You are Tiger Woods.
You are the reason, the only reason, I wanted to play golf as a kid. My dad, a used car salesman, and my mom, owner of a regional modeling agency, never played a single round (save some nights of putt putt at the local Hawaiian Rumble). I didn’t have a legacy membership at one of the many golf clubs in Myrtle Beach, nor did I have hand-me-down clubs from siblings.
Just a shade past eight years old, I was hanging out with my mom at a photoshoot at a local bed & breakfast. It was Sunday, April 13, 1997, and I was watching you make history at The Masters huddled over a 13” television while a makeup artist was sitting next to me touching up one of the models.
Instantly, I wanted to be like you. When I got my first cap that wasn’t associated with my favorite baseball/basketball/football team, you can guess what it looked like. When Santa finally adorned me with my first pair of golf cleats, he was smart enough to know I didn’t want a FootJoy logo on them. I never got your Titleist (or later Nike) clubs, but two out of three ain’t bad.
I’m not here saying I wouldn’t be a great golfer if it wasn’t for you, Tiger – because the fact is I’m not a great golfer at all, and frankly never have been. I’ve never broken 80, I don’t play from the championship tees, and I only made the golf team at Myrtle Beach High School my sophomore year as a sympathy selection after trying out (and failing miserably) the two years prior. Shout out to my teammates who played with me that winter, as you all waited patiently on many fairways while I gained an intimate knowledge of South Carolina flora in the nearby woods. But what golf (and you personally) taught me goes way beyond handicap. Vision. Self discipline. Competitiveness. How to talk to a bunch of old rich white guys. You were more of a positive influence on my childhood than you’ll ever know.
And you got this pseudo-only child excited about a sport that could entertain me solo for hours on end.
Just ask my parents, who cringed every time their son – sporting black pants and a red shirt in the middle of a 90 degree summer afternoon – would hook a ball left on the opening tee of the McCollum Family Golf Club [read: home] and accidentally graze a window. Were they terrified of my new summer hobby of working on my swing inside each night, carefully crafting a track for my steel-shafted clubs to narrowly avoid the family antiques (sometimes wearing rollerblades)? Certainly. But did they know golf was ultimately good for me? You bet, and you played a major part in that.
You are Tiger Woods.
For the next ten years, you being in contention on Sunday was as sure of a bet as the CBS coverage being followed by a new episode of 60 Minutes (except on the west coast, as Jim Nance reminded us). Your chip-in on 16 at The Masters in 2005 is the greatest golf shot of all time, and your 72nd hole birdie putt to force a playoff on your bum knee at the ‘08 US Open was just one of the many reminders we’ve been given that your greatness is limitless. You’re Michael Jordan with a collar.
You are Tiger Woods.
Since that tournament, the 2008 US Open, it’s been a weird ride, hasn’t it?
I remember where I was when details of your personal life were released in ‘09. I was sitting in my Jeep, about to go to class at The University of Georgia. Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say” had just played, and a morning DJ was giving Athens, GA, his two cents on the developments. I remember feeling like one of my childhood heroes had been living a lie. I can’t imagine how Elin felt.
Although I forgave you, it’s never quite been the same. Between the injuries, the surgeries, the tournament withdrawals, and now the DUI, I keep feeling like my hero hasn’t been 100% with it. But that’s the underlying problem with heroes: they’re human, not super. You had relationship issues, just like many of us. Chalk me up in that group. You’ve battled an aging body that’s kept you away from the game you love, just like many all who came before you. And you got arrested on a DUI charge, just like 1.5MM do each year.
But that’s where our similarities end, Tiger. Because we’re not Tiger Woods.
You are Tiger Woods, and you need to remember that.
We weren’t on TV playing golf with Bob Hope at age 2. You were.
We don’t hold the record for most consecutive weeks as the #1 ranked golfer in the world. You do. 281 weeks, if you had forgotten.
We didn’t grace the cover of the EA Sports PGA Tour video game for 15 straight years. We just played it. As you.
Oh, and you won some golf tournaments, too. 79 professionally, as it stands right now.
I’m not here to say you owe it to us to come back next season and write your greatest chapter yet. After all you’ve given us, you don’t owe us anything.
But you have to try.
Because you are Tiger Woods.