Off Beat

Pop Stand's Last Stand

Kristin Tillotson's outgoing voicemail message is every working stiff's dream. "Hi, this is Kristin Tillotson at the Star Tribune," it begins, routinely enough. "I will be out of the office until June 2003 on a fellowship at Columbia University."

We should all be so lucky. After seven years, Tillotson penned her last "Pop Stand" column earlier this month. For the next academic year, she will be a fellow at the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University in New York. Her departure is a second blow for local arts reporting: St. Paul Pioneer Press music man Jim Walsh is also taking a midcareer sabbatical, at Stanford University. What this means is, to put it bluntly, the arts coverage at the daily papers will be a good bit dumber for the next nine months.

Tillotson says she intends to take classes in architecture and investigative reporting, as well as spend time scrutinizing the politics of public arts funding. "I think there's an increasing gap between people who support the arts and people who think that arts are probably the least necessary of all the things we could support publicly," Tillotson said last week as she prepared to move. "And I think the media can play a role in narrowing that gap."

While enrolled in the program, Tillotson is supposed to keep her byline out of the paper, but she says the chances are decent that she'll flout that rule. "I hope I don't do something as pretentious as a 'Letter From New York,' but I'll probably work a book review in."

Tillotson's not certain what she'll do when she returns to the Strib next summer. "I'm not sure if my column will continue in its current guise or not," she says. "My role will be redefined when I return."

For now she's honing her New York attitude. "I'm looking forward to leaving the land of passive aggression and going to the land of direct assault." --By Paul Demko


Goodbye, Tiger

Last Wednesday was an idyllic day for the final practice round of the PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. Nearly all of the assembled were there for the chance to breathe the same rarefied air as Tiger Woods, perhaps the most beloved man of our time.

But first, a little background on the practice round. Most players, revealing the weird inner psychology of golf, use the round to refine the subtle nuances the game. A bad tee shot will lead to one, two, maybe even three more drives to gauge the fairway of any hole just so. And on the greens, players aim not for the cup, situated on the front of the green for the first two rounds, but near the back corners, which is where the flags will be for the more intense rounds on Saturday and Sunday. Rarely does a ball make it in the hole. Even the most earnest players smile often, crack jokes, and sign autographs along the way.

At 9:45 a.m., Tiger Woods approached the 17th tee. The pathway from the 16th green was packed when he made his way through the throng, accompanied by three state troopers and two local cops. Woods looked like he was attending a wake. So dour was he that there was a remarkable silence from the gallery. Woods did not avert his sullen eyes from the ground. Mark O'Meara, his practice-round partner, finally broke the tension by cheerily granting a "Good morning, everybody!" This, inexplicably, led many to respond, "Good morning, Tiger."

After Woods finished the 17th, a girl of about three looked quizzically at her father, understandably finding Tiger's fabled charisma elusive. "Why does everybody like him so much?" she asked. "Because he practices all the time," came the response. "Since he was three, he practices all the time. His father taught him." Indeed, the oft-repeated excuse for Woods's demeanor is that he is driven and focused.

Bullshit. He's a pampered diva with no concern but his own. How else to explain the difference between his practice-round behavior and that of nearly all the other golfers, many of whom had as good a chance--and just as much justification for being "focused"--to win the tournament? In person, most PGA players are charmingly human.

But not Woods. At age 26, he already seems entirely robbed of his youth--if not his humanity--shielded in a cocoon where only results and corporate endorsements matter. For this we love him, because, really, there is nothing else about him to love. It seems only a matter of time before he simply goes wacky with ego and slips into a solitary, sad life.

Back at the 17th hole, the little girl paused, mulling her father's answer, still skeptically trying to figure out the phenomenon. "And his name is Tiger?" she asked. But Woods was gone. --G.R. Anderson Jr.

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