Paul Goydos still remembers when his family life went from private to public. He had taken a leave-of-absence from the US PGA Tour in 2004 because his ex-wife, Wendy, was battling a drug addiction problem. He’d been given full custody of his teenage daughters, Chelsea and Courtney and had quietly dropped off the tour to take care of them.
He’d told only a small handful of friends, including his closest friends on tour – Kevin Sutherland, Steve Flesch and Billy Andrade – what was going on. Then a reporter from Golfweek called and asked why he wasn’t playing. “I’m staying home with my kids because my wife is having some health problems,” he said, leaving it at that.
“I was telling the truth,” he said this past weekend. “I just left some things out.”
Wendy Goydos had gotten addicted to methamphetamines, which she had started taking to deal with pain from constant, hammering migraine headaches. She’d gone to rehab more than once. That was the part Goydos left out.
When the reporter called Wendy, she told him the whole story. And, just like that, the private life of the Goydos’s—all four of them—became public.
Krista began berating him, calling him a “loser.” Lucas’s mother, Hershey Glover got involved. Eventually, Krista placed a 911 call. When the police called back, Lucas answered and told them they weren’t needed. They came anyway and Krista was arrested.
Later, Lucas tweeted about the incident saying, “Krista will be cleared in this private matter.”
Except the incident wasn’t private – not with the 911 calls on tape and the police report a matter of public record.
“If Lucas was a lawyer and he came home after a bad day and the exact same thing had happened, it wouldn’t have been any kind of story,” Goydos said. “But because he’s a professional athlete (and a US Open champion) it’s all over the Internet and the news. Things happen in people’s private lives all the time. But when you’re a public figure, they tend not to be private.”
There is a tendency for those who watch great athletes perform to think the rest of their life is as easy as they make playing a sport appear to be. After all, those who succeed at the highest levels of sport make money that few people can even relate to.
“People think because you’re making a lot of money – whether it’s as an athlete or an actor or any other job where you perform in public, that you have a perfect life,” Goydos said. “In reality, that’s often far from the truth.”
The most famous case of a golfer’s private life being nothing like the public perception is that of Tiger Woods, who became a daily subject for tabloid news shows around the world in 2009 when it was revealed that he’d had countless adulterous liaisons with women at a time when he was posting photos on his website of his wife, children and dog. Woods was arguably the greatest golfer of all time; richer than most sultans and had the perfect family – beautiful wife, daughter, son, dog.
And yet, behind closed doors, his private life was in chaos.
Illness is a little different. People don’t rush to report it. Hilary Watson, wife of eight-time Major champion Tom Watson, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October. Only a handful of people knew she was sick and was going through chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatments, followed by surgery. David Feherty knew but wasn’t going to talk about it on NBC or Golf Channel. I knew because Watson and I have worked closely together on a charity golf tournament since Bruce Edwards’ death due to ALS in 2004. I wasn’t going to talk about it either.
Only after doctors declared Hilary Watson cancer-free following surgery earlier this month did they talk to Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star about what had happened.
Years ago, long before the story was public, Arthur Ashe told me he was HIV positive and was dying of AIDS. I had no desire to break that story.
Sometimes, as a reporter, you know things about an athlete’s personal life that you don’t report because it IS personal and it should be up to them whether to go public with the story.
But when there’s a police report involved – as with Glover two weeks ago; as with Woods nine years ago and again after his DUI stop last year – privacy is no longer an issue. Once a public figure is involved in a story that is in the public domain, any pleas for privacy will go unheeded.
There are times when talking about difficult, personal issues can be cathartic for an athlete. Jason Day felt he owed the media – and, thus the public – an explanation when he dropped out of the World Match Play a year ago because he couldn’t focus on golf with his mother facing cancer surgery. Later in the year, when Day’s wife, Ellie, miscarried, she posted a long Instagram about her loss, clearly not because she was obligated to but because sharing her feelings helped her deal with what had just happened to her.
Years ago, when Watson was just becoming a star and was bothered by what he saw as media intrusions into his private life, he asked Arnold Palmer – arguably THE most public athlete ever – how he put up with being constantly asked for autographs when he was out with his family or the never-ending demands made on his time by the media.
“Don’t you need privacy SOME time?” Watson asked.
“Of course,” Palmer answered. “But it’s always there. When your kids jump into bed to watch a TV show with you and your wife, that’s all yours. When you sit down on the floor and play a game with your kids, that’s all yours.”
Athletes are like the rest of us: they have wonderful family moments and they have tragic family moments. Last summer, Feherty lost his oldest son to a drug overdose. He’s spoken about it publicly, but the incurable pain will always be locked up inside him.
Being an athlete – even the wealthiest and most successful of athletes – doesn’t protect you from loss or from unhappiness. Goydos remembers reading a story about a group of researchers who interviewed several lottery winners and several paraplegics and then going back to talk to the same people about their lives a year later.
“Almost without fail, the paraplegics were happier than the lottery winners,” Goydos said. “A lot of times life is about your expectations. You win the lottery, you EXPECT to be happy. If you’re a paraplegic, you’re probably happy for anything good that happens in your life.
“When you’re a kid playing golf, you think that if you make it to the US PGA Tour and make millions you’re GOING to be happy because that’s your dream. Sometimes, when the dream comes true, you find out it isn’t all you’d thought it would be. And that can make you very unhappy.”
Every once in a while, when an athlete’s private life becomes public, we’re reminded of that. And, even though it really shouldn’t surprise us, it often does.