Here is my disclaimer. I am a Tiger Woods fan with reservations. I love his resolve, unwavering devotion and dogged determination to totally dedicate his life to winning golf tournaments.
He has given every ounce of strength to the mission he began as a small boy of conquering Jack Nicklaus’ record in the major championships. Tiger brought a short game that can be regarded among the top 10 best of all time, particularly his ability to perform at the most vitally important moments.
He has been a long driver when compared to active players and an accomplished iron player, but has not ever been a reliably accurate driver. Having said that, he is one of the most fortunate drivers of the ball of all-time.
Tiger brought a marketable personality equal to that of Arnold Palmer, but a mystique that is Hoganesque. He has the course management intellect of Jack Nicklaus and the boyish charm of Sam Snead.
Gary Player popularized physical fitness and weight training for golfers, but Tiger has taken it to a whole new level. Greg Norman introduced the professional golfers’ world to off course interests such deep sea diving and monster luxury yachts. Tiger’s, appropriately named ‘Privacy,’ certainly continues the legacy.
Palmer initiated golfers travelling by air. He owned and flew his own plane globally. While most of the top tour players fly via private jet, Tiger’s plane is a flying hotel room.
Every golf professional I’ve known from tour player to club professional has, in some way, contributed to charity work either through a particular event, an organization or as part of a group with a common focus.
Golfers in general and golf professionals specifically are among the most generous people found anywhere. Tiger’s main effort is the Tiger Woods Foundation. Aside from his time, he has donated millions to this worthy cause.
So how can I, as a fan, have any reservations?
I guess where I fall off the rail is how easily he decimated longstanding hard-earned records and standards. When Nicklaus annihilated Bobby Jones records in majors nobody really thought much about it.
Jack got all the way to major victory number 10 before anyone realized he was approaching Jones’ total of 13. Of course, my big hero Hogan played in three majors in 1953 and won them all, plus he won two of the other tournaments he played and finished second in another. Also, in 1946 he won 13 tournaments
Tiger not only won majors, he won the Masters by 12 strokes, the U.S. Open by 15 and the Open Championship by eight.
Starting with Old Tom Morris, each new generation has advanced the torch to the next level at a steady rate of increase, none by huge margins, but at a constant carrot on a stick path.
Until Tiger. Why him? How did he get so good?
He reminds me of Wayne Gretzky. We thought Rocket Richard’s record of 50 goals in 50 games was phenomenal. Gretzky scored 50 in 39 games. We thought when Phil Esposito scored 76 in a season that was spectacular. Gretzky scored 92 and then, two years later, scored 87 and went on to hold over 60 NHL records. Records weren’t passed, they were flattened.
I get some solace from thinking Tiger might have been supreme when he won, but that’s it. Tiger has won 14 majors. Jack won 18, but that alone isn’t Jack’s most significant achievement. He also finished runner-up 19 times.
If you count the U.S. Amateur, which you should, Jack has won 20 majors, finished second in 19 and third nine times; meaning he finished in the top three 48 times or roughly 25 per cent of the time.
Tiger won 17, including the U.S. Amateur, finished second in six and third in four, a total of 27 times or roughly 33 per cent.
No doubt some of Tiger’s club throwing and antics are bit difficult to accept from one of the world’s best known role models, but let us not define Tiger’s golf accomplishments by his such things.
Recently, Tiger withdrew from the tournament in Dubai after a first round 77, citing back issues and the next two on the PGA Tour, as well.
I can’t help but wonder about his choice to take the extensive trip, regardless of the comfort provided by his luxury airship.
One back surgery can be debilitating enough but three can’t possibly allow him to make such a violent lash into the follow-through he is famous for without repercussions. He doesn’t putt like he once did and the young boys who were 10 years old when Tiger roamed and roared, easily intimidating his adversaries, are now 25.
They grew up knowing he had raised the bar. They aren’t taking a step back. Tiger no longer has one or two hopefuls nipping at him like a pesky little annoying dog – he has a full contingent of hungry, highly-trained, physically chiseled in his likeness, tournament-experienced and mentally focused adversaries who are tougher than a Viking warrior.
In an interview following a tournament a few years ago when Tiger defeated Paul Azinger, Azinger said “Tiger was extremely encouraging! I felt like he wanted me to rise up and give him a game. He seemed to long for a sturdy challenge.”
Azinger went on to make a joke on himself when he admitted, “Little did Tiger know he was getting all I had to give. It just wasn’t enough.”
Tiger’s greatest achievement is the standard he leaves behind, which is his legacy. Every young player now knows the ingredients of a champion, the loyalty to one’s chosen path, the commitment, the dedication, the effort.
If Tiger really did want Azinger to give him a game, perhaps he should have been careful what he wished for. It’s coming sooner than he hoped from young men he had such a positive impact on.