Thursday, December 31, 2009

Losing His Stripes

Tiger teeing off at the 2004 Ryder Cup, long before his problems. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

Tiger Woods turned 34 yesterday. My guess is it wasn’t all that happy a birthday. I suppose I shouldn’t really care what happens to Tiger. He made his bed, now he has to sleep in it (or the couch, or maybe the garage). But for some reason I can’t seem to stop thinking about Tiger since his “transgressions” came to light a month ago.

Maybe I’m so intrigued by his situation because I’m a golfer myself. Or maybe it’s my love of history (and let’s face it, Tiger Woods is a historical figure in our culture, like it or not). But for me, my fascination with Woods started kicking into high gear in October of 1999.

At the time Woods had just won his second major and helped the United States Ryder Cup team win back the cup from Europe. All the signs were there for super-stardom. It seemed like nothing could stop him in his quest to shatter every record in the books. And in 2000, he did nothing to derail those plans, embarking on the single greatest year any professional golfer has ever had by winning three more majors and dominating professional golf like no one thought possible.

But on October 25th, 1999, the golf world cared little about Tiger Woods or his enormous potential. Instead, our attention was tuned into 2-time U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart and his private jet, which was silently streaking several thousand miles off course before running out of fuel and death-spiraling into a South Dakota farm. It was then and there that I had the sickening premonition that “something really bad is going to happen to Tiger Woods.”

Since that fateful day, I’ve had the opportunity to photograph Tiger Woods in action several times. I even prompted my daughters to shout out to him during a practice round at the Buick Open a few years ago.

“He won’t acknowledge me because I’m a grown up.” I told them. “But he might say hi to you.”

Sure enough, as Woods walked by us on the first fairway, my girls shouted out, “Hi Tiger!” and to his credit, he stopped in his tracks, turned toward them, and then smiled and waved. They nearly peed their pants.

To see Tiger in action is truly spectacular. He has an aura, a focus, which is unrivaled. He does things on a golf course that defy logic and reason (and sometimes physics). It’s rare when he doesn’t pull off the seemingly impossible.

But despite my intrigue and respect for his talent, I’ve never been a big fan of Woods. I always found his behavior to be boorish. His club-throwing, spitting and incessant use of obscenities seemed immature to me, and he treated photographers with absolute disdain, often dispatching his thug/caddie Steve Williams to rough up a lensman or two if they, God forbid, snapped off a picture of Woods at the wrong time.

Even though I'm not Tiger's biggest fan, I always kind of felt sorry for him. Where most golfers I know would have loved to have been Tiger Woods, I never in million years would have traded places with him - even before he was found to be a fraud.

Tiger never seemed happy to me. And when somebody supposedly has everything – immense talent, fame, fortune, a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids – and then throw it all away, were they ever really happy?

Tiger was our (golfer’s) Santa Claus. He wore the same color red, he always came through in the clutch, and he did things that seemed impossible. The only difference is, unlike Santa, who we put our faith in cookie crumbs and an empty glass of milk as proof of existence, we actually saw Tiger perform his magic.

Now we feel like we’ve all been had. We don’t know what to believe. It’s like we’re all third graders again, the ones who stood up for Santa when our classmates laughed at us and told he wasn’t real. But he was real - he had to be real. Right?

Imagine our disappointment when we found out our classmates weren’t lying.

So something terrible did happen to Tiger Woods. It turns out he wasn’t real after all. At least not the way we hoped or thought.

And that is sad.

No comments:

Post a Comment