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Why Tiger Woods’ gum habit is a subject worth chewing on

April 20, 2020

Ed. note: Every weekday between now and when the PGA Tour resumes play, Michael Bamberger will offer a report in this space by 8 a.m. — usually, but not always, playing off the news. We like to give our guy room to roam, but not here: In Bamberger, Briefly he’ll be contained to 500 words or less. He welcomes your suggestions and comments at Michael_Bamberger@golf.com.

Tiger’s win at last year’s Masters was a cathartic experience, for Woods, for his fans, for golf. In victory, he showed a new level of vulnerability and openness. To a point.

One interesting development in the tournament was Woods’ gum-chewing, which had never before been so apparent. After his right foot slipped while playing his drive on the par-5 13th hole, he took the gum in his mouth and threw it in the flora behind him. By the time he played his second shot on 13, he had a new piece of gum in his mouth.

In his winner’s press conference, a reporter from Golfweek asked Woods about his gum-chewing. Some professional golfers have been chewing gum with CBD in it, which is broadly legal and not a practice banned by the PGA Tour. It was a question with implied sensitivity because of Woods’ history with drug abuse.

“I’m chomping on this gum because I usually get hungry,” Woods said on that Sunday afternoon. “I keep eating so much. And it curbs my appetite a little bit, which is nice. Most of the time, most of the issues I have at tournaments, I lose so much weight, as you all know.”

You could pick through those four sentences for a week and not make sense of them. If you lose weight while playing, and presumably want to keep your energy up through a four-hour round, wouldn’t eating be a good thing? Over the course of his career, Woods has eaten a long series of peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches on whole wheat, as well as bananas, apples and nuts.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more careful eater than Woods, on or off the course. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a golfer more aware of the importance of glucose homeostasis. Woods, as an athlete, is both an artist and engineer. As an interview subject, candor has never been his great strength.

Shortly after the 2019 Masters, Joe LaCava, Woods’s caddie, was a guest on ESPN’s “Matty and the Caddie” podcast. One of the hosts, Michael Collins, a former Tour caddie, asked LaCava about Woods’ gum-chewing. Collins said, “Everybody’s been talking about this: the gum. What’s the deal? Like him and Phil Mickelson, chewing this gum. It was crazy. I will say, I’ve never seen him chew gum at a major before. What was the gum, dude?”

Woods has been seen chewing gum at tournaments over the years, but last year it became much more evident, and at the Masters it became a Twitter happening.

“That’s a great question,” LaCava said. “My wife, Megan, was asking me the same question. ‘Well, you know he’s chewing gum out there.’ ‘Yeah, I know he’s chewing gum. I’m standing a foot from him.’

“I don’t ask. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why he’s doing it, I don’t care. People get fascinated and caught up in this stuff.

“I’m not bailing on you guys. I have no idea what the gum is called, and I don’t know why he’s chewing it.”

“I know you’re telling the truth — I know you are,” Collins said.

“Yeah,” LaCava said.

LaCava’s career as a caddie began in the mid-1980s, working for his cousin Ken Green. He had a long run with Fred Couples and a short stint with Dustin Johnson before going to work for Woods. He has survived by never forgetting the most essential caddie maxim: Keep up and shut up.

Recently, Woods did an interview for GOLFTV, which pays him to provide content. His interlocutor was Rob McNamara, one of his employees. As they both stood, McNamara read a question from a cellphone, apparently submitted by a person who uses the Instagram handle @Calvein_ _ _.

Standing beside Woods, McNamara read and asked, “What gum do you chew in competition?”

“Well, Joey has this, um, orange, I think, I believe it’s Trident,” Woods said. At that point, in the middle of his 15-second response, there is an editor’s cut from one camera to another. Continuing, Woods said, “I ended up getting hooked on it, too, because I like the sugar and the flavor. So yeah, that’s what Joey and I end up chewing to wake ourselves up.”

Trident has a sugar-free product called Trident Tropical Twist, which comes in an orange pack and has a photo of a sliced orange on it. It’s unusual to hear Woods cite a brand name with which he is not affiliated. The white outline of the Pingman on his putter grip is often blacked out, for instance. As for Trident Tropical, it is orange. The gum Woods typically chews, at the Masters and at other tournaments, is a gray-white.

The conflict, between what Woods said to McNamara and what LaCava said to Michael Collins, is obvious.

The Instagram account @Calvein_ _ _ is associated with a person named Calvin Alley. Efforts to reach Alley were not immediately fruitful.

Woods announced last year that he is writing a book called “Back.” “I’ve been in the spotlight for a long time, and because of that, there have been books and articles and TV shows about me, most filled with errors, speculative and wrong,” he said in a release in which he announced that he was working in the book. No publication date has been revealed.

Maybe he will address his gum-chewing in the book. Maybe he will sign a deal with a gum manufacturer. Or maybe he has said all he cares to say about the subject, more unclear now than it was on the day he won the Masters.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at Michael_Bamberger@Golf.com.

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