he’s forced to break as a black man in what was conventionally a white sport. But is this not the story of every black athlete? To be bigger than race, bigger than the sport, bigger than themselves. Why must these burdens be solely Woods’? 

The Sensationalism of His Women

At the end of Part 1, the Tiger Woods documentary does a 180 and emphasizes the grief Woods faced when his father passed. Part 2 begins with an expose on his women and Vegas dalliances. It looks to portrays triumph over adversity, but first goes deep into Woods’ troubles with the women and substances that derailed his career. 

The sensationalism is evident. Part 1 even ends on a “cliffhanger” with Rachel Uchitel, the nightclub manager who got involved with Woods. Throughout Part 2, Neal Boulton of the National Enquirer is routinely cited. A former madam Woods frequented is also cited. The documentary shows off various escorts and girlfriends are cited throughout, as well. 

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This is the point at which HBO’s Tiger stops being an encompassing look at a great athlete’s career and becomes tabloid sensationalism. In fact, the documentary barely even mentions his accomplishments, which are skimmed over and relegated to the footnotes. The real story here is Woods in Vegas and Woods with women. Woods is being built up to be broken down just to be built back up again. Frankly, Part 2 was a difficult watch, not so much because of his demons but because of the other outside evils. The documentary dedicates so much to the paparazzi that it becomes almost voyeuristic. 

The Most Damning Evidence

In many ways, The Last Dance and Tiger became what the other should’ve been. The Last Dance should have been a vulnerable, dirty look at the impenetrable fortress of Jordan, who, despite a strong reputation for misbehavior, has never had his laundry aired. Tiger, on the other hand, should’ve been a reminder of the greatness and perseverance of a man who became a victim of celebrity. (In Tiger, Jordan also makes a number of appearances as a Mephistophelian figure, welcoming Woods to Vegas.) 

Photo by HBO.

Despite video evidence from clubs and suites, the most damning footage in the Tiger Woods documentary are the photos and home videos from Woods’ first girlfriend Dina. Here, we see him happy, being himself, dancing, smiling, and joking—a purity that would evade him for the rest of his life. He isn’t the person the media makes him out to be, but neither is he the person he makes himself out to be. 

This is probably the most disappointing piece of work I’ve ever seen from HBO. With Tiger, it is continuing the sensationalism that has plagued his career. All Tiger Woods ever wanted to be is himself—and sadly no one seems to let him do so.

Tiger is now streaming on HBO and HBO Go.

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