The long slog back to relevance and away from ridicule continues. But, as always, it’s not just what Tiger does that’s interesting, it’s what we say when we discuss him that fascinates as well.
Tiger is a canvas on to which we project our feelings about race, sex, fame and money. You know, those areas of life where everyone of us is completely rational and free of prejudice, neurosis or hypocrisy. Hell, we don’t even see him accurately in terms of his own heritage. He’s more Asian than black, but tell that to your average American. It’s hard not to suspect that many of the people who have been saying that he’s done were rendering a judgement on his character and not an assessment of his skill. His decline was a form of punishment and that felt like a form of justice.
But there is a psychological element here that has been neglected, to some degree, in the conversation. Those of us who are golfers should be the last people to forget that this is a game in which each time you advance the ball you stand alone on a stage with everyone watching you, whether it’s the rest of your foursome or an entire planet of golf fans. It must have been, and probably is still hard, for Tiger to stand on that stage after thriving on it for so long. I recently saw a quote from somebody saying that they felt that Tiger’s problem was that he had lost the pleasure of playing in front of the crowd. I’m sure he had. Somewhere in the back of his mind there was the nagging realization that people were looking at him and seeing not the greatest golfer of his generation but a sleazy sex addict.
But for everyone who said he was done, I want to ask if you’re sure about that. And what does “done” mean, or conversely, what does “Tiger’s back” mean? Is he back if he wins again? Or do we start moving the goal line? Is back winning another major? Or is he done until he’s hoisting a big sliver trophy that represents number 19? Yes, there are a host of talented young players out there, but the flip side of parity means that on any given weekend anybody can win and do you all really think that Haas or Fowler or Mahan are that much better than he is?
It has been said that life in the U.S. is all about second chapters. We’re only in the first couple pages of Tiger’s. I’ve often wondered how many of the people who have written him off are the type who are also quick to share or retweet the cheery affirmations about turning one’s life around, or how the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. If that is the case, then why wouldn’t they offer him the same advice and the same support? Yeah, the guy was a dick and he’d probably have a lot more people pulling for him if he hadn’t been so arrogant and aloof. But sport, like it or not, is about performance and not always about character. It’s not a question of Who Jesus Would Bet On At Augusta. And, I’m not so sure that if J.C. were in Vegas he wouldn’t wager a couple shekels on Mr. Woods. After all, He was a pretty smart guy and forgiving to a fault.