Opinion

Tiger Woods' Masters Win Is Redemption Story for Golf Great and 'Kick in the Gut' for Nasty Media I Opinion

I admit it. I cried. Alone on a Sunday afternoon watching golf on TV, I cried. I don’t particularly like golf. And don’t play it. But each year, to the dismay of my wife and daughter, I watch the Masters. This past Sunday was no different.

I cried because I watched Tiger Woods do something so many people thought he couldn’t: win another Masters. Many sportswriters had written off the possibility of Tiger ever winning another major again, let alone the most important one.

I wasn’t alone. As we all watched Tiger drop his last putt at Augusta National, we witnessed a very different man celebrating his fifth Masters win. A man who exploded with joy when the ball dropped in the hole. Real, unadulterated joy.

We watched him hug his caddie in a way we’d never seen him hug anyone before. We watched his son come running up to him and jump up and wrap his arms and legs around his father, and then watched Tiger wrap his arms around his son – and not let go. His daughter and mom were next, and he hugged them just like he hugged his son.

We cried because we were watching a different man than the one we’d come to know earlier in his career. A man filled with gratitude. And humility, too. You could see it in his eyes. In his posture and demeanor. He knew he was lucky to be back, lucky to have family, friends and fans pulling for him.

We can’t know this for certain, but we had the feeling that this win meant more to Tiger than all the others combined. It felt that way to us.

In the past, watching the old Tiger, it felt like we were watching a machine win each title. A machine detached from any emotional link to anything but winning. Anything but first place was a loss to the younger Tiger.

That was a dimension of Tiger that many of us never quite understood. The distance and the detachment. It seemed he was wired for one thing alone: maximum performance. The joy of playing and competing was not evident.

When Tiger tapped in his final putt on the 18th green at Augusta, the audience exploded. Soon, the chant began. It was like no chant I’d ever heard before at the Masters. “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!” the audience shouted in unison.

It was sheer joy they were expressing. The fans were thrilled to see Tiger rise from the depths of despair and disgrace.

What we were all watching, in real time, was a great American redemption story. And we Americans are suckers for a great redemption story. It is indeed our most redeeming feature: Americans are not cynics.

What a long way he’d come from that long, hard fall. The car crash at his mansion in Orlando on Thanksgiving night back in 2009. The endless parade of affairs with porn stars and cocktail waitresses. Then there was the DUI arrest, the back surgeries and so much more.

There was also the endless chatter. The endless gossip. The endless discussions on sports stations and ESPN. It was ugly, much of what was written and said about Tiger. 

What Tiger did was ugly. He hurt a lot of people: his wife, his family and those who depended on him. He authored his own fall, but don’t we all? Isn’t that what the great writers throughout history have written about, our ability to sabotage our own lives thanks to vanity, ego, selfishness and brokenness?

What are Oedipus, Othello and so many other tragic literary tales through history about but that?  

Many of us hoped and prayed for Tiger, just as we hope and pray for people in our lives who’ve fallen. And even people who are not in our lives. Addicts, inmates, lost souls, broken and lonely people, too, are in the prayers of millions of Americans each and every day.  

We hoped and prayed for Tiger to find peace in his life. Forgiveness in his life. We prayed for him to heal, because no man who is healthy would do such things to himself and his family.

It was no accident that Tiger’s life unwound at the same time his father, Earl, died. He was a Green Beret in Vietnam. A tough guy who lived by a code most civilians wouldn’t understand. It was a difficult relationship, as so many father-son relationships can be.  

Tiger didn’t have siblings and didn’t have many friends growing up. By almost all accounts, he didn’t really have a childhood, at least not one any of us might recognize. He and his dad were nearly inseparable, as they settled in on the mutual obsession of dominating golf.  When they took time to relax, it was almost always with Earl’s military pals.

It doesn’t excuse Tiger’s conduct, but the end of that complicated father-son relationship — and the pressure of being groomed to become the most dominant golfer on the planet — just might explain the epic unraveling of a great athlete.

Tiger was, in the end, a human being. Just like the rest of us. He too had flaws, pain  and wounds. Fame doesn’t insulate people from such things, and often makes them worse. 

Not all of us cried watching Tiger’s win this past Sunday. Looking at some of the sports posts on Facebook and Twitter, there are still a lot of Tiger detractors out there. Some just can’t forgive him. Some can’t let go of their hate.

And then there were the professional sportswriters, many of whom made a living writing about Tiger’s epic fall. It’s what journalists do, and why most of us don’t much care for them: they are human bottom feeders who live for the fire, the accident, the tragedy in life to exploit for their own ends.

Some treated Tiger decently. But many more treated him poorly. Some were outright nasty.

Wright Thompson, a writer who fashions himself a Faulknerian literary type, wrote a piece for ESPN back in 2016 trying to deconstruct Tiger’s life, and why it had gone so wrong so fast. Some of it was interesting, particularly the parts about Tiger and his father. But much of it was pure conjecture masquerading as reporting.

It was part armchair psychiatry and part punditry, with Thompson playing the role of analyst, expert and God all at once. Explaining the unexplainable: the breakdown of a fellow human being.

And then came this ugly — this disgusting — sentence near the end of the piece. It felt like a kick in Tiger’s gut. And mine.  

“The real work of his life — how to deal with having been Tiger Woods — will begin only once he accepts that his golfing career is finished,” Thompson wrote.

Arrogance and ugliness don’t begin to sum up why a writer would write such a thing about an athlete as great as Tiger. That is something Thompson might want to write about next, why he felt compelled to write such a nasty line about another man. Especially one as talented as Tiger. Determined as Tiger. And yes, as flawed as Tiger.

That’s the thing about sportswriters: they get confused about why we watch sports in the first place, and it is not to listen to them, but to celebrate men and women overcoming the odds on the battlefield of competition.

Yes, I cried sitting in front of my TV watching golf this past Sunday. And I cried because I’d just watched one of the great American redemption stories of all time. And we Americans are suckers for redemption stories because we are not a nation of pessimists and cynics. As hard as writers like Thompson might try to convert us, we are a nation of optimists and believers.

Tiger proved the critics, the haters — and yes, even the loathsome literary types — wrong.

"It's overwhelming," Woods told reporters. "It's just unreal for me to experience this. I just couldn't be more happy."

We’re happy for you too, Tiger. All of us who were praying for you to get back on your feet and reclaim your life. And your career.

Your win — and the outpouring of love and joy from across this great country —showed the world what forgiveness looks like. And what grace looks like, too.

 

 

 

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