12.04.09

What Tiger's Mom Saw

Talk about awkward: Tiger and Elin’s mothers were both there the night the club flew. Lizzie Skurnick on the mom factor during sex scandals.

From what we know, Elin Nordegren and Kultida Woods have a pretty standard mother and daughter-in-law relationship. (When Tiger built Tida a house next door, Elin, according to Australia’s Herald Sun, insisted a stretch of water separate them.) But the news that both Tida and Nordegren’s mother, Barbro Holmberg, were on the scene on the day that Elin commandeered a priceless club to rework the rear window of his vehicle may indicate a happy new phase in in-law relations.

You have a deal with Nike. They have known for decades what you look like without your underwear. Game over.

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Whether Elin simply chose a convenient moment when both matriarchs were already on the premises or had convened them there for that specific purpose, having Tida and Barbro present for the fight was likely neither an inconvenience nor a coincidence. The Swedish model, a former nanny, was just engaging in time-honored strategy known to all caretakers of the young: When a child is misbehaving, sometimes the only way to get them back in line is to utter the ultimate threat:

I'm calling your mother.

By now, we are all familiar with the spectacle of the disgraced husband and the long-suffering wife. It begins with a leaked piece of information, usually to a low-level tabloid, that works its way up the food chain to the MSM in a story about whether there's a story. But such mutterings are simply the coughs and foot-shuffles of an audience impatient for the show to begin. First, we enjoy a denial so implausible it verges on the antagonistic, then a grudging acknowledgment of the facts of the matter. After a brief call for privacy, the curtain is raised, revealing a corps of tawdry can-can girls so voluminous and ill-clothed it seems impossible one flimsy piece of fabric could ever have concealed them all.

And up until Elin, the final act has been become borderline pieta. In the spotlight, a penitent husband utters his regrets. At his side stands a wife who has aged 10 years overnight, her mute presence signaling not forgiveness, as it is commonly misunderstood by the assembled, but an implicit acknowledgment of a far harsher truth. This is your show, her beaten posture signals. I'm just sticking to the script.

But every leading man has a woman in his life who has only a glancing interest in the allure of this public persona, and complete immunity to its powers. Mothers are aware of million-dollar endorsements but more pertinently with the intimate details of body and odor now only available to (allegedly) the spouse. You have a deal with Nike. They have known for decades what you look like without your underwear. Game over.

By calling in the matriarchal troops, Elin effectively changed the rules of the game. Now, the battle would not take place in front of a camera, where Tiger has spent the majority of his adult life, but in an impromptu nursery, where not one but two women who have absolutely no interest in his swing or investment properties, would bear witness to the fallout of his contemptible deeds.

Because no matter how many golf clubs you throw at your husband's car, no matter how many cameras crowd the entrance to your compound, when it's just you, him, and a world consumed with his iconic status, you lose. Narcissists do not fear the media. John Edwards, the squirmiest and most reprehensible of all the cheaters, stood there in his dad jeans and lied to Oprah's face about the fact that his recently fathered child was squawking a few states away. (To Oprah!) Eliot Spitzer, whose hijinks with campaign finances allowed the Feds to finger his after-hours activities, segued almost immediately from a career in politics to a perch discussing finance at Slate. Governor Mark Sanford, unsatisfied with his apology to the nation at large, took back a more honed version to his home state for an encore lecture series.

Had Elin felt that Tiger was interested in making amends for his behavior, things might have been different. But can anyone who's listened to the businesslike request Tiger leaves for one mistress to change her voicemail for one second entertain the notion that the golfer is feeling anything remotely in the region of shame? Irritation, maybe. A looming sense of annoyance at a probable catastrophe. A slight disturbance in the field—a challenge to the delusion that his image can withstand almost any amount of abuse from his actual behavior. But nothing approaching the emotional involvement one might expect from the partner of one's life.

Elin, wisely sensing that she was about to grapple publicly with the image and not the man, instead chose to call up a protector in the person of her mother—a Swedish politician and no slouch—and Tida, the one person with whom Tiger cannot get away with anything.

And by all appearances, it’s worked. Now, instead of tending grimly to her husband's tattered image, Elin is weighing a massive payout and, presumably, other offers. When the screaming toddler has gone too far, it's time to ask for a raise.

Lizzie Skurnick is the author of Shelf Discovery, a memoir of teen reading. She lives in Jersey City.