Against the Grain: Why I Still Cheer for Tiger Woods

Let me start out by saying that I’m not particularly fond of Tiger’s off course behavior–Walter Hagen eat your heart out. What he did to Elin and their children is deplorable. What follows isn’t seeking to redeem his actions, which are indefensible. Further, he is past the point of no return with many people–my wife is one of those people. And frankly, those people have every right to feel the way they do about him. Hell, I’m tempted to feel that way about him. Still, I can’t help but feel like we’ve made the narrative of Tiger the villain so important that we don’t particularly care about changing that mindset no matter what he does.

But, I just want him to win, in spite of all that’s happened. To quote Inigo Montoya: “Let me ‘splain.”

No, it’s too much! Let me sum up.

Tiger Woods is my favorite golfer. I don’t say this with detached irony or cynicism, but sincerity. From an early age, my dad tried to teach me golf–he marginally succeeded. As part of my education, we watched golf on the weekends together, it was how we bonded–even if I was begrudgingly compliant only because I couldn’t watch the Disney channel since Dad controlled the tv.

My father used to be an exceptional golfer–low handicap, standing tee time at Ponte Vedra, played in tournaments regularly. I would be trafficking in understatement to say that it was a hobby he loved, probably more than his family. By all measures, he was a golf nut, and that’s why we watched golf exclusively on the weekend.

Like all golf fans, he knew the stars of the field. We had “our” favorites and we pulled for them. I pretty much liked who my dad liked and went along with it.

Then, the 1997 Masters happened.

There was this golfer who didn’t look like a golfer. He didn’t have a potbelly, he executed his shots with ruthless precision, he wasn’t my dad’s age. And, he wasn’t just winning the most storied major in golf, he was running away with it. His name was Tiger, which 10 year old me thought was awesome, and he won the Masters by 12 strokes, finishing 18 under par for the tournament–both records at the time. (Rory fans, sound familiar?)

I thought he was just the best. And, at the moment, he literally was. As we kept watching through the years, Tiger kept winning–not all the time, but enough to reinforce that I had made the right choice. Moreover, I didn’t have any idea who the other guys were, I just knew we liked them because of my dad. Tiger was the first golfer I ever got to pick to follow, which coincided well with the massive uptick in attention that he brought with him. Then, in 2001, he came to my hometown and won The Players Championship at Sawgrass. His monumental putt on the iconic 17th green is the stuff of legend, and definitely “better than most.”

The upshot of all this is that I am a fan of Tiger in part because I grew up watching him. The other part is the impact he has had on the game. He was so far ahead of the field when he arrived on the tour that the phrase “Tiger-proofing” evolved to describe the sheer overhaul required to keep the game competitive–not that it did, it just raised Tiger’s average score, but he still kept winning. Sometimes it just seemed like that’s what was supposed to happen, like his chip at Augusta in 2005.

This week is Masters week, and the tournament begins today. Tiger is playing in the tournament after playing in the par 3 contest yesterday with his kids and girlfriend. This marks the first time he’s played in the Wednesday tournament since 2004. Yes, he has withdrawn from tournaments this year. Yes, he has looked the worst he has ever looked. Yes, he will probably finish out of contention or maybe even miss the cut. But, the key is that he’s playing.

Tiger is staring down the barrel of 40. I don’t know how many more tournaments he will win, nor can I guess how many of them will be majors. I do know that his best chance is at Augusta at the Masters. It’s home for him. And, despite his recent struggles, time, history, and sometimes physics give way to destiny at Bobby’s course. Tiger is playing against kids that have the exact same story as I do–except that they are orders of magnitude better at golf than I am. They grew up with him. He was the prototype for the Rory’s, Rickies, Bubbas, and Snedekers. And now, they’re in a position to both lead him this weekend on the course while chasing his legacy. But, one thing I’ve learned about Tiger, he’s not the kind to sit back and go quietly. I’m looking for greatness from him this weekend. I could be wrong, but hope springs eternal. The last piece of media I have included is the new Nike Golf commercial about Rory and Tiger. It’s incredible, and paints an accurate picture of golf today.

I get chills, and I can’t stop watching this commercial. Anyway, stop reading this and go watch the Masters!

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