The headlines in the paper trumpeted Tiger Wood’s run through and utter demolition of the U.S. Open course at Pebble Beach. I read the paper’s account of the tournament to my ailing grandfather on a warm June day in 2000.
My Papa, as we called him, listened intently while lying in bed. He would hang on till the end of the year before passing, but as I think back on it those few days were probably the last time I had anything resembling a solid conversation with him.
He didn’t say much but did mention how good Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan were. At the time, the writers were comparing Tiger to all of the golfing greats, including Jones, Hogan, Nicklaus, Palmer and others. I told my Papa at that moment, that I felt like Tiger would go on to be considered the greatest golfer ever by the time he retired.
Woods continued to throttle the course and claim the 2000 U.S. Open title, winning the tournament by 15 strokes. Most sportswriters consider that tournament to be the most dominating golfing exhibition ever given at a major tournament.
Most people know the rest, Woods ran off a slew of victories, including winning 13 other majors, completed what has been termed the Tiger Slam, by being the tournament winner in all four majors just not in the same calendar year, and collecting tournament victories like some kids used to collect baseball cards.
Somewhere along the way a writer asked Jack Nicklaus about Woods and his assault on the Golden Bears’ 18 wins in the majors.
Nicklaus made sure to praise Woods, but also added a caveat. He said he wanted to see how Tiger handled golf once he got married and had a family. A few writers chuckled at that, causing Nicklaus to raise an eyebrow. He made a follow-up comment saying it wasn’t a joke that that would serve as the true test to Tigers’ golf ferocity.
Funny thing, the Golden Bear’s words proved true. And married life proved to be a bit much, or at least the remaining faithful to one partner did.
Woods’ dalliances outside of marriage along with a slew of injuries decimated his golf game. The man, who quite literally had it all, had to not only stand up in a press conference and reveal his many marital infidelities with his mother sitting in the front row, but also had to watch as his body and his golf game began to fall apart.
Woods managed to gut out a tough U.S. Open victory with a torn ACL and most likely another problem or two in 2008. After that, he did compete on tour and continue to win some tournaments, but no majors.
Woods, for the first time since we were introduced to him as a precocious four yeard old, seemed human.
And the Woods’ effect didn’t help. Before Tiger came along, golfers weren’t the most athletic individuals. Spurred on by Tiger, a whole generation of new golfers arrived on the scene, who looked more athletic and were more athletic. These younger golfers, who grew up idolizing Woods and aimed to be as good if not better than him, helped change the game.
After the knees, Woods’ back went out. All told, it’s reported Woods had four knee surgeries and several back surgeries. Two years ago, he had to get a pain injection so he could visit Augusta National, home of The Masters. The injection wasn’t so he could tackle the course; instead it was so he could sit through a two-hour dinner.
Woods told friends and confidants that his golfing days were done. Recently, he’d been competitive again, showing shadows and moments reminding us of the old Woods.
On Saturday, April 13, Woods stood over a putt on the par 5, 13th hole at Augusta National in contention for the lead. I turned to my wife, who was watching and enjoying a golf tournament specifically because Tiger was in it, and said if he makes this that place is going to come unglued.
He did and it did. But nothing matched the roars from the gallery on the back nine on Sunday, as the protoWoods golfers all found a lapse in their game. The man, who they patterned themselves after, showed his mental game, outlasting each and every comer while draining a bogey putt on 18 to unleash a cacophony of sound unheard of at Augusta since Jack Nicklaus claimed his sixth Green Jacket in his epic 1986 win.
It’s kind of funny, because the man named Tiger didn’t have to roar. The crowd did it for him.
And after pumping his fists in the air to celebrate, he found his two kids and wrapped them in huge hugs. Neither of them had seen their dad win a major tournament. Neither had seen their dad dominate and on this day at the tournament where he first won a major in 1997 by running away from the field, they had.
The crowd, standing as many as 20 deep, according to tournament officials, screamed, roared and chanted, “Tiger.” A slew of former Masters champions and current players waited to congratulate him as he made his way in to sign his scorecard.
Tiger Woods made golfing relevant for a generation, and then served as exhibit A through Z in a rags to riches to rags and now back to riches story. On a warm June day almost two decades ago, I told my Papa that Tiger might be the best golfer of all time. On a warm, spring day in April of 2019 Tiger proved I might not be wrong.
The question now remains can he continue? I don’t know, but I do know this. I wouldn’t bet against him, and I think watching the remainder of his career will be a lot of fun.