We all know how the story goes. The old champion that’s past his prime comes back to win one last time. We all know the story, but we had never actually lived it.
Our fathers had Jack Nicklaus in ’86. He’s still the oldest player to ever win the Masters. It was a great story and an amazing moment, but it was theirs not ours. It belonged to our fathers, not us.
On a rainy Sunday in Augusta, Georgia, with a storm brewing in the skies above and an Italian front runner that seemed to be as solid as concrete, we finally got our story.
Even though we knew it way before he did, Tiger Woods was ours. He was our golfer. He was our generation. He had us at, “Hello world.”
Tiger was young and fresh and new and black and Asian and uniquely American and dominant and exciting and a winner. Tiger was hip-hop and the internet and titanium and 300 yards and fist pumping and Sunday red. Tiger’s name was ‘Tiger’ for crying out loud, not Greg or Nick or Phil. Tiger was ours, not theirs. Golf was for old men, Jack was for our fathers, but Tiger was for us.
Tiger was the hype that was for real. A game changer. A course changer. He won and won and then won some more. He won so much that we got bored with his winning. We became numb to his greatness. Ignorant to the history we were watching. Indifferent to what it must take for a man to master a game that can’t be mastered.
Maybe we weren’t the only ones that grew bored and numb and ignorant and indifferent. Maybe after winning everything there was to win, Tiger did too. Maybe he wanted to try and do it all again with a new swing and then with another. Maybe do it with a new coach. Maybe change his body. Maybe do it without his father. Maybe do it while cheating on his wife. Maybe do it without even trying. Maybe after winning a U.S. Open on a broken leg, Tiger decided that he’d given us enough…given us more than we deserved. Given us all he had.
Maybe the only thing Tiger ever wanted was more. More wins, more majors, more muscles, more women, more sex, more glory. More obstacles to overcome, more injuries to rehab, more pills to numb the pain. Maybe at some point, wanting more turns into needing more.
Being in the valley is especially hard when you’ve only ever lived on the mountaintop. Can you imagine the depth of Tiger’s valley? The bone-chilling cold of the darkness after spending so long basking in the warm light? We felt righteous and morally superior and betrayed. Maybe even pushed him a bit deeper down. This wasn’t our Tiger. This wasn’t our champion. This was someone that made us feel foolish for ever believing in him. Someone we couldn’t love or even like. Someone we were ashamed to cheer for.
Maybe Tiger didn’t deserve a miracle surgery. Maybe he’d had his time and his chances and had wasted both. Maybe it was over and maybe it should be. We would have to tell our children what he’d once been, because they would never see it. They would never see him stalking a putt or pumping his fist or hitting an iron shot so pure that it would take their breath away. They would never see him do the impossible or will himself to victory. Our children would never see it and neither would his. Neither would Sam. Neither would Charlie. If they wanted to know what he’d once been they would have to Google it and scroll past the mugshot and the cop-cam footage and the nude pictures and the tabloid stories and the jokes. Maybe Tiger didn’t want that. Maybe this time it was good that he wanted more. That he needed more.
Comebacks take more than willpower. They take more than just wanting to. They are not as easy as deciding you’re going to do it. They are not as easy as we hear in the stories. Comebacks take pain. They take crawling and baby steps and setbacks. They take being willing to fail and actually failing. They take embarrassment and shame and sadness and anger. They take self-doubt and self-belief. They take doing it all over again the next day.
There were signs. There were setbacks. There was hope. There was even victory. Victory that filled fairways and engulfed putting greens. There was redemption. It was enough. It really was. It was enough for us, but Tiger wanted more. He needed more.
This Masters was supposed to be a fairy tale for the kid that took Tiger’s video game. Or for the guy that would replace Jack as the oldest to ever win a major. Or for a Tongan kid from Utah. Or for the steely Italian that had denied him at the Open. Or for the new destroyer of worlds that didn’t flinch at Bellerive. We had already had our happy ending last year in a different Georgia city. It was enough. It really was. It was enough for us, but Tiger wanted more. He needed more.
The red was still there on Sunday, but most things had changed. He was no longer the youngest, or the most talented, or the longest, or the one we expected to win. Gone were the days of our boredom and numbness and ignorance and indifference. Gone was our self-righteousness and judgement. As the phenom and the Italian found the water. As golf’s new terminator missed putts. As our Tiger began to play more like our father’s Jack, we started to believe again. We wanted more. We needed more.
And like he had on 14 previous occasions, he gave us more. He gave Sam more. He gave Charlie more. He gave his children their moment to live in and us our story to tell.
Even though it took him a little while to figure it out, he finally did. Maybe the lessons learned in the valley outweigh the importance of another green jacket. Tiger Woods is ours. He is our golfer. He is our generation. He had us at, “Hello world.”