15 months ago, Tiger Woods was in a catastrophic car crash on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles. It was an accident that could have cost him his life, and as first responders lifted him out of a pulverized Genesis SUV, shock waves spread across the country as golf lovers wondered if this was the end of the road for the golf legend. Tiger underwent emergency surgery on his right leg which was so badly shattered that doctors didn’t know if they were going to be forced to amputate it. It took months of intensive treatment and rehabilitation before we would learn that Tiger was on a long road to partial recovery. His right leg was reconstructed with enough metal to set off TSA sensors at every airport.
By the end of 2021, experts weighed in and said it was highly unlikely that Tiger would play competitively before the 2022 Open Championship at St Andrews, at the earliest. But there were these teasing glimmers of hope along the way. Tiger played alongside his son, Charlie, at the PNC Championship in December 2021 – although he was heavily dependent on the assistance of a golf cart. Only a month earlier, he said, “I’m lucky to be alive. Now I’m able to participate in the sport of golf. To what level? I do not know that.”
Despite the heavy metal in his body, and whatever else doctors used to strap his body together again, Tiger’s signature dogged determination was about to return him to his 6th Masters.
As his private jet touched down in Georgia two days before the 2022 Masters at Augusta National Golf Course, the public’s anticipatory cheeks were close to bursting. The speculation turned into jubilant elation as Tiger announced that he would be playing – a committed move towards his 16th major championship, sixth green jacket and 83rd PGA Tour event.
His effort through the first two rounds that Thursday proved he made the right call – and thousands of fans walked the course with him in supportive solidarity. It was quite unlike anything ever experienced at Augusta: people were awe-struck, reverential and dead silent as Tiger putted. Their roars were followed by church-mouse stillness.
Walking the Augusta course proved to be the major challenge because it’s unremittingly hilly. By the third round, Tiger was feeling it and his play deteriorated – a harsh reminder that this was a man still in recovery. He struggled to place his approach shots anywhere near the flag or to get any putt to drop. He used clubs as impromptu canes, and his very visible limp was a cruel reminder of a body that still needed to heal.
At a press conference, Tiger expressed his frustration: “I just could not get a feel for getting comfortable with the ball. Posture, feel, my right hand, my release, I just couldn’t find it,” he said after walking off the course 18 strokes behind leader Scottie Scheffler. “Even as many putts as I had, you’d think I’d have figured it out somewhere along the line, but it just didn’t happen.”
We forget, however, that Tiger’s standards are so ridiculously high that his assessment of poor play is anything but that when compared to other golfers. His 78 was the equal of two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, one stroke better than reigning FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, two strokes better than Masters champion Adam Scott, and just one shot worse than reigning U.S. Open champion, Jon Rahm.
“I fight each and every day,” Tiger said. “Each and every day is a challenge. … I wake up and start the fight all over again.”
And that is precisely what the world loves about this great man. He’s a tenacious fighter who has surmounted the odds and survived several major setbacks in life.
In 2008 Tiger won the U.S. Open with a broken left leg! He won the 2019 Masters with a fused back – having undergone several back and knee surgeries. Through it all, the 15-time Major winner has defied any obstruction with superhuman faculties.
Recently he said, “I love competing, and if I can still compete at the highest level, I’m going to, and if I feel like I can still win, I’m going to play.”
The man who won his first Masters in 1997 has a gift that mesmerizes us. But the adoring public has, in the past, placed their hero in an intrusive pressure cooker that exacerbated a cauldron of personal problems. The relentless scrutiny of Tiger Woods’ life as he battled private matters was harmful, humiliating and deeply hurtful. And yet it’s that same condemnatory, finger-waving public who now relate to his vulnerability and his essential humanness.
In March 2022, Tiger Woods was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. His 14-year-old daughter, Sam, delivered a brilliant, heartfelt speech that moved her dad to tears. This is what she said:
“I realize that no matter what life throws our way, we somehow come out together and stronger. You know, train hard, fight easy – as my grandfather, Earl Woods, and dad’s greatest role model, would have said. He ingrained those words into my dad, who now says it to Charlie and I. It teaches us to not only put in the hard work, but that the hard work will pay off in the end.”
“In 2007, my dad found himself in the position to make an 18-foot putt to force a U.S. Open playoff – which he missed by a foot. He then had to rush to the airport, fly from Pittsburgh to Orlando, and drive to the Winnie Palmer Hospital. Within five minutes of walking into the hospital, still wearing his red golf shirt, on June 18, 2007, I was born. He may have lost that day, but he won the greatest gift of all (crowd claps and laughs).”
“About a year ago, you were stuck in your hospital bed at one of your ultimate lows. It was one of the scariest moments of your life and ours. We didn’t know if you’d come home with two legs or not. Now, not only are you being inducted into the World Hall of Fame, but you are standing here on your own two feet. This is why you deserve this – because you are a fighter. You defy the odds – every time. You were the first black and Asian golfer to win a major. You were able to win your 5th Masters after multiple back surgeries, and you were able to walk just a few months after your crash. Through thick and thin, you, Charlie, Erica, Kultilda and I will always be a team. Dad, I inducted you into the Dad Hall of Fame a long time ago. But today, I am so proud to present my Dad, Tiger Woods, into the World Golf Hall of Fame.”
Tiger relished that March 2022 night at the World Golf Hall of Fame. His happiness and pride at his two children, Sam and Charlie, was so clearly evident, and he smiled and cried with the fullness of human emotions.
As so many people in our community try to strike the right chord in their parenting skills, many have watched in fascination Tiger’s relationship with his father, Earl. This inextricably bonded father son duo had an intense, complex relationship, and when Earl passed away in 2006, Tiger’s grief was massively deep. Earl Woods was a bull of a man who wanted Tiger to be a superstar golf player from the day he could walk, and the hard work he instilled in his son arguably deprived him of a carefree childhood. Tiger has often defended that by insisting that he wanted to excel in the game as much as his father. It was never forced upon him. The two planned and worked for their goals – and the commitment and motivation were bathed in love.
Earl Woods was an infantry officer who served two combat tours during the Vietnam War and was a member of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces. That experience intensified his disciplinarian character, and Tiger was the recipient of that strict discipline. Tiger also describes his mother as being an even tougher disciplinarian than his father. He wrote in his 1997 ‘My Story’ Memoir (Grand Central Publishing):
“As we said in our family, my mom was the hand, and my dad was the voice. I could negotiate with him, but not with my mom. There was no middle ground with mom. Dad was always the person who would plant seeds and give me encouragement, but he would also say things that would fester inside me that wouldn’t come to fruition for a while. Dad was very worldly and deep in his thinking. My mom was the enforcer. My dad may have been in the special forces but I was never afraid of him. My mom’s still here, and I’m still deathly afraid of her. She’s a very tough, tough old lady, very demanding. She was the hand, she was the one, I love her so much, but she was tough. There was zero negotiation.”
While Kultilda was the over enforcer of a compliant son, Tiger acknowledges that his father got into psychological wars with him – in order to toughen him up for life. The objective was always to equip his son with a steely defense system for the adversity that he knew he’d face in life. Tiger talks about the racism his family encountered. With a black father, an Asian mother, and a biracial son, the Woods family stomached the world’s cruel prods on many occasions, and Tiger describes the many teaching moments in his life that left a searing impression on him. While he acknowledges the wisdom he imbibed from great players like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros, it was his parents who were his greatest teachers.
In a recent documentary about the complex relationship between Tiger and his father, the assertion is that initially, Tiger and Earl Woods were best of friends. Later on, Tiger presumably witnessed Earl’s alleged extramarital affairs, and perhaps that may have had something to do with the fragile phase of Tiger’s life where he appeared to be replicating his father’s actions. Whatever he did or didn’t do, the very public media flogging he received was reprehensible.
In December 2021, the world was moved by Tiger and Charlie Woods’ father son relationship at the PNC Championship held at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes in Florida. It was a two-person 36-hole competition partnering champions with their family members. The tournament was won by the team of John Daly and his son John Daly II, who finished at 27 under par, two strokes ahead of Tiger and 12-year-old Charlie.
Apart from the obvious relief golf lovers felt while watching the legendary Tiger play for the first time since his horrific car accident less than a year earlier, the bond that he and Charlie share was a thrill to watch. They displayed the same mannerisms, the same swing, and were hugely affectionate with one another. As viewers watched the Woodses jubilation at the end of the competition, they also bathed in a pretty exquisite example of a special father son relationship. Tiger spoke after his second-place finish afterwards:
“The competitive juices, they’re never going to go away. This is my environment, this is what I’ve done my entire life. I’m just thankful to have this opportunity to do it again.”
Tiger Woods has earned his legendary stripes: In 2001 he became the first golfer ever to hold all four professional major championships when he won the Masters (for the second time), the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.
He went on to win the Masters five times – his last one as recently as 2019. What we just witnessed in April 2022, 14 months after a catastrophic car accident, is a man who still loves the game, and who is determined to win a 6th Masters – despite everything he’s been through.
The reason millions of people cheered and roared for Tiger Woods at Augusta in April 2022 – goes way beyond his sublime talent. This is a man who is a supreme survivor. We’ve watched his triumphs and his strengths, his fighting spirit, his vulnerabilities, his grief, and his fall from unrealistic expectations. In essence, Tiger Woods has shown us what it means to be human. Despite everything that has happened to him – including four back surgeries that left him unable to get out of bed – his resolve to climb back up again and overcome life’s challenges – has been a consistent strength he has displayed. His tenacity is life-affirming.
When you consider that golf is a metaphor for life, Tiger Woods is a great representative for a game that is a battle against the forces of nature and the self.
Ever since childhood, Tiger strove for excellence and built excellence into his daily training. That goal has remained with him – always. The young prodigy breached the trench of the heavily white-dominated sport and took golf to unimaginable heights. It took indescribable discipline, determination and tenacity to achieve what he has done. He changed the standards in golf by introducing an elevated physical fitness regimen that included weightlifting and a great deal of cardio fitness training.
Tiger once described golf as “a microcosm for life in which the full array of emotions are felt in just one round of golf.” He said, “It involves dedication, practice, patience, frustration, excitement, elation and disappointment.”
2022 is the Year of the Tiger – a year that signifies courage, bravery and resilience. Until recently, nobody could have imagined that this Tiger would be out of a wheelchair with both legs intact while playing at the Masters in Augusta Georgia within 14 months. He may as well have won his 6th green jacket by his very appearance. It was the great American writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald who brilliantly wrote about the famous green light – the orgastic future – in ‘The Great Gatsby’. Those words are a fitting description of Tiger Woods – a man who has always believed in the green light – the green Masters blazer – and the orgastic future.
Acknowledgments: CBSSPORTS.COM; Yahoo Sport – Jay Busbee; USA Today Sports – Steve DiMeglio