*Somerset, PA Daily American
August 14, 2010
as "Tiger Observations"
as "Tiger Observations"
Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Once upon a time, there was a Tiger. He prowled open spaces of emerald green grass, striking fear into all those who opposed him. He was so powerful that millions came to his territory, just to watch him crush his competition. At his peak, he was all-powerful, without equal; his rule over the grasslands, some said, would never end.
Then one day, the Tiger came face-to-face with the only foe that ever beat him. The face of that foe was in the mirror. The Tiger’s vanquisher proved to be the Tiger himself.
We have become jaded to stories of stars who have self-destructed. However, the most shocking story of a fall from public grace belongs to professional golfer Tiger Woods.
He always seemed to be marked for greatness. At 3 years old, he shot 48 for nine holes. He won the Optimist International Junior Championships six times. He was the youngest U.S. Junior Amateur Champion in history at 15. At 18, he was the youngest U.S. Amateur Champion ever. As an amateur at the 1995 Masters, he tied for 41st. When he turned pro in August 1996 at the age of 20, he played in 8 events, won two, and earned over $800,000, mere pocket change with $60 million in endorsement deals already in his hip pocket.
In his second season, he was the leading money winner on the PGA tour. And in 1998, he became the world’s number one golfer. And even after taking a year off for knee surgery, and the disaster that has been this season, as of August 10, he’s still No. 1, and has been for 270 consecutive weeks, and 612 weeks over his career.
That’s 11.75 years out of the last 14.
But a career that was once star-studded now seems star-crossed.
A strange car accident grew into a shocking tale of serial infidelity. Almost overnight he went from being a man universally admired to the butt of late-night jokes. He vanished from the public eye, trying to save his marriage.
When he finally returned to the tour, his dominant game had faded. Once considered a sure bet to top Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, people wonder now if he’ll ever win again.
Two things that separate the pro athlete from the amateur is attitude and perseverance. A pro athlete must have a competitive bonfire burning inside them, and the mental and emotional capacity to stand up to the considerable tension and stress, and the loss of privacy.
In his recent public remarks, Tiger talked about how invincible he had thought he was; convinced that he could get away with anything. Money and fame would always insulate him from the consequences of bad behavior. But with counseling, perhaps for the first time in his life perhaps, he may realize that despite wealth, accomplishments, and fame, he is not a superman, but merely a man.
Since his return to the tour in April, Woods has struggled. He speaks glowingly of his practice rounds, yet when he steps into competition, he seems to melt away.
All pro athletes need a killer instinct; that pitiless, almost vicious streak that gives them the drive to conquer. I remember a television interview that Woods gave to NBC a few years ago. In it, he said quite casually, “When you have the chance to step on (an opponent’s) neck, you have to do it. It’s the only way to win.”
As my wife and I watch him on the course these days, that trademark proud, almost arrogant strut down the fairways is missing. He once strode; now he merely walks. Missing is that twinkle in his eye that told us how much fun he was having. We see in him for the first time, a quiet doubt.
Perhaps in that moment in time when Tiger Woods the demi-god came face-to-face with Tiger Woods the mere mortal, he lost his edge.
Personally, I hope he gets it back.
What Babe Ruth did for baseball, Tiger Woods has done for golf. He brought millions of people to the game, especially minority kids, who saw in Tiger that hope that they too could lift themselves to greatness. Despite his errors and problems, Golf needs Tiger Woods, at least as much as Tiger Woods needs golf. For the good of the game, I hope he gets his edge back.
I want to see that killer Tiger stalking the grasslands once again.