I’m not a great golfer. I’m not even a good one. I’m more of a threat to hit some woodland creature than I am the pin. My swing is only slightly more mechanically sound than Charles Barkley’s. Arnold Palmer the drink has impacted my life more than Arnold Palmer the person.
The point I’m trying to make here is that I really am an outsider to the world of Golf. But I love Tiger Woods.
Around 10-years-old, my morning routine started being constructed around an early morning edition of SportsCenter. I simply couldn’t go to school without at least a half an hour of NBA or NFL updates under my belt while I ate breakfast. You can imagine I wasn’t too happy whenever my morning routine was paused to devote 20 minutes of time to Golf.
“Golf is boring,” thought my 10-year-old brain. “Golf is what my dad does when the boat isn’t running.”
After many mornings spent in front of the TV, toaster strudel in hand, I realized there was one name that I heard far more than anyone else. Tiger Woods. Of course, if you were a kid growing up in the mid-2000’s you knew who Tiger was. By that time, he had already cemented his place as a legend of the game and was a household name even in households that didn’t carry a single golf club. But you don’t really know Tiger until you see him for yourself.
You don’t know how clutch he is until you see him guide a shot through two trees in the rough and walk away like it was the simplest thing in the world. You don’t really realize how dominate he is until you see him make the best in the sport look like a High School JV team in comparison. You don’t really grasp his effect on the game until you see a country club become a rock concert after a birdie on 18.
Morning highlights eventually became curious tune-ins brought on by boredom. These eventually developed into entire days spent glued to my couch, obsessively watching Tiger do things that had never been done before on a golf course. But you don’t have to be a golf savant to know how special Tiger Woods was.
Watching Tiger Woods in his prime is like listening to a John Williams’ symphony or witnessing Picasso paint. When you have the privilege to watch these masters of their craft at work you don’t have to be a composer, a painter or a great golfer to know that you’re witnessing someone on a different stratosphere, a different plane of existence even, then all those behind them playing catch-up.
More talented writers than myself have better put into words the electricity and fervor that Tiger brings to a course. And there are certainly people that know the sport better than I do that could explain exactly what made Tiger the most dominant golfer of his era. I can only speak for what Tiger means to me.
Watching Tiger I knew I was watching someone in complete control at all times. He had precise mastery over his ball, his opponents’ minds and probably the beer line over on 14. If Tiger had the lead entering the final day of a tournament, that tournament was over. In all major sports you see players show emotion.Thumping your chest after a dunk, dances in the endzones and slides across the soccer pitch after a goal. Tiger was the first to celebrate a birdie putt like he had just won a wrestling match against a rhinoceros. And then he would switch back to being an terrifyingly emotionless robot before reaching the next tee. Picture Russell Westbrook crossed with Tim Duncan. Only an athelte like that could keep me watching golf even when he was absent just on the off-chance someone had a passable impersonation.
Oh and Tiger was just as tough physically as he was mentally. After missing two months after knee surgery, Tiger won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg, beating Rocco Mediate in sudden death after an 18-hole playoff.
“This guy does things that are just not normal by any stretch of the imagination,” said Mediate after the tournament.
Tiger made it cool to be amazing at golf. He made something that had previously only belonged to stuffy old-timers in my preteen mind something incredible to witness. I don’t think I’ve ever gone golfing and not pulled out a patented Tiger fist pump at some point. In a lot of ways Tiger’s sunday red and black marked my childhood just as much trips to Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park and the TD Garden.
Every year, less and less of the athletes that defined my childhood continue to return for the next season. Even fewer continue to play at the highest levels of their respective sports. Tom Brady, LeBron James and Roger Federer are three in the very select group.
Until recently, it didn’t look like Tiger was ever going to be able to join that group.
As his body broke down and his marriage spiraled out of control entering 2010, the cracks started to show. He finished tied for fourth at the Masters in 2010 and 2011 but missed several tournaments due to leg injuries. Tiger continued to show brief flashes of his past supremancy but was constantly derailed by back injuries. From 2014-2017, Tiger had four back surgeries.
In 2017, he was ranked 1,199th in the world. Imagine a world where LeBron James averages 7 points per game and 2 assists. That’s how felt to watch Tiger look like a mortal and maybe even broken man.
And then something miraculous happened. He started looking like Tiger again.
First, he finished tied for ninth at the Hero World Challenge. Then he finished one shot back and tied for second at the Valspar Championship and sixth at the 2018 Open Championship.
This past weekend he was oh so close to capturing his first Major since 2008 at the 100th PGA Championship. Sunday, he finished two strokes back of Brooks Koepka; two strokes that can be measured in two half rotations of the ball on the 11th and 15th greens. Needing two clutch putts, Tiger couldn’t get either to fall, though both were about as close to falling without actually entering the hole as physically possible.
But still, Tiger lit up the course on Sunday. It was the most fun I had watching golf in years. When he lifted his shot over the ridge on the 13th hole I leapt from my couch. When he saved a birdie chance with a vintage shot from the rough on the ninth hole, I added my voice to the roar of the crowd thousands of miles away. When he sank the following putt and gave a small but eletric and always signature fist pump, I could have ascended to heaven right then and there.
On Sunday, the old-Tiger wasn’t back. The old-Tiger grabs that lead and refuses to let go. But it was the closest he’s been in a very long time. It was like meeting up with an old friend you hadn’t seen for years. He’s not the same person he used to be and you both know it. But as you both enjoy yourselves, for brief moments it’s like nothing ever changed. On Sunday, Tiger hit difficult shots, punched the sky after do-or-die putts, and each and every time the crowd roared just as loud as it did a decade ago.
I don’t know how many more Sundays like we had this weekend are left. I don’t think Tiger knows either. They’re certainly numbered.
But I think we have at least few more.
Meaning I still have a few more days where my inner child gets to watch a boyhood idol. A few more days spent bouncing around the room after difficult chips and putts, synchronizing fist pumps to the sky.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.