Why Tiger Woods is More Than a Sports Story

Young Tiger was a marvel to watch but watching Tiger win Sunday brought a joy that none of the other victories did.

Tiger Woods in 2007
Tiger Woods in 2007 (photo: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess, Public Domain)

It was impossible to be on the sidelines of a pee-wee ballfield or sitting side court at your daughter’s basketball game Sunday and not talk about the feat of Tiger Woods claiming his first major title in 11 years. It was something more than sports. There was something beautiful about it.

In recent years, some have compared Tiger’s meteoric rise and fall to a Greek tragedy. I see that, because the seeds of his downfall were part of his greatness as an athlete. But those tragedies end with Sisyphus endlessly rolling the boulder up the mountain only to be flattened every time or Icarus plummeting in flames to Earth. What we saw Sunday was Sisyphus reaching the apex. What we saw Sunday was Icarus again in flight. What we saw Sunday was something like growth.

In years past, Tiger was a man apart. He was a solitary hero whose wins were amazing yet somehow heartless. He was a man driven to perfection in one thing and one thing alone. His myopia led to athletic brilliance but the world outside of his intense gaze which sadly included even his wife, seemed of less interest to him. And we spectators were even further from his thoughts. On Sunday, Tiger, after sinking the last putt, smiled to the cheering crowd. He hugged his caddy and ran towards his son who jumped up to hug his father and wrap his arms and legs around him. The man in the red shirt hugged his son who had never seen him win a tournament.

When men are watching their children play sports, they often talk sports and tell old stories. That's what we do. I'm always amazed how women speak to each other so quickly about real things. They speak of their children, sicknesses, loneliness and love. I've spent a decade near men and we talked solely about sports and merely told funny stories about college or work. We merely make jokes about our wives because it’s easier than speaking about the deep things like love and beauty. So we make jokes and mock the umpires. Sports is our way to connect. This is our entrance to the deeper things. We talk about Curt Schilling’s bloody sock game, Wade Boggs hitting that homerun in the World Series even though he was so injured he could hardly limp around the bases, we talk about Nick Foles going from a quarterback nobody wanted to Super Bowl champion, and today and for years to come we will speak of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters Win. Because those stories are more than sports. They are life lessons about playing through pain, believing in oneself when nobody else does, and learning humility.

This is what Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote of in Ulysses, closing with:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tiger, with his thinning hair, is no longer the perfect golf specimen. He no longer hits the ball farther than anyone else. He is a dad who sometimes winces when he walks up the fairway. He will never be the athlete he was but I think perhaps he is a better man. One we can cheer for. One we can cheer with. We recognized the absence of humility in a young man who knew only victory and we applaud the man who has known defeat, even defeat at his own hand. He is a man that learned in the most public and excruciating way possible that there are things outside of golf and himself. Young Tiger was a marvel to watch but watching Tiger win Sunday brought a joy that none of the other victories did. And that in itself is something to pump our fist about and cheer.