A crazy story about Tiger Woods shows that he was never as obsessed with golfing greatness as everybody thought

Tiger WoodsRussell Cheyne/Reuters

Long before Tiger Woods’ fall from grace and the injuries that derailed his career, the public image was one of a golfer consumed with golf, beating Jack Nicklaus’ record, and becoming the greatest golfer ever.

But the more we learn about Tiger Woods’ life away from the course, it is becoming clear that this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

We have already seen glimpses of this, and now we have an even better picture of the real Tiger Woods in a lengthy story written by Wright Thompson for ESPN the Magazine, called “The Secret History of Tiger Woods.

While that story goes into great detail about many of the stories we already knew a little about (his flirtation with joining the Navy SEALs, his infidelities, etc.) there is one story that didn’t make the final edit and may be the best indication yet of where Woods’ priorities were, even at his peak.

Thompson was a guest on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” to discuss Woods. During their discussion about the image of Tiger being a “golfing robot,” Thompson brings up one story he uncovered that was cut from the final draft.

It was 2002 and Woods had won the first two majors of the year, the Masters and the US Open. There was only one month between the US Open and the Open Championship at Muirfield in Scotland. Woods was scheduled to play in one tune-up event, the Western Open in Chicago two weeks earlier.

As Thompson puts it, Woods called in sick. He didn’t play.

It turns out, Woods wasn’t sick. He just wanted to go spear fishing instead. From Thompson:

I accidentally found out, because I was talking to all the people he spear fishes with. Dude was like, ‘man, he wasn’t sick, he was spear fishing with me.’ And he was like, “We were on a boat called the Jolly Roger II.” I talked to the captain of the boat and the dive master, and they were like, “he wasn’t sick, he was on our boat spear fishing.”

Here is how Reuters reported the illness in 2002:

Tiger Woods, who is halfway to winning all four majors in a calendar year, may compete at this month’s British Open without having played a tournament since the U.S. Open last month.

The world No. 1 was scheduled to compete in the Western Open this week, but withdrew yesterday, citing an unspecified illness.

Woods went on to finish 28th at the Open Championship before finishing second at the PGA Championship.

When asked what he thought that tells us about Woods, Thompson said it shows us that Woods has always been more than just a golfer.

“He wants a life. Golf is important to him, but he has interests outside of this,” Thompson said. “There is this whole other thing that has happened in private the entire time we have been watching him that feels real and authentic to him but bears almost no resemblance to the guy in the red shirt on Sunday.”

Amazing. Here is Woods in 2002. He has won seven of the last 11 major championships and is going for something nobody has ever accomplished, winning all four majors in one year in the modern era. But he wasn’t consumed by that. He just wanted to go spear fishing.

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