News & Opinion

Woods needs help, and his life might depend on it

Tiger Woods apologized, but he didn’t go nearly far enough. Not by a long shot. More than 12 hours after his arrest in the early hours of Monday, he said he was sorry “with all my heart” to “my family, friends and the fans.”

But the people to whom he owes the biggest amends are the residents of Palm Beach County, Fla. Driving in the condition in which he was found by police, he could have killed people, including himself. If this had happened at 5 p.m. instead of 3 a.m., the carnage that could have been caused by someone who was so impaired that he couldn’t walk without help is unimaginable.

Woods’ arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence can’t be explained away with ignorance or bad timing. This was a dereliction of responsibility the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the insular world of golf for as long as anyone can remember.

It’s almost impossible to see a path out of the woods for Tiger. Perhaps the best course of action is for him to announce his retirement, solve whatever personal problems he has as a result of this arrest and spend the rest of his life in service and philanthropy.

Otherwise, his image – and yes, his legacy – is forever ruined. He won’t be remembered for the best golf perhaps anyone has ever played. Instead, the mug shot that depicts droopy eyes, dilated pupils, scraggly beard, a broken man looking lost and disconnected will be an everlasting memory.

Woods was arrested at about 3 a.m. Monday in Jupiter, Fla. In a statement at about 5 p.m. Monday, Woods claimed that he had an “unexpected reaction” to pain medication and that “alcohol was not involved.”

Unfortunately, we might never know the whole truth. Woods has been taking prescription narcotic pain medications for years, owing to four knee surgeries and four back surgeries.

A DUI might be the least of Woods’ problems. It could represent the biggest red flag he’s ever seen. Opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., and when opioids are mixed with alcohol, it can be a deadly combination.

If the Palm Beach County state attorney has Woods’ own admission of being under the influence of painkillers, Woods’ lawyer has a good chance to help him avoid any legal jeopardy. Granted, driving under the influence of narcotic medication is just as serious as drunk driving. But he is Tiger Woods, and it’s his first offense. A judge is not likely to slap Woods with anything more than probation, perhaps with some community service.

Some will insist on giving Woods the benefit of the doubt. But there are a couple of things at work here. First, there is the arresting officer’s account:

When police encountered Woods, his car was stopped in the right lane. The brake light and right blinker was on, and he was asleep at the wheel.

“Woods stated he was coming from LA (Los Angeles) California from golfing. Woods stated that he did not know where he was. Woods had changed his story of where he was going and where he was coming from. Woods asked how far from his house he was.”

What’s more, Woods utterly failed a field sobriety test. Officers had to repeat instructions several times, and when he was asked whether he understood reciting the alphabet backward, he said yes and said he would sing the national anthem backward.

Then, there is the “unexpected reaction” to the medication. He was asked what medication he was taking and officers listed soloxex (sic), vicodin, Torix and viox (sic). In his condition, he couldn’t have been counted on to give an accurate accounting of the medications he was taking. Having said that, Vicodin is an opioid, Torix is an anti-inflammatory and Vioxx, also an anti-inflammatory, was pulled from the marketplace in 2004 because of increased cardiovascular risks.

He has been taking pain meds for years, and it’s just now that he’s reacting unusually? If he felt such a reaction, wouldn’t he try to get home as quickly as he could? Or call someone to come pick him up?

Finally, there is the time of his arrest. What was he doing out at 3 a.m., driving in the opposite direction of his home? Look at his mug shot and you decide.

He was, however, truthful that he hadn’t been drinking. He was administered a Breathalyzer test twice, according to the police report, and blew .000 each time.

Woods has only a few close friends. One of them might be his best chance at getting past this problem. Notah Begay III, who roomed with Woods in college at Stanford, had his own DUI problem but got into recovery and says he has been sober for 17 years.

Begay said Monday on Golf Channel, where he is an on-air analyst, that he hopes changes would be made in his friend’s life as a result of this arrest. Before you wonder out loud why Begay hasn’t been able to successfully intervene before now, perhaps the seed already has been planted and this is the event that will trigger a change.

Begay knows full well that he alone can’t do anything about this. His experience shows that unless the afflicted person “hits bottom,” nothing that’s said will have any positive effect.

Whether Woods listens will depend in large part on how entrenched he is in denial. But if this is as grave as it looks, he no doubt will hear from his friend that this is now a matter of life and death.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email:; Twitter@mikepurkeygolf