Tiger, A Comeback for the Ages

Tiger Woods wins Tour Championship

The news made its way around the golf world in seconds, and in some way or other, we all stopped to consider the import of what had happened. We may have evaluated it in part through our filters of “I don’t like him, “I have always liked him,” “Sometimes I like him, sometimes I don’t,” or perhaps “I did’t use to like him, but I do now,” etc. In viewing Tiger Woods’ first PGA victory in over 1,800 days, one many thought would never come again, we may be taking the wrong track. Like him or not, we have watched a supremely gifted golfer fall to ruin during what could have been his greatest years.  Then, we watched him claw and scratch, go under the knife several times, practice like a madman, retrain his body, and stay standing through many false failed comebacks before finally winning again. The lesson in grit and persistence he taught us is so much greater than “I like him, I don’t like him.” As an old professor once told my class, “Go deeper than that. Any barnyard animal can tell you what it likes and what it doesn’t.”

All is right with the world. Equilibrium is restored. The cream has risen to the top again, and for at least one week,  golf will be more interesting than it was before the Tour Championship. I believe that what we really missed was the energy that hisses out of Wood’s brain as he plays. Most winners are skilled, but the other thing of which we were reminded this week is that Tiger is well-named. He does, indeed, play like one, win or lose. The vibration is palpable, even through a television screen. The only similar case I can think of is Brooke Henderson of the LPGA. They may not be aware of it, but both compete out loud.

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Others have won after their prime years. It’s not so uncommon. However, Tiger’s four rounds left us wondering precisely which years are intended to signify his prime. In pure physical conditioning, he has made a mockery of the dangers ascribed to his age group.  In the old days, my old days, that is, far fewer players really conditioned their bodies for maximum production. After all, it wasn’t rugby. One wasn’t supposed to break a sweat. The only real commitment I can think of in those days of yore was Gary Player, who took on a somewhat smaller physique and demanded every drop out of it, leaving himself in spectacular condition all these years later.  I once opined that Tiger was throwing too much strength into his game, the way he could in the early years. Whether that is true or not, he and his people got him back to the status of a one-in-a-century golfing athlete – without my opinion, thank goodness.

Watching the walk up the 18th fairway, I was astonished at the nervous energy caroming through the crowd. The mass migration to the green made me think of epic mob scenes from Lawrence of Arabia or Dr. Zhivago. I recalled the famous walks Arnie took up various 18s, but Sunday, the noise reached an unexpected pitch and stayed there for the longest time. The final putt of about eight or so feet would have been a nice touch, but I was more concerned with an irrational fear of Tiger six-putting and losing the tournament. I can only imagine what the aftermath felt like for a man who must have thought from time to time that his days in the sun were over.
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In golf terms, Tiger and his long road back is similar to many epic journeys back to excellence with low odds of a successful ending. We have, this week, observed first-hand, right up to the ropes, a history-making return worthy of the greatest athletic stories of history. We were here for it, and could make good use of Tiger’s example.

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