I was nine years old when Tiger Woods won his first Masters Tournament. I am of the generation of golf fans whose aspirations in the game were formed by the best player we’d ever seen tee it up. We’d go to the local muni on the weekends, and to the local par three course all summer long donning our “Sunday red”.
He rose to prominence at a time in which all of the ancillary aspects of the game, and its coverage, were developing. High definition wasn’t around when he burst onto the scene, but began sneaking its way into American households after the turn of the millenium, during Tiger’s prime. Shot tracer was non-existent, although you could find similar technology with the “glowing puck” on hockey broadcasts.
During this time period, equipment was evolving as well. Golf balls would go further than ever, metal club heads were replacing persimmons in the casual players’ bag, hybrids came into existence, and courses were lengthened with the intention of becoming “Tiger-proof”. With all the changes surrounding the game, one constant remained – Tiger Woods was the best.
I was twenty years old, when it all began to fall apart. Tiger was well renowned for keeping his private matters private. Remarkably, in a celebrity crazed era, there was little known, personally, about one of the most famous men in the world, with incredible wealth, living through the prime of his career in his 20s’. Of course, this was only true until it wasn’t, when the National Enquirer published a story that led to the very public, multi-year demise of one of the nation’s most private figures.
I’m not here to relitigate any of his infidelities or rationalize his actions. They are awful transgressions that hurt many people, and had much, much broader impacts nationally, given his societal status. I will not excuse any of this, and nor should you. It was a big deal, remains a big deal, and will be something he, and all those who admire him, will have to live and wrestle with for the entirety of his career.Embed from Getty Images
The next few years were rife with injuries, public humiliation, and questions of whether or not the best we’d perhaps ever seen, would ever tee it up again in professional golf, at an age when most players are entering their prime. From 2010-2017, he played only two full schedule seasons, amassing just eight wins, and failed to win a major in those eight years combined. He’d had three seasons alone with eight wins, including a major, previously in his career (1999, 2000, 2006).
Golf fans wanted to focus on the back, knee, achilles, and the multitude of other injuries he faced as the reason for his demise, and held out hope that “if he could just get healthy…” Non-golf fans invoked karmic justice. No matter your position, there was next to zero reason to cheer for the guy that revolutionized the game and transformed our relationship with it just a decade prior.
I can’t and won’t pretend to know that this is a changed man, but by the few accounts we get as fans, due to his circling of the wagons back to his private status, he’s made many a positive change in his personal life. Isn’t this a cause to be applauded? A man once driven off course by amoral decisions, who lived life in a way that rightfully prompted the loss of sponsors, friends and fans, has now made the turn with age to a life devoted to family, renewed humility, and treating people with respect.
His intentions may always be unclear. Did his age, becoming a father, and dealing with public humiliation trigger this? Was it the inability to get out of bed for a time being? Was it watching his peers creeping up his career achievement list, and being bullied on the course? Who really cares? For as private as he was when things were bad, he remains private when things are supposedly good. He’s not out touting his new personal life in an attempt to drum up support, he’s not out begging to be forgiven, he’s just going about his business as an athlete, entrepreneur, and father. That change alone is more important than any injury recovery, or any win on the course, major or not.Embed from Getty Images
For many fans, yesterday was a culmination of their support throughout the years. Some will pridefully say that they have always supported him through the ups and downs, with ignorance to the harm of his infidelities. Others will say they can never root for the man because of his wrongdoings. Pundits will claim that it’s the greatest comeback story in sports, and others will undoubtedly claim that it is not a victory to be at all celebrated. But I think the truth, as always, lies somewhere inbetwixt.
What we’ve seen is a man rise above shortcomings, both physical and emotional. We’ve seen a decade long public downfall from grace, seemingly slowly overturned as a broken man picked up his pieces. While we should be slow in developing a new or renewed sense of adoration, those who completely wrote Tiger off, should also take note of the positive developments, and perhaps remove the Big Cat’s cone of shame.
This country can stand to learn a bit from such a tale. For in our history, we’ve been no strangers to harmful behavior toward many a people. Rather than shame ourselves into oblivion, it’s important that we grow and move forward in a way that will make future generations proud of the American progression. A soul is not to be forgiven of its sins by man, but rather held to account in remembrance of them. Nothing is to be gained from a permanent burial as most of us would suffer a similar fate. Very few of us have committed acts on the level with what we’ve seen from Tiger, but a large number know they’re also not perfect, innocent or without need of change.
In all, I don’t see Tiger’s victory on Sunday at Augusta National, a place familiar with controversy itself, as a final destination, but rather as a step along his journey to avoid recidivism. As vindication that while bad acts are not to be celebrated, progress to the alternative can be acknowledged. This isn’t just a story about how a man won a golf tournament, it’s also a story of how a Tiger earned a stripe.