Back on That Tiger Crack

Another busy weekend with the kids. L had soccer both days – one win, one tie, four goals, two assists – M babysat for 8 hours Saturday and cheered on Sunday, and C ran on Sunday, getting 8th place with her strongest run of the year.

Thus I missed a lot of what was broadcast on the teevee over those two days. I was able to catch a lot of Tiger getting his first PGA Tour win in over five years. That was kind of special.

I guess one piece of my re-discovery of golf that I had not shared was how the Golf Channel became part of my regular viewing once we got cable hooked up in July. Our channel lineup is just a little different on Comcast than it was on Uverse. Part of the difference is a slightly more limited selection of sports channels. Also, the Golf Channel is much closer to ESPN than it was at the old house. So, the week of the British Open, I began watching the Golf Channel’s coverage. And then I just kept watching. Where ESPN shows a bunch of terrible, people shouting and arguing shows during the day, the Golf Channel generally had more traditional analysis of what was going on that week, highlights, live views of practice rounds or, on Thursdays and Fridays, quick looks at live action before their regular coverage began. It was just a good way to have some sports on the TV as background noise.

Oh, and it helped that Tiger was rounding into form just as I began watching.

So this past Thursday and Friday, I had TGC on the entire time the Tour Championship was on. Friday we had a furniture delivery. As the guys passed through the living room, they paused, looked at the TV, and asked, “Is Tiger still leading?” I wasn’t the only on paying attention.

I got home Sunday in time to watch Tiger finish on the 17th then the amazing scene on the 18th, as the galleries flooded in behind him on his walk to the green.

It reminded me of the one time I saw Tiger live, in the summer of his breakthrough 1998 season in Chicago at the old Western Open. We had a long drive back to Kansas City ahead of us, so after cruising the course for a few hours, we were only able to watch Tiger play the first hole. We posted up near the green so we could watch both his approach shot and then him finish the hole. I’ll never forget the vision of him coming up over the hill in the fairway, his familiar red shirt setting him out from the crowd. There was a strong sense of anticipation in the galleries and a gasp and buzz when we could see him. And this was young Tiger, when he had only won a single Major, not 14, and just a few PGA events, not 80. We didn’t rush onto the fairway behind him, but I know people would have if the marshals had dropped the ropes.

Tiger finished the hole, moved to the second, we raced to our car for the drive home, and periodically checked sports radio to follow his progress as he won the event.

I was all-in on the Tiger experience back then. And remained so until he fell apart. If Tiger was in contention, I was watching. Even if I had a baby on my chest or a toddler chatting away next to me.

But when his personal life fell apart, it was easy to turn off my interest in him. I was in my late 30s, a father of three, hadn’t played golf in years, and was disgusted by his behavior. Not that I was surprised: I worked at a golf course briefly in my teens and every pro at the course spent most of their time trying to sleep with every woman that came into the pro shop. Those guys were all shmoes working at a mediocre public course in California. The best golfer in the world, the most recognizable athlete on the planet chasing women left and right? Based on my limited experience with golf pros it was no surprise.[1]

So Tiger went in a box with Lance Armstrong, guys I once spent a ridiculous amount of time following, who I had admired greatly, but through hubris or stupidity or greed or a combination of all of those had taken dramatic and public falls from grace. Athletes I was a little embarrassed to have appreciated so much, whose histories I did my best not to talk about.[2]

Of course, there was more to Tiger’s story than just the personal issues. His game and perhaps his lifestyle – notably his fascination/obsession with special forces – destroyed his body. There were the knee injuries. And then the back injuries. Every so often Joe Posnanski would address the Tiger situation, after a reader or commentator suggested Tiger could still break Jack Nicklaus’ majors record. Joe would point out that most golfers suffer a serious decline in ability as they hit their mid–40s, and those were guys who were healthy. Then he would remind the questioner that Tiger had blown out a knee, had a back that required one, then two, then three, then four surgeries. Tiger, Joe said, may never win a silly season tournament, let alone a regular tour stop. Five more majors? That was ridiculous.

Tiger seemed to agree, suggesting as recently as last spring that his career might be over.

Maybe the past two months have been an aberration, a brief window of health in which Tiger got his game together and willed himself to a couple narrow losses and a very big win. Perhaps his back will break down when the adrenaline of the golf season passes, and next spring will bring a return to frustrating failures on the course. I hope that Tiger hasn’t had to mismanage his pain meds to get his body to comply with his requests of it.

All that is to say Joe Posnanski may still be right. When the 2019 golf calendar rolls around, there’s no guarantee that Tiger will be able to contend at Augusta and the other three majors. That’s what made this weekend so fun as a viewer and one-time Tiger maniac. I don’t know if he has his life together. I don’t know how I feel about him as a person, although being older has caused me to have less-and-less faith in athletes as people and made me focus more on their performance on the field, which makes it a little easier to separate man from game. I just know it’s been tremendously entertaining to watch him over the past two months, doing things I never thought he would do again.

Justin, Dustin, Ricky, Brooks, Bryson, Rory, and Jordan are the present and futures of golf. It was kind of nice for Tiger, even if only briefly, to put his name back in that conversation.


  1. I should note here that I have been friends with several golf pros over my adult years. And none of them ever exhibited this kind of behavior. They were all good fathers and husbands. And I’m guessing most are.  ↩
  2. To be fair to Tiger, he and Lance had very different failings and fallings. Tiger’s abilities and accomplishments have never come into question, where Lance’s entire career was revealed to be a lie.  ↩