Rolfing has been in Tiger's situation
By Ferd Lewis
As a television network golf analyst and host for nearly a quarter-century, Mark Rolfing had come to know Tiger Woods on several levels.
But this time, before they stepped in front of the camera, the chemistry was unique, the communication heartfelt and empathetic, sans words.
When they met briefly at the Players Championship before Woods' first interview with NBC following the infamous sabbatical, "his eyes, his smile; the feeling was different," Rolfing said. "It was the way he looked at me, especially with the eyes."
Rolfing said, "It was a sincere, 'I'm-really-glad-to-see-you' kind of a look. I'm thinking, 'after where he's been, he knows what I've been through.' "
Woods' attempts to rehabilitate from an acknowledged sex addiction have been the stuff of breathless Headline 1s and late night TV one-liners. Less public is the knowledge that the Maui-based Rolfing battled alcohol issues.
Rolfing spent a month last year at the celebrated Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "It (alcohol) was something that had more control over your life than it should and was something that (I) needed to deal with," he acknowledges. "I'd had discussions with a number of people but, in the end, knew I had to make the decision myself."
The detour from a hectic TV schedule was not a secret among the PGA Tour players that Rolfing regularly deals with for NBC and the Golf Channel. They knew of his absence and glimpsed the slimmer, more confident Rolfing that returned.
It was an experience that the 61-year old Rolfing says has not only changed him beyond a 15-pound trimming to 185, but provided a depth of "a compassion" for what Woods has gone through and an understanding of what it takes to confront one's demons.
"I'm not sure I'd call it empathy; it is more like I have compassion knowing that he's gone through something," Rolfing said. "I know it wasn't easy. I have the patience to understand the processs he's going through."
Rolfing's own journey began, he says, "with a steady diet of alcohol in college" that followed him into professional golf and into a quick-rising TV career.
From somebody who worked the cart barn at Kapalua, Rolfing's ascent in broadcasting was as fast as it was remarkable. "It (a broadcast career) came completely out of left field," Rolfing said.
He had time to ponder all that during his stay at the Ford Clinic "where it was a good thing I took some time off to evaluate my life. I didn't watch much TV but I was able to see a little golf. I missed it while I was away. I was supposed to have been there at Bay Hill, I was supposed to have been there at the Houston Open. I missed it a lot and that was a good thing."
A year later, Rolfing admits he couldn't have handled the demands of current pace or his new, critically acclaimed show, "Global Golf Adventure" on NBC, without lessons learned in rehab. "I understand much more about myself now and I can deal with a lot of things better," Rolfing said.
Something that he and Woods figure to eventually compare notes on. "I hope there comes a day when we can sit down and really talk," Rolfing said. "And, I have a sense that might happen."