During the good times, Tiger Woods could find a perfect getaway in Sweden — a quiet and secluded place to avoid the media spotlight.
There have been Christmas celebrations in a remote area of northern Sweden in a house owned by relatives of his Swedish wife, Elin Nordegren. There have been summer days spent undisturbed in the couple’s luxury apartment in central Stockholm. And his wife recently purchased a secluded house on an island in the archipelago, a short boat ride outside the capital.
But if Woods is looking for somewhere to ride out the media storm surrounding his infidelity, Sweden may no longer be the place to go.
“I think his reception would be rather chilly,” said Billy McCormac, an American who has lived in Sweden for 14 years and heads the prominent think tank Timbro. “I think things are just too raw right now.”
The Woods sex scandal has indeed struck a particularly raw nerve in Sweden, where Nordegren’s transition from being a nanny for golfer Jesper Parnevik to the wife of one of the world’s most famous athletes was long seen as a fairy-tale romance.
Over the last five years, sightings of the couple on the streets of Stockholm or in nearby Vaxholm in the archipelago — where Nordegren grew up — helped create a sense of connection to a man renowned for his reclusive persona.
But like the drop in temperatures that brought a blizzard of snow over the Scandinavian country on Tuesday, Woods’ admitted betrayal of his wife has turned public opinion considerably cooler.
“We have taken him to heart and almost viewed him like one of us,” said Niklas Olovzon, a sponsorship and brand expert who heads the communications agency S&B. “Of course that has made this a much bigger deal. … I don’t think we’ll forgive him as quickly.”
Instead, there is an outpouring of sympathy and support for Nordegren, who has claims to fame in Sweden beyond her marriage to Woods. Nordegren’s mother, Barbro Holmberg, is a well-known Social Democratic politician and former migration minister while her father Thomas Nordegren is a prominent radio journalist.
“She comes from two sort of Swedish houses of nobility, so there is a sense that this is personal,” McCormac said. “I’m not sure how much the Swedish public embraced Elin before this. But now, that sense of ownership and that sense of communion with her has gotten stronger.”
That’s been evident in the country’s newspapers during the last few weeks, where the numerous front-page headlines and articles have focused as much on Nordegren as on Woods.
There has been constant speculation about whether she’ll stay with her husband, advice about how to repair her marriage, and jokes about why she used a golf club to smash the back passenger windows of Woods’ SUV the night of his infamous car crash outside their home in Florida. Local police said his wife told them she did it to help get her husband out.
In a country that prides itself on gender equality and independent women, the image of a golf club-wielding Nordegren is a source of widespread satisfaction.
“For us, it was almost a positive thing that she smashed the car window,” Olovzon said. “We like strong women in a lot of ways.”
Britta Svensson, a columnist in the newspaper Expressen, summed it up like this:
“A week ago, Tiger and Elin were the cutest couple on the globe,” Svensson wrote shortly after the reports of numerous mistresses started seeping out. “Now our Swedish hearts are brimming with pride that our own Elin — not a regular nanny but the daughter of a Social Democratic minister and Swedish Radio journalist — didn’t take any … Elin is our heroine.”
The same can no longer be said of Woods, of course, regardless of golf’s immense popularity in the country.
Despite its short summers, Sweden has nearly a half million golfers in a population of little more than 9 million, including a number of top pros like Henrik Stenson.
But to win the fans back, Woods has to get back on the course and win more titles, said Tommy Jeppsson, the editor of the Swedish version of Golf Digest.
“Time has an incredible ability to heal things like this,” said Jeppsson, pointing out that a number of famous men have been able to resuscitate their careers after sex scandals. “When you think about (actor) Hugh Grant today, you only view his scandal as a bump in the road — he didn’t drive off a cliff. I think this will be a bump in the road for Tiger Woods as well.”
Seeing Woods play in a tournament like the Scandinavian Masters has long been a dream for Swedish golf fans. If Woods does decide to end his indefinite break from golf, Jeppsson said that’s not likely to change.
“He would be very welcome,” Jeppsson said. “I don’t think anyone would miss seeing Tiger Woods play golf just because they’re a bit peeved about what he’s alleged to have done.”
But, as McCormac pointed out, Woods may not want to test his welcome too soon.
“I think the media circus needs to die down first,” McCormac said. “Maybe in six months, or, say, around the summer time. (Swedes) are very used to walking down the street, and say, ‘Oh, there’s the prime minister,’ or ‘There’s that rock star.’ Given a bit of time, given a bit of space, I’d say even (Tiger and Elin) will be able to do that eventually.”