The downfall of Tiger Woods, both on and off the golf course, remains one of the most perplexing stories in all of sports.
Woods, who turned 40 in December, is indefinitely sidelined from golf as a result of multiple back surgeries. Still, in the past few months he has been the subject of several lengthy profiles. These pieces have all tried to answer the same question: What happened to Tiger?
The latest installment is a 12,000-word ESPN the Magazine story by Wright Thompson, who explores the relationship between Woods and his late father, Earl, especially after Earl Woods died in 2006.
Woods' father was a Green Beret, and after he died, Woods became obsessed with the Navy SEALs. He often visited their private training facilities, skydived regularly with them, and went through complex combat scenarios that included close-combat exercises and simulated raids. Thompson reports that Woods' obsession became so intense that his close inner-circle once staged an intervention, worried he wasn't focused on golf and might quit the sport to enlist.
Then there's the story of the lunch, which spread throughout the Naval Special Warfare community. Guys still tell it, almost a decade later. Tiger and a group of five or six went to a diner in La Posta. The waitress brought the check and the table went silent, according to two people there that day. Nobody said anything and neither did Tiger, and the other guys sort of looked at one another.
Finally one of the SEALs said, "Separate checks, please."
The waitress walked away.
"We are all baffled," says one SEAL, a veteran of numerous combat deployments. "We are sitting there with Tiger f---ing Woods, who probably makes more than all of us combined in a day. He's shooting our ammo, taking our time. He's a weird f---ing guy. That's weird s---. Something's wrong with you."
Over the course of his story, Thompson makes the case that Woods' obsession with the SEALs was twofold: at once a manifestation of grief over his father's death and a desire to escape the celebrity of being Tiger Woods.
But Woods also seemed to earnestly believe that the training he was doing was the same as the SEALs, that he was becoming one of them. His unsavory lunchtime etiquette indicates this; he wanted to be one of the guys, not a famous, millionaire athlete expected to pick up the tab. Not shockingly, many of the SEALs resented him, for this and other behavior.
For one thing, his training paled in comparison to the actual training it takes to become a SEAL. Writes Thompson, "Guys saw him doing the fun stuff, shooting guns and jumping out of airplanes, but never the brutal, awful parts of being a SEAL, soaking for hours in hypothermic waters, so covered in sand and grit that the skin simply grinds away."
Thompson went on:
"Tiger Woods never got wet and sandy," says former SEAL and current Montana congressman Ryan Zinke, who ran the training facility during the years Tiger came around. The BUD/S instructors didn't like the way Tiger talked about how he'd have been a SEAL if he didn't choose golf. "I just reached out to the guys I know who jumped with him and interacted with him," says a retired SEAL. "Not a single one wants to have any involvement, or have their name mentioned in the press anywhere near his. His interactions with the guys were not always the most stellar, and most were very underwhelmed with him as a man."
If nothing else, Woods' interactions with the SEALs reveals that in the years prior to the now-infamous car crash, his mind and sense of self were wildly adrift. Part of that was certainly (and understandably) the result of his father's death. But Earl Woods dying wasn't the only reason he drifted off course.
The answer to the question What happened to Tiger is, obviously, far more complicated. And no matter how many magazines continue to ask their most esteemed writers to tackle this question, ultimately no one but Woods himself will ever know the full answer.
Thompson's whole piece, though long, is worth reading in full. You can read it here.
Tiger Woods once baffled and irritated a group of Navy SEALs when he didn't pick up the check for lunch
Tiger Woods, is shown during Masters practice in Augusta, Ga. in this April 5, 1995 photo, will try to add one of the few amateur titles he does not already own to his collection as the NCAA golf championships begin in Ooltewah, Tenn. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Tiger Woods, of Stanford University, follows his drive on the thirteenth hole during the NCAA Men's Golf Championships in Ooltewah, Tenn., on Wednesday, May 29, 1996. Woods, a Stanford sophomore, is a two-time winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Tiger Woods coaxes in the ball into the hole for a birdie on the par-4 third hole Saturday, Aug. 24, l996, during his U.S. Amateur match with Joel Kribel at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore.(AP Photo/Robin Loznak)
Tiger Woods kissed the U.S. Amateur trophy after winning an unprecedented third U.S. Amateur championship, Sunday, Aug. 25, l996, at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore. Woods won the title on the 38th hole.(AP Photo/Jack Smith)
Golfer Tiger Woods holds up the trophy after winning the Mercedes Championships in a one hole playoff at La Costa Country Club Sunday Jan. 12, 1997, in Carlsbad, Calif. The tournament was shortened to 54 holes because of rain and Woods and Tom Lehman played a one hole playoff. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Masters third round leader Tiger Woods talks with reporters after finishing his round of play at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Saturday, April 12, 1997. (AP Photo/ Dave Martin)
Masters champion Tiger Woods addresses the crowd after he receives his Green Jacket at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 13, 1997. (AP Photo/ Amy Sancetta)
U.S. golfer Tiger Woods lines up a putt during the final day of the American Express Championship event in Valderrama, southern Spain Sunday Nov. 7 1999. (AP Photo/Denis Doyle)
Tiger Woods reacts on the 18th hole after winning the 2001 Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 8, 2001. Woods captured this second Masters title, defeating David Duval by two stokes. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
US golf player Eldrick "Tiger" Woods after hitting a ball during a pro shoot out prior to the SAP Open in St. Leon-Rot, 60 miles (100km) south of Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, May 15, 2001. 156 players participate in this tournament from May 17 to May 20, 2001. (AP Photo/Daniel Maurer)
Tiger Woods tips his cap after birdeying the 18th hole Thursday, June 13, 2002, during the first round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship at the Black Course of Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Tiger Woods holds the 2002 U.S. Open Golf Championship trophy, Sunday, June 16, 2002, at the Black Course of Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Tiger Woods drives during early morning practice for the Ryder Cup at The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield, England,Thursday Sept. 26,, 2002. The competition is scheduled to get underway on Sept. 27.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
U.S golfer Tiger Woods during the first day of the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open tournament in in Gut Kaden near Hamburg, northern Germany on Thursday, May15, 2003. (AP Photo/Fabian Bimmer)
Tigers Woods chips onto the fifth green, Saturday May 15, 2004, during the third round of the Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas. Woods finished Saturday with a 202 total, three strokes behind leader Sergio Garcia. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tiger Woods watches his drive on the 10th tee during first round play of the 2005 Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Thursday, April 7, 2005. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tiger Woods reacts to his tee shot on the first hole during second round play in the 87th PGA Championship at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Friday, Aug. 12, 2005. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Tiger Woods smiles as he discusses being named professional golf's Player of the Year for the eighth time in his career at a news conference at Sherwood Country Club, where he is preparing to host the Target World Challenge, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Tiger Woods chats on the eighth tee in the Pro-Am round of the Target World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Tiger Woods talks about his experience of caddying and the recuperation of his knee after his work at Torrey Pines where he caddied for contest winner John Abel Monday Oct. 20, 2008 in San Diego. Abel, of West Berlin, New Jersey won a contest that entitled him to have Tiger Woods caddie for him. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2009 file photo, Tiger Woods, from the United States, lines up a putt during the third round of the Australian Masters golf tournament at the Kingston Heath Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. Authorities say Woods has been seriously injured in a car wreck in Florida. The Florida Highway Patrol says the PGA star hit a fire hydrant and a tree as he pulled out of his driveway early Friday, Nov. 27, 2009, in his 2009 Cadillac sport utility vehicle. Woods was taken to Health Central Hospital. His condition was not immediately known, though the news release said his injuries were serious. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill, File)
Tiger Woods drives from the fifth hole tees during the final round of the Chevron World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Tiger Woods poses with his trophy after winning the Chevron World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Woods closed with clutch birdie putts, including holing a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 3-under 69, to win by one shot over former Masters champion Zach Johnson. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Tiger Woods looks on during the third round of the World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Bret Hartman)
Tiger Woods tosses a leaf in the air to check the wind on the fifth tee during the final round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Tiger Woods holds himself up on the first tee during the third round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Windermere, Fla. Woods lost his voice overnight and was nauseated before and during the third round at Isleworth. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)
Tiger Woods acknowledges the crowd after finishing his round on the ninth hole during the first round of the Wyndham Championship golf tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)