“Many doubted we’d ever see it. But here it is … the return to glory.”
When Tiger sank his final putt to win his fifth Masters — his first major victory in 11 years and first Masters title in 14 — the crowd on 18 roared in a way it does only for Tiger Woods.
Tiger is unlike any golfer I’ve ever seen in the way that he can will himself to victory, and in the way he gets his audience into a state of absolute bedlam that overwhelms the competition. (A sad post-tournament Dustin Johnson admitted in surprisingly candid terms how disheartening it is to hear that roar knowing it matters for only one player). And I’ve never seen another golfer emotionally affect people the way he does. I wept watching the clip again in an airport the next day.
I called my dad. Growing up, he’d always make me watch whatever tournament was on after church. There was something extra special about the Masters that I understood even from a young age. The tournament is held at Augusta National every year. There’s the green jacket. Once you win, you’re immortalized as a clubhouse member for life. And Tiger always dominated.
I didn’t care about golf, and I wasn’t interested in going to the driving range or par-3 course — but I cared about Tiger.
I used to try to replicate the fist pumps. I was fascinated by his fuzzy tiger driver head cover. I loved his tradition of the red Sunday shirt.
Despite what he’ll say now, for more than a decade, my dad rooted for Tiger as hard as anyone. Sure, Arnold Palmer is his favorite, but he knew how much Tiger meant for the sport both as a black golfer and as a singular star. When Tiger was dominating, my dad was already in his 40s and 50s, but my formative years were spent watching Tiger in red, making a quiet, contemplative sport electric.
Sports heroes are just different when you’re that age. I didn’t really know the stats yet or the historical significance of someone like Tiger, but I knew the iconography and the charisma and that he mattered the most. For a while my dad got sucked in the same way, because the entire world was rooting for Tiger.
And then he fell. A global infidelity scandal, drug addiction and multiple serious injuries kept him off the course and tarnished his reputation. My dad still can’t quite get past Tiger’s adultery and what that behavior does to your family.
Tiger’s son was born the same year that the scandal broke, and he already had a two-year-old daughter, who was entering the stages of life when she'd form her first memories past the point of her dad as Hercules. Now he was closer to Icarus.
It was the first time I had seen one of my idols become human. Sundays weren’t the same. My dad searched for a new face to root for, but the field was uninspiring. For a while, golf just wasn’t fun. Seeing Tiger’s mugshot on ESPN for weeks after he had passed out in his car from painkillers had a big psychological effect on me: Who else should I be wary of? Should I hold my trust a little more preciously?
The road to physical recovery looked just as long and painful as the road back to public grace. What does forgiving Tiger look like for some kid in suburban Atlanta and his dad? Does it matter whether we forgive him? Is it okay to root for him again? Should we excuse him as human or condemn him as reckless and morally corrupt?
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I don’t really know all the answers to those questions, but over time, some of those psychological and emotional wounds seemed to heal. Over the last few years, rumblings started up again about Tiger feeling good about his swing, slowly working his way back into tournaments and, last season, finally competing in majors on Sunday. The Tiger talk was intoxicating all over again, but my dad seemed a little reluctant to welcome him back with open arms.
All that was baked into April 14.
My dad and I were a few hundred miles away when we watched Tiger win, pump his fists, hug his son, lift his arms triumphantly in the air. I still can’t help but cry when I watch him and his son embrace. He was dressed just like his dad: same red Nike shirt, same black hat.
The crowd’s eruption was unlike anything I’ll ever see again, and Jim Nantz’s call was understated perfection. Nantz stayed silent for nearly three minutes after Tiger's final stroke, letting Tiger and the crowd do the work for him.
My dad didn’t shed a tear for Tiger. He can root for him only as a player now, as an athlete who has a renewed chance at history. I think any and all reactions to Tiger two weeks ago were appropriate: anger, begrudging respect, euphoria, celebrations, chants, disgust, unexpected tears of joy.
There’s too much history with Tiger, and I don’t know whether it’s helpful to ask if I should have cried watching him win again, or if I should be rooting for him to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles. It’s more useful to investigate why, and I think the answer in simplest terms is that you just can’t write this stuff.
Tiger had more fame and wealth and success than any person knows how to handle, and he didn’t always handle it well, but I think there’s something about his failure and negligence and hubris that’s humanizing. Watching his wings melt was jarring at 10 years old. But it was also an important lesson on idolatry, and one that created a narrative whose denouement wouldn’t come for another decade.
For me, Tiger’s human. He’s irresistible, the best I’ve ever seen, and I'll cry every time I watch him hug his son at Augusta.
And Nick Faldo was right when he replied to Nantz during Tiger's walk to the clubhouse: "That will be the greatest scene in golf forever."
Contact contributor Conner Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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