Tiger has always come back for the better portion of his career. After a swing change, I’m back. Returning from adversity or humiliation. Tiger, on the other hand, came back from the brink of death this time, and not in a metaphorical sense.
Time and suffering have been his major adversaries along the way, one needed for advancement and the other inhibiting it. Each of his returns becomes more implausible than the one before it.
This time, Tiger returned just 298 days after an accident that nearly took his life, smashed two bones in his right leg, and nearly took his life. With a touch of a ‘C’ in his posture and a slight limp in his gait, he strolled to the first tee of the PNC Championship, making one question if this feel-good event would feel more like watching an elderly star forget the lyrics to their own hits.
Would his inexhaustible will have to give way to the restrictions of flesh and bone at some point?
At the risk of sounding exaggerated about what he accomplished at a two-day family scramble with no real historical significance – where he got to use a cart and take more than a few of his son Charlie’s shots; where Justin Thomas, who played with Tiger on the first day, said after the round, “I was freaking blown away… he’s not as far off as everyone thought;” Dan Hicks, who was on the NBC call and remarked, “I think we’re all blown away” at the end of Day 1, I think it’s safe to say he blew our collective minds.
We all have a fascination with extremes: saints and serial killers, financial booms and busts, poetry and tragedy, which may explain our fascination with Tiger Woods. It’s been like watching a game of existential tennis as he bounced back and forth between paradise and hell. He is the embodiment of perfection in athletics, who has been slaughtered by the most base aspects in life so many times, so almost.
One could easily argue that his career has served as a stark reminder of the unfavorable consequences of a lack of balance in one’s life, but isn’t it possible that removing the destructive parts from Tiger would have killed the very thing that made him so extraordinary? His career has been marked by nearly epic moments of growth and regression, since he has always been motivated by the goal of massive transformation.
Perhaps the devastation was his payback for the unwavering dedication required to perform what he did on the golf course.
Maybe it was the strangeness of his genius, or maybe it was just the price.
Perhaps it was just a combination of abundant skill, unquenchable ambition, and immaturity.
We’ll never know for sure. But I do know that, as much as I’d like to see him win again, I don’t need to see him do anything else on the golf course that is historically significant. I’ve seen enough to declare him the best club player of all time. Tiger Woods’ magnificence is so inextricably linked to his name that calling him the G.O.A.T. almost seems hackneyed and tautological. I also know that I’ve seen enough to conclude that it can’t be a coincidence that many of his unmatched highs have been followed by unsurpassed lows.
The intoxicating effects of an athlete in historical ascendancy on the verge of calamity have rendered us all inebriated. He’s high on the ratings that his presence generates. He was enthusiastic on the prospect of going on another major run. The fact that the pendulum has recently swung too far, from a miraculous comeback to a mind-boggling near-death accident, should serve as a wake-up call to both him and us.
I recall Tiger’s father, Earl, prophesying about his son’s abilities and how they would transcend the game early in his career. I am quick to overlook the extravagant exaggeration formed of a father’s love and think more of the sentiment of his words when he says, “Tiger will accomplish more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” and I am quick to forgive the extravagant hyperbole born of a father’s love.
The Tiger Woods Foundation, now known as TGR, has aided hundreds of thousands of children – and will undoubtedly assist millions more – and while Tiger has nothing left to prove on the golf course, he has so much more to prove off it. This is not a critique of anything he’s done outside of golf to this point, but rather an acknowledgment of the prophetic potential of his father’s comments, given the reach of his foundation and the strength of his popularity.
While Tiger has spent the first half of his life entertaining largely the “haves,” he might devote the second half of his life nearly entirely to increasing educational chances for those who have less.
He does, as his father prophesied, have the power to affect the course of millions of lives around the world, well beyond his ability to entertain us.
In terms of golf, seeing him “come back” to play with his son, Charlie, once a year would be enough for me.