This probably won’t be too long of a review, but if you want the shortest possible version, here it is: Tiger Woods: America’s Son is really good.
Premiering Sunday night at 7 PM Eastern on ESPN, the one-hour documentary from The Undefeated is more than worth your time; it’s a very relevant look at how a Black superstar athlete in a predominantly white sport can both inspire and disappoint those who looked up to him. It’s also a revealing look at the position Tiger found himself in as a very young man, stopping short of the tabloid fodder that occurred later in his career, which will presumably be covered much more in HBO’s own upcoming documentary.
Basically, there’s a very limited amount that a white writer is going to be able to add to what the documentary has to say, and if you have any interest in golf, where it intersects with race, or even just how Tiger Woods became “Tiger Woods”, you should make time to watch it.
Sunday, Nov. 29, @TheUndefeated presents 'Tiger Woods: America's Son'
The one-hour documentary will examine @TigerWoods' complex racial identity & the meaning of the golfer's success in America
7p ET | ESPN, ESPN App
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) November 19, 2020
The hour went by very quickly, and it could have been twice as long without any protest. Longtime Golf Digest writer Pete McDaniel serves as one of the main voices, and his insight and experience is invaluable. The pain and frustration in his voice discussing the various lost Black legends who played during an era of segregation that lasted until 1961 in American professional golf is palpable.
Unlike other sports, though, for which diversity is a fairly straight upwards curve on a graph after they integrated, golf has actually seen a contraction in Black players, to a shocking degree. As the documentary points out, in 1976, there were eleven Black players on the PGA Tour. In 1997, when Tiger won his first Masters, he was the only one. Now, in 2020, there are four. That’s despite Woods being one of the biggest athletes of all time, a true crossover cultural phenomenon for more than a decade. Woods clearly changed professional golf as a sport (just look at purse sizes and television ratings), and he certainly helped change the type of athlete who would consider golf.
But that clearly hasn’t translated to a new wave of Black players, which speaks to the many ways that golf remains economically inaccessible, which given American society is always going to make it harder for minorities to take part.
Some of the most powerful moments in the film, though, come when we see a teenaged Woods talk with passion about how he knows he’s going to be a huge star because he’s Black, and how he wants to carry that mantle to places like Augusta National because of that club’s checkered racial history. It’s a stark contrast to a still young but budding superstar Tiger on Oprah, when he made the famous “Cablinasian” comment in reference to his multiracial background.
That moment did not endear Tiger to a lot of people, and we get archival footage of Black legends like Calvin Peete and Jim Dent talking about their displeasure, along with interview subjects like former Augusta caddie Jariah Beard, who is even more forceful with his criticism.
None of these are easy issues, obviously. America’s Son shines a spotlight on some areas in golf that have gone unnoticed for too long, and it couldn’t come at a more relevant time. It doesn’t answer any questions because it can’t. What it does do, though, is offer Black voices the chance to discuss how golf in general and Tiger specifically helped shape their lives. Sometimes posing the right questions is even more important than trying to answer them, and a lot of golf media is either unequipped or unwilling to ask the questions this film raises.
Tiger Woods: America’s Son airs Sunday night on ESPN at 7 PM ET.