Tiger Woods’ impact on the game of golf is undeniable. He has inspired more youngsters onto the fairways, including Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler. In his wake, the game grew in television viewers, in players getting hooked on the game and in the size of every paycheck on tour. Seeing Tiger wearing red on Sunday was as reliable as Greenwich Mean Time.
So when Tiger went off the rails, a whole industry went with him—live by Tiger, die by Tiger. Now we have nothing else to do but sit and wait for his return, and chip away at the pedestal we have put him on. I guess Americans—or humans in general—love a second act, but in order to have a good one, you need the first act to end in ruins.
As we tune into another major on television, we speculate and minimize his meaning to the game and his accomplishments. Another week, another upstart winner getting kissed by a pretty wife, hoisting a big check with a lot of zeros, smiling for the camera and then retreating into the golfing abyss.
In a sense, we see what he has done and all he has accomplished as a major failure—that is, failure to win another major. Tiger Woods has no one but himself to blame for the high achievement standards we hold him to. He’s the one who set the bar that high after all, and now we are using that bar from which to hang him.
Michael Jordan is a modern day athlete on the same iconic parallel as Tiger. However, the public never held Jordan in any less regard because he only won six NBA titles compared to Bill Russell’s 11. Despite Jordan’s professional or personal failures, he is still revered as an athlete and an advertising brand. Maybe enough time needs to pass from one icon to the next, so we don’t have a need for one to be better than another. Jordan didn’t have to be Bill Russell. Maybe Tiger doesn’t need to be Jack Nicklaus—at least not the Jack who won 18 majors.
Maybe Tiger should be the Jack who really wasn’t just about the majors. The Jack who broke Walter Hagen’s major standard of 11 victories in just 11 years, and then just focused on trying to play his best golf. The Jack who wasn’t trying to win only majors, but still found himself atop the 1986 Masters’ leaderboard, one of golf’s most serendipitous and unlikely victories. Maybe Tiger’s only goal should be trying to win four more PGA tournaments, which will break Sam Snead’s record of 82 lifetime tour wins.
So Tiger has retreated to work on his game, cheer at ski races, enjoy his family and prepare physically and mentally to enjoy a victory lap or two. He’s not going to tie or break Jack’s major record, but he isn’t dead yet. As bad as his short game was at the Phoenix Open earlier this year, he managed to lead the field in driving distance—no small achievement against today’s young bombers.
Part of me once thought Tiger would never win another major after his 2008 U.S. Open victory. My reasoning is that majors are tough to come by with today’s talent-laden tournament fields, and he only gets four cracks at them each season. Now I’m tired of being right for the past seven years. I think Tiger should look now to emulate the “1986 Jack,” the “just-play-good-golf-Jack,” or should just play well and let it happen. I think if Tiger focuses less on majors, he may just win one or two more.
Why? I guess I’m just a sucker for a good second act.