Tiger Woods: How I've Redefined Victory

Woods at the BMW Championship in September. Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Last November, everything I thought I knew about myself changed abruptly, and what others perceived about me shifted, too. I had been conducting my personal life in an artificial way—as if detached from the values my upbringing had taught, and that I should have embraced.

The physical pain from that car accident has long healed. But the pain in my soul is more complex and unsettling; it has been far more difficult to ease—and to understand. But this much is obvious now: my life was out of balance, and my priorities were out of order. I made terrible choices and repeated mistakes. I hurt the people whom I loved the most. And even beyond accepting the consequences and responsibility, there is the ongoing struggle to learn from my failings.

At first, I didn’t want to look inward. Frankly, I was scared of what I would find—what I had become. But I’m grateful that I did examine my life because it has made me more grounded than I’ve ever been; I hope that with reflection will come wisdom. Golf is a self-centered game, in ways good and bad. So much depends on one’s own abilities. But for me, that self-reliance made me think I could tackle the world by myself. It made me think that if I was successful in golf, then I was invincible. Now I know that, no matter how tough or strong we are, we all need to rely on others.

Slowly, I’m regaining the balance that I’d lost. My healing process is far from complete, but I am beginning to appreciate things I had overlooked before. I’m learning that some victories can mean smiles, not trophies, and that life’s most ordinary events can bring joy. Giving my son, Charlie, a bath, for example, beats chipping another bucket of balls. Making mac and cheese for him and his sister, Sam, is better than dining in any restaurant. Sharing a laugh watching cartoons or reading a book beats channel-surfing alone. Some nights now, it’s just me and the kids, an experience that’s both trying and rewarding. Probably like the experience a lot of families have every evening around the world.

When I first came back to golf this spring, after taking a necessary break, I was worried about how fans would treat me. But they’ve been kinder and more supportive than I ever imagined possible. That’s true away from the golf course, too. When I go to the store, or to work out, or to grab lunch, I’ve been amazed by the considerate, encouraging words I hear. I’ve realized that those sentiments are not merely courtesies but generous expressions of compassion for which I’ll always be thankful.

I have a lasting gratitude to those who stood by me in ways large and small. Unfortunately, opportunists are trying still to cash in on my troubles, no matter how irresponsible or ridiculous their claims may be. In many cases, I’ve never even met these people. But there’s no way I can dispute each lie without provoking more. Besides, everyone has probably heard more than they ever wanted to about my private life.

I can never truly repair the damage I’ve done, especially to my family. But I can keep trying. What endures in the record books are the achievements won through competition. What endures in our actual lives is the love of our family and the respect of others. I know now that some things can and must change with time and effort. I’m not the same man I was a year ago. And that’s a good thing.

Woods, one of the winningest golfers of all time, is founder of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has helped educate more than 10 million kids.

Join the Discussion