Ever heard of Rick Reilly? No, well he’s an 11-time American National Sportswriter of the Year, whose current deal with US broadcaster ESPN is worth a reported $17 million. In return he writes his weekly ‘Life of Reilly’ column, does some magazine work and a bit of online stuff. Nice work if you can get it.
A serial kicker of sporting sacred cows, Reilly recognises that, “Some guys, you can write 99 great things about them, as you will find out, and love them for their entire career, but you write one bad column, and they hate you forever”. (Even the non-$17m-earning among us have that problem.)
Tiger Woods has had slightly more bad press than that of late. Before he announced his “indefinite” withdrawal from sporting society, Reilly advised that Woods needed to “forget golf for a while” and do Oprah. “When your house is on fire, you don’t go play the Masters”, he asserts.
Reilly admits to having failings of his own; a family trait apparently. He described his late dad Jack, who died last year, as “an Irish tenor, a yarn spinner, a songwriter, a father of four, a crack golfer and a first-class drunk.”
He explained: “As kids, we blamed golf. We thought the game made him meaner than a dyspeptic rattler. We were sure it was more important than we were, or why was he never around?”
Reilly snr would “always come home drunk after playing golf… To this day, the sound of spikes on cement sends a shot of ice through me… When he’d eventually stagger into bed, the rat in my stomach would finally stop gnawing.”
Eventually Jack Reilly quit drinking, and made a peace of sorts with the family he’d terrorised for so long. “The last 25 years of his life he was dry, how sorry he was to have let his family grow up while he was holding down the 19th hole with his elbows.
“He wrote us a poem about his love for us and his shame and why nobody would cry the day he died… On the final night of his life, I sat alone in a chair next to his hospice bed, holding his hand and a box of Kleenex and proving how wrong poems can be sometimes.
“As I looked at him, I realized that for better and worse, he’d shaped me. I think I’m a good father borne of his rotten example. I’m a storyteller out of surviving him. I’m a man with more flaws than a 1986 Yugo, but I try to own up to them, because a very good Irish tenor showed me how… Golf taught me the lessons my dad never did, including the best one: You play life where it lies. You hit it there. You play it from there.”
Not bad advice. But Woods is so far out of bounds you wonder how he’ll ever get back to where he was.