Early Sunday afternoon, my husband was chatting with his 75-year-old father over the phone. Both are usually quiet men who believe it’s unmanly to wear one’s emotions on one’s sleeves. So their phone calls normally last less than five minutes. Yet last Sunday afternoon, they spent more than 30 minutes talking about Tiger Woods and recounting his play at the Masters golf tournament, hole by hole. The excitement in their voices was infectious.
I asked my husband later why he cheered for Woods all these years even though Woods hadn’t won any major for 11 years and hadn’t won the Masters for 14 years. My husband replied, “I don’t cheer for him but appreciate him. I watch sports for those few transcendent moments. Tiger is one of a handful of athletes to consistently provide those moments.”
In the mid ’90s when I immigrated to the United States, before I had a chance to pick up a golf club and hit my first shot, I’d already heard of Tiger Woods. The world of golf was divided into pre-Woods and post-Woods.
Pre-Woods, golf seemed to be a slow and boring game played mostly by slightly out of shape mid-aged or older men. Then when Woods came along, golf suddenly became a cool, fun, and athletic, challenging game. He was young and fit. He played golf with machine-like precision and collected one trophy after another, as if he simply checked off boxes on his way to Jack Nicklaus’ record of winning 18 majors.
Some called Woods a superhuman, a superhero, or even a robot. His youth and biracial background were relatable to average Joes, yet he had this air of aloofness that put a great emotional distance between him and all other mere mortals. Still, we liked him, admired him from afar, and were all certain that he was destined to greatness because he was unstoppable and invincible.
The ’90s was a hopeful time for many, including myself, a new immigrant with new experiences and, soon after, a new career and a new boyfriend. My life, while not as spectacular as Tiger’s, was moving in the right direction, too.
The Late-2000s Turning Point
2008 was a terrible year and a turning point for a lot of us, including Woods. Our nation fell into a deep economic recession and many Americans lost jobs, houses, hopes, and their American dreams. It was also the last year Woods won a major and a beginning of a long, winless drought. Later some say it was the beginning of an end — an end of the era of greatness defined by Woods.
In 2009, our Thanksgiving break was interrupted by the revelation of Woods’ sex scandal. When the scandal broke, his daughter Sam was two and his son Charlie was a newborn. Sponsors like Accenture began to drop him, and his wife divorced him a year later.
A few years later, the world saw his terrible mug shot after the DUI charge. He didn’t seem cool and invincible any more. The bags under his eyes and his hallowed look showed us a deeply flawed mortal possessed by his own demons. He lost his touch and his game suffered.
Then his body kept failing him. There were repeated back surgeries. He could barely walk, and merely limped along. It was reported that, in 2017 at Augusta, he had to take a nerve blocker to make it upstairs to the Champions Dinner. His world ranking fell from 1 to 1,199. It seemed that his dream of beating Nicklaus’ record was only a dream. The whisper of a Tiger comeback or a Tiger redemption faded away in a few years after one humiliating loss after another.
His personal failings reminded us that we are all fallible. His physical failings reminded us how fragile our own bodies are and how little control we have. Like a funhouse mirror, his outsized fall forced us to stare back at a reality we didn’t want to face.
The world of golf hasn’t been the same without an invincible Tiger. Yes, there have been many good, young players like Jason Day and Jordan Spieth. But none of them could bring back the kind of mojo that Woods had. It’s hard to appreciate golf without Tiger. just like it’s hard to appreciate a Greek mythology without Hercules.
Then everything changed last Sunday. After a 15-year gap, Woods won the Masters again, when everyone least expected it. Just like the video Nike put out, he “experienced every high and every low,” but never gave up chasing his crazy dream. After all the scandals, injuries, and failures, he came back in the most spectacular way on Palm Sunday. With this win, his ranking in the world climbed 1,193 spots to number six.
The beauty of Augusta is that it’s the only major golf tournament that takes place at the same golf course at the same time, year after year. But Tiger is a different player this time. He no longer walks around with an air of aloofness or invincibility. As sports reporter Jason Gay observed, Tiger is more “human” now, and there was a sense of humility. He put on a great performance, but it was the way he scooped up his son after the 18th hole that made our eyes moist and hearts melt. The display of raw emotion stirred something deep in our hearts too.
Frank Pallotta, a sports reporter for CNN, tweeted two photos: on the left, Tiger hugged his dad in 1997 when he won the Masters for the first time. As a young man he sought his famously demanding father’s approval. On the right, Tiger hugged his son, Charlie. As a father, it seems his biggest joy was to share this incredible moment with his children. Life comes full circle.
Last week was a good week in some ways. Two things that we previously considered impossible happened: first, scientists presented us with the first-ever photo of a black hole. Then, Woods won the Masters again after 15 years. The lesson from both? Don’t let naysayers define your life. Don’t settle for less. No matter how far behind you are, never give up. With persistence and focus, crazy dreams do come true.
We should also remember that this week is the holiest week for Christians. Wood’s redemption on Palm Sunday serves as a good reminder for all of us that no matter how far we fall—or how flawed we are—we can all be redeemed.